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I've recently started listening to a lot of symphonic music (Stravinsky, Holst, Mussorsky,etc.) and I've purchased a few of the complete scores. One of my favorites is The Planets by Holst. I've taken to simplifying certain parts so they can be arranged for two guitars. Have you ever done anything like that and if so what have you arranged? Just curious. Thanks for your valuable time.

Gordon Brion

Actually, I arranged a piece of Renaissance music known as The Earl of Salisbury that worked out great for the Dregs. In the early days, we did our own versions of some of the music from Clockwork Orange including Beethoven's 9th and the Funeral March for Queen Ann, I believe. Basically inspired by Wendy Carlos' brilliant arrangements for synthesizer. Once I began to arrange one of the Back 2 part inventions for the Dregs, then I realized that it would actually be more fun to write an original piece, so I came up with Go for Baroque.

I have recently picked up the guitar again after not playing on a regular basis for several months. Do you have any hints that would help make practice more effective? I usually try to fit in blocks of practice of 15-20 minutes in between household chores, reading, kung fu practice and whatever else should happen to come up. I guess what I am trying to do is "Practice Smart, not Hard". Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you again for your time, and for all the great music.

Phillip C. Cray

Thanks, Phillip. Since you don't have much time to practice, you'll have to rotate tasks. One session concentrate on scales with different fingerings, next do more improve with a metronome, rhythm box, sequencer or whatever, next do some transcriptions. As Jaco once told me, use every minute of finger exercise to exercise your mind, too. For instance, while you're doing scales, do all the modes of a particular scale up and down the next, say the key of one flat, or F major starting on the first fret, third fret, then third fret again starting with your third finger, then 5th fret with first finger starting, then 5th fret with 3rd finger starting, then 5th fret with 4th finger starting. Continue up the scale one the guitar neck playing every higher diatonic mode with three different fingerings. You'll start to see patterns repeat and your mind will automatically come to play the right notes anywhere on the neck. Good luck.

Hello Steve!! My name is Kay Olsen.and I am a fan of your music.I just wanted to know if you like John Petrucci's music and playing, he is a big fan of yours and is very influenced by you, do you feel the same way? Has he influenced you in some way?

Kay Olsen

Yes, John and I are friends and I love to hear him play. He's a modest guy with the most awesome genuine technique, born from practice and precision. I've sat and played with him, and I can tell you that when he goes for any combination of notes, they come out perfect, no sloppy playing just for speed. He has influenced me in that he has shown me, like McLaughlin before, that I do love to hear power and precision in the context of rock music, and more importantly, that an incredibly talented guy can be a normal person. Like Eric Johnson, I've never heard him play a bad solo.

What is that thermosetting polymer looking stuff wedged around your Dimarzios? Gasket Sealant? Play Doh? I started worrying that it might be some Y2K compliancy patch that Ernie Ball forgot to include with mine! Seriously though, I bought the EBMMSM guitar and have never played a guitar that is more comfortable, versatile or aesthically pleasing and would like to know what's up with your doctoring yours. I'll venture it somehow suppresses feedback? Incidently, here's an idea: a link on your site to an interactive interface that VISUALLY allows you to SEE the effects of all the permutations of the pickups/switches (e.g., click on lever to middle position and the pickup closest to the neck changes color, click the 2-way toggle on and the bridge side pickup changes color, etc). It could even include a message box that opens and states what you use the setting for. Can you tell it was chore for me to learn it and I want to save others the trial by fire? Okay, I'll be greedy and sneak in another question...despite years of polyrhythmic consumption I cannot deduce the correct compound meter of the "Morsed in Space" classic tune Day 444? I'll gladly trade the planetary gears out of my transmission for the answer. Which drives me to ask why you never played it live? That's all my questions (unless you have a way of explaining to my four year old that it's carrots and corn, and NOT carrots and corns). Thanks for your time and the many years of unparalleled music.

