how to improve your guitar chops



Claude: Hey, it’s Claude Johnson. We’re here with David Wallimann. How you doing Dave?

David: Hi, fine, great. Good to be here. Thanks for having me.

Claude: Awesome. Yeah so, this is the Modern Fusion Blues audio seminar and really there’s two purposes for this. One is to let people know what’s in your new DVD course, Modern Fusion Blues and talk about some of those ideas. Number two, you know even for the people that aren’t going to buy it, that maybe cannot afford it or whatever, just I want to give some value and just talk about some of the ideas and ways that guitarists out there can improve their guitar chops.

David: Definitely, yeah. Sounds good.

Claude: So before we jump into the material why don’t you just maybe tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and how you got into guitar and all that stuff?

David: Yeah, okay. Well I was born in South France and grew up in France where really music is not… It’s really hard to make a living with music in Europe, or at least in South France. So kind of a bedroom player, you know learned wherever I could. At the time, You Tube was not big so there is a lot of magazines and a lot of going to library and read books about it and about theory and all that kind of stuff. Started when I was 15 and just kind of learning on my own. had a bunch of questions as I was going. I’m sure a lot of our listeners have some questions too and I would just try to find the answers by talking to people, reading magazines and books and all that kind of stuff.

As I was learning, I started teaching at the same time. Just kind of teaching whatever I would learn at the library and that really helped solidify some of the concepts that I was trying to learn. Really a pretty typical upbringing with the instrument, just learning licks and developing my knowledge. Yeah, that kind of stuff.

Claude: Right on. So who was like your main influences. Like who inspired you just to even get started from the beginning?

David: I think the first real guitar player that I would really get into is Joe Satriani. The way that he played was just fresh and new and musical and technical so I mentioned Joe probably for the first influence.

Claude: Right on. So when you were learning, I mean was there a point where you got kind of stuck and just kind of like had to break through to the next level because I feel like that is a lot of the stuff you teach in your course. It is really helpful to people that are just kind of stuck at that intermediate level and want to get better.

David: Yeah. Definitely. I think the biggest stalling block that I got was just kind of getting my head around modes. That took forever for me to grasp the concepts, so I had to break down everything. I would read tons of information on it and some of it just did not make sense and I think it was just some of the approach that some of the teachers might just have had. On the mode, it just made everything way too complex. So yeah, definitely had to break down everything and kind of make my own method of understanding it. I tried it on some of the early students I had and it seemed to unstuck them and so yeah. Absolutely, that was probably the biggest stumbling block. Learning the modes and after getting unstuck.

Claude: So yeah, I mean I watched your DVDs and I definitely learned quite a few things just by watching them.

David: Cool, thank you.

Claude: So I see like five like big ideas that you teach and so you mentioned modes. So those five things that I really got from your DVDs were number one modes. Number two like even more advanced scales. Number three substitutions and number four chromatic playing and number five using shifting patterns. So I want to get your feedback on each one of those so let’s start would modes because you just mention that and I totally agree with you that like modes they really, they’re really not that complicated but people don’t explain them well. So I mean I remember like thinking like okay C is the same like D Dorian. Why don’t you just learn C and forget the modes?

David: Yeah, exactly. I was there too, for sure. Yep.

Claude: Yeah, so maybe give us… Can you break it down in what’s the key thing that people are not understanding with modes?

David: I think the biggest thing that helped me was… It’s more of a philosophical approach really to music. That really helped me get unstuck. Basically music is a language right and as such it’s kind of … It’s very similar to the conversation we are both having right now. We are having a common topic right. That’s what’s enabled us to kind of discuss this, like we’re talking about modes and we can talk about anything, cooking or whatever. So that’s the main topic.

In music, the main topic of discussion is going to be given by what we call modes. That’s kind of the musical alphabet that we’re going to use in the musical conversation, in a jam or playing where we’re backing track or writing a song or whatever, to make the conversation work right. So instead of seeing modes like typical scales, like with notes and all that, if you just see it as a topic of a conversation that already kind of opens up the field a little bit of understanding and instead of theorizing everything and memorizing notes and all that, if you see a particular mode just as the topic of a conversation that kind of helps.

Some topics are more common than others. Like the Dorian topic for example is a very typical topic to have in a blues jam or gathering of musicians. Usually the Dorian topic is going to come up and there are few topics like that or a few modes like that that are going to come back over and over. As you develop kind of **** for the topic or for that mode, you will discover that really all the other modes are really similar to each other in ways. Yet they’re different because they’re different topics but if you perched every musical concept as just the conversation, it simplifies everything. So modes, it also simplifies your phrasing because instead of thinking in terms of techniques or patterns. If you think in terms of conversation or speech then it simplifies everything. Like we all have our own accents. We all have our own speed of delivering the words. If you translate that into musical ideas, it’s going to simplify your whole learning experience. I don’t know if that answers your question but…

Claude: Yeah, I’m realizing it’s a little bit hard to talk about these things without our guitars you know.

