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Interviews on Deck: Frank Gambale and Brendon Small

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If all goes well, we will be boarding a plane for Los Angeles tonight to meet with a duo of guitar awesomeness!

Frank Gambale

First up, a mechanics pioneer who many have requested: the amazing Frank Gambale! Frank was one of the original Cracking the Code interviews an eon ago with the original camera rig. As part of editing that material, we got back in touch Frank recently about filming an update with our more modern gear, and we’re excited to be sitting down with him again.

In the original meeting, we address core questions about sweeping and how Frank’s innovations took shape. We discussed a battery lick examples plucked from Frank’s instructionals and album recordings, and it’s amazing how many of them he was able to recall. The camcorder died during a particular favorite – a blazing lydian run from “Centrifugal Funk”, the Mark Varney record he did with Bret Garsed and Shawn Lane. Hopefully Frank remembers the lick since we’ll be requesting it again!

We’ll also try and get to the bottom of Frank’s arm setup and grip. And when it comes to applications of mechanics, we want to talk about his simply astounding vocabulary. It’s one thing to hatch a playing style based on a novel mechanical approach. But the reason we still listen to Frank is all the awesome playing. Sweeping aside, the guy is just one of the most original and immediately identifiable soloists out there. He has a seemingly endless supply of cool things to say on the guitar, and a mechanical foundation for doing so that is as reliable as anyone could want.

Brendon Small

Brendon Small is the creator of the absolutely hilarious, trippy, and profane animated series Metalocalypse, recounting the travails of the world-famous fictional metal band Dethklok. The show works as a kind of Spinal Tap for the digital age. And like Spinal Tap, the virtuosity of the musical parody is part of the joke.

Here’s a satirical guitar instructional video starring the band’s lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf, both voiced and played by Brendon:

Everything about this is so awesomely on point: the name checking of all the endorsements, the “instruction”, the blazing playing, the hand animations…

Brendon is the musical force behind Dethklok’s album releases, and also his own solo projects under the moniker “Galaktikon”. We’ll be talking about Galaktikon tunes and asking him to lay down some of his trademark blistering downstroke rhythms. This is a topic we’ve discussed on the forum and which he can hopefully help us continue to get our minds around.

Get your questions ready!

Have questions / topics you think we should cover in either interview? Let us know on the forum! Head here and send us your suggestions by the end of the day:

Suggest questions / topics for the Frank Gambale and Brendon Small interviews!

The Mike Stern Interview is Here!

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The Cracking the Code Mike Stern interview is here! In this intimate chat, the genial jazz master shares a wealth of improvisational insights, delivered in an extemporaneous fashion as effortless his playing.

Mike is a great interview: friendly, discursive, and wholly unguarded about his process as a technician and musician. If you’ve ever wondered how an expansive and usable improvisational vocabulary is built, this conversation is a valuable window into how that job is accomplished. From the opening minutes, Mike’s abundant and continued curiosity in seeking out uncharted areas of his well-worn Yamaha Pacifica fretboard quickly becomes apparent.

Mike outlines technique after technique for pulling new ideas out of familiar scales and shapes. This includes using patterns and sequences thought-provoking brainteaser-style experiments, adapting lines from other instruments, and more. He fearlessly demonstrates a number of “work in progress” phrases he’s still figuring out how to incorporate — on the spot in the talk, flubs and all.

In the 65 musical examples that accompany the interview, we’ve transcribed almost all of Mike’s brain-busting and finger-twisting harmonic explorations. But the idea is not that you’ll learn these, wholesale, as stock phrases. Instead, these are the seeds of future music, bits and pieces of which may hopefully emerge in surprising ways in your playing later on.

It’s this procedural aspect of what Mike shares that is particularly exciting. Thinking beyond the pentatonic box is hard work, for sure, but the term “practice” doesn’t really capture it. It’s really vocabulary building. And what Mike shows us here is that it’s not just the desire to grow as a musician that matters. It’s that, in order to actually experience that growth, you need to fight back against complacency with specific, hands-on methods to generate originality. It’s a stealthily subversive and powerful message, delivered in signature affable style by one of the nicest cats around.

