I started a little series on Instagram called “Random Verse Today.” I’ve been learning lots of songs lately, and there are so many great individual verses (or choruses) in songs you might never have paid attention to. There are enough full song covers out there (I particularly enjoy Larkin Poe’s acoustic covers), bu given everyone’s short attention spans and the short time limit of Instagram videos I thought this would be a fun take on it. I also try to sing things in a clear, understandable way so listeners can really hear the lyrics.
For the first time ever, I practiced every single day this year – 366 in a row! Given the travel restrictions and cancelled vacation plans, it’s made it a lot easier to do. Usually when I miss it’s because the family and I are out of town for a week or something and I want to take a little time off. This year, even when we did get away I could practice rhythm or ear training, and it was only a few days. It also helped that when my wrists and forearms started getting sore around October – not enough breaks – I was able to shift to drums and ear training and give myself time to physically recover. The travel guitar and Pandora I picked up a few years ago also helped.
As I outlined in this post, my goal for 10+ years has been to practice at least 15m per day. I did have to become okay with taking some time off, both to recharge my focus and to give my wrists and forearms a break.
As usual, I really try to focus on “what am I going to learn today” instead of “how much time am I going to spend.” I was relatively focused, and I do have some highlights.
The thing I want to share with others is that despite a challenging year for many reasons, music kept me grounded Music was my therapist. Music gave me focus and peace of mind. My plan of “15m per day” continued quite successfully, and as long as you keep learning you will improve. It’s the process, and finding joy in the process. It’s not about finding happiness in a destination. With something like music or guitar, you will never reach the end. Enjoy every day!
What I Learned
Continued progress on my new album project. I haven’t had large blocks of uninterrupted time with family out, like I usually get once a year, but I did make good progress on small tweaks: solos, arrangements, etc. I started a Trello board to keep notes on each song in progress, so I don’t lose track of thoughts like “need to modulate solo section” or “add break after verse 3” or “rhythm guitar tone isn’t meaty enough.” It’s been handy. I used some of my songs for practicing on the drum kit, and some of my “non-guitar” time to iterate on lyrics. I’m excited for this, but it’s too early to see if it will see a 2021 release.
I got a lot better on drums, and put in about 40 hours of rhythm and drum practice over the year. I didn’t have tons of time on the kit, but I did lots of rudiments with the metronome and overall I feel way more comfortable. I learned a bunch of basic tunes on drums, like Back in Black
I spent some time on ear training as well, and did an online course in addition to practice with intervals.
Almost finished a guitar arrangement for Maple Leaf Rag – I bought the sheet music of a really cool guitar arrangement for my birthday, and I’ve been working on it since. It drastically improved my finger picking, as well as renewed my reading skills (such that they are). Dec 31 Update: I have the whole thing! I definitely still need to polish it, but I’m comfortable and able to execute every measure. I’m ALMOST finished with it, on the 5th of 5 pages, and I hope to have learned the entire piece by the end of December. Then I need to spend some time polishing.
I learned tons of songs in a bunch of different styles… and mostly forgot them a month or so later, but it was good ear training. Off the top of my head: several Rush songs, Reggae, rock, blues, jazz.
Worked on improving over the cycle of 4ths (mostly using Jamie Abersold backing tracks) and refreshed my knowledge of a bunch of jazz standards.
What Was Challenging
The biggest challenge again was that after 9 or 10 months, my forearms and wrists started getting very sore, and I had to take a month off of guitar entirely. Fortunately, I could focus on drums and rhythm. I did a lot of rudiments out on the porch with a metronome. I also did some ear training online and at the keyboard. All in all, it gave me a chance to keep growing my musical knowledge, while giving my wrists a chance to heal.
I also didn’t do as much writing and updating my blog as I had previously done. To be honest, I was super busy this year and I’m incredibly thankful for that.
Writing has also been challenging given the intermittent time I’ve had. Most of my practice is early in the morning before my son wakes up, and I have limited minutes. Historically I write a lot better when I have a long, open block of time to really get into it. I also like to be able to sing parts as I’m writing lyrics, and that’s tougher with family around (and sleeping). That said, I didn’t let this new project fall off the radar and made some quantifiable progress. I also continued to jot down interesting riffs, melodies and lyrics as they come.
It’s Friday morning, December 31 and I just put in 20 minutes of practice. While I may play some more later in the day, here’s where we’re at for the year:
Days Practiced: 366 Hours: 164 Average Minutes/Day: 27 Hours of Rhythm (mostly drums): 41.5 Hours of Ear Training: 7.75
Here’s how my historic trends shake out over the last 10 years:
2020 has been a tough year for most of us, so in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I’m offering mp3s of Atlantis and the Zeyer CD for FREE through the end of 2020.
Just use the contact form to send me a message with which you want. Continental US only for the CDs, and don’t forget to include your shipping address.
Don’t forget that both are still streaming! For me, though, I want offline music, able to be backed up and played in a variety of settings. If you want the same, let me know and I’ll get it to you free.
This song came about while listening to Metallica’s “Jump in the Fire” during a run. For some reason, the rhythmic similarity of “Jump in the Fire” and “Coronavirus” stuck out and I started putting the lyrics together.
Simply contact me and I’ll send you the mp3. Fast and easy!
How to Help Musicians During the Pandemic
Musicians that survive on live performances are having a particularly hard time during Covid. There are a number of great organizations set up to help touring musicians survive while unable to work, and to be able to get back on the road when possible. Please consider donating to some of these organizations doing really important work.
Joe Bonamassa’s Fueling Musicians Program is an emergency relief plan for touring musicians affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This initiative is designed to support musicians by providing financial assistance for essential living expenses such as food, shelter, and more. Fueling Musicians provides immediate cash payments of $1,000, as well as pre-paid gas cards of $500 to help struggling musicians get back on the road again when it is safe.
