Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

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


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6 Pieces of Guitar Gear I Can’t Live Without

Hey Gang!

I was just peeking through the mountain of “Fanbridge”  questions that I have, and I came across a recurring theme…

Question:  “Adam what guitar / strings / gear do you use?”

I get asked about this 10 times a week.

With the “mountain”  of gear that one sees in catalogs & stores it is easy to get confused.

Since I carry most of my stuff myself (no car – yep, I’m a a New York guy), it has to be portable, easy and sound great.

All of what I am listing fits in a backpack (except the guitars), and I am ready to play any size concert hall or festival.

Keep in mind, this list WILL change, and “there is more than one way to do it” – but this has been working for me.

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Rhythm, Pitch and Your Musical Soul

I was thinking about something someone once told me.

“Pitch is Rhythm.”

Huh?

When I sing or play a note, it does not sound like a beat.

When I play a beat it does not sound like a note.

But in actuality – they are the same thing.  Let’s take a look at this…

An “A 440”  is simply a very fast rhythm.  Scientifically speaking we are hearing a wave at 440 cycles per second.

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How To Build Your Own Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangements – Part 1

Hey Gang!

I get asked quite often about how I approach fingerstyle guitar arranging, and suddenly – this simple idea came to mind.

I hope this gives you a little “AHA!”  moment – to brighten your day.

Disclaimer – there is always “more than one way to do it”.  Here’s one approach that I use, 90% of the time.

The Dark Ages Way of Guitar Arranging

Most guitarists come out of a “chord”  approach, which leads to picking patterns on the chord, and ultimately “jimmying”  little melodies on top.

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The Day I Got My Butt Kicked in Harlem

He showed up for his first music lesson with the master, with his saxophone case in hand.

As they chatted for the first time, he told the teacher “I think I am one of the best sax players in town.”

The teacher answered “It would be nice if someone else thought that as well.”

=-=-=-

That’s a true story that one of my teachers, Mike Longo told me.  It just goes to show, that when we are in our own little world, we think we’re pretty good.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 60,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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The Pitfalls of Learning Guitar from Youtube

Hey gang, greets from a jet lagged fingerpicker.  I just got back from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur – what a delightful tour it was!

I had the pleasure to meet some excellent young guitar players – and the bizarro moment happened.  Kids who were inspired by Sungha Jung playing my arrangements are playing their little butts off!  Wow…

I was really surprised to see some super talents who’ve been playing only 3 or 4 years.  I met about 3 or 4 young guitar pickers like this and I am sure Asia has a few more than that 🙂

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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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Commitment vs Flirtation

Hi Gang!  I am back in NYC for a short breather between tours…

On the road recently someone came up to me and said “man, I worked on your version of Superstition for like 5 months and still couldn’t get it perfect.”

My reply was “only 5 months?”

I explained to him that he needs to dive in with a full ongoing commitment and not watch the clock or calendar.

Like this:

I’m gonna play this arrangement no matter how long it takes to learn and practice.  If I can play one note, then I can play two.  I’ll play those 2 until they sound good, then I’ll add note 3.

I’ll do a little every day and it will surely build.  I’ll sand the edges, work on the groove, listen hard, and allow improvements to reveal themselves with time.

I’ll be mindful that my hands feel good and my whole body feels the groove as I play. One day it will sound good.

I’ve been “hammering”  at all my guitar arrangements for the past 6 years – and there’s no end in sight.

The real issue is not about guitar….it’s about “commitment” vs “flirtation”.

I can feel in me when I “flirt”  with something vs when I totally “commit.”

Things like playing chess, fooling around with electric bass or drums – and even figuring out other guitarists riffs – these are fun things that add richness to my life – but it’s flirtation.

Playing slow scales, practicing my arrangements (and now learning easy Bach Preludes on the piano) and 30 minutes a day of meditation  are “commitments”.

Because they are “commitments” I can relax and breathe as I do the work.

I don’t try to practice everything in a day.  I am mindful of relaxation in my hands, neck, shoulders and I don’t “overdo”.  The fact that I plan to spend the rest of my life on this stuff helps me chill out!

(Please note – I am not saying you have to be a pro and spend hours a day.  You can be a hobby player and commit to practicing a piece of music in the way that I am saying.)

Only after a good long period of time do results show.  There’s a sweetness to knowing and feeling that I’ve (you’ve) accomplished just a little something by coming back to it again and again.

The moral of the story is….hobbies are ok, flirtation with stuff is fun and ok – but committing is also ok too.

The opposite of immediate gratification is one of the sweetest satisfactions in life!  Don’t miss out.

Know where you stand – and if there something you early really want, put it in your focus and never look away!  The “out projecting” of your vision will in fact, create the “thing”  or experience in real life.


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What is Your Musical “Slam Dunk”?

Greets from the road!

Each tour has an outer experience  and  an inner experience.  This tour has been especially wonderful in terms of the inner journey.