Christopher Brown

Four year olds express things the way they really are, I believe, so I'm in favor of carrots and corns. As far as the stuff around the pickup, they didn't used to dip them at the factory, so I tried to stop some feedback one day with the only RTV sealant around. If it had been black instead of gray, it wouldn't stand out so much, but I wasn't thinking ahead, and I just wanted to see if it would work right then. It did help a bit. Tommy Alderson dipped his pickups again after getting a SM guitar and it sounds great, I played it. As far as the illustration of the switches, it sounds like a cool idea. I will ask if Adam can maybe link to Ernie Ball's site if they could put that together. I always bury my face in my hands when I think about other people trying to learn my switch setup, but it really makes sense to me. Especially when it comes to making pickup switches in the middle of, really, it's a good setup, no, really, ......Actually, I asked if they wanted to make it the usual sequential, logical arrangement, and they said it should be the way I actually play it, which has made every stock guitar able to be used by me with no problem. Day 444 starts on the "and" of 4, and is mostly a bar of 4/4 followed by 9/8, sometimes it's 4/4 followed by two 6/8. We never played it live because Rod preferred Hereafter, and I thought the ending part was too ambitious to play with only the 5 of us. Thanks.

HI, I'm from Mexico City ,I'm a guitarrist too, I am 24, and 9 years as a guitar player, I think that you have to know my guitar aptitudes first for that advice, I think (honestly) I have a nice technique, well, I'm developing my stamina and a clean sond,etc. I study very much but I have a great problem, Since I was starting in the guitar, it was more easy for me playing legatos than note by note, so today my legato style is great, but my up and down strokes aren't clean enough and fast enough, so I was thinking I might need a little help here, let me tell you that I practice every day with my metronome this alternate picking but I feel a little bit staunch, and as you have a realy admirable picking...(it will be great if you could help me) Thanks for stop and read these fan notes man. Congratulations for becoming who you are, and thank you for your MUSIC!!

Eduardo Chavez Villarreal

Well, your English is very understandable, I wish I could do that in Spanish. The hardest part about alternate picking is changing from one string to another. So, try practicing playing arpeggios across all six strings with alternate picking- one note per string. The idea is that it's easy to play alternate picking on one string, but much harder to switch from one string to another, so we should practice that hard part, not the easy part. Stay with the metronome, but spend a couple of minutes every day playing a little bit too fast, to stretch your reflexes, then go back to playing everything perfectly in time, to reinforce the precision that you want. Thanks.

Hi Steve, Have really good question for you which I have not been able to find the answer to for almost 15 years. I went to see you play with Kansas on the POWER tour in the mid-80s in Washington DC, at DAR Constitution Hall. It was a great show, but there was something really odd about it. On the stage, seated on risers/bleachers behind the band was a crowd of at least 50 people. They were in no particular costumes or anything. When I saw them, I thought they must be a choir or chorus and they'll probably sing backup on some of the songs. But they seemed to do very little. Although, I do remember that during the song Secret Service that they all had flashlights which they shined back and forth in unison. They might have clapped on a few other numbers. It's been a long time, and I don't recall if this group of people did anything else, but I just remember that they were on stage with the band and didn't do much. No one that night seemed to know their purpose and Steve Walsh and the band never mentioned or referred to them. Sorry if this seems trivial, but I've always wondered about this and never found out the answer. Can you help put this to rest for me? Thanks.


They were the bleacher creatures. Actually, there was a contest every city for 50 passes to be onstage with the band, and we brought along those bleacher type seats for them to sit on. It was part of a promotional thing at the radio stations, and it was unusual, but fine with us. They got flashlights since I think we had an Eveready endorsement for that tour or something like that. Somebody came up with the idea of waving them around at some point, and like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it became a repeating thing. Thanks.

Hi steve, Im a 22 years old Dutch guy who loves practising his Schecter guitar (you should try one once. they're just great). I've been practising speed picking very much lately and it seems as if my wrist won't get any looser. I mean, I'm practising this technique a couple of hours a day and it seems to progress very slowly. I know you need patience as a guitarist to achieve your goals but I'm practising this for more than a year now and it still doesn't seem that I'm getting very fast at this technique. I was hoping you've got some very useful tips for me to develop this technique any quicker. Maybe you want to tell me how you did your exercises to develop this technique and since you are being called the best alternate picker in the world (according to the magazine guitar techniques)... I'm looking forward to your answer. Greetings,

