Today on The Musicality Podcast, we’re joined by Ged Brockie, founder of the Guitar and Music Institute, a website which provides original and curated content to help guitarists develop their skills – and, as you’ll learn in this conversation, also provides insights and education useful to any musician.
Playing multiple instruments can both broaden and deepen your understanding of music, and is one of the best things you can do for your musicality. In that spirit, even if you’re not a guitarist yourself you’ll want to stay tuned, as Ged’s story and perspective on learning music is still going to be very interesting and relevant for you.
Ged has been a professional musician for over thirty years, performing throughout the UK and Europe. He’s helped develop courses for higher education, launched a summer school and a music festival, and composed original music for television, theatre, and film.
Somehow, amongst all of that he’s also found the time to:
- Publish the “Fastline” series of guitar tutor books teaching jazz, blues, rock and more
- Write a book with accompanying tutorial videos called Drop Two Voicings Uncovered
- Create a huge website at GuitarAndMusicInstitute.com
- Launch the GMI podcast earlier this year
Ged is a great storyteller, and in this conversation we talked a bit about his early beginnings in music, what it was like growing up as a musician in Scotland in the 80s, how things have changed in terms of learning music and performing, and his perspective on what’s good and bad about the current status quo in music education.
He shared his opinion on whether there’s such a thing as musical “talent” (and if so, how important it is), the most important thing you can do while studying music to turn you into a real musician, how learning music is like learning a language, and the connection between theory, technique and musicality.
We also talk about a man smashing a bus stop.
We hope you enjoy this wide-ranging and illuminating conversation with Ged!
Listen to the episode:
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Ged: Hi. This is Ged Brockie from GMI: The Guitar and Music Institute; and you’re listening to the Musicality Podcast.
Christopher: Welcome to the show, Ged. Thank you for joining us.
Ged: It’s absolutely fantastic, Christopher. Doesn’t seem like a week since I talked to last… oh, wait a minute…
Christopher: So for those not in the know, I was recently a guest on the GMI podcast, a fantastic show with interviews, teaching and more for guitar players and musicians of all strengths. We’ll be making reference to that a few times, so do head to the show notes if you would like to listen in on that previous conversation.
So, Ged, I’d love to start in the beginning and talk a bit about how you first learned music and what those early experiences were like for you.
Ged: Well, I had a very interesting background. It was a very musical background. I had quite a religious background, actually. I was always exposed to simple songs and melodies, Scottish psalms, and all that sort of stuff. I was always singing. At the age of five, I started taking carol lessons with my aunt and that lasted for a couple of years. I was always being asked to sing in choirs and things at school. Then, at the age of 10, there was a guy that came round and we all had to go out to this room and see if we could play a trumpet.
Well, it was a cornet actually. I managed to get in there, so I was playing the cornet for a couple years. The thing about trumpet envy… I was playing the cornet and you went to Edinburgh School and everybody just wanted to be in first trumpet. So, you’re looking at these guys and all this flash, the first trumpet players, you know, and I was just in the cornets.
So, after that I went to secondary school. Again, was well into singing. As you did back in the day, perhaps not so much nowadays… bunch of pals, we said, “Why don’t we start a band.” So, I thought, “Yes, I want to be the lead guitarist.” So I, at the age of 15… My mother didn’t have any money. She was a widow. So, I was walking down the road one day and I saw an old lady struggling in her garden and I said, “Do you need any help?” Not expecting her to turn around and say, “Yes, I do.” and she did.
Now, I’d seen this guitar, it was £60-70. It was in a shop called, The Music Box, which was up beside Usher Hall in Edinburgh city center. That strange place. A very strange place run by two, to me at 15, very ancient men. Both bald. I thought they were brothers. I don’t know if they were actually lovers. I don’t know. Everything was in glass boxes with dead flies in the bottom of it. I mean it really was a creepy, creepy place. And I’d gone up to this place and seen this guitar. I knew that was the kind of guitar I wanted. It was actually a Fender Strat copy called a Hondo II. For anyone who knows anything about guitars: it was £69 and the action off the strings was about an inch off the neck. That’s a distance from the pushing hand… It was really bad, but to me I was just amazed. I fell in love immediately and I remember looking at the strings. It’s funny how certain things never leave you. I remember looking at the strings and thinking I’ll never be able to play that. Seems funny now but I’m still trying after all these years!
