Having talked about the filming and pre-production involved behind the scenes in Rob’s new Rockhouse DVD (Innovative Guitar: Rock Beyond The Boundaries), Rob talks about the lessons on the dvd, music business and what’s on the horizon for the future in the second half of our interview.
Guitar-Muse: Let’s talk about the DVD content more specifically. You covered a lot of foundational things in the first chapter like warming up, hand position and holding the pick, you also cover playing with confidence in that section as well. Do you have tips for how you developed playing with conviction?
Rob Balducci: Confidence is a big thing. I’ve done numerous clinics and I always get the question of, “Rob when did it come across that you knew you had your stuff down, and you knew that you were good? “ My answer is always the same. I never think that I’m good in the way that they’re talking about. If you think that you’re the best guitar player, and you have that attitude, then there’s no way that you can improve. Nobody is the best guitar player, [and] everybody has room for improvement. I’m working on things every day that are going to improve my playing.
But that’s a separate thing from playing in a live situation [where] you need the confidence to think that you’re good and play in front of people. If you’re too timid, it has an effect on how you’re going to play in front of the audience, so [in that setting] you should always think that you’re good. Everybody is a good guitar player. Who’s to say whether I’m good as opposed to yourself or somebody else that’s just been playing the guitar for 6 months? That really should not be something that people are thinking about. You should always have confidence in yourself, because everyone is an individual. You have something that you do better than everybody else. And you have to think about it and practice it with that [attitude].
I’m not the type of person that [naturally] has tons of confidence. When I was in school, I had an instructor that picked up on that and probably knew that it was going to be a problem, and he came up to me and said, “Balducci. Are you a good guitar player?” And I answered back, “I’m alright”. And he said, “Listen that’s the wrong answer. From now on and the rest of the year, I’m going to ask you what type of guitar player you are, and I need you to answer me back, ‘I’m a fucking great guitar player.’ ” I said, “Alright” and he asks me, “Balducci, What kind of guitar player are you?” and I said, “I’m a fucking good guitar player.” And he says, “No that’s not good enough. I need you to say it like you mean it.” And this teacher bugged the hell out of me [with this] until I graduated. Every time he saw me he asked me – until I said it with the confidence that he was looking for. But it really does mean something. It seems like it might be stupid, but I think it’s a very important message to players out there, that you have to have confidence in what you’re doing to be able to perform.
GM: In the second chapter of the dvd, you go through some specific warm ups and exercises. I particularly like the chord transformation you do where you take an Augmented chord form on the bottom 4 strings and then chromatically alter it (I’m totally copping that for this thing I’m working on – by the way!)
You also talk about a similar approach to morphing chords later on which I thought was a really cool idea. A lot of players focus on playing leads but a lead only counts for 10-20 seconds of a 4 minute song! Given how important rhythm guitar is, do you have any rhythm guitar tips for players?
RB: Sure. I’ll tell you a couple of things that changed my thinking about rhythm guitar. I have 4 CDs out. When my debut CD came out, I loved it and I sent it to people in the industry that I respected. At the time I was endorsed (and still am) by DiMarzio pickups, and Steve Blucher is the designer of most of the DiMarzio pickups. He’s always the guy that I know [to go to] if I want real answers and he said something to me that really stood out and changed the way I wrote after the first record. He said “Rob, I think the record is great. I think your playing is great, but maybe you should concentrate on what’s being played behind the solos and what’s being played behind the melody. [Even] without the melody being played, there should be something interesting there.”
So that kind of stuck with me. I started looking and researching…there’s an article with Pete Townsend where he talks about how when he writes a song, he writes it on an acoustic guitar, and if the chords don’t stand up by themselves, if it’s not speaking to you with just the chords you’re playing, there’s something wrong and that had another affect on me. I started thinking about all this stuff, and started to think [that] when I write a tune the background has to speak, it has to move and be something interesting. So I started to concentrate on that, and part of that is where that chord morphing came into play. You might be writing in E Major, and have an E Major chord sitting there for 8 measures. You could just simply just strum the E Major for the eight measures. Or you could take that chord, play the E Major, and maybe move it up to an inversion, or you could play a triad E Major and move it up to a first inversion, then the second inversion within that period and then add some passing notes in there. It makes the part something interesting.
That’s why the chord morphing thing is cool. Everyone knows an E Major chord, whether you play the power chord (which is the root and the fifth and you can do it with that as well) or if you’re playing the full chord – you can start messing around with taking the G string and flatting it, or sharping it. Taking each note and kind of moving it around, you’re going to come up with different alterations which are going to change that E chord. Instead of playing the E chord for four measures, maybe play the E chord then go into one of the morphs that you came up with.
That’s why I say it doesn’t even matter if you even know what you’re doing. Move the finger, take a chord and write it down on a piece of paper. If it sounds good to you, then it works [so] use it. Instead of thinking in a technical aspect, I think that kind of thing can really move somebody. Especially if they don’t have knowledge of theory and things like that. It gives [players] the ability to mess around, and they don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong.
