CAAS – The Fingerstyle Convention In Nashville

Nishi Nishiyama playing at CAAS

I’ve considered Nashville to be my favourite place in the whole wide musical world and coming back these past days was only reinforcing this perception. I’ve been here twice before for CAAS and once for a field trip with my old school Berklee College of Music so this was my 4th time in the music city.

My trip was sponsored by this great iPhone app for chord learning that I reviewed in my last post called OneHour Method so part of my focus was on promoting, but it didn’t get in the way of getting my mind blown time after time with these great performances.

CAAS

I was attending this convention arranged by Chet Atkins Appreciation Society or CAAS in short. CAAS is basically a convention where fingerpickers from all around the world come to perform, meet and to learn from each other.

There were dozens of great players and there was no time to see them all so I’m just gonna pick out a few worth checking out. These are also the guys to check out if you’re new to fingerstyle.  Some of my old favourites performing there were Tommy Emmanuel (no surprise there), Joe Robinson and Richard Smith. I also finally got to see a whole show of Brooks Robertson the next in the Jerry Reed - Buster B. Jones bloodline. That funky clavinet-like sound is still haunting me. After days of fast virtuosic fingerstyle I walked into a room where a guitar man named Tony McManus was playing a piece by Eric Satie, the French composer. And the time just stopped and for a moment it was so calm and peaceful. Another one who stood out for me was this gentleman called Sean McGowan whose swing and delicate jazzy playing style I enjoyed a lot. 

Michael Coppolas 9 stringer with unorthodox tuning seemed to be out there, but the man could actually play that thing.
Another cool design was this electric harp guitar that I enjoyed playing.

There’s also a good amount of jamming happening in various styles including blues and jazz (especially gypsy jazz has been present lately). Jack Pearson of The Allman Brothers fame turned out several nights and I got to play with him, too. But as I said, too many good players to name. 

Downtown

I also caught a bunch of great concerts outside of CAAS, all of them taking place at 3rd & Lindsley, which seemed like a place to be.

First one was Brent Mason on Wednesday night. Brent Mason’s Hot Wired was one of the first tunes I learned on a thumb pick 10 years ago when I was studying with a great Finnish country picker Jarmo Hynninen. It was probably the one to push me over the edge and to almost desert the regular flat pick. (Reed’s influence was pretty heavy, too) So it was very emotional moment for me. Brent played many tunes from that album including the title track and was just burning on that guitar. The band was also something else. Adam Nitti on the bass, Mike Rojas on keys and Kirk Covington on the drums are all at the top of their league. Especially mr. Covingtons mean and angry drum work left me feeling like I got hit by a truck. In a good way of course.

Muriel Andersons Guitar Night was pretty amazing as well with Stanley Jordan, Brooks Robertson, my old school buddy Saso Zver, Laurence Juber from the Wings, Jack Pearson… But the one to really take me by the surprise was Michael Kelsey whose elastic playing style was so impressive, innovative and funny (all the things I’d like to strive for in my playing as well) that the performance just sucked you in and the whole world disappeared. Doesn’t happen too often to a jaded music scholar like myself.

Muriel Andersson's All Star Guitar Night had a pretty impressive line up.

After the CAAS I still got to go to the bluegrass jam in Station Inn and saw The Time Jumpers at 3rd & Lindsley. Both being the best of they’re kind. So I’m definitely coming back to Nashville at some point - hopefully sooner than later!

The future of CAAS is unclear for reasons too earthly to mention, but assuming it’s still held in the future I can warmly recommend it to every picker in the world!

OneHour Method – Nice Tool For Understanding Chords On Guitar

Today I’m flying to Nashville and I’m going to use the time to review a nice little tool called the OneHour Method. This post is also the first log of hopefully many in my travel journal of this upcoming 2 week expedition. I’ll be spending a week in Nashville, hit San Diego/Spring Valley for a couple of days and finally visit my old home town Boston where I used to study for a while in the beginning of this decade. But more of those later on. The app is available for download for free during the CAAS convention so you should definitely download it here now! 

OneHour Method is an app for iPhone that’s aimed for guitar players learning the fretboard and chords. To be as transparent as possible, it’s probably best that I talk about my relationship to the app first. I first learned about this app when Reijo Hiltunen, the creator of the method, called me and asked me to make a couple of videos to promote it. That I did and apparently he was happy with my work as he wanted to deepen the collaboration.

We met a few times talking about the history and the future of OneHour Method and finally Reijo suggested that I’d do this trip to the States to spread the word and to find new collaborators.
That been said, this is not meant to be an ad but a review and I aim to be objective as best as I can.