Basically that lady said, “Yeah, I do want some help.” I remember, I got £5 for 10 hours work a day. I worked for 6 days garnering half of, more or less, the money. In those days, a way back in the early 80s… Which does seem like the mists of time now. You didn’t just go and get the thing and pay it up. You paid it up, and then got the thing. So. I was paying it up and I had a little book, a little cardboard thing. They would take my money up. Then my Aunt who had given me the carol lessons, that I was telling you earlier, she said, “I’ll pay the rest of it.” So I took the money up. Went up and they had sold the guitar. Basically, they got another one, which, I don’t know if it was as good as the one that I was looking at, but it was still a Hondo II.
That was really the beginning of my musical journey. I do have OCD, I guess. When I get my teeth into something, I don’t give up. I just keep going and that was it. I wanted to be a musician. I fell in love with music. I had this music background, but interestingly… Fast forward almost thirty years… The reality was: I was adopted by my mum. It was a bit of a funny one, because I was actually adopted by her and her husband, who was my uncle.
If the listeners are still with me.
So, he died when I was age seven. I had a brother, who I didn’t really know. It turns out that brother had seen me at big concerts and stuff like that, and made contact. I was interested. So I went on to see him and it was absolutely unbelievable, because he was into guitar. He was in all the things I was into. He’s a plasterer by trade and when I was doing the plastering in this upper part of my house that I built it. I found plastering really easy, so it must be in the blood.
But the interesting thing about all of this is that: My real father, although a complete vagabond… you know it was wine, women and song. That really was his gig. He was a musician. And he used to write songs. My brother also said he wrote songs for Lena Martell, who had a big career on stage. I just think it’s kind of weird that I’m so into music. I’ve got the language in me. Then, you find out that actually, if you go back, that’s how it maybe is, or why it is.
I don’t know. I don’t know. This is going to be a weird interview, guys, because Christopher’s going to ask me a question and I’m going to be all over the place, but there you go.
Christopher: No, that provides a fascinating insight into your background and also your mindset about music. I’d love to ask, though: You’re someone who at this point has seriously impressive career in performing, composing, and educating in music. I’d love to know, looking back, how much of that success would ascribe to having a gift or a talent for music? And how much is it down to hard work and educating yourself step-by-step?
Ged: I take a very strong line on this, actually, because you will always meet people who say to you… We have choices in life. People don’t realize they have choices. People think they have to do a certain thing. They have to get married. They have to get a job. They have to get a mortgage. They have to be in the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For me, that’s a daft way to go about life. What was the question, again?
Christopher: What proportion of your success would you say comes down to that?
Christopher: That you felt that you had earlier on or that drawing to music.
Ged: So, you meet people and if they’re impressed by you, they’ll say, “Oh, you’re really talented.” As if that’s, “Everything came easy to you.” They’re almost, I feel at times, saying, “You know, I would be able to do that if I was talented. Therefore, that’s my get out of jail card free.” Which is absolute nonsense, because it’s like when you get a little nugget. You burn away and burn it away, you find how much gold is actually held within it. People have got to actually work hard at things and the talent comes from the work.
OK. There might be a guy who takes up guitar, or a girl that takes up guitar, and they work really hard. We won’t know if they are fundamentally great musicians until they’ve done the Japanese 10,000 hours, or whatever it is. We won’t know. Then, we can make a judgment call on how much they’re bring to the party, in terms of giving to the human race an artistic expression. That doesn’t mean to say that they might be fantastic players. Is it sublime? Well, we can only judge that over a period of time and looking back.
Don’t forget, that a lot of people who become famous, a lot of them… Why did Beethoven write Moonlight Sonata? Why didn’t someone write it before him? Well, he came along when the technology was there, with iron in the frame to have two tons of tension on the string, therefore he could sustain the notes. Technological advancement and actual application from an artist go hand-in-hand. Talent is everything, but it can only be expressed through hard work.
Does that answer the question? I don’t know.
Christopher: It does. What I’m hearing is that there is something inside us that gives us a natural inclination or aptitude to music. But it certainly wasn’t the case, by the sound of it, that you bought that first guitar, were an instant rock star and have just dabbled in music, having great success ever since.
