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Masters in Mechanics April Update

By April 14, 2016 News
mm update header 4.8.16 - lisa + martin + john - 960

We’ve got some exciting things coming in Masters in Mechanics! Here’s what we’ve been working on.

Martin Miller

This week, we’ll be releasing our interview with Martin Miller.

Martin is a special interview, along the lines of why the Carl Miner interview was special. Martin’s command of picking technique is next-level, especially what he’s able to do by combining the worlds of pickslanting and crosspicking. He executes “unplayable” lines, including one note-per-string sequences, with a level of ease and expected accuracy that we probably didn’t even know was possible a couple decades ago.

Not only that, but Martin is actually a Masters in Mechanics subscriber and aware of his own mechanics such that we were able to have a very direct conversation about them.

As guitarists, we often chase this elusive ideal of “being able to play anything”. This is an illusion, of course — everything in guitar land is to a certain extent practiced and learned, from picking sequences to complex fretboard maps for improvisation. But it’s players like Martin and Carl, with seemingly effortless command of everything in the modern toolbox, who represent the future of what we can all expect a good guitar player to be able to do.

Science of Speed

In Cracking the Code, we spend so much time trying to separate out accuracy problems, like pickslanting, from the obsession with speed that we all grew up with. And it’s true, for most of us the sloppiness of getting across the strings always posed the biggest problem.

But now that we’ve done that, we can start to see the different components of guitar playing for what they are. And a legitimate question remains: why can some players move their hands so much faster than others?

You’re probably aware of the internet arms race of super-high-speed “Flight of the Bumblebee” renditions. You’re probably also familiar with the fact that some of these performances are of questionable authenticity. Well, after doing a survey of these, we went out and found who we think is the fastest among these players, and sat him down for an interview. This is John Taylor, whose ability to play sixteenths at 300 BPM for 20 or more seconds at a clip is quite simply the fastest sustained picking speed we are aware of.

We also visited two labs in the UNC / NC State Department of Biomedical Engineering, where we talked with Greg Sawicki, Kate Saul, and Dustin Crouch about muscle and movement dynamics of human limbs. We hooked John up to their $20,000 wireless EMG rig and infrared motion trackers to examine the inner workings of his elbow and wrist mechanics.

We’re not obsessed with speed for speed’s sake — but the mechanics involved in ultra-high-speed playing hold implications far beyond BPM. By understanding players like John Taylor and Rusty Cooley, we can better understand our own playing, and further expand our confidence at the tempos we encounter in everyday playing.

We’re still working on this and will have more to come. In the meantime, check out a couple clips we’ve put together of John’s playing and our visit to the lab:

Strunz & Farah

Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah have been performing together as an acoustic duo for over 35 years.

Their unique styles combine into an original fusion of not only their own Latin American and Middle Eastern heritages, but an array of genres ranging from classical to rock to flamenco to jazz. The label “world music” doesn’t quite do it justice.

What’s also interesting is that for artists who have sat side by side for decades, they appear to have quite different mechanics. It will be interesting to see how aware they are of these differences, and to what degree it influences the types of parts they write for each other.

This will be the first time we’ve interviewed two guitarists at the same time, and we’re looking forward to fly out to California to meet with them later this month.

Andy Wood

Also this month, we’re headed to Knoxville, TN for an interview with Andy Wood. Andy is an acclaimed guitarist and mandolinist who tours with Rascal Flatts in addition to Nashville session work, and recording and performing original music with his own band.

You may be familiar with Ben Eller, creator of the awesome “This is Why You Suck at Guitar” YouTube series. Ben plays in Andy’s band, and has been raving to us for a while about Andy’s playing. As Ben tells us: ”Andy Wood can alternate pick anything!”

Andy actually started his career on the mandolin, taking second at the world championship mandolin contest at Winfield at age 16. And we’ve been wanting to talk to an ace mandolinist for a while now. Bluegrass technique, with all the crosspicking involved, can often be a different animal. And as we’ve seen in the case of Carl Miner, players who grew up in that world can end up looking quite different under the camera.

We’re excited to meet with Andy and see how his guitar and mandolin techniques cross-pollinate. We’ve even rigged up some modifications to the Magnet to accommodate the smaller neck of the mandolin. Stay tuned.

Li-sa-X and Ellen Winner

You may recall that towards the end of last year, we met with ten-year-old Japanese guitar phenomenon Li-sa-X, in an interview hosted by Marty Friedman. Our interest in Li-sa’s playing stems from our fascination with how the guitar learning process works, and it was very cool to see how quickly she could learn and emulate some of Marty’s licks.

More recently, we went to Boston to meet with Dr. Ellen Winner, an expert in arts education, gifted learning, and the nature of prodigy. Ellen has a very interesting background bridging art and academia, and we learned a lot in a conversation touching on topics ranging from different types of giftedness, neuroplasticity in the brains of musicians, domain specificity and skill transfer, and the value of music education.

We’re in the process of translating the Li-sa-X interview, and should be able to roll this out pretty soon once we have that completed.

Michael Angelo Batio

We interviewed Michael Angelo Batio nearly a decade ago. He’s also the primary subject of “Antigravity” and has long been our touchstone for two-way pickslanting. If you’ve watched Antigravity, or seen any of the clips from our “Batio Code Archive”, you already appreciate how unique his mechanical innovations are.

We’ve been spending a lot of time with the Batio interview lately because we’ve been prepping an update to the Season Pass to include more on two-way pickslanting — an update which is long overdue for that product. In doing so, we realized you haven’t yet seen the full interview!

We’ll soon release that complete interview to Masters in Mechanics. And it will also arrive with an analysis chapter that summarizes and demonstrates the rules of two-way pickslanting.

As we’ve mentioned before, we’re aiming to better integrate the two main things we do — Masters in Mechanics and Cracking the Code — and make sure we find ways to share what we learn in ways that benefit as many of our viewers and customers as possible.

As always, please let us know if you have further questions, feedback, or suggestions for future Masters in Mechanics investigations. And as always, thanks for your support!

About Brendan Schlagel

Brendan wears many Code hats, including interview production, website wrangling, marketing strategy, and product design.

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