Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy


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Don’t Use a Metronome

Recently a new fan who found me on YOUTUBE asked me if I used a metronome to develop my sense of groove.

Not a simple question, or topic, I am sure I’ll say some things here that will raise some eyebrows.

That being said – “there is more than one way to do it” . I can only tell you what has worked for me, and I still have a lifetime of learning ahead!

Here goes.

I have never, ever, ever practiced with a metronome. I do not recommend it at all. I’ve tried a few times, but shut the damn thing off after 5 minutes, for real. No joke.

Let’s start wayyyy back with these questions: What is groove? What is rhythm? What is time? What do you think you’ll get out of practicing with a metronome? Why do it?

I was lucky enough to have the greatest teacher around – pianist Mike Longo – teach me rhythm, and he learned from Dizzy Gillespie.

There is a big difference between “head rhythm” and “body rhythm”. Also – there is a difference between mere “time” and a “pulse”. To play music with an AFRICAN rhythmic concept is very different from a European rhythmic concept. The experience that led me down the right path was learning how to play African rhythms on a simple hand drum (which Mike learned from Diz).

What happens is a law of physics gets activated when “the drum” is played properly. It’s a 12/8 rhythm where all the 3’s 4’s 6’s and 12’s subdivide – but this is not intellectual at all when you’re doing it! A European rhythmic concept can have all these poly-rhythms and subdivisions, but the “accents” which are unique to the African concept are buried in the drum rhythm.

When you are playing it or hearing it properly – you experience “body rhythm” and your body starts moving like James Brown or Count Basie- without effort, without “trying to look” like you are grooving for the sake of appearances. Nope, this groove is the real thing. You can feel it, and everyone else can too. It’s an “US” thing – with the performer and audience, not a “ME” thing.

I’m not judging one or the other as better. What I am saying is that just as Einstein “uncovered” E=mc squared, African drummers and musicians “unlocked and uncovered” certain musical aspects of rhythm that to my knowledge, no one in Europe did. Likewise, the great composers- Bach, Mozart, Beethoven,Chopin, Ravel, Stravinsky – to name a few – unlocked realities regarding harmony, melody, rhythm, counterpoint and form that African musicians did not.

Once you experience this groove it on the “drum” the choices you’d make on your instrument regarding dynamics, fingerings – everything – start to shift to accommodate the new rhythm concept.

Here’s a fun tune where I get into a groove, and let me just say – I am still a servant and a student of music!!!

Let’s imagine things in life that beat to a “pulse”, and that could not be set to an external clock: jumping rope, spinning a ball on your finger, juggling, dancing, the human heart beating – to name a few. None of these things could be set to an external clock, nor would that be the point! Imagine trying to jump rope to a metronome!

The misconceptions in “practicing to a metronome” are 1) that time is linear (it’s not, because it’s one big NOW moment) and 2) that these pulsating things – (African rhythm, juggling, jumping rope) produce perfectly measurable and evenly spaced pulsations. They don’t! There is a natural correct ebb and flow – and speeding up or slowing slightly is LEGAL and correct, depending on context.

Hitting beats at even time intervals has NOTHING to do with groove or body rhythm. Click tracks can KILL the groove.

I have played with many musicians with “perfect time” and no groove. As well, I have played with groovers whose time is not the greatest, but their groove is happenin’!

I recently played in a band where a musician was not pulling his weight groove wise. Sometimes he sounded too fast for the band, sometimes too slow. He was thinking “metronome time” and the band was thinking African time – so we had apples and oranges as far as rhythmic concept. It was a far deeper problem than what musicians call “rushing” or “dragging”. It was 2 different universes!

Grooves can get faster or slower and still be right. Put on an old Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire or Count Basie or John Coltrane. Did it speed up or slow down? You bet – but them grooves is 1000% right! On the flipside, some of the most non-grooving crap I have ever heard is all the music done with sequencers and drum machines – with perfectly metronomic beats, which my mathematical standards (but not human heart standards) is played to ‘perfect’ time!

No words I can write here will give you the experience of what I am talking about. No matter what your level of talent is, you’d need to play with a more experienced musician whom you honestly trust groove wise (in your heart) to teach you. It’s a tradition that is handed down.

I have two words for you now: Alvin Queen – the greatest jazz drummer alive right now. Play a slow groove with him, and it’s so big, deep and in the pocket – it makes you feel like you are ahead of him. Play an uptempo – and watch out, it’s time to get smoked because he is so intense, and you feel like he’s pushing you. Look him up on you tube! He’s the greatest – ask anyone who has played with him.

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What can you do to deepen your groove?

1) Go with your gut more than your head.