Ged: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I suppose there’s some synergy with the fact that when I played the guitar, I immediately took to it. There was a whole lot of cultural things that are mixed up in for a 15 year old boy around 1980. There was no computers. There was no games. There wasn’t all these other things. We have to acknowledge that there’s been a massive cultural shift in the way that the Western world, and the young people of today, see their futures. I don’t think so many of them see that wrapped up in expressing themselves, sadly, through music. Their expressing themselves through new mediums, such as: media, the gaming world and all of that.
Christopher: When you were studying music at Leeds City College and when you went on to get a First and be given an award for your academic excellence, was it clear to you that you were on a career path, there? Were you studying it, because you saw this as your route forward in life?
Ged: Well, it’s the age old problem, isn’t it Christopher? I’m a musician. I don’t think of myself as an artist, but it’s who I am. It’s what I do. It’s my first love. You can read into that whatever you want, you know? “It is my first love,” says he with a broken marriage behind him many years ago. It is fundamentally that. It wasn’t a case of: Can I do this? Should I do this? For money to be gained. It’s just what I was going to do with my life. But, I’ll tell you this. There was a small amount of people, just like, I guess, in any course on anywhere in the world, not specifically music, that… We went out and gigged all the time. And, you know, 90% of the course members didn’t do that.
But, I do remember going backwards, because I married at the age of 21. My wife and I had a house in Leeds and I remember going back to her one day. I was quite upset, because I had just played terrible. I hadn’t yet got the language of music to the point of expression. That there was a point that was a really big movement toward that actually at the end of that course. But, I do remember thinking I’ll never be able to do this. And yet, it’s all I wanted to do.
Now, I can explain that to young people very, very succinctly, but back then no one had explained that to me.
That’s again, a big thing in all my development, but in terms of what changed things for me… In Scotland, we do four year courses. So, I was only doing a three year course on the English one, but it was a degree equivalent. I’ve got to say that the course that I did in Leeds, the stuff that they’re offering a degree for now is just a pale shadow of what we did. Believe you me; because, in the final year there was a 10,000 word thesis, along with oral transcriptions. This makes me sound like I came out of the Ark, but actually, I learned how to use a nib pen and Indian ink. There was no computers, or nothing like that. Eventually, your brain got to understand how long a staff was and how many notes and all of that.
All of that sort of thing, but as part of that 10,000 word thesis, which I did on a guitarist who part of the time lives in Scotland, called Martin Taylor, was analyze loads of his music. Through that moving the needle on the record and writing stuff down… It didn’t just come overnight, but that was a major thing in actually beginning to understand the language of music.
Christopher: So, if we look back to that moment when you came home to your wife and you were seriously distraught, because your performance had not gone the way you’d hoped. You felt like you couldn’t express yourself the way you really had the burning desire to. Looking back, if you could go back and say something to you then, what would you have said? What could you say that would enlighten them as to the route forward?
Ged: I would say that music is a funny thing, because in many ways it’s a language. I mean, that’s what it is. It’s different than a language, but it’s the same as a language. Fundamentally, it’s a language. If you’re learning a language… If you’re learning to speak French. Russian. German. Doesn’t matter what it is. You’ve got to start with letters, into words, and then into phrases.
A classic example would be: Learning a phrase, which we regard as a lick. So, I’m trying to improvise. I would learn a phrase, which we would call a lick. Now, imagine that in the scenario of learning a language, you learn: I would like to take my grandmother to the toilet. OK. So then, you’re in the company of someone who actually speaks that language and you’ve got your own little phrase: I’d like to take my grandmother to the toilet. Everyone’s chatting and laughing and they’re having a good time and then you blurt out at the wrong point, “I’d like to take my grandmother to the toilet.” Everyone stops, looks at you and starts ringing their glass looking at it in an embarrassed fashion. That is akin to learning some phrases, going on an improvising gig, not having language internalized, and then just trying to join the dots together. It’s going to sound all over the place.
So, what I would say to me, back then, is: “Toughen up. You’re learning a language. You just know a few words. It takes years for most people to actually be able to have their own version of learning a language and being able to speak it.”