Outer stuff: The shows, posters, Facebook posts, and fan interaction, travel, making new friends, etc.

Inner stuff: What’s going on inside emotionally, reaching for artistic goals, new melodies / tunes that become a fresh “soundtrack”  of the tour, where I stand on my scale of inner peace, etc.

The last few gigs have been quite satisfying on  the inner plane, and here’s why –  I am experiencing a new level of “harmony”  between my playing on stage and my core values.

Here are some guidelines which hopefully will stimulate some ideas – and please feel free to disagree with me:

Becoming the Artist You Are Supposed to Be

You can’t get the deep satisfaction I am describing through imitating someone else. (You may have to start there, but that’s not the “goal”…)

Others may inspire you, but the gem and the gift to the world is YOU in your full honesty.  It might feel fragile and unfamiliar to you at first to accept the idea that YOU are valuable and precious, but it’s special and that’s what I’d want to hear from you.

The big question you need to ask yourself is “what is my musical slam dunk?”

Examples:

  • For some, speed is their slam dunk – and that’s fine. If so, then do it to the max!
  • For some, introspection and a meditative atmosphere is their slam dunk, and that’s fine too. Go for it!
  • For some, being perceived as the “best” is the slam dunk.  Be careful here – as this has more to do with “perception”  than “the music”  and can be an ego pitfall.
  • There are many possibilities – so just be clear on what has meaning to you, musically.

Be clear on what your values are, and work at them day by day as you practice.  If you are blown about like a leaf in the wind, imitating someone one day, then something or someone else the next day, or employing a “gimmick” – you can’t get to this deep satisfaction I am describing.

Or if your slam dunk is “A”  but you are doing “B”  because you want others to accept you, you’ll probably never achieve the artistic heights you could – because being an artist is a 360 degree full on, HONEST endeavor.

If you are a beginner or a young person learning who you are and just starting to play, be clear on what you like about other people’s music as you learn the craft of music.

This can be tricky when you are under a teacher’s guidance – as students tend to adopt the likes and dislikes of their teachers.

Just be honest.  What do you like and what do you dislike?  It’s all ok!

My “slam dunk” is a combination of things…

  • I want people to hear clear melodies, groove along with me, and get a “variety” of tempos, textures, keys and musical styles along with some friendly entertainment.
  • I want to hold people’s attention.
  • I want to see my audiences true bubbling enthusiasm, smiles and beaming faces after the gig.  I know when people are really touched as opposed to just offering “obligatory applause.”  I want to really tickle them!

After two separate gigs people told me they felt a “warm flow” come over them during my gig as their smiles beamed.  Dang, that’s what I’m talking about!  I made people feel good – that’s evidence of my slam dunk!

Knowing what I don’t like helps too. 

While this may sound grumbly and negative – I am clear on these points.

  • I don’t like being bored by a performer or by the music.
  • I don’t like if I can’t tap my foot for at least some of the concert.
  • I don’t like when a musician tries to “impress” and forgets about groove and melody.
  • I don’t like “too much”  of one thing, it dulls my senses.
  • I don’t like when a performer hasn’t practiced enough.
  • I don’t like when someone is too “careful”.
  • I don’t like music that wanders and has no recognizable melody
  • I don’t like when I see someone simply imitating someone else, (although I give beginners a break regarding this!)

Only honesty with your own values combined with diligent work of slogging it out day by day, will ultimately bring about a deep, meaningful experience for you and the audience.

What are your values, musically or entertainment wise? (be honest!)

What’s your slam dunk?


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7 Essential Tips for a Stress Free Sound Check

Greets from Somewhere in Germany.

This post is for musicians who get up on stage and play through PA systems for any kind of gig.

Often the sound problems and solutions are in our heads, not in the equipment.

If you…

1) suffer during the soundcheck process…
2) get stomach acid ON THE GIG from thinking the sound sucks….

and

3) If you are NEW to performing, and do or would like to do  “open mics”…

I’ve got good news, and some tips to make it a whole lot easier for you.

Here’s some experience based on having done hundreds of concerts…mind you, they are primarily solo guitar concerts.  A band’s soundcheck can be more complex, but  I’m sure some of this advice can crossover.

By KNOWING some things – you can keep yourself in a good, groovy mental place for performing – which is as important as actually playing well.

This is important – because 80% of the time you’ll think the sound sucks, but it will sound fine to the audience.

If you look “pissed” off – the audience will pick up on it, maybe even more than a slight sound problem!

7 Tips for Easy On Stage Sound Checks – here we go!

1. It’s Not  a Rehearsal or Practice Session.

Don’t test to see if everything feels right as if it as a full on 100% intensity performance.  It probably won’t and here’s why:

You’re not 100% performing when you soundcheck.  Some of your mind is making music, some is being a sound critic.  You are divided whether you realize it or not!

This double mindedness can make you nuts, as neither side can win.   When you actually perform, you are 100% in – and that will make the sound “feel better.”

Also – if your “chops” are not warm, don’t blame the “sound.”  This is a huge trap for me, personally!

