Toolkit for Soloing: Q&A with Steve Postell

1.  When did you realize you were destined for a life in music?

Like many musicians my age, watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show as a young boy, and experiencing The Beatles music, in general, created a magical spell around music and the idea of creating it. But there were many other influences pushing me towards this somewhat crazy gypsy life. Growing up in New York City during a wildly creative time, I was just exposed to so much live music. From Segovia to Ravi Shankar, Duke Ellington to Doc Watson, Leonard Bernstein to The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Sometimes I feel it would have been more unlikely to NOT become a musician! But that said, there is one moment I remember very clearly that crystalized my path. I was 15, sitting in one of the beautiful boxes at Carnegie Hall, watching Van Morrison and his great band, many of whom lived and worked together around Woodstock, NY. I can distinctly remember looking down, watching the camaraderie and interplay on stage, soaking up the fabulous music and thinking; this is what I’m going to do. So I guess I blame The Beatles first, and then Van.

2.  Can you tell us what your most exciting moment on stage has been?

I have a band of called THE NIGHT TRAIN MUSIC CLUB which is essentially a collaborative project consisting of many incredible musicians in many different configurations. We often feature one or more guests and back them up as part of the show. A few years ago we played The Vancouver Island Music Fest. The guests in the first half of the show were Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones), Vonda Shephard & Albert Lee. Then, after intermission, we backed up David Crosby. I’ll have to pick 2 moments, both from that set. The opening song was LONG TIME GONE, David begins the rhythm part, then I add a lead which brings in the band. That was pretty thrilling! Then midway through the night, David and I came to the front of the stage and sang a duet of James Taylor’s CLOSE YOUR EYES, backed by James Raymond on piano and Leland Sklar reprising his original bass part. Looking out at the many thousands of people, I knew they could not be enjoying this any more than I was. This was one of those special moments that make it all worth it.

3.  What will students learn in your classes?

Steve’s Toolkit For Soloing

I have taught the guitar for almost as long as I have played, and I think the question I am asked the most by students is whether I can teach them to solo, to improvise. A lot of people who play the guitar feel intimidated by the idea of ripping off a solo. But if you are musical at all, and have ever hummed or sang a melody, it is much easier than you think. Although my creative home base is the writing and singing of a song, I find there is nothing as freeing and expansive as closing my eyes and soloing over 8 or 16 bars to lift up the middle of a song. With some basic guitar skills and a little knowledge of chord structure, you can use the tools I have created to unlock your inner Hendrix. Once you start implementing them you will hear these same patterns and melodic shapes in classic solos from Clapton to B.B. King to Jimmy Page and Jimmy Hendrix. The idea is to see the entire neck in shapes and patterns so that regardless of where you go you will not play that “wrong” note. (Some artists like Miles Davis contend there is no such thing as a wrong note, but that is another story) With even just a few of these tools in your toolkit you can begin to jam along with other players, and the more you implement the deeper you can get. In addition to the scale and arpeggio patterns, we will look at the various expressive techniques that ultimately make the solo more voice-like in quality. These include vibrato, bends, slides, trills etc. By the end of these classes you may not be able to solo over Thelonius Monk changes, but you will have a path to solo over traditional music and begin to develop your own individual style.

Basic Music Theory – Chart Writing

Historically, songs in the folk, traditional, blues, and bluegrass traditions tend to be quite simple harmonically and rhythmically. The large majority of songs in these genres use the same 3 to 6 chords, and very basic rhythmic structures. But these forms can be limiting for contemporary songwriters and musicians. I strongly believe the more musical and theoretical tools you have, the greater the palette of choices and colors to express your artistic vision. The objective of this class is not to prepare you to write an atonal symphony, but to expand your understanding of chord structures, rhythmic and feel possibilities that you can use to bring more color to your music. With this knowledge, it becomes easier to get out of a box or a writing block. It really is as simple as giving you more options. We will analyze some of the great songs by artists like Stevie Wonder and The Beatles who explored more advanced forms. Then we will take your original songs and experiment with altering chords, changing temp, feel etc. In this class, we will also take a look at some essential tools needed to write a basic but comprehensive chart for your songs. Having a good chart for your songs is invaluable; you can always put it in front of a good musician and get through the tune with little or no rehearsal. I also think it helps organize your thoughts and have a stronger grasp on what your music is all about. You will leave this class with printed material that you can refer to after the camp and continue to learn these skills.

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