The complete Mike Stern package includes the one-hour interview, 65 slow-motion examples with tablature, and six chapters (20+ minutes) of analysis chapters on Mike’s technique.

Masters in Mechanics subscribers:

Not a subscriber? There are two ways to watch:

We hope you enjoy the interview! If you have questions or comments, you can head to our forum or shoot us an email at any time.

Mike Stern on Embracing What You Can't Do

By | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

As we guitarists are so often caught up in the technique rat race, it’s important to remind ourselves once in a while that so much of the personal style of the players we admire is actually a function of limitations. Let Mike Stern explain:

“Sometimes people’s styles and their voice is defined in as much by what you can’t do as what you can do.” As he does so many times in our interview, Mike really hits the nail on the head with this pithy encapsulation of musical personality. And it relates to challenges we think about all the time here at Cracking the Code.

A lot of players who come to Cracking the Code may initially have a hard time with the idea that the “sound” of great players is often the result of avoiding phrases that don’t fit their technique. After all, Eric Johnson is a rare talent who can play anything right? And related to this is another question we get all the time: How can you really improvise if you have to work out all your lines ahead of time to fit some formula of lines you can play versus ones you can’t? In other words, if you have limitations, how you can be truly free to improvise?

Well, I don’t know every word in the English language, even though you wouldn’t know it by the length of some of our lessons and blog posts. But when I talk extemporaneously, particularly when the cameras are rolling, there is this illusion that I experience, where I feel that I am free in my ability to communicate.

The truth is, musical expression isn’t just about attaining all-powerful skills and limitless vocabulary. It’s also about whittling down the vast universe of everything to some manageable set of elements you can manipulate: “Some people have great technique so they sound more technical,” Mike explains. “And some people don’t have such great technique, so they find some other stuff.”

If our limitations can be a catalyst for that narrowing down, as we search for Mike’s “other stuff”, we at Cracking the Code embrace that.

The Mike Stern interview is coming to Masters in Mechanics later this week! In the mean time, we may post a few cool excerpts as we see them while we’re editing.

The Molly Tuttle Interview!

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Molly Tuttle’s prodigious songwriting chops, ethereal voice, and physical command of the guitar make her one of the most exciting new players in bluegrass. She’s the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year for 2017. And she is the subject of the latest Masters in Mechanics interview here at Cracking the Code.

If you’ve seen Molly play, then you’re already familiar with her unstoppable flatpicking chops. Like many of the greats, from Tony Rice to Eddie Van Halen, Molly’s technique is really several techniques in one: it’s an anchored upward pickslanting technique, an anchored pronated crosspicking technique, a floating forearm rotation rhythm technique, and different combinations of the above postures with sophisticated thumb/index articulation thrown in for extra string-switching dexterity. That she switch instantly between all these approaches, while singing, is nothing short of amazing.

In the interview, we cover flat pick rudiments and roll patterns, gymnastic bass/chord rhythm techniques, and take a quick look at her very cool banjo-inspired clawhammer fingerstyle technique on her original tune Save This Heart. We talk about fretboard mapping for playing through the changes, and discuss how her time at the Berklee College of Music helped her polish all these abilities.

Watch the complete Molly Tuttle Interview right here, on the Cracking the Code platform, with full Soundslice and interactive timeline functionality.

Or head over to our download store and grab your own copy. Either way, we’d like to thank you for watching. And of course, we’d like to thank Molly for being so generous with her time and so open about her artistry.

Terry Syrek Interview

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We’ve just uploaded our interview with Terry Syrek to the Cracking the Code platform.

This interview is a revealing conversation about an elite player learning to live with a condition that severely affects his playing: focal dystonia.

We’re interested in learning more about musical health and the sorts of injuries guitarists face, and we were glad to have the chance to sit down with Terry and hear what it’s been like for him adapting to life with this disorder. He’s both a great player and a humble, friendly guy, and we hope you enjoy hearing his story.