I now take the attitude of “let’s get this soundcheck finished!”

2. Often, the house sounds great and your stage monitors sound crappy.

I’ve been doing a bunch of duo gigs with Michael Fix.  We use the same model guitar and have a similar setup (reverb, DI box).  We each have the same reaction at soundchecks….something like:

“My guitar sounds so nasal and mid-rangey, but his guitar sounds so big and full.”

It’s often about stage monitor positioning.  The “house” can sound GREAT but if a monitor is pointing right at your face, you will get the crap sound.

I don’t even try to make monitors sound good in terms of “power, bass and balls” – I leave that to the house mix.  I use the monitor for treble and articulation  so I don’t dig in with my touch  past the point that I should.

In fact – you DON”T want all the “bass and balls”  of the house sound, as that can lead to feedback problems.  Just have faith that it sounds good out front.

I can’t tell you how many times the onstage sound SUCKED and people say “It sounds GREAT out front!”

3. Start with eq FLAT, Listen – then Adjust.

This is a mixing technique.  Start with all your equipment flat and and do little amounts of eq as correction.  “Flat” means all EQ knobs at 12 o’ clock.

If you find that you or the sound man are turning knobs endlessly swooping mids, looking for the “perfect” sound via EQ, proceed to step 4.

Often, little adjustments will fix a lot.

4. Take Responsibiliy for Your Tone – at the Touch / Voice Level.

Recently I have started “drawing more tone”  out of the guitar with a more “meaty, fat”  touch of the right hand and have once again rediscovered the “Garbage In, Garbage Out”  principle.

( If you are a vegetarian, simply think of tofu chunks drowning in grease 🙂 )

Whether you are playing with a THIN tone  or  a FAT tone on your instrument – this will translate perfectly through a PA.

As I have taken more responsibility regarding my “touch”,  recording and live playing is sounding better and better.

Obvious, I know – but with the myriad of knobs and bullshit boxes we can buy, we often forget the simple fact – tone starts with fingers on the strings!

(I also change strings before EVERY gig.  It’s like a shower & a shave – helps clarity, brilliance and intonation.  And – the ladies love it!)

5. Watch out for (and eliminate) Negative Self Talk.

Big one here.  Watch out for the involuntary voices in your head during sound check  (and gig) of “this sounds crappy, I sound crappy, this sucks” etc.

You may have to “fake it till you make it” by substituting in positive self talk.  Even if you don’t believe the positive talk, do it anyway – as it will instruct your subconscious mind.

Before gigs I often say things like “I am the best, I like myself, it’s gonna sound great, the sound man is doing a wonderful job” – just to keep myself on the right track mentally.

Onstage when I make mistakes I say “everything is cool, no one noticed it!”

When we “present ourselves”  to others on stage, our inner demons rear their ugly heads.  We all want to be liked and loved, so bad sound can mess our heads up – because we equate it with our self image.

Simply replace the negative script with a positive one and everything will flow better.

6.  Reel in the soundman’s creativity  if necessary.

We need the soundguys as allies – so often  I’ll offer 3 or 4 compliments to make him or her feel good.  Then, I’ll instruct them as to what I need very directly.

For example – If the soundman is “riding”  the volume on the gig I get extremely pissed.  Sometimes adding crazy reverb or delays, gates or compression  mid song during the gig seems like a great idea to them as well (but not to me).

I’ll warn them upfront what to do & not to do in a friendly manner.  If they do this on the gig, ask them in between songs politely to chill out!

Don’t be pissed on the mic.  Audiences like happy musicians!

7.  Know that sound usually changes for the better when people arrive.

Bodies soak up sound, flat surfaces cause weird reflections & overtones.  Rooms without an audience  can sound boomy & crappy during soundcheck.

This is a big source of stress, especially for bands with bass & drums….my advice – just say to yourself “it’ll sound better when people are in here”  and get the soundcheck FINISHED!

And….Tip 7.5  It’s always too loud for the person sitting next to the speaker.  Don’t let them VIBE you out!

In conclusion…

They’ll hear YOUR sound, not the sound man’s sound, so refer back to Tip #4.

Make sure the sound you produce before it hits ANY ELECTRONICS  is good.

Chances are that if you do this – the sound in the house  will be fine!

Update – Can I Walk the Talk?

After writing this I showed up to a sound check, and as Murphy’s Law would have it – the sound system was 2 Bose L1’s in a HUGE room (facing away from me) – no monitors.

I thought “ok AR, ya just wrote this dang blog post…now what will you really do in this semi-sucky situation?”

Ugh.

The concert was a success, and I’d like to add that as a soloist I can walk around the stage to find the best spot for sound, which I did – in lieu of monitors.

I had to take a LOT of deep breaths at the sound check, but all went well.   By making LOTS of eye contact with the audience I focused on “communication”  rather than the downward spiral of “wishing”  the sound was something else.

Now get out there and rock the house – no excuses!!!