When I first tried the app, I recognised its benefits for a beginning guitarist trying to figure out what the heck is happening on the fretboard. This is not a simple task even on a piano where everything is linear and visually easier to grasp, but on the guitar with six string tuned asymmetrically it can be quite overwhelming. I used to figure out fingerings of scales and chords (which are ultimately two sides of the same thing) drawing them on countless little pieces of paper (which I’m still finding from time to time after all these years). I have no regrets, doing it the hard way challenged my mind in a good a way and made me who I am today, but most of people don’t have the time and persistence to go through this - including most of my students. As I’ve recommended OneHour Method -app to my students, I’ve only heard good things about it and I believe it has sped up their learning process.

The app has two main modes - the tutorial and the chord builder mode.

The tutorial is a simple yet effective introduction on how the chord tones are combined on the fretboard to form chords. It makes you alter chords on the screen and has a quiz at the end to test if you paid attention. I guess the name OneHour Method refers to this part as it can give you the basic understanding of the chords on the fretboard really fast - within an hour they say and I have no reason to doubt that even though it must vary depending on every individual. On top of that you have short theory lessons regarding the different chord types.

The chord builder mode gives you the ability to create your own chords in two ways. You can either choose a root and the type of chord and the app will show you the possible choices of notes from which you can choose or you can just choose notes and it will tell you the name of the chords. The chord selection is very wide, definitely enough for most levels from beginner to advanced. There are a couple of more advanced chord types missing like 9sus4 and 13sus4 and quartal harmony, but I’ve talked to Reijo so they should be included in the future updates. After you have the notes down you can listen to how it sounds. You can even strum or pluck the strings one by one swiping the strings on the screen which is a nice feature.

More advanced features include different tunings and a capo and you can even have both of them on simultaneously. The one feature that I’m missing is the banjo fretboard (who would’ve guessed :D), but if all goes well that will be added later on as well as others like ukulele and mandolin.

If you have comments about the OneHour Method -app or ideas for future development of the app please post them below or e-mail them to us! 🙂

OneHour starts with understanding the familiar chord shapes
The app shows you how to alter the chord tones to get different chords
Testing the limits
After trying out different options we found our winner

Starting Off With Some Melodic Style

So here we go. This is the first post of my new blog. It’ll start as a kind of a mix between personal practise journal and educational site. You can read about the initial idea in more detail from the Letter To Mick. So this is the starting point but I’m going to be open to let it evolve as it may.

For a while, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed at myself for letting all that valuable time to leak to office work, procrastinating and such. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to earn my living doing what I love, even many of the musical projects I‘ve done have been stressful because I’ve felt that I couldn’t give my best due to lack of time or energy or focus. So I did the logical thing, took a break from the teaching work and moved abroad to have minimum distractions. Now I had time. The easiest and most sustainable way to transform some of this time to energy is physical exercise, so I made sure I got plenty. To get better focus I’ve done meditation and occasional yoga. Even with no excuses left, I’ve felt inner resistance and it still feels like a huge leap to open the practise process and present this incomplete side to the public. (That is actually illusion in two ways, as the incompleteness is present in everything manmade anyway. And also the potential public exposure of this marginal subject might not be that huge. But illusion or not, that’s the inner feeling I’ve been struggling with.)

I’ve actually been so excited about finally getting this site going, that I had a hard time choosing my first topic. After a couple of weeks of procrastinating on bebop banjo, I finally decided to start with the melodic style. I've been fascinated by this technique for a while and I've noticed that often when picking up either a guitar or banjo without a thought, melodic style exploration has begun spontaneously so it seemed like a natural place to start.

If you’re a banjo player or otherwise know what melodic style is about, feel free to jump to the video/tabs. The basic principle in melodic style is to play melody so that you pick consecutive notes on different strings as much as possible. This will create a cascading sound that might remind you of the sound of a harp, kantele or kora. The term melodic style comes from the world of the banjo and is most strongly associated with a great picker called Bill Keith and is sometimes referred to as Keith style. With this technique he was able to play fast fiddle tunes note-to-note which wasn’t possible with the prevailing Scruggs style (I’ll explore this in the future, too). Same kind of approach exists in the guitar world as well and is called campanella. Thinking “melodic” might be tricky at first, but after the initial shock (which should be over within 2-10 years 😀 ), many of the fingerings feel more natural to play with fingerstyle and it might even be easier to achieve a beautiful legato sound this way. Melodic style is something that might give you a terrible headache in the beginning, but the more you do it, the better it feels and having put that time and effort in really gives you a different kind of appreciation towards your creations. In that sense you could think of it as a kind of reverse alcohol.

Later on I’ll get into more technical details, but to get in the mood I arranged a fiddle tune called Gold Rush for melodic style banjo and guitar. Hope you enjoy it! The tabs might be slightly different as I wrote them as standalone etudes while the video is a duet. All feedback is appreciated as my goal is to (in case you didn’t guess it yet) to advance my fingerstyle playing.