Jazz Guru Bill Frisell’s Top Ten Tips For Guitarists

Top tips for any musician, not just guitarists….

(Image credit: Luciano Viti/Getty Images)

1. Listen

Listening is the number one thing – taking your attention away from yourself. 

In one way it was good to get back to practicing and being in my own head during the Covid lockdown. But when you’re playing with a band, that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.

You need to have your attention away from yourself. I don’t want to be thinking about what I’m doing. I want to be as focused as I can be on the people around me.

It helps me so much to just look at the other people in the band. It sort of opens everything up. It’s such a simple thing but it really helps the music for me.

Listening is such a huge thing. It sounds simple, but it’s a lifelong struggle to really, really listen.

2. Don’t Judge Yourself

What we perceive we’re doing when we play often has hardly anything to do with what’s coming out the front. 

At the time you might think, This is the most badass shit I’ve ever played in my life! And then you listen to a recording and go, “What was I thinking?” 

Or, you could be having some crisis in your head like, I just can’t play anything! But when you listen back it’s beautifully formed.

All that stuff in your head – you have to shut it down. The idea is to get rid of all that and just be immersed in the music. 

Try not to attach yourself to whatever just happened. You have to be constantly shedding off the idea it was good or bad.

3. Be Present
If you have a really great night, like you’re all high off the gig, you can’t think, That was so great – let’s do that again at the next gig.

The reason it was great is because you were all in the moment and you were responding to whatever was going on around you.

You just have to be as present as you can at all times. It’s the most amazing thing when the whole band is in the moment. It’s like you’re not thinking.

Gigs can be completely different to what you expect, no matter what you do before to prepare.

You get there and there’s like a loud refrigerator motor going over here and a bunch of people yelling over there or whatever – just nothing like what you had been planning for.

But you can’t hold on to what you hoped it would be. It’s about acceptance and letting go. You just have to be there, present.

4. Embrace Mistakes

Mistakes are awesome. If you don’t freak out. 

Like if you’re going for something and you mess it up, maybe the tendency is to think, Oh shit! I fucked it up! But again, it’s about listening. 

If you listen to what it is, if you’re in the moment, it could be better than what you were trying to play.

If you make a mistake, what you play after it can make it sound right. If everyone in the band is in the zone – listening and trusting each other – it’s like you’re rescuing each other all the time.

It’s not supposed to be a contest. I’m really not into the whole ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ thing. I mean, let’s try to make something cool with what just happened.

5. Practice is Great (Up to a Point)

I used to think that if you practiced real hard you get to this place where everything is just great all the time. But it’s just not so. The joy is being in the process. 

Anyone that says they’ve got it completely together is lying.

I’ve seen that mess with people. You can’t think, I’m going to practice and get to this certain point and then I’m going to do something. Because you’ll never get there. 

You just have to go for it right now and do the best you can, and just keep on pushing ahead.

You can’t wait until you’ve finished something before you get to the music.

6. Don’t Think for Others

You’re the only one who truly knows how successful you are. 

If you’re worried about what somebody else is going to think it’s just another thing that gets in the way of doing it. Because you’re never going to know what the audience is hearing.

For me, the most honest way to perform is to think, I love this and I’m going to do it as best I can. 

If I’m feeling some kind of joy in what I’m doing, then hopefully the audience is going to hear that and get off on it. And if they don’t hear it, well there’s nothing I can do about that.

I’m lucky. I’ve had people listen to me play. But if I was just trying to figure out what they wanted to hear I’d be chasing around forever.

7. Be Yourself
I definitely spent time early on trying to be cool. Like maybe there would be a song I liked but I thought it was kind of corny, so I didn’t want people to know I really liked it. I wanted people to think I was this super hip blues guy or something.

But as time went by, I realized I had to be honest about who I am and where I came from. 

I can’t take on the persona of someone else. I wasn’t a jazz guy that grew up in the ‘30s and ‘40s; I grew up in Denver in the ‘50s and ‘60s. That’s my experience.

Being honest with your own experience is going to make things way stronger. Don’t be afraid to show who you are and where you come from. 