Christopher: I suppose what I’d most like to know, is: How did you go from that young performer, frustrated and disappointed, to someone who had such career success and went on to found such an impressive website, GMI: the Guitar and Music Institute, in 2013? What did you go through to turn you into someone who was ready to just go out there and say: “I can help young musicians. I can help guitar players.”?
Ged: Well, for many years the only thing that makes a musician better is constant wood shedding, or practice, and playing. You’ve just got to go out and play and play and play and play. The more you play, the better you’ll become. It’s important that you play with people that are slightly better than yourself. One of the big problems with teaching people, is in every true musician… They’re like children. All musicians I know are just like kids, like big kids. Like I am, because we’ve somehow managed to retain that childishness, which leaves us open.
You know, if you’re playing in some… I don’t know… restaurant or fancy hotel, or something, it’s always the kids that come running up. The adults aren’t interested. They’re talking nonsense. They’re talking about mortgages and houses and money and cars and things that can… It’s the kids that are… True musicians have that in themselves. They never lose it. You’ve got to be strong enough to say, “I’m not good enough. I need to play with people who are better.” That will drag your level of competence up. You need to go through the fire.
There have been times in my life where I’ve done gigs and things, and the sweat has been, literally, running down the side of my face and my legs have been shaking. And I tell you what, that’s difficult when you’ve got a peddle board under you. You’ve got to go through those moments. I’m assuming that, that’s allied to the work that needs to be done to get you into those moments. If you work hard enough, you will be given opportunities to shine. If you haven’t worked hard enough, you won’t be asked again, because frankly, the paradox is: What’s the difference between, say: watching a theater show that’s put on by amateurs or a theater show that’s put on by professionals.
Let’s face it. You go along and you watch it and the amateur show can be absolutely amazing, so what’s the difference? The difference is that the amateur show have nine months to prepare and the professional show had three days. You get the gig, because you’re expected that you can go along. You can sit down in that chair and, more or less, read what’s there and if you can’t do that it’s bye-bye. But, if you can do that you’ll be rewarded handsomely.
Christopher: So take us back to 2013. What was going on in your head that made you start GMI? It’s an enormous undertaking to create a successful website, not least one that has created such a wealth of useful resources, as GMI has. What was in your head at that time, that made you think, “I will start a website and start doing this.”?
Ged: The main thing was that I’ve always been interested in technological advancement, specifically internet. I’ve always been wrapped up in it and I don’t know why, but it seems to pull my chain. So, I was there. I bought out with another guy, Band for the Day, which was an online site where bands competed to be band for the day, and that led to various things. It was a massive counting machine. People liked it, but, unfortunately… and, again, this is a good example of the person I am… My business partner’s a great guy, but I would be up until 3 o’clock in the morning working on this every day. I wanted to work. Bands. Young bands. People aren’t willing to buy tracks. Fundamentally, it didn’t work, because there was no money. There was no revenue and there was huge gaps in my knowledge.
In 2012, or that, I started to think about… I was getting on a bit. I’ve got a lot of knowledge. I’ve done a lot of things. I love to compose. I love to perform. I also love to teach and that wasn’t really the story when I was a younger man, but with age comes, maybe, wisdom. I don’t know, but there is that feeling. You want to… not too much wisdom in my case, but you do want to try and help people through, because there’s so much nonsense out there now. I looked around at what was out there and I just thought, a lot of things I teach are things that I don’t see out there.
I’m not saying everything I teach is unique, but if you go into YouTube and check out “Drop Two Voicings Uncovered”, it’s not had a lot of views, but there’s already five comments that say, “This is the best explanation on the internet.” I’m not saying that to pick myself up. I’m just saying that to push forward the point that I have ideas and concepts, and thought through how to actually put things down. I felt I could do a good job of it. That was one thing. I was getting on a bit. I thought, I want to get it down and out there whilst I still can do it. Still got my marbles and I can still play and… fit and healthy, reasonably healthy.
Christopher: I see, so, for the listeners that haven’t yet visited theguitarandmusicinstitute.com. Can you tell us a bit about the website and what they can find there?
