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How do you convey musicality to a student who might be more focused on the technical aspects of guitar playing?
Timmons: When I was in school, I was learning Charlie Parker solos and exploring theory, yet I was also playing in a Top 40 band and could instantly apply what I learned. Not scales though. Learning scales is great for learning the guitar and learning about the construction of music, but then it’s really important to kind of forget it. You hear guys who just play a lot of scales and it can be interesting but to a certain degree, it’s not melodic. They’re thinking of patterns and notes. To me it’s more about, “What can I do to make this an interesting line?”
Gilbert: As a teacher I’ve got to be able to put those elements into very clear, obvious, and understandable terms. I’ve always been frustrated when people say, “Oh, it’s just feel.” They’re right, but to me, that’s a really unsatisfying term. It doesn’t tell you anything. If you tell a student, “You need to work on your feel.” That’s completely, utterly unhelpful. You can’t just spill out the information you know, you actually have to communicate to human beings and figure out where they’re at and what they’re ready for. It’s not just like giving them a dictionary and saying, “Here, memorize it.” You’ve got to break it down to the elements. Like, “What goes into that?” Through my online school and through teaching at MI [Hollywood’s Musicians Institute], I’ll hear somebody and realize that there’s something missing. And initially I can’t figure out what it is. But from having a lot of teaching experience, now I can spot it. A lot of it is dynamics, which is huge.
Can you give some examples?
Gilbert: It could be something as simple as playing two notes and playing the first one loud and the second one soft—you wouldn’t believe it, but some people have never worked on that [demonstrates]. Or playing the first one quiet and the second one loud [demonstrates]. A lot of people will play scales where everything is the same volume but they never work on dynamics [demonstrates]. That’s music, and that’s just one element. I tell the students “You can play fast but at the end of it, eventually there has to be a last note and that last note has to be great.” That’s the thing that people are going to remember. That’s where you have to reference blues vibrato or be able to control the other strings and things like that. I tend to look at these elements because a lot of the people who have been influenced by me tend to focus more on scales—a student I heard yesterday was way faster than I am.
Paul, you’ve talked a lot about playing over changes this week. You also chose songs with lots of hard-to-navigate changes in the concerts. What is spurring this interest?
Gilbert: I can hear so much deeper into music now than when I was a kid. Back then all I could hear was the vocal note. I couldn’t even hear the guitar part. It took me years to discover that a chord was the accompaniment and to be able to separate it out. All I could hear was power chords—the root and the fifth. I couldn’t hear the third and the seventh. Then I went to school and was like, “Oh, so that’s what a dominant chord is?” And I began to hear intervals. Now my ability to hear intervals is so much better and because I can hear them, it makes me want to hear them. For example, a friend played me a song by the band Tool. Rhythmically, it was very, very cool, but harmonically, it was one chord for the whole song. And I don’t want to make Tool fans angry, but I just got bored so quickly. For my ears, I need something to happen harmonically.
I’ll bet some of the kids here are probably diehard Racer X fans that might not immediately “get ” why you’re playing songs by Stevie Wonder or The Doors in your nightly concerts.
Gilbert: It’s less about me wanting to open their ears than it is about me wanting to open my own ears. Hopefully they’re not horribly disappointed. I was there, too. I remember when my favorite chord progression was the heavy metal progression [plays A5–F5–G5] and there’s still a great beauty to that. That’s still a great progression. If I were still into that I would do it. It’s definitely a little bit of a selfish decision, playing what I want. I just love that stuff and I think the main thing that I want to communicate is the love of music. That’s why I have a variety of musicians up there—Mimi Fox playing traditional jazz, Tony Spinner playing slide and greasy blues, Scotty [Johnson] doing fusion stuff, and Andy doing his Beatles melodies, and Adam [Fulara] playing some ridiculous things with the doubleneck. But the thing that ties it together is that everybody is unbelievably focused and passionate, and just loves what they’re doing. The one mistake I made at this camp is that I offered myself up for private lessons. I have a great time doing that but I’m missing out on being a student myself!