If you look in the current issue of Mixdown Magazine you’ll find my interview with Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor about the band’s new album, Hydrograd (released today). We had a great chat about the band’s incredible new album Hydrograd. But we talked about a lot more than could be fit into that article, so I thought you’d like to see some other highlights from the interview.
I Heart Guitar: One moment in the single Fabuless really made me laugh: the ‘motherfucker’ in the chorus. I have a running joke where I insert unnecessary motherfuckers in songs that really don’t deserve it. Steely Dan or the Beach Boys or something.
Corey Taylor: [Laughs] Thats funny because I do that all the time when I’m in my car, singing. I’m always adding an unnecessary motherfucker to what I’m singing along to, where it just needs a little more, y’know? I mean I’m sure they would have gotten to the motherfucker eventually but they were too busy with the notes, so people like you and me provide the motherfucker for them.
That song is so eclectic. How did it come together?
That song came together from Tooch (guitarist Christian Martucci) and Roy (Magora, drums) jamming together. It was one of those songs where when we heard the demo we were like ‘Holy shit.’ It took a little arranging because it was all in different spots – it originally had a totally different feel to it – but the riffs themselves all had a great vibe. I took it and did my magic on it and worked it in with the lyrics that were going on in my head and different melodies and stuff, and it came together really quickly. It was a matter of arranging the puzzle so that the song fuckin’ figured itself out.
The first few times you listen to it you don’t quite know what could happen next.
Exactly. And that’s the cool thing. I feel like a lot of music doesn’t have that feeling any more, and you can anticipate what the next part is. With a lot of bands you can almost write the fuckin’ next riff in your head before you’ve even heard the song all of the way through for the first time. With this song it keeps you guessing right up until the last minute.
So this is the first record written with Christian Martucci and Johnny Chow.
Working with those two, honestly, was so effortless. The great thing is it all starts with us just getting along. Really getting along. We all hang out, we all love hanging out and talking shit and joking, and we’re all such dorks that it doesn’t really matter. So writing together is the same thing. We just love what we do so much that we get excited when we hear what we’re doing with the music.
How’s the spine coming along after your operation? Has it affected your range? I was thinking about how when Frank Zappa got pushed off the stage and broke his neck, and after he got rebuilt his voice got lower.
Yeah, that didn’t happen to me. It’s really only a physical thing for me. I’m slowly but surely starting to get my mobility back, and that’s even after a year. It’s been pretty crazy. But luckily I didn’t lose any of my range – actually I got some back because I quit smoking over a year ago, and I’m starting to get my range back because of that. God, if I’d know that would happen I’d have quit ten fuckin’ years ago. But I’m still in the process of rehabbing all that shit, and I’m slowing but surely getting my body back. It’s a fucking pain in the ass but I’m getting there.
I don’t think people realise how physical singing is – how much of your whole body goes into it.
Oh yeah. You can lose your chops really easily. And not only lose your chops but you can let your talent go to fuckin’ shit, and it can take you years to get that shit back. About six years ago I started to really try to keep myself in shape as much as possible, and as long as it’s worth it you just keep trying, keep going for it.
What guitars are you using at the moment?
On the road I have three guitars that I’m using, really. I have a 2008 Gibson Firebird that has a couple of Seymour Duncan pickups in it. It has a nice chunky edge to it and a really killer clean tone. Those guitars have a great clean tone. I also have a 1987 Gibson SG out with me that smells like the dude who owned it chain-smoked around it for about 45 years! It’s got the colour, but unfortunately it’s also got the smell, so I named it Keith. So I’ve got that out with me and I’ll probably bring that down with me to Australia when we get down there. And I’ve also got a Framus and I’m thinking about working some magic with those guys. I actually have a Stevie Salas Idolmaker model that I’m using right now and they’re fuckin’ pretty dope, dude. I wanna have them use that base and make a custom for me but give it more of a hollowbody vibe, and put a couple of humbuckers in it and see what happens. I think that could be really fuckin’ cool, because it plays amazingly. It’s got such fuckin’ chunk to it. It’s really great. So those three I’m kinda rotating through, just feeling them out every night.