Ged: It’s taken many… It’s changed and it’s changed. It’s been edited and got better. Fundamentally at its core there are courses for people to do on guitar. Now, there was also courses, which I’ve taken down, they will go up in another medium, but there’s a thing called, “Performing Musician’s Blueprint”. That was all about how to get gigs. How to get better gigs and all that sort of thing. There’s also a course, that I created, it’s pinning for musicians; because Pinterest just sends me a bucket load of traffic every day. It’s just an amazing website. I would say to anyone out there, that’s listening to this, who does want a lot of traffic, get onto Pinterest. It’s hard to imagine that a bunch of graphics could have such an impact, but they can.
So, there’s the core studies, which will be added to from Beginner right through to Advanced. I got a little bit of an investment from some friends who’ve seen what I’ve done. They were retiring. They had a wee bit of spare cash and they threw it my way. I had a decision to make. Do I reinvent the wheel by paying other people, because I didn’t have much real desire to do it myself. Showing them how to play any pop song… Wonderwall, whatever. I saw this piece of software, which was called, Curation Suite; because if you think about it, if you see a story, any story, on the web or on the newspapers and then, you do a search for that story, what do you see? You see the same story a thousand times. Most of it is coming from one source, which is probable writers. All of these newspapers are fundamentally coat hangers for adverts and all they’re doing is curating stories and adding a little bit of commentary. The same pictures on the web. It’s the same video.
I thought, this is silly. Why don’t I start curating things and actually adding value to it. In that way, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel and that’s what I’ve done with the “How to Play” series. That will be getting bigger, as time goes on. What else do I have?
We have the podcasting. In February of this year, I started podcasting and I’ve taken to it, like a duck to water. I’ve met really great guys, like yourself, and others. There’s so many people out there with a story to tell and let’s face it. We all just want to talk about ourselves and that’s where podcasting is fantastic. You don’t need to say much. You ask a question and off they go. The podcasting thing, it really is taken off. It’s quite amazing. What else do we have on there… News. There’s publications. I’ve all the publications. There’s loads of free stuff on GMI, but I’m porting that over to the shop. People can get backing tracks, and all sorts of stuff. It just goes on and on, Christopher.
Christopher: It certainly does and it’s such a delight, as a new visitor, to explore everything that you have to offer there.
Christopher: It’s really perceptive of you to recognize the value of curation. A lot of musicians have – I was about to say delusion… That’s a bit harsh, but they have the feeling that if they create a tutorial on how to create the C chord on guitar it will be better than everyone else’s. Therefore, they should create videos for every chord and then, for every song. They end up recreating the wheel, as you put it. Actually, the value to your audience at GMI is you selecting the highest quality material that’s out there and putting it in one place, where they can get exposed to the best material.
Ged: Yes. I would take, let’s say it’s how to play… What did I say earlier? Wonderwall. Let’s just for argument’s sake… I’ll write… I would do that. I do things when something happens. They’re on tour. Someone’s died. They’re bringing out a new album. If you think about a musician, they don’t actually have a lot of stories to tell. I mean once… “Oh, I’ve got a new album out.” “Oh, I’m going on tour.” Everything else is just fluffery. So what I do with the curated part of it, I’ll add in other videos. Stairway to Heaven is one of the obvious ones that I did. There’s a great video of someone playing it flutes in Japan and there’s someone else doing it another way and then you get the original one. So, you’ve got all these videos and then I’ll put up some stuff that you can hear on iTunes. Some Twitter feeds. It creates a bigger experience, rather than, here’s Ged playing.
Does the world really, really need another bad rip-off of Stairway to Heaven? I shouldn’t say that, seeing that they all went to court, but anyway. You know what I’m saying. Does the world really need that? No, it doesn’t. That means that I, little old me, here in Edinburgh in Scotland, can have a massive impact. I’m pulling from all the best sources in the world every single day. GMI curates. The links are there. I want to make it clear to people, this isn’t about plagiarism. The links are there to all the sources. Even the image links. There is added commentary when needed from me, but I do have a Latest Guitar News page on GMI, which I just put the latest guitar news. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. They click that and go to those websites.
Christopher: It’s really impressive, the audience you’ve built at GMI. It’s a testament to the quality of that curation and the effort you’ve been putting in for several years now. I’d love to ask… You didn’t call it the Guitar Institute, or the Guitar Institute of Edinburgh. You called it, the Guitar and Music Institute, and I’ve also seen it described as a place to learn guitar and musicianship. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you teach beyond guitar.
