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How long will it take?

StevoStevo New
edited February 2005 in Gypsy Picking Posts: 3
Hi Michael,

I don't have lots of time to practice at this point in my life (busy job, young family, etc). If I can get in an hour a day, that's pretty good. Sometimes I can get a couple of hours in. So, I have to think carefully about how I spend that time.

My background is in jazz standards and fusion. I've been having a great time with gypsy jazz over the last couple of years. I would like to push further and get the gypsy picking technique together (so I bought your book).

You note in the book that you spent 8 hours a day for 6 months before you felt confident playing at medium tempos.

YIKES! Is it it realistic for me to take this on?

I'm not in danger of doing gigs at this point. I do like to jam with friends, but I don't think their feelings will be hurt if my soloing gets worse for awhile (my ego may suffer a bit). But, I know I won't stick with it if it takes me years to be barely competent.

Does it makes sense for people like me to attempt this book?
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Comments

  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,961
    Stevo wrote:
    You note in the book that you spent 8 hours a day for 6 months before you felt confident playing at medium tempos.

    YIKES! Is it it realistic for me to take this on?

    A lot of folks struggle with this. Especially people who have never had the experience of learning a deep music tradition which has a well defined sense of musical "right" and "wrong." (See my essay on Tradition.)

    If you want to obtain the proper sound, phrasing, and volume of a real Gypsy player it's pretty hard to do it with any other technique. If you play using a more conventional technique you may able to play faster because you're used to it, but you'll probably never get full acceptance within the Gypsy jazz community. At jam sessions, gigs, etc....people in the know, especially Gypsies!, will notice the difference. The Gypsy picking really makes a big difference in the sound and probably is THE fundamental element of playing this music. For lead playing anyway.

    That doesn't mean you have to do it. It's your choice, but there's definitely a price to pay in terms of sound. And so many of the common phrases and techniques used in this music fit naturally with the Gypsy Picking technique. You could spend countless hours trying to figure out how to alternate pick a Django solo, or just bite the bullet and learn it the trad. way which in the end will most likely you save time. In a nutshell, playing Django's music with the Gypsy Picking method is a time tested formula for success. If you try to play Django any other way you'll be groping in the dark and may never find your way out.

    I try to be open minded about it. For instance, I like a lot of what Martin Taylor does. He doesn't play using Gypsy technique so he doesn't really have the "sound." But he's a great player and it's not like I'm gonna throw out his CDs because he doesn't Gypsy pick. But I doubt he could really hang at a real Gypsy jam session. He really hasn't paid his dues on this music. But he still does some nice stuff.



    Stevo wrote:
    Does it makes sense for people like me to attempt this book?

    Even if you don't have a lot of time, I'd say most definitely. If you really want to play this music. For me the actual sound the Gypsies get out of the guitar is just as important as what they're playing. So to get that sound you've got to learn the right technique. It'll take a little longer at 1 hour a day, but you will get there. And I'd rather have you playing simpler, slower things with good tone, volume, and most importantly, Gypsy soul, then have you noodleing away at high speeds with crummy articulation.

    Good luck!

    -Michael
  • StevoStevo New
    Posts: 3
    Thanks Michael. I enjoyed the essay!

    I'll give the picking a try. Maybe I'll check my progress in your picking workshop at djangofest LA.

    In regards to the tradition: I respect the gypsy musical tradition, and I respect the people that adhere to the gypsy musical tradition. But, my angle is that I'm just looking for ways to be a better player, and this could be a great avenue.

    If picking a certain way is necessary for full acceptance in the Gypsy Jazz community... Maybe I can still get partial acceptance if the picking doesn't work out for me.

    As far as "hanging" at gypsy jazz jam sessions: I'm really not very sophisticated (or experienced) in this regard. If another player has a good attitude and plays decent rhythm, then to me, they're hanging. They can solo any way they want (as long as I get my solo in, too ;-)

    The creative part of the whole thing is pretty important to me. I'm cool with learning Django's solos - I've worked out some, but really should do more. I think this would help anyone's playing. But, I really want to play my own solos.
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,961
    Stevo wrote:
    I'll give the picking a try. Maybe I'll check my progress in your picking workshop at djangofest LA.

    Great...see you then!

    Stevo wrote:
    As far as "hanging" at gypsy jazz jam sessions: I'm really not very sophisticated (or experienced) in this regard. If another player has a good attitude and plays decent rhythm, then to me, they're hanging. They can solo any way they want (as long as I get my solo in, too ;-)

    Well that's always the problem...when does tradition stop becoming an asset and start becoming a burden? In such a way that everyone is afraid to play together because they feel they're not traditional enough. But the flip side is when no one respects the tradition and it all ends up sounding like crap. I always lean more towards tradition, but that's me
    Stevo wrote:
    The creative part of the whole thing is pretty important to me. I'm cool with learning Django's solos - I've worked out some, but really should do more. I think this would help anyone's playing. But, I really want to play my own solos.