GM: The scales chapter has a nice overview of approaches (3 note per string, single string shapes, legato, and 1st and 3rd string string skipping). There’s a cool approach to pentatonics with the altered pentatonic (pentatonic + Mixolydian – R, 3, 4, 5, b7). If you played that on acoustic with some sequences you’d get a little Shakti vibe going on.
The 3-note per string pentatonic patterns are also interesting because you use shapes with doubled notes that give the sequences a unique sound. Do you find yourself alternating between the box pentatonic shapes and the 3-note per string patterns?
RB: Yes, I like mixing everything into one kind of thing. I’ll take those alternate patters of the pentatonic and use them and I’ll mix it in with the regular pentatonic. To me, there’s certain pentatonics that go along with certain modes. I’ll use pentatonics with Dorian…that sounds good to me. So if I’m in A minor pentatonic, I’ll use that extended thing but also I’ll mix in [A] Dorian, which is G Major, but you’re putting A as the root, and I’ll mix that in as well. So I kind of like to do a nice big sandwich of everything [laughs].
GM: I really like the inclusion of the playing out of the box idea. A lot of players get overwhelmed with playing options and seize up when it comes time to improvise. Teaching people work on things with a specific limit (like only using the 1st and third strings) is a great way to get people to focus on minutiae of things like phrasing rather than say, tackling the whole fretboard at once. The fact that you cover a lot of elements like phrasing (vibrato, bending, the whammy bar) helps with that as well…
RB: I’m a big believer in that kind of stuff. I could do a DVD on that playing out of the box thing alone, but I tried to cover things that I thought were important. I think that even though I touched on the topics if you really go and do [the things] I’m telling you [to do] you can benefit a lot from it.
An important thing about getting some sort of uniqueness to your playing, and playing out of the box , is what I call limiting yourself – like limiting yourself to just playing on the E and the G string, or just playing on the B and D string and doing that string skipping thing. Then you can move onto adjacent strings. Practice just playing in whatever the mode is. If it’s B Dorian – practice [playing] B Dorian but only play on the E and the B strings and just practice playing riffs in that area. You’re gonna have to mix it up because you’re going to get bored if you keep playing the same stuff.
The whole idea behind this is you really have to sit down and do it. I tell people to get a timer, put it on for a half hour, sit there, put on a progression, and try just practicing on those two strings. If you start to see yourself playing the same thing, then you’ve got to move it around [the fingerboard] and get inventive. Maybe bend on the E string and don’t bend on the B string. If that doesn’t work, try the opposite. It’s little simple things like that but when you limit yourself like this, you start to come up with riffs that you would never have played otherwise. We’re all used to playing certain things, and we play what we like – our favorite licks. If you and experiment like that enough, it’ll eventually work itself into your playing. The next time you’re jamming with someone, you’ll do these riffs on the E and B string, all of a sudden these little riffs are going to start coming out, because you’ve experimented with it. I’ve seen this work – people who have spent the time doing it, you can see the results.
GM: You cover diminished arpeggios in the video, and I’m wondering if you can elaborate on how you use those in your playing.
RB: Sure. I think I introduced them in a certain way, and as far as rock music is concerned, when people think about diminished patterns, they think of the full runs that you’re hearing in a more neo-classical sense. On the tune I use it in on the DVD it’s in the main phrase of the song and really has a unique sound to it as a melodic phrase. What I try to do is not actually use the whole arpeggio but take little portions out of it. So I’ll take a little shape off the G, B, and high E strings, and I’ll move that arpeggio shape around. Experimenting with the blues a bit, if you’re in E pentatonic, and play an E on the 12th fret, play a G on the 15 and then add in the B flat, you’ve got that little diminished triad, and then go back into the pentatonic, and just use the first little arpeggio – it kinda sounds weird in the beginning, because maybe you’re not used to hearing it, but it is a cool sound.
I think what a lot of people do with the diminished arpeggios and the diminished sound, is to use it as a special area of their playing instead of trying to make it something that’s involved in what they would normally play. I think the more you experiment with sounds like that the more you get used to it and [eventually] it doesn’t sound like you’re playing something wrong though some people will still think that if they’re not used to hearing it. I had a bass player in my band, who was really strictly into heavy heavy types of music and never heard jazz before. We went to see Vernon Reid play, and Vernon is like all over the place. After the show he said “Rob this guy is really cool, but some of the stuff kind of sounded out of tune to me.” And I was like “Out of tune!? What are you talking about?” It was because he wasn’t used to hearing and using the alterations – the stuff outside of the box. That’s why I like the diminished sound a lot – it’s not so common sounding and shoving that in places you wouldn’t expect has a really cool effect.
GM: I want to talk about music business a bit. One of your big breaks was the New York’s Best Guitarist competition sponsored by the (now defunct) Guitar For The Practicing Musician magazine. I’m wondering if you think the competition route is a good one for fledgling instrumental guitarists to pursue?