Right off the bat I try to have them deal with what can only be described as bad habits. This can be a daunting task for some; a recreational player who’s been doing things a certain way for years or even decades has to be able to trust me enough to abandon those bad habits, even though in the short term their playing may be more difficult than the way they do it now. I am careful to explain exactly why it is that those habits need to be abandoned. Most understand but there are always a few that resist. Part of my job is adjusting both their expectations and my own based on that openness, or lack of. It can be a delicate dance!
So here are a couple things I see fairly frequently. I’ve mentioned them in past posts but this issue is so important to play successfully and satisfactorily that it is worth revisiting them. Whether someone is considering lessons with me or elsewhere these things must be addressed if one is to progress on the guitar.
Left hand (or right hand, if you’re a lefty) position. I’m not speaking of finger position on the frets, that is something I’ll focus on in a minute. Basically, we’re talking about how the neck is gripped. And therein lies the problem: you’re not supposed to “grip” the neck! This is the single most common bad habit I see with self-taught players. I call it the Baseball Bat Grip. Making contact with a large portion of the inside of the hand behind the neck, which usually leads to pointing the thumb toward the head of the guitar. This is counter-productive on so many levels! First, it is almost impossible to correctly arch the fingers and use just the finger tips to fret individual strings. When employing the Baseball Bat Grip, fingers on top of the neck almost always end up touching an adjacent string and the result is a muffled, dead tone, or no sound at all. In advanced guitar playing there are actually times when you want this to happen but not in the beginning. The Baseball Bat Grip also severely restricts fast, fluid movement.
The correct formation of hand position behind the neck requires dropping the forearm and wrist, bending wrist, and keeping the tip of the thumb parallel to the 2nd (ring) finger. Avoid any contact with the inside of the hand against the back of the neck if at all possible. The thumb is the contact point, not the inside of the hand.
Of course, everyone’s hands are different and guitar necks vary widely in width, depth and string spacing so accomplishing this requires some experimentation. In my experience, this can be one of those things that an experienced recreational, self-taught player will resist the most. Whether they realize it or not, their brain is telling them: I can use my old grip and get a decent sound from at least a few chords and oh my god, it is so AWKWARD to drop my wrist and forearm, bend my wrist and avoid contact with the inside of my hand against the neck! My thumb is just not strong enough to do the job back there! But I’m quite merciless about this with those types. While I’ve become a bit more lax about other things in the last few years relating to general technique, this one is not open to negotiation! And while it may take a few weeks, when the student hears and sees the results in terms of clean, clear tone and accurate movement between chords they often wonder out loud how they could ever have played ANYTHING the old way!
Interestingly, it is usually men who have the most trouble adjusting to this concept. Maybe it’s because men are used to more manual labor than women where the strength in their hands is more important than strength with their fingers so they naturally want to utilize that strength. Maybe women are just more flexible. Or smarter. Oops!
What’s going on under and behind the neck is not as obvious as what’s happening on top but finger placement is ultimately what it’s all about when it comes to clean playing, assuming you’ve accomplished the above. The most obvious bad habits I see are not arching the fingers enough and not pressing down hard enough but there’s another one that is almost as common: setting up too far away from the fret. Self-taught players almost always set up fingers at points about half way between the fret that is dividing the string and the one behind the finger. This is a natural presumption based on chord diagrams that are found in books and in diagrams online that always seem to show the “dot” representing the fingers at the halfway point between the frets. But here’s the thing. The fret is “playing” the note or notes for us, dividing the string at a very specific point. On non-fretted string instruments such as the violin and cello, the finger itself is dividing the string. On the guitar the frets do that work. And because of the way a fret protrudes above the fingerboard, the closer the fingertip it to that fret, the firmer the contact will be with the fret. In other words, more of the string is coming in contact with the fret. When this happens the string cannot move on top of the fret when the string is played. Movement – which you cannot see but can certainly hear – results in buzzes or muffled notes. So setting up as close to the frets as possible is a key element in clear, clean tone.