2) Dance!!! I don’t care how good someone says their time is. Git on the dance floor and let’s see what your feet and body say. I love dancing. Feel funny dancing? Well, than you’re just as funny playing music. No excuses – dance!

The sad reality is that I have seen MANY regular people at disco’s exhibit a greater sense of body rhythm with their dancing than many musicians dowith their playing!

3) Play with the heaviest groovers around. Go right into a situation that feels intimidating and go up against any fears or insecurities you may have.

4) Play the blues, play with soul. It’s easier and more natural to get more complex with harmonies and melodies on a basis of blues and solid groove than it is to play complicated music and try to go back and find the groove.

5) Know that people like grooves. Get your audience to participate,and not just watch you. It’s not about you – it’s about the vibe and the magic.

Most people don’t realize that when I am playing complex lines I am focusing on groove. As well, staying “in the pocket” has offered me numerous technical solutions I would have never come up with otherwise.

Rhythm is the basis of music, so treat it as such!!!!!

“It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” – Duke

“Just because a record’s got a groove don’t mean it’s in the groove” – Stevie

“Never trust a drummer that can’t dance” – Art Taylor (I think)

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Safe Air Travel with an Acoustic Guitar – Part 2

Greets friends! I am writing here from Mexico City’s Four Seasons hotel. No, I’m not on tour, unfortunately – I am here for a family affair, but man it is nice to live like a king here for a few days.

http://www.fourseasons.com/mexico/

So, with all the sites and magic of Mexico City what have I done all day? Shedded
guitar in my hotel room. 🙂

Since my last post regarding my mini tour in PA, I have purchased 2 pieces of equipment for touring – Case Extreme road / flight case (http://www.casextreme.com) and a second Taylor 314-CE as a backup guitar.

Id like to tell you about this extrordinary case (guitar post coming).

Everyone will tell you something different about traveling with a guitar and airlines.
The truth of the matter is that it is anybody’s guess as to whether you’ll get the axe onto the flight or not. And many guitars have gotten destroyed or seriously messed up on flights.

Each airline has diffferent policies. Furthermore, the same airline can change policies depending on what side of the bed the gate person woke up on. The TSA issued a letter that instruments should be let on – but it is the wild west once it’s you, the gate person and the plane.

If you are traveling with a solidbody or small archtop, bring it in a SOFT case- it will fit in the overhead just fine.

Many people will tell you that gate checking is fine, and I have never done it. If you gate check, it will get handled more nicely (you hope) but if your flight is turbulent, who knows what will go on during the ride?

Also I keep hearing guitarists say “I get the axe on, no problem”. Great, I salute you – but it’s Russian roulette. The day will come where it will not go on. I’m such an optimist, aren’t I? 🙂

The first 2 things I’d recommend with an acoustic are this – loosen the strings to take tension off the neck. Then, pack bubble wrap around the neck, especially where the neck and headstoock join, and the headstock itself.

Apparently a lot of damage happens if the neck and neckjoint are bouncing around inside the case. The tension of the strings would only help snap the headstock off even better, hence the loosening. You want to stabilize the guitar inside the case.

I called Taylor and they un-officially recommended Casextreme.com It is a clamshell case made out of plastic – the same stuff used by the US postal service. Inside it are heavy foam rubber “C” shaped things that go around your guitars hardshell (or soft) case. The concept is that your axe iis floating – much the way when you buy a VCR or computer, styrofoam is suspending it,so if the box takes a hit, the thing inside doesn’t.

Well, go to their site and watch the video of the company owner attempting to beat up a guitar in one of these. He’s using the claw side of a hammer, and even jumps up and down on the axe. No prob -takes a Taylor out in a SOFT GIG BAG, and it’s just fine.

Even a heavy road case does not have much padding. Something heavy falling on the guitar could really crunch it . With the Casextreme, it would have to go through this super heavy plastic, squash this heavy foam rubber, and THEN pierce the hardshell case.

Go to the site and watch the vids!

http://www.casextreme.com

Needless to say my axe got here in one piece, and I am a happy camper. I checked it as regular baggage.

They are big enough though that traveling with 2 (if I want to bing a backup guitar) willl be a formidable challenge!

More to come. I have more flights, and I hope that it all works out. Consider no news to be good news.


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Adam Rafferty Mini Tour in PA 2/2008 – Review

Wow. My little road trip was tiring – yet fulfilling and eye opening. That’s what I call success!

Last week I made my way out to Butler, PA (just outside Pittsburgh) because I lined up a few gigs at coffee houses. Not huge gigs, but the people were so appreciative, boy it felt great to connect with them.

