Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

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


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What You Can Learn About Practicing Guitar from a Classical Pianist

Greetings from Amtrak.  Current location – Syracuse NY, in the dining car!

Recently I re-read a short book I bought in my college years called “Basic Principles in Piano Playing” by Josef Levine.  Levine was one of the great pianists and conductors of the 20th century.

Whenever I feel that it’s time to focus on playing and improve, I play Bach – sometimes on guitar, sometimes on piano.

Bach is pretty unforgiving…he wrote what he wrote, and the player has to find a solution.  It’s not based on “comfy”  positions on an instrument.  It presents lots of technical challenges.

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The Pinky Finger and the Sistine Chapel

If you’ve ever recorded in a studio, either solo or a band you probably know that you get to know every nook, cranny and mistakes of your own recordings better than anyone else.

It’s the audio version of when people look in the mirror and see every fault, pimple, and anything that looks different from a Hollywood actor. Some of the most beautiful men and women in the world always feel like they are falling short – looks wise…crazy, huh?

A very close friend of mine who is a fine painter told me once that she’d see aspiring artists in the Sistine Chapel in Rome doing painting studies of Michaelangelo’s works…and missing the point. They’d have an angel’s pinky finger perfectly copied, but miss the fullness of the body of the angel, and miss the entire composition that the angel was part of – the Sistine Chapel!

So attention to detail is very important…but it has to be met and balanced with attention to the big picture…in visual art maybe it’s stepping away from the canvas (or ceiling) and looking at the whole. As a jazz player it’s about forgetting the cool licks and lines and listening for sound and groove (music)…and as a studio musician and producer – it’s about NOT listening to your recording 24 hours a day so that you can actually hear it with fresh ears!!!

The other night a good friend, Joel Martin (genius pianist & composer IMHO) came over and I played him the Michael Jackson solo guitar tribute CD I have been working on. I had not listened for a few weeks, in order to give my ears a rest.

Magically – everything that sounded like a “blemish” or imperfection to me when I listened to it over and over in the studio – vanished and what was “front and center” was melody, groove and tone. With fresh ears, I got to enjoy the big picture. What’s really nice, is that if I like it, I have confidence that others will too! 🙂

During the recording process, I had my trusted team listening to my MJ takes – 3 musicians and 2 engineers. All of them have great ears and recording experience, giving me their input on which takes grooved best, which takes had “life” and even advised on the order of the songs. They helped see the big picture in case I was focused on details like quieting clicks and scrapes! 🙂

If you are recording yourself, or even preparing for a show – find someone whose opinion you truly trust, and let them give you input on how to improve. They may give you some very interesting advice. You may be looking at the detail of the “pinky finger “, and they’ll gently remind you of the big picture – “the Sistine Chapel.”


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Guitar Spotlight: Soenke Meinen

On my last tour in Germany I made it over to the Frankfurt Musik Messe and hung out in the Acoustic Guitar “Section” of the fair. Maton Guitars, Lakewood Guitars and Acoustic Music were all within walking distance of each other.

It was a blast!!! Since I play Maton guitars as my primary instrument, I spent quite a lot of time over by them.

Then I stumbled upon this fellow, Soenke Meinen who blew me away. Here is exactly what I saw and heard:

Soenke Meinen – Caravan & Cannonball Rag

Soenke and I chatted. He knew me from youtube, so we took turns playing at the booth. What a nice kid! And he’s young. Uh oh, us semi-old farts had better keep practicing! 🙂

As legend has it, Soenke was a devoted classical guitar student and at precisely the time that his teacher fell ill and announced he could no longer teach him, Soenke just happened to go to a Tommy Emmanuel concert for the first time.

The rest is history, or at least the beginning of it!

What struck me about Soenke was the calm, relaxed, poise with which he plays. His technique was “poetry in motion” – which is something I strive for. I could hear a depth and a knowledge of music.

A lot of young players these days start out by playing “Tommy” – which really is fine. We all climb the musical mountain in different ways. In Soenke’s case I was really excited to hear a kid with great technique and a solid grasp of harmony and proper voice leading – and a lyricism that touched my heart.

He played a bunch of original songs when I heard him. They were very Tommy Emmanuel “inspired”. Maybe a voicing here and there, a strum here and there were reminiscent of the great Tommy…but the “compositions” were his and there is a serious composer here!

Sonke has a great sense of song form and melody. The phrasing makes sense…in fact – I truly would love to learn some of the kid’s songs! He’s the real thing.

See what I mean here, here are 2 of his originals:

Oldenburg Donnerschwee

Snowflakes in the Summertime

Soenke surprised me the just other day, via Youtube. He smashed a bunch of my licks and ideas together, then added his own magic…and created a tune called “Adam’s Groove”. Here is a live version of it. (Dang, he’s gigging with this tune…that deserves a 2nd thank you)

Adam’s Groove

Thanks Soenke!

Soenke’s Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/soenkemeinen
Soenke’s Twitter: http://twitter.com/soenkemeinen

I’m still looking for his homepage….


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Guitar Spotlight: Smokin’ Joe Robinson

Guitar Spotlight: Smokin ‘ Joe Robinson

Joe Robinson is one of the shining young talents on the music scene today. He won top prize on “Australia’s got Talent” at age 14, has toured internationally and is currently honing his songwriting and vocal skills with top songwriters and producers in Nashville.

I first met Joe during my first visit to CAAS 2008 in Nashvlle. I only heard him play one tune and found myself at the dinner table with him an his Mom. His playing knocked me out, so I figured I’d come over and say hi.

What struck me about Joe immediately was that he was such a nice, humble kid. For someone who had won top prize on “Australia’s Got Talent” he had every reason in the world to not act humble. Yet, the true artist and musician in him shone forth in his great attitude. Joe is always eager to learn, always seeking to improve, and always appreciative of what life has offered him.

Wow. Cool dude.

What struck me second was his insane level of talent and dedication to music and guitar. Joe, Michael Fix, Boonchob, Masa Sumide and I all played in 2009 at the Bangkok Guitar celebration where Tommy Emmanuel headlined. I got to spend some more time with Joe there and got to check out his playing on a deeper level.

Joe may not know this, but as he played his set – Tommy , Michael and I listened and just loved what he was doing. Tommy even said “this kid is not leaving any notes for the rest of us old guys!!!”

By the way here’s the tune that got that reaction – an original of Joe’s entitled “It Ain’t Easy”. Well put!

Not only does Joe posses terrific playing, performing and personal skills but he is a great guitar composer. HIs songs have a real musical “hook” and a ferocious groove. He has a very “jazzy” direction to his music.

Here’s a more funky jazz direction on his tune “Daddy Longlicks”:

Many guitarists meander and create songs out of what their fingers do. Joe’s fingers obey what his ears and musical mind dictate, which is the proper order of things!!! As well, his songs display a keen sense of form, everything lines up, everything makes sense.

Joe is already an accomplished fingerstyle guitar player but plays GREAT electric too, and is currently in a songwriting and expanding mode. Once again – my hat is off to him for taking the necessary time out from the road to develop new skills.

Listen to Joe cover a Jeff Beck tune “Cause We Ended as Lovers”. This is a MUST listen.

Watch out for Joe Robinson – he’s destined to be one of the guitar heavyweight champions!!! Bravo Joe, I can’t wait to hear what you’ll be up to next.