Unfortunately, with some chords this is just not physically possible with all the fingers; first position A Major is an example. There are a few generally used finger “orders” in A major but I subscribe to using 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers. YMMV, as they say. This is one of those things that I’ve grown more liberal about in recent years; it’s OK to try different combinations if my way does not work for you. The reason I use the fingers I do on that chord is that is encourages concise movement to chords often found after A Major. But again, it’s OK to experiment with that one.
If it is not possible to get one or more fingers close to the frets in a chord remember that you must press down extra hard to make firm contact with the fret. And sometimes setting up one finger too far from the fret will affect good placement of all the others. The single most common problem I see in this regard is 1st position C Major. If the 1st finger is not absolutely tight to the fret (without overlapping it of course, which you never want to do with any fingers anywhere) there is no way you will be able to stretch out the 3rd finger to the fret that plays C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string, and the result is muddy sound. This is so common amongst self-taught players that I can almost count on having to correct it at the very first lesson.
Those are just a couple of the bad habits I see time and time again. The good news is that they are reversible with some focus and effort. The result of dealing with them is a pleasing sound no matter how simple a piece of music may be. There are others….. But that, I hope, is why people come to me for lessons!
Peace & good music,
After much speculation, we are so excited to debut the new D-18 Jason Isbell guitar!
Martin Ambassador Jason Isbell worked with the Martin Guitar Custom Shop to design his new Custom Signature Edition D-18 which is closely modeled after Martin’s Golden Era series. The model boasts a pre-aged Vintage Tone System (VTS) Adirondack spruce top; mahogany back and sides; and rear-shifted scalloped bracing which produces more natural volume and a clear powerful tone. It is constructed using hide glue which, unlike newer synthetic reproductions, dissolves into the grain of the wood and creates more resonance throughout the instrument. Isbell chose a thin finish and left off the pick guard - all design details that have one common goal – to make it loud.
You can learn more about the D-18 Jason Isbell here.
In this post, I’m going to talk about various decisions I made which lead to amazing opportunities. I believe you can achieve this predictive capability as well by observing, reading and having the mindset to watch for trends. Of course, you should do things that you are interested in, not just follow trends!
After a few years of doing structural engineering in consulting firms, I realized I wanted to return to my childhood passion, which was computer programming (my first computer was a Timex Sinclair ZX81). So around 1999, I looked into the industry and felt that object-oriented programming was where things were headed (a way to organize code into objects rather than endless lines of code). There happened to be a fast-track program at the University called OOST (object-oriented software technology). We learned different things but I felt that Java was pretty amazing and “free” or open-source (headed by Sun Microsystems at the time) and where things were going. Also, web-based applications were getting pretty interesting (much more powerful than the usual ‘static’ HTML websites), so I decided to work at Servidium which was developing a web-application framework called Jaydoh. Frameworks make it easier to build web apps and allow you to separate the view (HTML – what you see in the browser) from the controller (Java – the logic) which are also usually different skill sets.
Jaydoh was basically competing with Struts (an Apache open source framework) so the challenge to get sales was large, ie. to sell a proprietary framework when an open source one was already available. So I decided that I should get into open source Java instead for the sake of my career. That lead me to work at Digital Oilfield (DO) who was using J2EE (Java Enterprise Edition) to run their apps.
As it happened DO was about to release a new version of their software so they asked me if I wanted to learn something called webMethods. I said sure even though I had no idea what it was (always good to learn new skills). They needed a way to exchange invoice files between companies and were originally thinking of using Java (servlets) unless I could figure out webMethods quickly (which I did). This lead me to learn about the new area of ‘Enterprise Application Integration’ or EAI and B2B (business to business) transactions (exchanging data like invoices and purchase orders between companies essentially). At that point, I realized that this was an important and growing area. I’ve been working in this area ever since (about 2003).
Somewhere along the line people started talking about web services. So instead of applications full of code that are hard to reuse, we started to think about creating web services (similar to functions by accessible on the internet). In the corporate world this became SOAP (simple object access protocol) and on the internet, it became REST (Representational State Transfer). SOAP is pretty complicated compared to REST which is another important fact to take note of.