Since the solo acoustic genre is pretty new to me, I had to do a “rubber hits the road” situation for my own knowledge. I had several questions that I needed answered, like –

Do I have enough material for 2 good sets?
Will I get the guitar on the plane?
What travel expenses can I anticipate traveling solo?
What kind of sound systems will I encounter?
Just how big is the USA? 🙂

And so on.

While a jazz trio tour in Europe (of which I have done several) may sound more exotic – it’s really just a different set of circumstances and logistics. I needed (and still need to) learn this new aspect of touring.

First off, let’s just say the music was a hit! I loved connecting with the folks out there. Bruce, the owner of Kairos Coffee (where I played the Saturday night gig) told me that he’d never seen the audience be that attentive before, and stick around for 2 sets.

I was also very curious to see how & what I’d do for a full night of solo guitar. For every 3 parts playing, I did one part shmoozing on stage. We hired a local sound guy who brought a great little PA system, which made that gig a breeze.

Flying with the guitar was stressful. Until now I have flown with small electric guitars which fit in the overhead. I read an article by Pat Kirtley here: http://www.win.net/mainstring/carryon.html but things change every few years and this web page is from 1997!

Luckily I got the axe on the flight. I loosened the strings & packed the neck & headstock joint in the case with bubble wrap (read Pat’s article) and planned to GATE CHECK the guitar. But even so, if the baggage guys are using lifts, or if a flight is turbulent there are no guarantees that an axe will arrive safely.

This was a serious lesson as far as touring with an acoustic guitar. Upon arriving home I called Taylor and the unofficially recommended this guy – http://www.caseextreme.com

Check out the vids on his site, if you are in need of a flight case. He hilariously works up a sweat beating a guitar case up. I ordered one of his cases immediately.

As well, I will need a backup guitar. Not out of attachment and because it’s cool – that’s just reality! (my reality 🙂 )

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As far as the area – and mind you I was from out of town – I felt like I was in a Michael Moore movie. I found myself itching during the day wanting to do something and drove over to the Walmart and walked the isles when I couldn’t take any more practicing. Weird. Ok, I know that the US is not all like that but it was a shock to my system to see all these strip malls and huge mega chains, making every place in the USA look and feel so similar.

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Another aspect of this that felt particularly good is I just had a sense of “I’m doing what I have to be doing”. This is tricky to describe, because it was my own sense of fearlessness and accomplishment.

Until recently I had this sense that there was a way via promotion, smoke and mirrors, and contacts to get a career going. Of course knowing the right people and working intelligently is important. There are higher visibility events – magazine articles, radio interviews & airplay, TV appearances, hits on a website, etc. But the fabric of playing music is not just that.

Not to get off topic – but allow me to digress for a second. I can’t believe how much music is out there that people don’t actually like – but that is promoted because of an agenda, a connection, and ego trip. Maybe people pretend to like it to seem hip, cool or intellectual. I myself have seen so much music where I find myself scratching my bald head saying “is this touching me?”

When you hear great music it’s undeniable. It touches people and the people demand it because they love it. They come back for more. Just look at Ray Charles, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, not to mention all the other greats. There’s no denying it. Many jazz musicians, I believe, get de-railed and lose sight of the goal – which is communication (not the greats, though).

That’s the standard I hold for my music. Let’s see if everyday folks like it. Let’s see if they want a CD and feel their souls light up. If the music is on that level – it is for real. I am just at a point in life where I prefer the brutal honesty of this. Life’s too short! I want to be touched by music in the heart – not the head – and would like to do the same for people.

The meat and potatoes of it is the actual playing music for people and communicating. The actual activity of it. It’s about paying the dues to get out there and just do it. Until I did this new acoustic music I experienced an inner holdback, like a pride of saying “I won’t play for less than…” or “it’s not worth it..”.
A wise person once said behind each prideful “I won’t” is really a feeling of “I can’t” – simply hardened over.

Jack Canfield also has a great saying – “99% is a bitch, but 100% is easy”. When I read that I went – “yeah!”.

There is no substitute for getting out there and playing. Why? Because it’s not only music – it’s about people and connecting. The silent dialogue behind the words and music are the true communication, the presence, the sense of interchange and dare I say – love?

Yes, love even with total strangers. Because at the moment you meet – your eyes meet, greetings are interchanged – it’s the same as knowing someone for years. It’s all the same – the souls are in a dance, and energy is shared, given and taken. It feels good.

I did a Sunday workshop and my only attendees were a little girl (age 5) and a young fellow (age 12). I gave both a lesson and simply tried to impart enthusiasm and turn them on and inspire them. Whether it’s a young person, old – whatever – it’s my job to send them off excited and happy through whatever I can churn up with these 10 fingers and 6 strings.

So was the trip worth it? You bet!