Ged: Well, in a way if people go to GMI, or if they go to YouTube, or if they see it on Amazon, although, those videos aren’t up there. There’s a lot of theoretical concepts that are not just for the guitar. If I take the thing I was talking about earlier, about “Drop Two Voicings”. What I see on YouTube is a lot of people talking about things. They’re talking about drop two voicings. You could get a monkey to tell what a drop two voicing is. You don’t have to be Einstein. I am certainly not, but they often leave out the reasons for drop two voicings and the reason is to do with voice leading. That’s something that isn’t just for guitar. That’s for everything. That theoretical knowledge that is in there could apply to absolutely anyone.
The musicianship areas that aren’t covered… There’s no need for me to do it, because there’s a great site called Musical U that is oral sharing it. I’ve been scratching my head, when I’ve had a moment to think, how I can integrate or help people use Musical U more. Entrepreneurship. Not musicianship, but entrepreneurship. That is the most crucial thing for young people today, is to be entrepreneurial. Is to be able to see opportunity, where none exists. To think of ideas. To make things happen. It’s really exciting to actually have an idea and see it through.
Christopher: I see. Absolutely. So, this maybe ties back to something we talked about on the GMI podcast, recently; which was that young musicians these days are prone to cherry picking. Looking for a quick fix to a problem that’s immediately in front of them. That’s very different from the kind of broad attitude of musicianship and entrepreneurialism that you just described. How do you see musical education today and what could young people do to give themselves a better chance of succeeding, as a well-rounded musician?
Ged: Really difficult one and I don’t want to be to negative, but it’s probably going to sound that. It’s hard to see that you’re actually making history. Just by existing, you’re making history and once you die you are history. It’s hard to get an idea off the changes that are going around you. Just to be aware of the cultural changes and we’re all connected in some way, now. It’s much more seismic in the way things change. The way people think about things. We live in a culture where people are famous, just for being famous. You know? Why would you want to work hard, when you can just be famous for having big breasts, or something. I mean that’s, sadly, where we’re at. People with no discernible talent are being held up as paragons of virtue to the young of today. That has to have had an effect on everything. It bleeds right through to the consciousness to those that are interested in music.
I’m not saying everyone back in the day, because then I’m beginning to sound like old man. It would be fair to say that there was a lot more people interested in music, back then, and playing instruments. I’m talking about guitar, here. People really wanted to get good. I mean if anyone wants to argue with me about that, that’s fine. I’m not here to make a big judgment call on it, but just listen to the charts. We’re going back to knocking the rocks together. Some people might say that if that is a reflection of where we’re going, then it’s not a really nice one.
There is a feeling that, “I just want to do what’s necessary.” Almost a Bluffers Guide. If you think about it, 20 years ago when I was working, or 30 years ago, going through as a musician, if someone phoned me up and said, “Ged, can you play blues?” “Yeah, I love blues.” “Ged, can you play reggae?” “Yeah, I love reggae.” And all you would need is a standard. A few licks, or key holder licks to prove that you knew or understood that. That’s not going to get you past the guys that really know it, but let’s face it: How many of them are about? So, I do think that young people are being swamped with this: “don’t work hard. Just get a few things together.”
If you go on YouTube and you want to play… What’s that song?… Hotel California, and all that sort of stuff. They just learn a few licks. They don’t even watch the whole video. Even if it’s a good lesson, they just watch the bit. “I’ll take that.” That is not going to help create a rounded musical technique and an ability to hear things. Having said all of that, of course, there are some incredibly talented young people out there and I’ve got the honor and privilege to come in contact with a lot of them and see what they’re doing. The University that I teach at, some of the musicians… This is Napier University in Edinburgh on the BA Popular Music course. To be honest, most of the good players are going towards Jazz/Rock fusion and Jazz but some of the players are just absolutely astonishing. That flies in the face of everything I’ve said, but it does make me think, “Wow. Thank goodness for them.” Are they becoming less and less? I don’t know.
Is there a place for people play? This is a big, big point that feeds in to people just wanting to be cherry picking. Where is the audiences? People go to massive concerts, because there’s thousands of people going. If you want a big audience, get a reasonably big one. If you want a massive audience, get a big one. If you want a huge audience, get a really big audience. People bring people. For working musicians on the ground, how much work is there?