The Foundation aims to assist and enrich the lives of members of the communities who have supported the band for years, as well as encourage participation from fans and friends. All funds raised will be donated to a cross-section of national and local charities… every penny from your donations will go directly to our charity partners.
The lyrics actually came to me while running a few months back, and “Jump in the Fire” came on my Workout playlist. At the chorus I started singing “Coronavirus” along with the song. I sat down and wrote the rest of the lyrics, learned all the parts to the song, and recorded it over the course of a couple weeks.
Down in the depths of seedy Wuhan Bats with Covid-19 Spreading all around the Earth As quick as you’ve ever seen Is humanity cursed, will it get even worse Not enough test kits The stock market crashed, people don’t have the cash The economy’s in the pits
So come on Coronavirus So come on Coronavirus
With phlegm in my lungs and death in my blood The end is closing in Breathing with a ventilator The nurses are wearing thin The doctors all shout to search out And find a better way Follow the rules and don’t be a fool To live another day
So come on Coronavirus So come on Coronavirus
So don’t shake hands, or gather in groups Want to play it safe Trying, all, to flatten the curve I guess we shelter in place Living you life with social distancing It’s all around everyone Watching movies alone, or working from home Stay home whenever you can
So come on Coronavirus So come on Coronavirus So come on Coronavirus So come on Coronavirus
Come on jump in, yeah!
“Coronavirus” is a derivative work based on Metallica’s “Jump in the Fire.”
James Alan Hetfield (PRO: ASCAP, IPI: 126306108)
David Scott Mustaine (PRO: BMI, IPI: 205503805)
Lars Ulrich (PRO: ASCAP, IPI: 126291585)
I reached out to Q Prime and Metallica management to get permission to make this derivative work, but have not received a reply, so sharing freely and hopefully can get some donations to the valuable organizations linked on my page that help musicians. I will not monetize unless legal permission is obtained from the publishers… but that’s not the point, anyways.
It’s hard to believe it was 15 years ago! Stephanie and I headed into the studio in Summer 2014 to record a full album, which blended rock, blues, country and folk. I dubbed it a “tasty musical burrito,” stuffed with all those elements. Like the classic rock bands we grew up with, we wanted to mix our influences and interests into something unique. The songs had been polished up in both electric, full-band and acoustic duo versions over the preceding years so we only did a few rehearsals ahead of time.
Recording was done in just a few days, though it took a bit longer to mix. We moved from Chicago to Florida the day after our major sessions were done and had to make a few final tweaks by mail. Ah, the good ol’ days before dropbox…
As for gear, I used everything available – my SRV and 57 reissue strats were on most songs. My Dr. Z and Mesa combos were on most tracks. The studio had a full Marshall stack, which I cranked up for “Fire.” I also borrowed the studio Les Paul for a couple solos. I enjoyed the variety, and definitely wanted to make the record tonally varied and interesting. Hopefully that comes across.
You can read more about the project and album on the Zeyer page.
After all this time, it’s a pleasant surprise to listen again and get a clean perspective. At the time you’re recording and gigging the material, it can be hard to be objective. In hindsight, we’d change a few things – more pronounced bass in “Ain’t Got Wings,” perhaps an organ solo in “3 O’Clock in the Morning.” Overall, though, I’m still proud of the record and I hope fans have enjoyed it.
My personal favorites are “Fire,” “3 O’Clock in the Morning,” and “God Fearing Woman.” Of course, being a blues fan, I gravitated towards those songs. What are your favorites? Let me know by sending me a message!
Last week I was cleaning out a file cabinet and found a package I had mailed to myself many years ago. Based on the addresses, it must have been ~1995. I remember living in that apartment my senior year of college and the following summer.
At that time I was in an alternative/rock band called Huckleberry. In my humble opinion, we had a great mix of influences that blended nicely. We were firmly in the alternative rock category, but everyone brought something different and it was a lot of fun. Our name came from a line in the now-classic 1993 western Tombstone, where Val Kilmer’s character Doc Holiday replies to Johnny Ringo “I’m your huckleberry” and answers his challenge.
We played around Chicagoland for a year or two, often in classy places like Carmie’s Lounge, which we decided “had a two tooth minimum.” It was my first “real” band, outside of just jamming at parties with friends, and we had a blast. I sure learned a lot as well. Nothing but good memories.
Apparently I mailed a tape to my parents’ address to try to copyright the songs. Somehow I ended up with it and kept it with my files for all these years.
I completely forgot we ever did a cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Still in Hollywood” and Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” and his version of “Killing Floor.” My next band (with Huckleberry drummer) did an instrumental version of Machine Gun, but I didn’t recall doing it this far back. I’m a little nervous to hear myself back then… especially doing bluesy stuff, since I didn’t really get into blues for a few more years. I’m sure it’s terrible, but that’s half the fun of going back in time…
The First Play
And while I haven’t imported the whole thing yet (I do have other Huckleberry recordings), I took a video of the first playing of the tape in almost 25 years. The song is “Latty Dadi” – enjoy!
Thanks for joining me! I’ve been making music for almost 30 years now, and I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts on music, and enjoy listening to the music I’m making.
“Atlantis” is my instrumental rock record put together over many years. It was truly a labor of love, and a result of life circumstances forcing me out of the lyric-based, verse/chorus, bluesy/country/rock stuff I had been writing for years. I wanted to tackle and instrumental album, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I hope you enjoy it.
Purchase or stream on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, or Google Play. Purchase a physical CD (because that’s how I roll) direct from me using the Contact Form. Only $10 shipped to the CONUS.