David: Yeah. I know what you mean.

Claude: I really like that metaphor of the language but so from a practical standpoint like how should people be practicing with modes. Should they just have like a backing track or record?

David: Yeah.

Claude: Something that I know in the course you talk about like what chords go with which modes in all but would that be the approach to start using them?

David: Definitely, yeah. I think you should definitely work with the backing track because without a backing track you’re not really getting the context of the conversation or the mode. Yeah definitely start playing with backing tracks and don’t get overwhelmed with the amount of modes that exist, just take a few that you that you kind of like that sound good to you that are interesting to you and start working with that. Yeah, definitely work with backing tracks. Absolutely.

Claude: Okay, and I just want to mention that with your course there’s also included backing tracks so if you guys go ahead and get Dave’s course you will also get the backing tracks and so you’ll have everything you need to start using modes.

David: Yeah.

Claude: Awesome. All right just continue on to the next topic. So advanced scales, so you kind of reveal… That’s another thing I like about your course is you kind of reveal where some of these like advanced scales that you might hear in an article somewhere like the Lydian Dominant or the super low green. You kind of like go deep and explain like where they come from and why you would want to use them and how to use them. So what can you say about those?

David: I’d say it’s really along the same line of the discussion that we had earlier about more simple modes. More advanced modes and more advanced scales are just different topics and conversations that may be are a little bit deeper, more meaningful than the typical modes. The analogy would be like we can talk about the weather and that would be taking from the first section of modes. Right, kind of simple modes.

Than if we start talking about political ideas or philosophical ideas, that’s a little bit more, not necessarily more complex but more involved. That’s where the more advanced scales come into play, but really as far as learning these, the process is exactly the same as you would with the simpler modes. Stick to a backing track that was specifically written for one of those particular more advanced scales and just start playing that scale. First you’re probably going to play it up and down and that’s going to give you a sense of how the elements matched together. Like the scale that you’re playing kind of matches the backing track that’s going to train your ear. Then eventually you’re going to kind of start developing some musical ideas and some phrases and that kind of stuff. I don’t think anyone should be intimidated by more complex modes. The word complex isn’t really a good choice because it’s not more complex, it’s just more…

Claude: More unusual.

David: Yeah. There you go, exactly. That’s all, exactly. Yep. Absolutely.

Claude: Very cool. All right so then the next one is substitutions. Now this is where we start getting into some kind of sophisticated stuff. What’s the deal with substitutions? How did you first get into them?

David: Yeah. So again, I’ve got to be really careful about my words because I can either completely lose everyone or make it sound cool and exciting and simple and I’d rather do that. So the way I got into it was basically hearing stuff on some players that I admire like Tom Quayle is one that comes to mind. A fusion player, great player from the UK. He would play some lines that were “weird” but they still sounded good and that kind of got me into substitution thing.

Basically, what a substitution is, basically using a scale that doesn’t match exactly 100% the backing track. So that means that some of the notes of the scale that I’m playing are going to clash a little bit with some notes of the backing track. But the reason why it works so well is A) because you’re not playing that scale for a very long period of time and B) because the notes that are clashing with the backing track playing you’re over are not super important to notes. That’s basically what substitution is and in the course I kind of go into why certain substitutions are going to work better than others. If we go back to the analogy of language, it’s kind of like having a side conversation.

So we are talking about the same thing but on the side I’m kind of suggesting other things. It kind of adding an extra layer. Does that make sense kind of?

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Claude: Yeah. I think with a lot of these more advanced ideas, it’s really good to just like know what your options are. Learn them. Learn all the possibilities and then if you don’t want to use them; if you just decide you like the basic minor pentatonic scale, you can do that after that… But you could do with more confidence too because you don’t have that feeling in your mind of all I’m just doing like the basic level. I don’t really know anything. I don’t know what I’m doing versus you learned everything. You look at all the options and then you pick what you really like out of everything.

David: Absolutely. Yeah, you’re so right about that. I think at some point when I was getting into the fusion jazz and that kind of stuff, I kind of got trapped in the overwhelming amount of scales that are available. I had to come back at some point to do I really like the sound are not. Just like you’re saying and if the answer is no. If you really don’t like the sound of the phrygian dominant thing, then don’t use that. That’s completely okay. I think being okay with your taste is something really important to develop who you are and just keep enjoying playing music. If you don’t enjoy playing some weird scales over a key then don’t do it. So you’re right absolutely.

