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geoffgeoff Goshen, INNew
edited June 2007 in Gypsy Picking Posts: 10
hi michael! how's it going?

i am about to buy the gypsy picking book. but i have one quick question before i'm about to make a move that will change my playing forever! haha!

i know that the gypsy style of picking and its rest stroke rule is very efficent for the gypsy jazz genre and it's good for acoustic instruments such as a manouche guitar. but should i apply the same technique is i play a different genre on a different guitar? such as playing rock on an electric guitar? still apply the gypsy method?

one of the main reasons why i'm interested in "gypsy picking" is because i have a hard time "picking really fast" when i'm on an electric guitar. and i know that picking on a manouche guitar should be a lot harder! and it seems like the gypsy players have their own picking method of picking away! so it makes sense that if i get really good gypsy jazz chops, i should also gain good "rock chops" since the electric guitar is an "easier" instrument to play on!


  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,827
    Hi Geoff,

    Rest Stroke picking is one of the oldest techniques for plectrum instruments of all kinds, and has been used to play countless styles of music. Gypsy jazz evolved with rest stroke picking, and therefore is used by most players. Other early swing players and even some bebop players like Joe Pass also used rest stroke picking. With that said, I can't predict how well it will work for rock. My guess is that for most stuff it will work really well...but some things you will need to find different fingerings or use more pull offs. The Gypsy Picking book explains how to do this....

    In the least, I think you'll gain some useful techniques from the book. But I can't guarantee you'll be able to play everything Eddie Van Halen does! :D But problem!

  • geoffgeoff Goshen, INNew
    Posts: 10
    hi michael

    thankyou very much! your answer really helped!

    i have another question though. what do most gypsy jazz players think when they improvise? i know joe pass once said "when you play, don't think! otherwise your playing will sound stale and stiff..." somethin' like that. it ain't exact quote. but each guitar player for sure has some system of their own when they improvise. for example, some guitar players, especially rock, think in terms of SCALES and MODES when they improvise... some guitar players, especially blues, think in terms of LICKS... what I do myself is i think a little bit of SCALES for certain chords, some arppegios and chromaticism to "string things all along." Martin Taylor said he thinks in terms of LINES... i don't really know what that means! but what my guitar teacher is trying to teach me is to think in terms of FUNCTION! so instead of playing a memorized scale or lick, i should think in terms of FUNCTION such as flat 5s, sharp 9s...etc when i'm improvising. the advantage of FUNCTION, my teacher told me, is i'll have a clear knowledge and sense of playing whatever comes to my head. i know players such as Joe Pass and Pat Metheny think like that. you can tell by the way they play and in their master classes they never mention the word LICK very much, but instead they talk about listening and playing what you hear in your head!

    to me it seems like gypsy jazz guitarist think in terms of licks. the reason why i said that is because whenever i go on youtube or somethin', some great players such as joscho stephan will be giving lessons on "how to play such and such lick over a certain chord progression." also i've met some other gypsy jazz players recently and their advice for me was to listen to CDs of django and try to "copy their solos and learn their licks." and ultimately i know that django himself wasn't educated! he's just one of those geniuses that can just play whatever they can hear in their heads and play it without any theory knowledge! and whatever he played, others "copied him" and made those "licks!"

    if gypsy jazz is all "licked bassed" then there's pretty much no need for much theory knowledge since they don't really play what's in their head but they play a "memorized lick" over some chord changes. but i know you're an educated person yourself because you graduated from BERKLEE! therefore i was wondering if you have any advice for me as far as thinking beyond playing memorized licks and applying theory and function into improvising gypsy jazz? also, since BERKLEE doesn't emphasize much on gypsy jazz, did what you learn at BERKLEE actually helped and influenced you as a gypsy jazz player? I'm curious because i'm going to go to BERKLEE myself! woohoo!

    sorry abou the essay!
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,827
    Well...first off it should be said that Django and most Gypsies know absolutely nothing about music theory. Most don't even know the names of the notes! And the same can be said for many great American jazz men, like Wes Montgomery. But they have good ears, and in the end that's what matters.