I know when I do concerts, I notice in a specific thing, if I’m doing Gypsy Jazz, or something like that… The audiences are getting older and older. Do you get to sixty and suddenly say, “I’m going to start going to XYZ concerts.” I’m going to find out in 10 years, but I’m convinced that, that doesn’t happen and that the audiences actually may be drying up, cause it’s all there on the screen.
Christopher: Yeah, that’s a really powerful observation, given what you were saying earlier about the importance of regular gigging and getting out there and performing with musicians who are much better than yourself. That is definitely a challenge for today’s musicians. That the opportunities to perform live and the audiences, even for local gigs, can be much smaller than they were 30 years ago. It’s definitely making things a bit harder.
Ged: Definitely. I hear stories of musicians having to pay to play. Pat Metheny, the seminal Jazz guitarist, he’s out there just above all others. Had said, quite a few years ago now, that he felt this was the last generation of Americans who were going to be interested in improvising. That’s quite a down thing to say and quite a worrying thing to say. The home of Jazz… That’s really scary.
You see all these things. I was talking to a friend the other day, recording a record label, or at least we were, and he was saying that musicians are now saying that people who run bars and stuff; they always say, “Oh, you’ll get really good exposure. There’s no payment, but you’ll get really good exposure.” The obvious answer to that is then, “Well, why don’t you give all your beer or your meals away for free, because let’s face it: You’ll be getting great exposure for the pub, or the restaurant, or the café.”
Christopher: It’s a tricky cultural and environment to try and be a forming musician in. One thing I love about GMI though, to come back for a moment to musicianship, is that, as you demonstrated with that drop two example, you don’t just say, “Here are the notes to play. Go off and play Wonderwall.” You explain things and you give musicians the intellectual understanding of what they’re doing and why.
For my part, while I totally identify with your, maybe, slightly negative view of today’s young musicians and the cherry picking, in their defense what I’d say is that a lot of music educators don’t provide that intellectual understanding. A lot of those young musicians simply don’t get to experience what it means to sit down and improvise, or play by ear. All they know is that roped learning. For my own part even, I had a Squier Strat as a 14 year old. I learned to play the intro riff to Stairway to Heaven. It never occurred to me, to learn to play the whole song. I had the intro riff, that was good enough to impress people.
It was another 10 years, before I sat down with a guitar and tried just making something up myself, really. That was because no one there had shown me that, that was an option. These days, my favorite activity is to sit down with an instrument and improvise. Just make something up from scratch. Without the experience of how much fun that can be and how possible it can be. It’s all too easy and I have sympathy for those who do just jump from YouTube tutorial to YouTube tutorial and learn the licks and the rifts.
Ged: The thing about theory is that I don’t see theory as something over here. It’s right in front of you and it’s a force multiplier. Especially, if you’re not a genius, which I certainly I am not. The theory is a force multiplier. By understanding that, my whole take on music and say, composition, is meld between art and craft. I may think up something, but I want to just write it down. Then when you start looking at it on the paper, it’s a very difficult thing to try to explain to someone when, conceptual ideas, that have been learnt on the right-hand side of the brain suddenly merge into the left-hand side of the brain.
We’re talking about language, here. When we can speak a language, we don’t think about the verbs, or nouns that people say, or that we say. We just express ourself. It’s getting to that point. There’s no doubt about it that theoretically concepts are a force multiplier and allied technique. I use the expression, “Technique is a gateway to expression.” Through some theoretical concepts if I work that into my playing; if I can play something you can’t play, technically. Or, you can do something I can’t play, then either of us have a out in terms of actually expressing ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t be able to do if we didn’t have that knowledge or physical understanding.
I don’t really see people as people. I see them as balls of energy. That’s what they are, creative. I remember years ago, I’d gone to the boozer and I was walking down the road. I saw this big, fat guy over the road and he was eating a fish supper and he came up to a bus stop and he put his foot right through it. Right? He smashed this big pane of glass. I was bemused by it. I just thought about it. There’s obviously a lot of reasons why he did that, bound up in frustrations, certain frustrations. For him, smashing that bus stop in, was a creative thing. Most people would see it as a destructive thing and it was, but it’s because he doesn’t have an out. That’s why music education is so important and helping people to see the world through our… Whether it’s music, or sculpture, or painting, or whatever it is.