Sometimes it’s scary to put yourself out there, but try to overcome that and don’t be afraid to be you.

8. Destroy Competition

This whole idea that music is about competition – as if someone is better than someone else, or this instrument is harder than that one, like what are you talking about?! 

I mean it doesn’t make sense. I love what John Andrew Rice, one of the founders of Black Mountain College, said:

“There are things learned through observation that cannot be learned any other way. Whatever cannot be expressed in words cannot be learned through words… 

“The worthwhile struggle is the interior one, not against one’s fellows but against one’s ignorance and clumsiness.”

Instead of trying to keep score we should just be helping each other. We know how successful we are with trying to do what we’re trying to do. And that’s enough to worry about. We don’t have to be putting that on somebody else.

John Andrew Rice thought there shouldn’t be a winner and a loser in a debate – he believed it was about finding the truth, as opposed to being a contest. 
That’s how I feel about music. Let’s try to get together and make something good. It’s not a competition.

9. Take Chances

The music gets way higher when everyone in a band feels safe that they can take a chance. It’s a lot better to just go for it than be thinking, I better not try that because I might mess it up.

It might be good or bad, but that’s how you learn. It’s the only way to move ahead.

Skill is great, but there has to be some sort of story behind it. All this technical stuff is nothing if you’re not saying anything with it.

It’s about showing who you are – that’s all you can do, I guess. And that’s often not about what you learned in a book.

10. Learn to Forget
I know we need to practice our instruments, but you need to be able to shake that off when you’re really trying to play the music. 

I’m in a privileged position because I have a lot of gigs, but if I practice all day and have all that stuff in my head later on at the gig it can be detrimental.

Sometimes, you’ll find there’s stuff you can do in practice that you can’t seem to bring into another scenario. You want to take it with you all the time, but it just doesn’t work that way. 

When you’re on stage you’re not in your own living room, y’know?

We have to practice and learn things. If I’m learning a song, I want to get the song so deep down inside me that I’m not thinking about mathematics or numbers – that place where it becomes automatic. Like if you’re riding a bike, you’re making a million calculations but you’re not thinking about it.

Sonny Rollins (one of my biggest heroes) said that music is happening too fast to be thinking about it while you’re playing. 

That totally makes sense to me.

Read the full original article here….

Authentic Brazilian Samba/Bossa Guitar comping

The ‘Tune of the Month’ in Matt Warnock’s Jazz study group is So Danco Samba. Matt has given us authentic Bossa and Samba patterns to learn, but I wanted to try and take my comping to the next level and make it sound even more authentic. I listened to the Jobim version, also the Getz/Gilberto version along with a whole playlist of others. Then I decided to try and find a Brazilian who could teach me. After a few minutes on google I found Diego Figueiredo and his ‘Brazilian Jazz Guitarra‘ course on Truefire.com. I watched a free video where he taked about the Bossa Nova Jazz connection. In the free vid’ he demonstrated what he was talking about by playing So Danco Samba – result! He gave some great tips and ideas. I was so impressed I wanted to find out what else he had to say.

Diego Figueiredo is one of the greatest guitarists I’ve seen in my whole life. The world needs to listen to his music.” – George Benson

From Truefire…..
Diego is also a passionate educator, and we’re very excited to welcome him to the family with his first TrueFire course, Brazilian Jazz Guitarra!

”I love the ‘magica’ — the magic of bossa nova and the freedom of jazz. Combining these two influences produces a colorful, vibrant style that I call Brazilian Jazz Guitarra. In this course, I’ll share 12 key concepts and techniques that power this exciting style. We’ll apply all 12 of those approaches across seven performance studies in different feels and tempos.”

Diego organized the course in two sections. In the first section, Diego shares 12 key concepts and techniques that are signature to his style: Bossa Nova Swing & Variations, Traditional Brazilian Music Styles, Right Hand Fingers & Approach, Right Hand Patterns & Variations, Right Hand Arpeggio Exercises, Up & Down Thumb Technique, Chord Substitution Ideas, How to Play With a Singer, The Bossa Nova & Jazz Connection, Explore the Scales Inside Chords, Inside vs. Outside Melodies, and The Importance of Repertoire.