    As far as licks go, my stance is that you have to develop a vocabulary of licks, or "patterns." It's simply not possible to play eighth notes at fast tempos and be improvising 100%. Django certainly didn't...he played the same patterns or licks for 20 years...over, and over, and over, and over. But he still made great music with them and was definitely improvising.

    For some reason there's been this back lash against learning patterns in jazz...but if you look at all the books or talk to a player from the swing or bebop era, you'll learn that's pretty much what they practiced. Lots and lots of patterns. I think guys like Jim Hall wanted to get away from pattern based playing, so maybe that's were the backlash started.

    Don't get me wrong...knowing theory is a huge asset. And there's more to improvising then just licks. But if you never develop a vocabulary of patterns, you won't be able to play fast tempos with the confidence and poignancy of the great improvisers.
  • BillyBobBillyBob Graham, WaNew
    Posts: 53
    Licks are like different tools in your toolbox. If you are like most guys, you accumulate them over time. At first, all you can do is raise the seat of your bicycle, after a while, change the spark plug in your lawn mower, next thing you know, you're working on the space shuttle.
    You get my drift? There's nothing wrong with licks. And think about this - have you ever used a crescent wrench for a hammer? You can use the licks you've accumulated and Geoff-ify them.

    Today I started the journey in the gypsy picking book. I started as a classical guitarist (there are even licks in classical!), and also play some rock. The possibilities are as boundless as your imagination. Don't pass up a tool to put in your box!
    Just your average Djoe.
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,378
    The great Joe Pass once said something like:
    "Improvisation is the art of spontaneous reorganization"
  • Ken BloomKen Bloom Pilot Mountain, North CarolinaNew
    Posts: 164
    Maybe there is a better way than this either/or approach to things. I was a horn player before I ever touched a guitar so I learned about lines and function first. Sure I listened a lot to my musical heroes and tried to play like them but my teacher kept emphasizing the contour of a line and to have that second layer in your thinking about how the particular note functioned in relation to the chord. The idea was to know this stuff so well that you didn't have to think about it much.
    When I got to playing the guitar, I approached it first like it was a stringy horn. I still tend to think that way. I taught myself how to play lines and scales on it before I ever attempted to play a chord (the result of Alfred's note method for playing the guitar). I heard guitar players using various vocabularies to improvise. That's how I think of it. Each player develops his or her own vocabulary for expression. Having the theory background I think just enhances the experience. I guess this is a layered approach but I think one that is useful for someone with an over-educated background like myself.
    Ken Bloom
  • geoffgeoff Goshen, INNew
    Posts: 10
    wow! thanks a lot everyone! all your advices really helped! It's important to know lines, function, and theory. but it's also important to have a great vocabulary of licks. that really helped!
  • jmcgannjmcgann Boston MA USANew
    edited June 2007 Posts: 134
    My .002$ and IMHO:

    A "lick" is any useful musical phrase. As far as "lick useage" goes, they are great for having reliable things to draw on when you are playing. The danger is that, musically speaking, a lick can be a dead thing by itself, and I think solos that are just modular strings of licks glued together are what they are.

    A lick becomes an "idea" when it becomes malleable and you can alter it (sometimes just a teeny bit) to give a different conclusion.

    Django, like all improvisers, may have had "licks", but the way that he played in and out of them, with the use of space and pacing and storytelling-like development of the ideas, is exemplary of how you can use them as springboards to develop ideas.

    One favorite example is the 1949 "After You've Gone" solo- he revisits "the enclosure lick" many times over the chorus, but it evolves and has a different "payoff" each time he uses it. The way he revisits the same idea when that particular chord change comes up in the various parts of the form really gives a narrative sense of structure to the solo- it's not 'lick spewage' to me!

    Django was not only a composer of tunes of the first quality; so many of his improvisations have the same qualities of great compositions- that storytelling like sense of development and surprise and inevitability that are perfect musical gems, and not meaningless rambles through a lexicon of licks.

    As a pedestrian mortal, I've found what Ken mentions about understanding/hearing note function against chord changes to be the single most useful theory aspect of improvising. This, combined with an understanding of what chords are and how they can be found all over the neck, and how the majority of notes of any given melody, composed or improvised, are comprised of the notes of the chord of the moment have helped me immeasurably as a player.

    I've never heard Django play a note without commitment.
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