Claude: Right on. Okay and another thing I wanted to add before you talked about just when you’re practicing these different scales that might be new to you and in the beginning you might be just going up and down the scale. It’s like first you have to simulate it. Someone told me the process is like simulate, imitate and then innovate. So you need to first learn what the scale is and then maybe you can play some licks that might sound like one of your favorite players. Then kind of once you have it under your fingers then you’re free to express your own creativity.

David: Yeah. Exactly.

Claude: I thought that was a cool formula.

David: Yeah, very cool. Yep. I agree.

Claude: So moving on to the next idea is chromatics which is basically just playing one fret at a time. So what can you say about that approach?

David: So chromatic playing is, it’s really an easy concept to understand. It’s basically filling in the blanks. If you have two notes that are separated by more than two frets, you play all the notes in between. That’s playing chromatic. But the cool thing about playing chromatic is that because you’re playing all the notes, you’re suggesting all the scales, all the scales available. Depending on how you kind of place these notes, you know are you going to play a very long series of chromatic notes or just a short passage. Depending on how you’re using them, you’re going to kind of bring the conversation to a different level or a different… Not necessarily level as a better level but just a different side. It’s just kind of a cool trick to enhance your playing and sound may be more complex or more thoughtful. Not complex. I don’t like that word. More thoughtful than you really are because you’re just filling in the blanks.

Yeah, on the DVDs I show you a few licks and a few ways to just take that concept and really make it your own. It’s really cool, a cool concept.

Claude: Yeah. You know what I’ve noticed is it doesn’t have to sound like fusion or jazzy. I’ve heard anyone from like Jimi Hendrix to slash use like chromatic’s within like a blues solo or something.

David: Yeah, totally. It’s not limited to any styles. You’re right.

Claude: Yeah, I mean to me that’s what we’re trying to do here is help people just spice things up a little bit so they don’t feel stuck using this.

David: Yeah.

Claude: The same scales over and over. So then another thing you teach in the course is kind of like shifting patterns which is maybe another chromatic kind of idea but kind of show it in a way that’s a little different.

David: Yeah. So there’s really several purposes in that section of the course. One of them is just be comfortable in all of the different areas of the neck because if you are then you’re going to be free to express yourself completely. That’s really the ultimate goal I think in all of the courses that you are learning. Whether it’s this one or learning something coming out of a video on YouTube or whatever, really the ultimate is freedom of expression on your instrument.

So that’s one of the reasons why I added that section. Just shifting patterns and be able to play all over the fret board and not be limited to just one space, one shape. The other one is kind of opening up the discussion again because actually whether you’re playing in a jam are over a backing track, it doesn’t matter. The conversation can kind of evolve into something a little different. Develop into something different and if you’re used to playing the first position of your pentatonic scale, that’s that you know 90% of the time you’re going to bend the second string and the third string. Those kind of targets, the same types of notes and your lead might sound a little bit predictable. If you’re switching positions you’re still playing the same scales or still playing the same mode but in a different position. If you’re doing that, the second string that you’re going to bend is no longer going to be like the minor seven. It’s going to be something else. It’s just a cool easy way to bring conversations somewhere else and acquire that freedom that we all want really in music.

Claude: Yeah, so but there is so many different things that you cover. What was your goal when you created this course? What do you hope that guitarists are going to get after watching the DVDs?

David: Yeah. Well the goal is really to help players get unstuck and give them some simple practical things to work on. No matter which level they are at and just kind of bring them to a new level of understanding of music. Maybe a more healthy way of seeing music instead of really getting stuck into all the complex theories stuff and bring them back to a place where they can enjoy playing using new tools, new concepts and don’t feel, and not feel overwhelmed by them but just like something really practical that they can add to their phrasing. No matter the style of music they’re playing in, that’s kind of the goal. Just bring back the joy of improvisation to players who feel stuck.

Claude: I noticed you didn’t focus like too much on like technique per se. Was that on purpose?

David: Yeah. It is on purpose because my personal technique is maybe a little different than other teachers. I don’t think people should focus too much on a particular technique. As long as players don’t feel pain in their fingers and as long as what they’re playing sounds good to them, I don’t think it’s necessarily to change their technique. Plus if I did a whole section on technique and it would be probably a DVD course. I really want to focus on the musicality aspect of things.

Claude: Good stuff. So yeah I hope everyone listening has got a little bit of insight, maybe at least one new idea from what were talking about. Yeah, I recommend you guys pick up Dave’s course. It’s really a gold mine of information, ideas and inspiration.

David: Thank you. Yeah.

Claude: Yeah. I appreciate it Dave and yeah, if you guys have any questions for David or myself, let us know and we’ll try to help you get to the next level of your guitar playing. That’s why we’re here.

David: Sounds good. Thanks so much Claude.

Claude: Okay.


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