Needless to say, I bought a copy of the course and am enjoying it very much. I have a few days left until I submit my final project for the month. I hope to share that with you.

Here’s a link to Diego’s course Brazilian Jazz Guitarra.

Footprints – Wayne Shorter

The weather has been grim. It’s been raining for days. More guitar time then! On the Strat-Talk forum where we discuss all things stratocaster there is a weekly challenge that I sometimes join in with. This week’s challenge was to record oneself playing over a backing track for Wayne Shorter’s Footprints. I liked the sound of of it, and decided to gve it a go.
I spent a happy morning teaching myself the melody by ear then recording this…..

Here’s what we have….
Drums intro, 4 bars keyboard turnaround, 2* Melody, 4 choruses improvisation, 2* Melody, 2*tag, outro.
I recorded using a 1967 ‘Chet Atkins’ Gretsch Country Gentleman – also know as the George Harrison guitar, through a DV Mark Little Jazz amplifier into Ableton Live. The backing track was posted by Monte over on strat-talk. Here’s the challenge thread in case you fancy having a go, or checking out what other players made of it.

A great morning on the guitar learning about a tune that I was not familiar with. What you been up too?

Footprints” is a jazz standard composed by saxophonist Wayne Shorter and first recorded for his album Adam’s Apple in 1966. The first commercial release of the song was a different recording on the Miles Davis album Miles Smiles recorded later in 1966, but released earlier. It has become a jazz standard.

Getting 2022 Started…

Happy New Year 2022
I’ve been collecting inspirational quotes to keep in mind this year. I’m gonna share some of my favourites…..
“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” – That quote by the author Robin Sharma suggests that change is not only inevitable but that it’s necessary for a good life. A useful thought this time of year.

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go. They merely determine where you start.”  – Nido Qubein.

Victoria Pendleton on mental preparation says: “It’s a lifelong process, just as physical training is. It becomes a lot easier, the more you practise it.

As I go into a ‘dry’ January, I’ll leave you with three thoughts from Mike Lake that I hope will inspire some of your decisions as you ease into 2022:

  • Find the courage to venture outside of your current comfort zone. Pick those opportunities well.
  • Declare the end of doing the same things over and over expecting different results. And that includes how you practice and play your instrument!
  • Consider the valuable energy wasted over resisting change. What are you missing while you spend time and energy fighting change rather than being open to embracing the opportunities it may bring to you?

I wish you all a fabulous 2022. May it be your best year ever.

Thank you…

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Rupert Brooke. 1887 – 1915


Autumn Leaves – with a Dutch Opera singer!

There is a Dutch village not far from me here in France. It’s a residential/holiday village. A Dutch opera singer, Lyda Van Tol, retired there recently, and my friend Gijs has been very keen to introduce us. I met Lyda briefly last week and invited her to come and take a guest slot at our booking in the restaurant there (I have no problems jumping in at the deep end!). She accepted, came along, and met Rod (keyboard) during the break. Lyda told us she would like to sing the introduction a cappella then we would join in. I would take a short solo over the A section then Lyda would come back in. This was great fun, and it was a real pleasure to back her. Our audience don’t normally listen this hard. You could hear a pin drop. Lyda went on to do two more songs. I loved it.

Brood X – Summer of Love

Dédiée aux cigales Cicadas Brood X.
Tous les 17 ans, les nymphes de la cigale de Brood X creusent un tunnel vers le haut en masse pour émerger de la surface du sol. Les insectes perdent ensuite leurs exosquelettes sur les arbres et autres surfaces, devenant ainsi des adultes. Les cigales matures volent, s’accouplent, pondent des œufs dans des brindilles, puis meurent en quelques semaines. La combinaison de la longue vie souterraine des insectes, de leur émergence quasi simultanée du sol en grand nombre et de leur courte période d’âge adulte permet à la couvée de survivre même à une prédation massive.