    Me too...but to succeed in any art you need to study and understand what came before. If you skip that then you end up spending a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

    Many guitarists who are thought of as highly original usually have very deep roots in some tradition. Eddie Van Halen studied classical in his youth, Jimi Hendrix was totally steeped in R&B, and Django had the Gypsy heritage. I really think everyone needs some serious roots to start from. Then you get creative.

    Have Fun!,

    'm
  • JAMFJAMF ChicagoNew
    Posts: 32
    I'm bringing this thread back up because I'm in Steve's situation in many respects: young family, limited practice time, interest in other musical styles.

    My question is what are the drawbacks to learning this style of picking, to the exclusion of alternate picking, and then playing other styles of jazz?

    Is there any reason why I shouldn't invest my limited amount of practice time to becoming adept in this style of picking?
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,961
    JAMF wrote:
    Is there any reason why I shouldn't invest my limited amount of practice time to becoming adept in this style of picking?

    That's never an easy question to answer.....if you want to be versatile and don't have much time to practice it's pretty hard for you to be anything other then a jack of all trades and master of none. I don't mean to be brutal, but I've seen it over and over and for 98% of people it's true. If you don't dedicate to a genre it's hard to ever really get anywhere with it. Even with limited time, if you're focused you ultimately find much deeper expression in that one genre then trying to mess around with a lot of styles.

    However, the Gypsy picking technique is more versatile then most people give it credit for. Keep in mind it was pretty much the only way to pick before amplification. So it's used on on every conceivable plectrum instrument and genre. With that track record I think it will serve you well with just about anything you try to play.

    Hope that helps...

    'm
  • JAMFJAMF ChicagoNew
    Posts: 32
    That does help in a general way. Can you be more specific about the perceived limitations of this style and comment on the validity of those perceptions?
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,961
    JAMF wrote:
    That does help in a general way. Can you be more specific about the perceived limitations of this style and comment on the validity of those perceptions?

    The two most common comments you hear is that you can't play modern jazz and/or electric guitar with Gypsy Picking. I think that's a result of this technique surviving mostly with the Gypsies who play swing on an acoustic. But Joe Pass used rest strokes to play bop on electric. Also, the George Benson picking technique (described by Tuck Andress here ) uses many of the same principles as Gypsy Picking. Most notably the rest stroke.

    So it can be used for modern and electric styles.

    If you already have a killer right hand (with any technique), I think you should think long and hard about changing. Guys like Jorgenson are a perfect example. He mastered picking decades ago....but it's not Gypsy Picking, but he's incorporated enough of it with his own technique to be able to play this music. Still sounds a little different, but still great music. If PAt Martino came to take a Gypsy lesson from me I wouldn't tell him he has to do Gypsy Picking. He's already so accomplished...it doesn't make much sense unless he wants to be 100% authentic.



    But for most of us our right hand is pretty lame. We need all the help we can get, so why not do it right? I'd say the most important thing you should ask yourself is "Am I avoiding the Gypsy Picking technique because I feel that it's too hard and will take to long to learn?" If that's the case, then just bite the bullet and learn it. There are no short cuts except getting down to business and working hard sooner rather then later. If you have a mediocre right hand you're going to have to do a lot of work anyway so why not use the Gypsy method? It's a proven technique used by countless Gypsies including Django. I can't think of anything that sounds better....

    Good luck!

    'm
  • kimmokimmo Helsinki, Finland✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 168
    Stevo wrote:
    I don't have lots of time to practice at this point in my life (busy job, young family, etc). If I can get in an hour a day, that's pretty good. Sometimes I can get a couple of hours in. So, I have to think carefully about how I spend that time.

    Hi Stevo,

    I can really relate to that (job, kids, etc). I'm lucky to get half an hour per day in average and even that isn't non-stop concentration (and not every day), plus most of it is playing something less loud like an electric arch-top unplugged. Still, after a period of hesitation and a few efforts to take it half way, I finally decided to go systematically the Gypsy picking way, and now – after about ten months – I'm glad I did. I had been louder than your average joe before, but the rest strokes helped me to get rid of a lot of unwanted side noise AND the technique has forced me to rethink my phrasing. And I have found my playing to be far more consistent than before – no such drastic difference between bad days and better days.

    It took me a few months to get started, a few more months to get comfortable and more than a couple of times I have gone in the wrong direction which has forced me to re-learn things all over again. I practice without any reference points (except videos) or teachers, because for the moment I'm the only guitarist east of Stockholm to play this way that I know of, so I'm likely to keep finding mistakes in my system. However, after last summer I have performed using Gypsy picking only, and the feedback has been exclusively positive. Of course I'm all the time refining my weak points – at present my main focus is on time keeping and too weak upstrokes. And in my age (40+) learning new stuff is always an extra effort.

