The PDF file for this lesson is here:
*This lick is plucked out of Pat’s version of the John Coltrane classic “impressions.” It appears on his 1974 album Consciousness. Listen around the 0.47 mark and you might be able to catch it.
Harmonically, this lick is pretty straightforward. Here, we see that Pat mixes the Bb Dorian scale with elements of the Db Maj. Pentatonic, Db Maj.7 arpeggio, and a series of passing tones. The theory behind the lick is really nothing to obsess over, so instead of discussing it at any great length, I’m going to spend some time talking about the development of picking technique…
Sometime ago I had the chance to study with Pat Martino. During that period, my picking was slightly above average at best. I asked him to tell me the secret behind his amazing technique. His reply was simple and blasé. He held up both of his hands and stated nonchalantly:
“This hand (his picking hand) is the dropout and this hand (the other hand) is the graduate.”
Admittedly, I found his response to be clever but ultimately evasive. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how profound what he was saying really was. He was simply trying to relate the fact that he wasn’t very conscious of his picking patterns. Later, when I was really beginning to excel on a technical level, a lot of my peers started asking me to explain my personal methods. It was hard for me to really clearly articulate my methodology because there really wasn’t one. I had simple worked out problems and limitations through repetitious movements and troubleshooting. I know that a lot of people claim that doing different exercises and playing etudes has helped them to improve technically. I assume this approach can be helpful, especially considering that each individual has a different learning style. Personally, the only way I have been able to make any serious progress is by learning transcriptions. Naturally, the only response I could give was “transcribe, transcribe, transcribe!!!” And I still believe that wholeheartedly.
I thought about it for a long time and eventually, I came to the same realization that Pat might have-I wasn’t conscious of my right hand because I was so focused on the place where the music was happening for me. The melodies, harmony, and ideas were all formulated in the left hand, so that’s where I spent most of my time. Also, I realized that I took my right hand for granted because I started out as a drummer and took it very seriously for years. I didn’t have to think about it as much. On the other hand, understanding harmony was like pulling teeth for me. I had absolutely no proclivity towards it at all. At some point, I began to deconstruct my logic and put together a system of explanation based on 3 simple principles relating to left hand development. They are as follows:
1) Limit use of the 4th finger as much as possible.
I discovered this approach through watching Eric Clapton play. I noticed that he would extend his third finger to the outside of the minor pentatonic position, thus allowing him more speed and dexterity. I instantly set about on the tiresome process of revamping my technique. I practiced rock and blues clichés for hours, in every position of the pentatonic, using only my first three fingers. With in months, my technique had improved dramatically.
In the jazz context, I saw Pat Metheny applying the same principles Clapton was using. As I began to transcribe a few of Metheny’s solos I realized that a lot of the licks contained with in them were simply unplayable without excluding the 4th finger. I watched Martino closely and noticed that he often employed the same principles. Once I noticed it in a few players, I soon discovered it in hundreds of others.
2) Try to play the lick or solo using the original fingerings and positions.
For me, a transcription is never completed until I can get as close as possible to playing the material in the original fingerings and positions. Sometimes this involves watching and slowing down videos over and over again. It’s a tedious process but well worth it in the end.
All of this leads me to the subject of tablature. I must admit that there was a time in my life when a student couldn’t pay me enough to write out a piece of tab. I had an elitist attitude about it that was mostly influenced by my first teacher’s cynicism regarding the subject. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really realized how valuable tablature really is as a learning tool. Proper fingerings can often make or break one’s musical interpretation. The next time you realize that you’re using a different fingering than the musician you are learning from, ask yourself, “Am I making an artistic decision or selling myself short by being lazy?” Too often the answer seems to be the former.
3) The right position is often the easiest.
This one is more like a “Rule of thumb” rather than something that I think needs to be set in stone. I’m sure there are millions of examples that take exception to this rule. However, in my experience, I know that I used to overcomplicate things quite a bit. For example, I transcribed this Martino lick in two ridiculously hard positions before I arrived at the right one.
Finally, I don’t want to act as if some attention (Maybe a lot of attention) shouldn’t be put toward developing your picking hand. For me, it really depends on the style of music I am trying to play and what I am trying to achieve. In the bebop context, I rely on using a small pick for accuracy. My choice is the ever-popular Jim Dunlap Jazz III. If I find myself in a strange situation (like sitting in at a friend’s gig) and I am forced to use a bigger pick, I usually turn it around to the dull side. I learned this from Pat Metheny, who I think uses a pretty large fender pick. Turning the pick around allows me to achieve a smooth sound that feels a bit more graceful to my ears. The only other thing I might be conscious of in regards to my picking hand is the distance between my picking fingers and the actual strings. I try to keep my hand steady and not lift it too far off of the strings. Of course, if I’m getting into some Dillinger Escape Plan type of vibe, all bets are off because it’s pretty hard to maintain good technique while you’re jumping off of your amplifier.
Hopefully, you’ll get some use out of these things. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.-Tone