We thought you’d enjoy some Frank Gambale this weekend! We’re still working on tablature for the 100+ examples we’ve pulled out of the conversation, and we should have that by the middle of next week or so. But the interview itself is ready to roll on the Cracking the Code platform, so we figured we’d turn it on for those who’d like to get a look at it now. You can find it right here:
Frank Gambale Interview
It’s a thrill and a privilege to get this kind of closeup view of what is arguably one of the most unique and influential guitar techniques of the last thirty years. And what hits you right away is just how thoroughly inseparable Frank’s improvisational style and his mechanical style really are. And I’m not just referring to what Frank calls the “most obvious sweeps” – the big, six-string movements that even non-guitarists could identify.
Perhaps even more “Frank” are the unusual melodic figures and rhythms that pop up when he’s freely orchestrating lines that flow across musical time. The guy has serious groove, even when he’s just tapping his foot on the floor to demonstrate a concept as he does at several points in our talk. As he does this, you can hear the basic pulse of the line, ornamented with blazing in-the-pocket triplet figures, but you can’t tell where all those notes are coming from. The clip we called “Mixolydian Changes Tk2” is a totally great example of this at work:
Switching over to slow motion makes things clearer and it’s really amazing. The intricate interplay of alternate and sweep motions that he’s using to get the syncopation and subdivisions working together makes you realize just how unlikely it would be for anyone to write these kinds of lines if you didn’t have precisely these mechanics to play with.
At Cracking the Code we don’t have a soapbox to stand on with any technique. They’re all great, and we want to know how they all work. Frank has taken this particular approach and built on top of that a style uniquely his own, to the point that you always know when it’s him playing, sometimes just from the tone alone. And that’s maybe the most powerful lesson here.
Our second interview with Andy Wood is a spectacular showcase of acoustic prowess, and a treat for aspiring multi-instrumentalists.
The comprehensive two-hour conversation covers the mechanical differences between guitar and mandolin picking technique, with a comparison of three bluegrass standards on both instruments, along with over 140 slow motion examples with tablature.
When we first met Andy, we didn’t know what we were going to see, and after getting a look at the wide variety of things he does mechanically, we wanted to ask him some more pointed questions. At two hours, the new interview is filled with targeted discussion of Andy’s killer array of movements.
On both electric guitar and acoustic guitar, Andy is probably the most textbook example of two-way pickslanting we have filmed. He is the archetypal “primary pickslant” player: he uses a default orientation, in this case upward pickslanting, but effortlessly reels off sequences of rapid-fire rotational movements to get in between two strings when the phrase requires it. You’ll see him do this for blazing country-style open position riffing, as well as mid-fretboard “shred style” mixolydian scale playing. Cross compare with the selection of scalar examples from the first interview, and you can see this movement adapt from the big box Martin D28 acoustic to the smaller, slab body Suhr.
Likewise, we thought it would be informative to watch Andy play the same pieces on both acoustic guitar and mandolin. The body shapes are so different that Andy does indeed have somewhat different techniques on each instrument. We discuss Andy’s mandolin crosspicking technique in detail. He uses a supinated setup and the resulting movement, what we call in the interview the “smiley-face” movement, might be obvious to us as viewers when we’re watching him, especially in slow-motion. But to Andy, the distinction between this and the two-way pickslanting approach he uses when he speeds up is apparent only as a difference in rhythmic feel.
The various cross-comparisons we do in this interview are useful to players interested in both instruments, sure. But they are of general interest to anyone looking to understand how instrument layout, arm setup, and pick grip affect picking technique. We talk about all of these things in detail. You’ll see some good closeups of Andy’s grip and how it affects his ability to use finger movement for string changes, and to perform alternate picked arpeggio sequences.
Andy and Andy: The Duets!
Finally, we’ve assembled a selection of duets, guitar and mandolin, from three of the standards that Andy played:
Whiskey Before Breakfast
Red Haired Boy
We didn’t intend to combine the tunes this way, and these were not recorded to a click. But the tempos were so close that only minor edits were necessary to get them to lock up. Even in the one case where more deliberate tempo mapping was required to make the match, the resulting blend was such an awesome look at how a great player improvises that we included it anyway.
Check out our “Behind the Scenes” feature on Andy’s always musical sense of time that allowed us to sync up the duet performances!
If all goes well, we will be boarding a plane for Los Angeles tonight to meet with a duo of guitar awesomeness!
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
We just finished editing the David Grier interview for our Masters in Mechanics subscribers! Meeting David was a wonderful step forward in our quest to get a better understanding of crosspicking techniques in general, and bluegrass picking technique in particular. Read More
We’re giving away 10 free copies of the Cracking the Code Pickslanting Primer!
To enter, just drop off your email below. We’ll be picking 10 viewers at random, and will send a notification to the winners next week. Whether you win or lose (and in our eyes, everyone’s a winner) we’d like to thank you for watching Cracking the Code.