Erwin Blatter

It does take a little time, but the best thing to do is keep finding the weak parts of your technique and work on them. Read my reply above and try doing the alternate picking arpeggios, one note per string. You can use bar chords, although when I do them, I finger each note only at the moment that I'm picking it, so that the notes don't ring after I've picked them. Take a look at how you're holding the pick. I actually improved by exposing a smaller amount of the pick past my fingers. Also, it helped me to try holding the pick differently if my right hand got tired, so that I could play longer. Also, try just practicing upstrokes for 2 minutes a day, every day. Most everybody has a stronger downstroke than upstroke. Try to get the habit of practicing the hard parts, not everything that's easy. Keep in mind that technique should only be part of your practice time, or else you'll get too bored with the guitar. Be sure to play for fun, too. Thanks.

steve, I have a question, I've been playing guitar about three years and I'm now in a praise band at my church, because of finances and school I can't take lessons anymore, so what advice could you give me on lead playing, all i know is a few pentantonic scales, I'm left-handed so its hard to read tab, You definately know what your doing, so If I could get some advice I would appreciate it. thanks and god bless David Anderson I look foward to hearing from you.

Best way to play good lead is to play melodically. Try singing along with what you play. Especially try singing a phrase, then finding the notes on the guitar. If you can play simple 3 or 4 note melodies with pauses, it will be a whole lot more fun to listen to than an endless stream of notes that has no direction. Think about how few notes BB King can play, but still make his phrases count. If you have a strong idea of what you want to hear coming out of the instrument, it is just a matter of time.

First of all, thanks for all these years of makin' great music! Then I have some questions, some of them pretty technical and some not. I know you're very busy, so I will take the answers as a great bonus, and thanks for reading this. 1) I don't have the time to practice all the days, but in 10 years of playing I encountered a big problem, which I think is common to everyone: I am still stuck on my own phrases, and every solo I play tends to contain that "particular lick" or scale I am good at playing (even fast). So my playing is very repetitive. How can I improve? Do I have to study something particular? Do I have to practice more (for sure)? 2) I own your VHS and I was looking at how you are a master at playing every kind of music: did you study or listened to something particular? 3) I live in Italy (and I am looking forward for you to come here to play with your bands, Dregs and SMB): this is a must and not a question! 4) How did you choose your bandmates? When I first bought The Introduction in 1988 I was 17, and I heard Jerry Peek and Rod Morgenstein and thought they were (with you) among the masters. Then I heard Dave LaRue and I got shocked. Same goes for Van (even if I prefer Rod's playing, but that is my opinion). How did you know them? And do you still hear from Jerry? 5) I noticed your music has always progressed, from one record to another, but now I heard that the next SMB record should be in the form of Hendrix/Led Zeppelin/Beck ecc. creative ideas: maybe I didn't understand, but why aren't you writing songs only following and improving Stressfest record? Do you want to go in the cover direction? Thanks for spending time reading this, and keep in mind I am your 1st fan, I learned how to play guitar because you're my guitar hero... Bye! Luca

Lots of questions, here! First of all, the new album is something that I want to do. It was suggested by Magna Carta, the record company, but I thought it was such a cool idea that I've gone in deep on this project. It's actually a very difficult thing to write "original" music, instrumental music, that is in the style of musicians or bands that have influenced me in a fundamental way. This has been a very challenging, but satisfying project so far, at the 2/3 finished stage. To improve your phrasing, try playing only on one or two strings at a time, say the 3rd and 4th only, to force yourself to break out of typical guitar patterns. Also, sing along with what you play, you'll have to take breaths, and that will only help. I studied mainly at the University of Miami and got my 4 year degree, but experience of playing gave me exposure to many different styles of playing since I was always willing to try anything. For instance, the first time I played a banjo was when I was asked if I could play one as an extra instrument in order to get a regular gig. I said, "uh, sure, but I tune it just like a guitar." And I did tune it like a guitar at first, in order to be able to read the lines on the parts book that I was given. Plenty of gigs on the bass, despite the fact that I would slip my pick in there for the fast lines, then go back to fingers on the right hand. My bluegrass experience was always for fun or very little stress in rowdy clubs, so I was free to try things. I suggest to let yourself try more styles, if you're interested in that. The more you try, the more you can do. Also, as far as getting the musicians, it's been a matter of being lucky enough to know some incredible players. After that, I was plugged into a network of talented, hard working people. Thanks.
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