Lesson #7: The Style of Trey Anastasio

The PDF file for this lesson is here:

Trey Lesson

I should probably confess that haven’t listened to Phish or Trey Anastasio in the last 10 years. The lesson posted above is largely based on observations I made during a 6 month period when I was really into them during my teenage years (between 1995-96.)

The first time I saw Phish was actually by accident. Here’s all the pertinent information (Copied off of Phish.net):

05-10-92 University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

The Landlady, Suzy Greenberg-> Sparkle, Stash, Uncle Pen-> Cavern-> Reba-> I Didn’t Know*-> You Enjoy Myself-> Possum#

Free show with Rippopatamus, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Firehose, Fishbone, and The Beastie Boys for UMASS’s “Spring Fling”. Venue may have been “Campus Pond.” *Fish on vacuum. #”Simpsons” and “All Fall Down” language during the intro.

I remember that show because my girlfriend at the time had to be taken to the hospital after being dropped on her back in the mosh pit during Fishbone. Phish wasn’t really associated with the whole druggie/hippie culture back then at all. I don’t think I even saw anyone doing drugs or selling burritos in the parking lot at the show. They were more like a quirky “college rock” band that was starting to catch a buzz. Anyway, I remember thinking that they were kind of interesting but a little too goofy for my tastes. I must admit that my friends and I did break into a ho-down during “Sparkle.”

A few years later I was on a one month retreat in Brattleboro, VT with a group of people and for one reason or another our little group only had two tapes: Nirvana’s In Utero and Phish’s Lawn Boy. It was during this time period that I started to listen to Phish a little more closely. Coincidentally, it was also during this time period that I was just starting to pick out my first chords on the guitar. From that point I spent the following year studying guitar and trying to build some basic technique. As time went on I became more and more of a Phish fan solely based on Trey’s guitar work and compositional approach. For a time, I was quite obsessed with learning the theory behind tunes like “You Enjoy Myself” and “Stash.” Needless to say, I spent a lot time next to the tape machine carefully transcribing and analyzing the music. Eventually I ended up transcribing and performing “Reba” (solo included) live for an honors recital in college. 

Admittedly, my interest in Phish’s music waned considerably after I started to explore some of their influences but examining their music did give me a good foundation in regards to modal playing. One thing I can say for sure is that if you’re really serious about trying to learn how to play in this style, it’s imperative that you launch a full investigation into the music that influenced the band. I cannot stress this enough. I have noticed that some of the people who are infatuated Phish tend not to listen to music as broadly as the band themselves do.


20 thoughts on “Lesson #7: The Style of Trey Anastasio

  1. this is a great lesson, but for those like me that aren’t as talented as you, could you write some tabs for some of those licks because they are awesome

  2. Hey man, great tips! I’ve been working with melodic minor in my jazz lessons recently and trying to use the modes of it and some chord subs in my playing, and this really puts it rather strait forward! Im not sure if youre familiar with these shows, but trey really has some stellar playing….check out the reba from 10.31.94, anything from 6.18.94 especially the tweezer, ac/dc bag, chalkdust, yem, and most importantly Maze and the Mind left body Jam > David Bowie. Also take a look at 6.11.94. check out the chalkdust, antelope, monster YEM, and Down w Disease. Feel free to email me at eam106@gmail.com if you want to chat about this stuff, as this is really my life. Could use some input on some listening recommendations

    • Thanx for checking out the lesson. I am definitely familiar with those shows and I’m sure I had those tapes around that time period. For me, that period in Trey’s playing is the most interesting. Melodic Minor is certainly one of the most important scales in the jazz idiom as well. One thing I can tell you right off the bat is that you want to get into the triads of the scale. I would recommend checking out some of John Scofield’s jazz playing. His version of “All The Things You Are” is pretty ground breaking.

  3. Thanks man, really enjoyed the lesson, and I’ll be back for more. Stopped by for the Phish lesson, but stayed around for the rest! I’ve been playing and teaching guitar for years, and you are a helluva player, and an excellent teacher.

  4. Great lesson, I was just confused on the list of scales used for Spilt Open and Melt. It says to use Dorian but the notes following would make it Phrygian. If any one could clarify if the notes are right or is the scale name right I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks

    • Yeah, if you’re referring to the pdf… I looked at it and C# dorian isn’t correct. It should be C# D# E F# G# A# B. In the video though he does correctly say you can think of dorian as a natural minor with a sharp 6th.

  5. Hey man! I have just found your website and youtube videos and I am really digging your approach. Thank you! I am interested in your Trey Anastasio lesson and I have a couple questions for you. Is the false cadence played in G# melodic minor leading to the C#? Also you mention studying the bands that Phish studied and listened to. Do you know who some of these artists are?

    Thanks so much!

    • Hey, thanks for checking out the lesson. You actually play A Melodic Minor because you’re playing off of the G#7 chord. In other words, the scale is a half-step above because you get the altered tones against the chord.
      As far as key Trey influences, here’s a few he has specified: Pat Metheny Group, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Pass, Django Reinhardt, Sun Ra, for starters. From there, a whole other world of music opened up for me…

      • Hey! THANKS for the video! I really appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge.

        So, I gotta say, I understand everything except for how you would know to play A melodic minor a half step above the G#7. Or to be more clear, how you would know the altered tones would sound good against the V7 chord? Is it common musical knowledge that a melodic minor a half step above the V7 chord sounds tense and is a good scale for a resolving cadence? or did you just pull that outta yer butt?

        Thanks for responding!

      • The concept I discuss here is really derived from Jazz Theory. The idea is to fill the chord as much tension as possible in order to force the music to look for a resolution.

  6. All of your lessons are fantastic. Thanks for all of the free information.

    Just one comment/question on this Anastasio piece – Unless I’m counting it wrong, it sounds like the build up that you refer to is actually 12 bars total. Sounds to me like an 8 bar vamp followed by a four bar build up.

  7. This is heavy stuff. I can’t wait until I am at the point where I can wrap my head around this. I wish i had money for a guitar teacher that I can show this to and get some one on one with the topic.

  8. Hey, you said above that you fell out of your love with phish because you began listening to their influences rather then them. I know of their influences being things like Zeppelin, Hendrix, Talking Heads, and Zappa, but could you point me in the direction of bands you are referring to specifically?

    Really great lesson man.

  9. I was digging around for a solid how-to of that funk-siren thing and landed on your page. Although I didnt find what I was looking for I certainly found your description of Trey’s approach in general terms very interesting and more importantly helpful. I’m not interested in playing like Trey but I am interested in the “outside” ideas in his approach. Your talk and subsequent demo about the “tensions” in his approach was excellent!


  10. can you send me or post the reba transcription Id like to learn that middle part 🙂

  11. So, in the bass on your backing track, during the alt chord, are you playing a g# or a? In other words, Is the tension only in the guitar or is the bass stepping up to the a melodic minor (g# alt) as well?

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