During my work as an integration consultant, I noticed that new areas were getting some interest such as business process modeling (BPM). I was pretty interested in this as well as it made sense to set up a process (step by step tasks that need to be done in a common business process) and plug in either automated or human-performed tasks. This is a higher-level layer than the integration layer of course. The challenge for me was that none of the companies I was getting called by had these types of opportunities (it was fairly cutting edge at the time). Also as a contractor, you are paid for your expertise so whenever you have a major learning project it’s probably best to join a company as an employee so you can learn the new skills. Another way is to pay for your own training and try to be put on a project with other experienced people (in BPM, for example). This is a bit riskier as you have the knowledge but not the experience.
I decided to keep doing webMethods projects which were lucrative and allowed me to ‘retire’ in my early 40s. In 2010 I moved to a semi-rural area of Eastern Canada but was still taking various webMethods projects with large breaks (usually many months) in between. The last one was only 1 day a week from home which was great because I could work on other things of interest. But in general, this work was getting pretty boring (not much new learning).
A few years ago I finally decided to get my health in order. So after reading a lot of books, I felt that a plant-based diet made the most sense. I ended up losing over 35 pounds, lowered my blood pressure and lower my cholesterol to ‘heart attack proof’ levels. I’m on no medications at age 47. In fact, I recently had to buy 30″ jeans which is crazy to me (I’m 6′ tall). So I recommend working on your ability to search, read books and papers and try to decipher some of the studies (say on Google Scholar) as it can be tricky to depend on an ‘expert’ in the field (many of them disagree with each other). My success with this approach ended up turning into an online business (Potato Strong) with ebooks, a program, a course, and coaching along with various social media channels that I maintain.
During the past few years, webMethods integration opportunities have diminished somewhat for various reasons (licensing fees, software competition, the influx of cheaper and/or offshore labor, etc) so here we are at another decision point. I’ve been working on other things but my mathematical and programming interests seem to keep coming back. I feel like there’s so much more I can do that I didn’t get into. I received a Ford Motor Company scholarship in 1988 which paid all my engineering tuition plus some living expenses (value $18,000), and then won an NSERC scholarship which paid for my Master’s degree.
Lately, I’ve been looking into deep learning, which is a subset of machine learning which is a subset of artificial intelligence. Related to that area is data science. Last year I took a Computational Investing course on Coursera taught by Tucker Balch of Georgia Tech. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others are investing billions of dollars in the area of deep learning. Just to give you an idea of how much better computers are getting at this type of work, there are computers winning Jeopardy game shows, beating people at chess and Go, recommending what Netflix shows you might like to watch, tagging photos on Facebook automatically (facial recognition), translating languages (Google translate), not to mention self-driving cars.
If you’re thinking of career longevity, you might want to focus on things that require very high-level knowledge or one-on-one contact (nurse). Even things like taxi/truck drivers could be replaced with self-driving cars. At a minimum, these are fun things to read about and even play with. Keep your eye open for changing trends and technologies that could affect your job security.
My website (the one you are on now) has historically been about guitar playing and teaching. I still play or practice every day as it’s a long time passion. I try to focus on one topic at a time, so currently it is using minor pentatonic scales (more so sequences) over jazz progressions (if interested drop me a message – I was working on an ebook about this).
After I lost a bunch of weight eating a plant-based diet (I’m now in 30″ jeans at age 47 at 6′ tall) I created the www.potatostrong.com website along with a ‘Potato Strong’ profile for each of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr. That’s been going pretty well and it feels good to help a lot of people lose weight, get off medications and help the animals and the environment.
For Potato Strong I developed a couple ebooks, program, course, and coaching and as I started to make sales I shared this information on a Facebook page called Share Your Passion Online. Every month I shared my total online income which grew from nothing to a modest monthly income that helps pay the bills. I then had it on auto-pilot to some extent (using MeetEdgar and BoardBooster) but I would still post what I ate most days (to help people see what to eat) and also do YouTube videos which are fun. But I needed a new challenge as I love to learn new things.