You can find the full interview here:

Terry Syrek Interview

And here’s some additional detail about Terry and the interview, if you’re the yes-please-I-want-to-read-all-the-words type! —

Terry is not only an incredible shredder, but a vocalist, producer, writer, and instructor. He’s been recording and releasing music for decades, and has performed alongside such legends as Steve Vai, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, and Zakk Wylde. He studied at Berklee, and has over 20 years of teaching experience.

He also has focal dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that affects the motor control of his fingers and limits what he can play. It’s not well understood, and there’s no magic bullet treatment. Terry visited a number of experts to try to figure out what was going on, and his diagnosis was just the start of learning to live with a new reality.

While it’s altered his relationship to playing the guitar, this condition hasn’t entirely quelled Terry’s virtuoisic chops, and it certainly hasn’t dampened his musical creativity! In this interview, we learn how Terry found ways to continue to write innovate, virtuoso prog guitar excursions despite his dystonia.

The conversation ranges from Terry’s time studying at Berklee, and the rigors of professionally competitive practice schedules at a top-tier music school, to his journey of self-discovery and healing after being diagnosed with this condition.

Playing Through the Changes - Martin Miller's Music and Improvisation

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Quick announcement — we just added the “Playing Through the Changes with Martin Miller” video to the Cracking the Code platform.

You can find the interview here:

Martin Miller’s Music – Playing Through the Changes

Many of you may have seen this already as we released the download a while back. But we hadn’t gotten it up on the new site yet…so, now it’s there! Just the video for now, but we’ll work on tablature too.

This is a one-hour, hands-on investigation of Martin’s process for building improvisational chops — deconstructing his process for improvising over flowing chord changes, and arriving at a simple checklist that anyone can follow to start developing a mature improvisational vocabulary. We also address the nature of improvisation, the different challenges of fretted and keyboard improvisation, the altered scale and its use in soloing over the V chord, the II-V-I progression, and more.

This is a great counterpart to our first interview with Martin, which focused more on the mechanical side of his playing. We recommend watching ’em both!

Getting Great Live Interview Audio

By | audio engineering, behind the scenes | 4 Comments

As an example of what we have to do to get a great sound mix in our interviews, take a look at the above screenshot. We’re editing an interview I did with Martin Miller on improvision. He’s on guitar, I’m on keys. All in the same room. I’m going through the whole thing manually as I edit, clamping down his mic to only when he talks and only when I talk. I can’t use automatic ducking like we do during live broadcasts like the Batio thing, because he sometimes talks and plays at the same time, and so do I. Read More

Saturday, March 4, 1pm EST: Live Cracking the Code Broadcast with Michael Angelo Batio!

By | Events | 3 Comments

We’ve got a special event this weekend: a live video interview with Michael Angelo Batio!

For months we’ve been working on improving our live streaming video setup. We’d like to be able to host more interviews in-house and even livestream some of them, in the highest possible quality. Technology has come a long way in the last few years, and we’ve now got an incredible, broadcast quality setup.

So, how are we going to test drive this thing? We’re excited to report that none other than Michael Angelo Batio will be stopping by our Brooklyn studio this Saturday at 1pm EST to give our new live broadcast rig a spin.

It’s been just about ten years since we’ve sat down with Mike, and we’ve learned so much in the interim. It will be cool talk to him again about his playing, get an even better look at it with our latest equipment, and ask him about things we didn’t even know about when we first met.

Even better, we’ll be set up to take some calls live!

The process for this is simple: just mail your questions to We’ll reply to selected questions with a link that will allow you to call in during the event, directly through your browser. So, if you have any questions you’re burning to ask Mike, get them ready now!

And not to worry if you can’t make it. Due to the limitations of physics, there is no way to film in slow motion and broadcast in regular speed. So the good news is that we’ll be doing our usual edit on any Magnet footage we capture, and Masters in Mechanics subscribers will get a download of the new material as soon as we have it.

Here’s the link to the live event on YouTube. Bookmark this and add it to your calendar — once again, we’re going live Saturday, March 4, 1pm EST.

If you’re on our mailing list, we’ll also send you a reminder just before we go live. If you’re not already on the list, you can sign up here. See you Saturday!