A Flurry of Notes – January 2018

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This week, we serve up the first Showcase of 2018, fill out our next InstantBand, create a more flexible Playlist (at a slightly earlier time!), and bend your ear with a little Advice.


Join us this Thursday (1/11) at The Red Lion (Bleecker and Thompson) for our first Showcase of 2018, featuring tunes by The Band and some Blues from debutants ICE PICK BARNEY, the long-awaited return of Who tribute RELAY, crystal clear Steely Dan tribute NO STATIC, a Jazzy Funk reaction from COLD FUSION, and the patented one-two punch of Beatles tribute NO MERSEY and Rolling Stones tribute THE ROLLING BONES. It’s a scene. It’s a community. It’s always a good hang.


Our next John Putnam workshop, THE CUTTHROAT BLUES BAND, still has room for a Vocalist and a Harpist. The CBB will rehearse on 1/22, 1/29, 2/5, 2/12, and 2/19 (all 7-9 pm). And (because Professor P is away for the last week of February), there’ll be a FREE bonus session on 2/26 – just to help keep things fresh for the gig on 3/1 at Red Lion. If you’re interested in signing up, just call 212 626 8472 x2. $299 for Jam Members, $349 for nonmembers, all credit/debit cards accepted.


Bending For Beginners

Have you been contentedly strumming cowboy chords on your acoustic guitar for awhile, maybe playing some scales – but you’re itching to expand your skill-set? String bending and vibrato are the two fundamentals of “feel”, and are therefore arguably more important than all the other fancy techniques put together. Many instruments do not allow you to bend notes or apply vibrato – at least PART of the reason why the guitar is considered one of the most expressive instruments. And as you develop “feel,” you start to distinguish yourself from other guitarists – so let’s get bent, shall we?

Bending is a family that includes various increments, like the quarter-step bend or “curl”, the half-step or semitone bend, the full-step or whole-tone bend, the brutal step-and-a half bend, and more (depending on the gauge of string you use, the scale length of your instrument, and your strength). And each is a little bit different – enough so that I think they’re worth “mastering” one at a time, rather than learning them all semi-competently at once. Getting the bend just right (intonation) is what it’s all about – it’s pushing the string into that sweet spot that’s so aurally satisfying – miss it by just a little bit and you sound dorky, inept – or simply out of tune.

Some like to start with a half-step bend, on the theory that you can check your intonation by playing the “target” note one fret up. But I think you can just use your ears – and frankly, if you can’t hear when your bend is just right, you need more ear training. Fortunately, you can work on your ears and your bends simultaneously. So *I* suggest starting very small, developing solid microtonal bends first, because 1) it’s the easiest bend, requires the least energy to perform, and starts out very close to the target. And 2) once you’ve achieved a consistent curl, picking up the semitone bend won’t be so difficult – it’s the same move, with just a bit more “oomph” required. And so on, with the bigger bends (though you’ll likely brace your fretting finger with adjacent ones). It’s like lifting weights: You start light and achieve good form, so that adding weight only requires modest adjustments, and builds on your previous progress.

So, if you’re ready to dive in to the pool for some baby bends, let’s use the ever-popular Minor Pentatonic scale, in the key of A. The two notes that always sound good and “Bluesy” bent up a quarter-step are the flatted third (in this case, C), and flatted seventh (G). Why? I don’t know. But you can prove it to yourself, and by overshooting the target, hear where it starts to sound…less-pleasant. Once you get good at hitting that perfect little Bluesy bend, you’ll want to figure out how to use SOME part of your hand to stop the note – because letting the note return to where it started usually takes away from the cool thing you just created. To be clear, you can let the string return to where it started, but don’t let it ring it out as it is doing so.

There is plenty more to learn about the art of string bending – technique, philosophy, phrasing – and you should learn it from someone much more qualified. But start small, pushing the right notes, the right amount. Incorporate them into your playing, resisting the temptation to do bigger bends for awhile. Mastering just this one little bend will instantly make your playing sound more skilled and soulful. And if you’re good with baby bends (rather than mediocre at ALL the bends), you will SOUND good – period.


If you’re not quite ready for a band, unable to commit, or just want to, you know, jam – we’ve got a couple of facilitated Saturday sessions for you: The gentle 3-5 pm Newbie Jam, and from 4-8 pm, The Playlist – a slightly faster-paced, more structured affair. Both are casual, no-reservation, come and go as you please. Instruments included.

To allow for a little more flexibility and spontaneity, we can deviate from the Playlist, at the Facilitator’s discretion – as long as everyone in the room knows the song or can be brought up to speed quickly. Otherwise, we’ll try to get through:

  • Born On The Bayou (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  • Moondance (Van Morrison)
  • Tainted Love (Soft Cell)
  • Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett)
  • Another Brick In The Wall (Pink Floyd)
  • Season Of The Witch (Donovan)
  • Franklin’s Tower (The Grateful Dead)
  • Long Train Running (The Doobie Brothers)
  • I Want To Be Sedated (Ramones)
  • Down By The River (Neil Young)
  • Let It Be (The Beatles)
  • Stir It Up (Bob Marley)
  • Santeria (Sublime)
  • Cocaine (Eric Clapton)
  • Born Under A Bad Sign (Albert King)
  • I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Creedence version)Get Down Tonight (KC & The Sunshine Band)
  • Oye Como Va (Santana)
  • The Weight (The Band)
  • Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Tom Petty)
  • Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  • Mercury Blues (Jim Thackery)
  • People Get Ready (Curtis Mayfield)
  • Walk On The Wild Side (Lou Reed)
  • Sympathy For The Devil (The Rolling Stones)


Thursday (1/11): Showcase at Red Lion with ICE PICK BARNEY (7 pm), RELAY (7:50 pm), NO STATIC (8:40 pm), COLD FUJON (9:30 pm), NO MERSEY (10:15 pm), THE ROLLING BONES (11:30 pm to 1:15 am). Admission is $10 (except for Jam Members, who get in free). Well-behaved, accompanied minors are welcome until 10 pm or so, the Kitchen’s open until Midnight, and the live music continues all the way until 4 am. Please join us!

Saturday (1/13): Newbie Jam, under the inspirational guidance of Jimmy Fontanez, 3 to 5 pm at The Jam (541 Sixth Ave, inside The Collective). $10 for members, $20 for non-members. Designed for those who don’t have much experience playing with others, but open to all.

ALSO Saturday (1/13): The Playlist (see RECREATION, above), with Robert Brandow, NOW FROM 3 TO 7 pm at The Jam (541 Sixth Ave, inside The Collective). $20 for Jam members, and $40 for everyone else.


If your fundamentals (timing, pitch/intonation) need work, DROP EVERYTHING to work on them. A drummer’s timing and a singer’s pitch arguably have the biggest effect on the quality of a band – but we ALL need to be in time and in tune. No one cares about your technique or your range or how many drums you have or your tone if your fundamentals aren’t there. They are the foundation. You can’t build anything good on a crappy foundation. No piece of gear will magically cure bad fundamentals – only YOU can, with steady effort, focus on your deficiencies, and objective feedback. If you set aside 45 minutes, three times a week to practice, you WILL be noticeably improved in months – and a LOT better by the end of 2018. It’s not too late, you’re not too old, you do have enough time. Those are just stories we tell ourselves.


“Work on your weaknesses, and you’ll have no weaknesses.”
-Michael Carvin

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