My background is engineering (I have a Master’s degree) and computer programming (diploma in object-oriented software technology). I went from being an engineer to switching over to software development where I ended up doing integration for large companies using webMethods software (now SoftwareAG).
webMethods contract opportunities have slowed substantially in the past few years. I used to get calls from a lot of recruiters and had a few close relationships with small consulting firms that specialize in this area.
In one of the many books I’ve read lately (can’t remember which one) they suggested thinking about what you liked doing as a child. While this might not work in every case I used to program computers in my basement. It was fun to make the computer do things. I started with a Timex Sinclair computer that used a regular TV and no data storage (I would eventually turn off the computer losing everything) before I added a regular tape recorder. Then I met a friend in high school and I loaned him my Atari game system for his Vic-20 (with a tape recorder). Then I eventually got a Commodore 64 and my high school had PET computers.
I’ve always loved to learn and am constantly reading books on various topics. It’s a blessing and a curse because it’s hard to do the same thing every day especially if there is no learning component. So last year I took a Python course online that involved stock market predictions using Pandas, Numpy, etc. I did very well and was helping others in the forums.
For some reason, I recently started thinking about artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning. It’s a complex area covering algebra, calculus, probability, computer programming and more (which is pretty much in my study background). I’m going to start with data science projects for the most part using a site called dataquest.io. This area touches pretty much every area of work from health care to social media as it helps employers figure out best business practices.
I’ll be posting my discoveries along the way here. Hopefully, I can add some guitar learnings and other topics over time. The topics are categorized in the top menu if you want to focus on one particular area.
Forget focusing on fame and fortune. Or being a famous guitarist. Screw goals.
I always get excited when I hear an idea that sounds strange at first but then makes me think in a new way. I often I evaluate a project based on the possible opportunities/expectations ie. thinking of learning how to write mobile apps so I can possibly earn some income or help some group like the disabled. Another one is debating whether to write an ebook to help people with a particular problem and earn some income.
A possibly better way to think when evaluating what to do with your time is to focus on the skills you will acquire. These skills may provide some benefit in the future, especially if they are combined with other skills. Scott Adams mentions that he combined some average drawing ability with humor and his knowledge of the office environment.
Since some of you are likely guitarists you could focus on the skills you will acquire – songwriting, arranging, learning scales (that can be applied to many styles), being able to focus for long periods of time while practicing, and so on. Every day you can focus on whether you are developing skills instead of whether you will be famous or even earn a living at the craft. This is systems thinking versus goals.
Say you want to start a blog to share your knowledge but you are wondering if anyone will care, if you will make any money eventually and so on. You might benefit from thinking about what skills you will acquire instead such as clear and concise writing, learning how to install or update a blog (and related website tasks), doing ‘Deep Work‘ (less distracted), writing longer more well researched posts, etc. That way it’s always a win even if no one ever reads your blog. You’ve still developed very useful skills that can be re-used in the next venture.
Focusing on the day to day systems and skills you will develop instead of the end result is another way of saying to be in the present moment. A lot of our ‘future based’ thinking leads to stress and impatience as we are unhappy that we are not at our goal. I’ve seen a lot of guitarists, dieters, and entrepreneurs be constantly frustrated and even give up because they weren’t seeing results (their future goals) fast enough.
When I was doing IT contracts my skills with integration work, specifically using webMethods software, was in high demand. And the hourly rate reflected that (plus I always asked for a high rate). I specifically chose to learn skills rather than try to move up the ladder so to speak. I often made more money than the managers who were more generalist in nature (not to mention employees).
This change in thinking also changes the questions we ask ourselves. Instead of ‘Am I a famous guitarist?’, ‘Do I have a hit song?’, ‘Am I making lots of money?’, ‘Do I have abs?’, we can ask ourselves if we are doing the work each day – ‘Did I practice today?’, ‘Did I write today?’, ‘Did I improve a little today?’.
I hope this idea is interesting to you. What skills are you currently developing?