    So I'm telling you that it's doable.
    Stevo wrote:
    I'm not in danger of doing gigs at this point. I do like to jam with friends, but I don't think their feelings will be hurt if my soloing gets worse for awhile (my ego may suffer a bit). But, I know I won't stick with it if it takes me years to be barely competent.

    Last year in Samois I played quite badly – I had just started the transition two months ago and was not confident with it at all. I don't think I offended anybody with my bad playing (I hope I didn't), not even my own ego – I just needed to put things in perspective: I'm not here to compete, I'm here to have fun and *learn*. And next summer I sure am able to play much better, but I still will be there for the same reasons - to have fun and learn.

    And as I said, it's doable, in a lot less time than years.
    If you want to obtain the proper sound, phrasing, and volume of a real Gypsy player it's pretty hard to do it with any other technique. If you play using a more conventional technique you may able to play faster because you're used to it, but you'll probably never get full acceptance within the Gypsy jazz community. At jam sessions, gigs, etc....people in the know, especially Gypsies!, will notice the difference. The Gypsy picking really makes a big difference in the sound and probably is THE fundamental element of playing this music. For lead playing anyway.

    While I'm very satisfied now to have made the transition myself, I would hesitate to call it “THE fundamental element of playing this music". After all, one of the key characteristics of jazz is individual execution and finding your own voice (I know, it's been covered elsewhere, and it is arguable whether Gypsy jazz is jazz, etc). However, last summer in Samois I witnessed Larry Camp play some amazing stuff with great tone and volume using conventional alternate picking – and he was playing with the Gypsies, who were beating some loud rhythm. He had no problems being accepted or heard. And if my memory serves me well, he wasn't the only one.

    So while I agree, that obtaining proper sound, phrasing, and volume IS hard to do it with any other technique, I still would say that it certainly is not impossible.

    But it will be even harder that the at first seemingly impossible mind-switch to Gypsy picking.
    JAMF wrote:
    My question is what are the drawbacks to learning this style of picking, to the exclusion of alternate picking, and then playing other styles of jazz?

    I can only speak for myself here. I find keeping time much more difficult using Gypsy picking and I have had to modify/drop a LOT of my phrases (fingerings, rhythms, etc) to be able to use them at all. But, as i said earlier, after less than a year and without teachers or like-minded playing pals, I still really am in the beginning of this. Even at this point so many factors in my playing have improved that I don't consider these drawbacks fatal.

    kimmo
  • kimmokimmo Helsinki, Finland✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 168
    I try to be open minded about it. For instance, I like a lot of what Martin Taylor does. He doesn't play using Gypsy technique so he doesn't really have the "sound." But he's a great player and it's not like I'm gonna throw out his CDs because he doesn't Gypsy pick. But I doubt he could really hang at a real Gypsy jam session. He really hasn't paid his dues on this music. But he still does some nice stuff.

    Hi Michael,

    In the Grappelli bio DVD (SG - A Life In The Jazz Century) Martin Taylor - who toured with Grappelli for years - tells how Grappelli specifically did not allow QHCF-type backing or Django-style playing from the guitarists. This is consistent with the other Grappelli interviews I have read: for instance he never had three guitarists in his bands, because the third seat belonged to Django.

    This years Samois will show Martin Taylor perform with David Reinhardt and Christian Escoude. While not a real Gypsy jam session (balance will be taken care of by sound engineers), we will anyway surely get a fine example of different styles complementing each other - most likely on electric arch-tops. I don't doubt Taylor's abilities to hang.

    kimmo
  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,961
    kimmo wrote:
    This years Samois will show Martin Taylor perform with David Reinhardt and Christian Escoude. While not a real Gypsy jam session (balance will be taken care of by sound engineers), we will anyway surely get a fine example of different styles complementing each other - most likely on electric arch-tops. I don't doubt Taylor's abilities to hang.

    Hi Kimmo....I'm in no way slighting Martin Taylor. In a classic jazz setting he can hang with the best. I think he's great and has done really cool and innovative things with the Django's music. He even owns a copy of Unaccompanied Django!

    However, he simply doesn't play with the same technique, phrasing, and tone as Django and the Gypsies. So he's not like Bireli, who can play fusion, bebop, and rock and then sit down around the camp fire and quote django all night. That's all I was saying. I'm sure Taylor knows he sounds different, and I'm sure he's not that interested in the subtleties of this style. I was just using him as an example of someone who plays Django inspired music with a different technique. It's still great music...but it does fall outside of the accepted aesthetic norms of this style. Nothing wrong with that though.....


    'm
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