Christopher: Given everything we’ve been talking about in terms of musicianship, as a whole, versus just instrument technique and the power of performing and learning the music theory behind things and also, the challenges of the modern environment where there’s a YouTube tutorial at your fingertips, for anything you can imagine. I’m just a huge fan of the Guitar and Music Institute. I think the website you’ve put together, as well as, your YouTube channel, your social media, all of the meriade places you’re available and helping musicians online is just phenomenal. The one last thing I want to mention, for those interested, is the books you’re currently publishing on Amazon. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Ged: Yes. Well, the thing is, Christopher, as soon as I got to Music College, I actually started publishing and that was back in the days when computers would run in coal. I had an Atari computer and I remember, I’d spend all sorts of money to get this Atari. It has a tiny screen and I got a 30 megabyte hard drive, which was quite massive. It was absolutely huge. I bought this program called the Copyist, which I remember I was telling you, we were taught to use a fountain pen and all that sort of stuff. Well, that went out the window.
Now, we’re just using the Copyist and it was pretty tricky, because what you saw on the screen wasn’t what you actually got from the printer and you had to wait 10 minutes for it to print. It was pretty tricky.
So I published a whole bunch of books back in 1991, there was… I couldn’t bring out one book, I had to bring out 10 books. Now, this is a salutary tale to anyone who’s thinking of being entrepreneurial. The reason I started was, I thought, “Oh, that’d be quite good. I’ve got something to see.” The books consisted of me recording a whole bunch of stuff, writing a whole bunch of stuff, notating a whole bunch of stuff, creating the designs, getting the designs and everything and all of that.
The reason I did it all was because there was a guy who is putting an ad in Guitar Player Magazine. Yeah, Guitar Player Magazine. He took a full page ad, and I… a friend of mine got one of his things and it was rubbish. It was like badly poor copy. It was in a poly bag, badly recorded. But once I’ve come through the whole thing, I realized the reason that he did was because it was cheap and it he sold hundreds, whereas my products were expensive because if you added up all this sort of the monetary things. It just didn’t work. So, I dusted those down through CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. It’s just amazing. It’s literally amazing. The FastLine series are just cheap, about £4. I mean, what do I make off a book, I don’t know, 20 pence or something.”
I regurgitated all of those and gave them new covers and people just buy the book and download the stuff from GMI. And then I brought out “Drop Two Voicings Uncovered” which is about 90 odd pages. Again, I used QR codes inside the book so people… because people don’t want to turn on their main computer, right? They’re using the book, so I figured well if there’s a QR code, why put a thousand words of text when I can actually talk over the phone? I’m going to talk and show.
So what they do is they just need to place their phone, get a QC code reader, and then the video come up right beside the book and they can learn from that and watch. And it’s like idiot-proof. It’s all chord boxes, physically. So people can quickly get it under their figures and I think that’s what people love. Right now, I’m about to start writing the… I have started writing the book that comes after Drop Two Voicings Uncovered and that will be really for folks interested in jazz and more expansive harmonic scenarios. I’m not going to hold back on that one.
Christopher: Fantastic. Well, sent me links to those and the other GMI resources in the shownotes for this episode. Ged, I think what I admire most about you is that these days it’s super easy for someone to flip on a webcam and kind of thoughtlessly flip music education material out there. And you only need to look around YouTube to see that happens a lot! You, through the way you use technology and also the way you teach, the concept you teach at GMI, you put such thought into it and how to leverage technology and how to teach in a way that will genuinely help and empower the musician. And I certainly applaud you for that. I think it’s fantastic work you’re doing.
Ged: Thank you very much.
Christopher: For our listeners, if you haven’t already checked it out, the Guitar and Music Institute, it’s guitarandmusicinstitute.com, “GMI” by another name. You will just find a wealth of resources free and paid, as well as the amazing curation of content that we talked about earlier. So do head on over and check it out. Thank you again Ged, for joining us on the show today.
Ged: It’s been wonderful. Thanks to all your listeners for putting up with my ramblings. Cheers Christopher.