RB: I would say no [laughs]. Even though that was a cool thing at the time, and I actually had to judge some of them [later], I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble to do – especially now. I think it’s cool to get involved, like if it’s a motivation factor for the player – but is it going to change your life? No. If it motivates you to practice something, I think it’s worth it, but you can’t expect to win even if you’re the best guitar player there because there’s so many other factors involved.
GM: How about music school?
RB: I’m not against music school – I went myself, but I have a lot of students’ parents come with their sons and daughters who want to go to music school and I help them prepare for getting in. We go over the programs and the audition things and my advice for those who want to go to music school full time is – don’t do it. Going to music school is not going to make you make it in the music industry. I think that you can get enough music knowledge if you get yourself a really good instructor and going to a normal university [as opposed to a music specific one]. As far as music and life is concerned [going to a normal university] is going to help you more because you’re not so entrenched in that one subject. As far as a songwriter is concerned, living life helps with your experience which helps you write music and that [involves] living outside the music world. That’s just my opinion.
GM: One point I wanted to bring up is that your Favored Nations affiliation is a combination of great playing, great releases and a connection to Steve Vai that goes back to his Relativity days. I think a lot of players neglect the networking side of the industry and don’t realize that you can’t get calls as a player if no one knows who you are. Do you have any tips for networking or want to speak about the importance of it at all?
RB: I think networking is very important. It goes back to the attitude thing that we talked about. You need to network, and talk to people and you need to make be persistent and make contacts, but in the same sense, you can’t have an attitude about [business] things. You have to be a good person, and you have to be a nice person, and those don’t actually go hand in hand with a lot of people’s personalities [laughs]. There are people who are just not nice people, with egos and such and you can’t be like that if you really want to connect with people. I think that you have to be real and talk to people and make connections. The whole “Nice guys finish last” [saying]…I don’t believe that. Most people in the music industry are nice people. I only have good things to say about Steve – he’s been nice to me. I met him when I was working at the label and saw him when he was not that big – he had his first CD out, and now he’s who he is, he really hasn’t changed. I think that says a lot about him, and it says a lot about how you should be.
These are guys that didn’t know me from a hole in the wall. When I met Satriani I gave him a cassette of me playing and put my phone number on it, not thinking the guy was ever going to call me back, and he actually called me. That says a lot about him – that he went to the trouble of calling some little kid back that gave him a cassette tape. So that totally changed my attitude about how I treat people – students, people that come to me and they write emails and they need help, etc. You gotta spread it around and you gotta try and help. The thing is, music is not about money. This is not an easy road – doing the instrumental guitar thing, this is really an art form – I consider myself an artist. If I was in it for the money I would have quit friggin’ twenty years ago [laughs].
It’s a labor of love and this is what I want to do. Could I go and say that I want to join a trendy band that’s happening right now? Yeah. I’m just not doing that right now. If Brittney Spears calls me up maybe I’ll play guitar for Brittney Spears [laughs]. This is what I love to do and whatever I have to do to keep doing it, I do. Teaching, playing…it’s all about tying things together, and it’s all about attitude. A lot of times I worked inside the industry, I worked for the record company. People think that if you’re not doing guitar full time that you’re not a musician and that’s not true. If you’re doing guitar full time and you have to go play in wedding bands and cover bands. If that’s what you like to do there’s nothing wrong with that but some people do that because they feel they’re not a musician if they’re not doing it full time. If you want to do original music, sometimes original music isn’t the moneymaker that you think it’s gonna be. You have to do something to feed the art. I tell my students all the time to do something that’s involved with the music. Go to the record company…if you’re a good guitar player and can transcribe, go to a guitar magazine. Make connections – that’s what it’s about.
GM: I notice that you’re offering Skype lessons now. Can you talk a little about the specifics of that?
RB: I’m kind of new to the whole Skype thing, and I wasn’t too sure about it. A couple buddies of mine started to do it, and I decided to try it, and I think it’s really interesting. It seems to work really well. I have students in other states and countries, and it’s interesting it’s not like the person is not in front of you – it’s very much like a one on one lesson. Usually, we’ll set up an appointment, decide on a time, and right now I’m doing a special rate until after the holidays, it’s $50 an hour, which is a really reasonable rate, and I’ll tab stuff out while we’re doing the lesson, scan it in and send people the PDF after the lesson is over. It’s cool to reach people you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.
GM: What’s in store for you for the near future?
RB: Well, we’ve been talking about the Rockhouse program that I’m doing and that’s called “Innovative Guitar – Rock Beyond The Boundaries”, and that is available online for digital download, and you should be able to get it in stores very soon, which I’m excited about. I’m also working on new material for a new record with my band and hopefully by end of this year or the beginning of next year I should be in the studio working on that. In between all that I’m still doing what I’m normally doing: clinics, playing shows, I’ll probably be at NAMM, and do a little playing there. I’m just keeping busy, keeping myself involved in songwriting and trying to improve on the guitar.
GM: Thanks so much for your time Rob! For more info on Rob check out his website, http://robbalducci.com
- Did you miss the first part of our interview with Rob Balducci? In it, he talks more about the DVD and provides some insight to his teaching philosophy: Interview With Rob Balducci – Part One