Interview With Rob Balducci Part One

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Rob Balducci
Rob Balducci

The person who originally quipped, “those who don’t know, teach” never met Rob Balducci.  A seasoned guitarist with multiple cd releases (all available on his website Robbalducci.com), Rob is as gifted a teacher as he is a player and has brought all of his excitement and inspiration to his new Rockhouse DVD,  Innovative Guitar: Rock Beyond The Boundaries.  Unlike many instructional videos that mindlessly churn out a handful of random licks and riffs – Rob’s video is extremely thoughtful and really showcases the years of experience he has as an educator.

Innovative Guitar covers a wide range of topics ranging from fundamentals (like picking, posture and playing in time) specific lead approaches (phrasing, scales and arpeggios), rhythm guitar and even songwriting.    In talking with Rob about the origins of the dvd, we also get some insight into his teaching philosophy, getting into a performance mindset and some other interesting things (like why he doesn’t use stage monitors)!

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Rob, thanks so much for doing the interview.   How did the dvd with Rockhouse come about?

Rockhouse got in touch with me through one of my endorsers, and asked if I wanted to do something with them.   They seem to be doing some really cool stuff right now, so I was excited about it, but I had a couple of stipulations. …I didn’t want to do something that was typical.  I wanted to do something that was in line with what I feel is important about being a musican and a guitarist.  When I spoke to them about some of my ideas, they seemed really into it and it seemed like it was going to work, so we took it from there.

 

In the dvd there’s a real breadth of topics that you cover.  From a teaching standpoint what did you want the dvd to bring to students?

I wanted it to cover stuff that I had not seen on other instructional DVDs. I think anyone can get something out of this DVD, if you’re a beginner, or at an intermediate level, or even if you’re somebody that’s professional, I think you’re going to get something from it.  So I wanted to cover a wide base.  I covered inspiration, song writing, your attitude while playing live… stuff I felt was important as a player and a performer, that’s not covered in other courses.  Looking at the finished product – and from reading emails, I think that I’ve accomplished that.

 

I think you covered a lot of information in a really cool way but still managed to tie it back into making everything work in service to the song which isn’t an easy thing to do.

I’ve had teachers that were really unbelievable players, but maybe they weren’t the best teachers.  I think there’s a certain knack for teaching…I’ve been doing it for a long time, so I was very comfortable.  That’s me that you see  [on the DVD] – I’m a little weird [laughs] and I have a good sense of humor, and I think that comes across on there.  I think that I’m able to communicate well, and you can’t say that about every instructional DVD that you see.

 

You’ve been an active teacher for years and I’m wondering how your teaching style has evolved over time….

I’ll tell you a funny story – I started teaching at a very young age. I started to play at around 11 years old…practicing, taking lessons and really putting a lot of time into it.  By the age of 15, I started to teach at the place I was taking lessons at.  One day I came into the store and the people that ran it asked if I had a few minutes to talk, and they said, “We’ve been looking over some of the books from some of your students, and we see that you’ve been teaching scales, and some theory, and stuff like that – and we’d rather you just teach songs.”

And I was like “What!?” [laughs] “What are you talking about?”

They said, “Well, we want people to come back and we feel that if we give them stuff like this, they may not be motivated.  So if you give them songs that are on the radio today, they’ll keep coming back.”

I said, “That’s not what I’m into.  I’m not gonna waste someone’s time trying to teach them this song, when they should be learning it themselves.  There’s lots of different ways you can learn songs, nevermind wasting your money going to a teacher to show you how to play someone else’s song.”

So we got into this big argument.   I quit teaching there and took all my students back to my house.   I’ve been teaching at my apartment ever since.

My teaching style right now…I don’t have a set plan with anybody. Somebody comes in and I kind of see where they are at.  I ask them what they want to accomplish, what their goals are, and then I try and adapt my teaching to that.   It does’t encompass learning licks from people’s songs and stuff like that because nowadays you can go on YouTube, and someone shows you how to play whatever song you want, and you’re gonna get it.   You don’t need to come to me for that.

I think it’s important to teach stuff that’s relevant, and stuff that [students] are going to be able to use now and/or later.  Maybe they won’t get the concept now, but I think in the future if they stay serious, and you teach them valid stuff, it’s going to play an important role. I tend to focus on every little thing – how you’re holding your pick, how you’re sitting, how you’re holding the guitar.

I had a student come in, and he was really into John Petrucci and playing really fast.  He said, “Rob I can’t get any faster, can you help me?” So I watched him play, and a lot of the problem was how he was holding the pick.  So we readjusted his posture, how he was holding his hand and how he was holding the pick.  In the beginning, he was like, “Rob, I gotta change how I’ve been playing for the last 10 years”, and I told him, “Go home, do this for a month, and if you don’t see some sort of improvement, then go back to to what you’re doing now.”  So he went and practiced.  He put in the time and realized that it did make a difference.

A lot of times, I’m correcting mistakes that people have made by going through other teachers who haven’t paid attention to everything.  They haven’t really thought about the student enough, and I think that’s a really big issue with a lot of students that I’ve seen.

 

It’s one thing when people are home with a web-cab and tape something but it’s a whole other experience when you’re on a sound stage with multiple cameras taping you.  That has to be a performance challenge in that everyone is looking at you and the clock is ticking.  Practicing something repeatedly helps build confidence but it’s a much different performance headspace in a real-life situation like that. Can you talk about getting into that performance mindset and helping students bridge the gap between practicing and performance?

Thats a big thing.   I spoke about it on the DVD but I don’t know if I went into it in enough depth. Playing in a live situation and getting ready for playing live is a completely different thing than playing in your room.  You could be flawless sitting in your room practicing and then go on stage [where] there’s other factors that are involved. I think it’s something that has to be rehearsed. To tell you the truth, it was killing me every time I played.   I was very unhappy.  I’d go on stage, and be worried about my sound, about what’s going to happen if the bass player doesn’t know this part, how I look…I’m playing for all these guitar players, is my guitar playing going to be good enough?  You have all this other extra stuff going on in your brain [and] you need to get out of that.   Really, it has to be a rehearsal thing.  It’s something I actually do when I practice with my band and it’s just a mindset that you’ve got to practice.

Part of what helped me with this was playing a few shows with Ritchie Kotzen, who really changed my thought process.  It’s cool to see how someone else operates, as opposed to how you’re operating.  I’ve been out with other players before, but he was actually someone that stuck in my mind. His whole mindset of playing live was different than mine. He got on stage …different venues are going to have different sounds.  Amps are going to sound different in different places, that can’t affect whether you sound good or not.  Ritchie had the attitude that he stuck his amp onstage, did a soundcheck and was happy.  He wasn’t worried about whether it was going to be a big deal or not, he dealt with the circumstance, [and then] played his ass off.

As a mindset – it really had an effect on me. Getting in the zone. You want to get onstage and not worry about stupid stuff. You plug your amp in, it may not sound the best, you may not have monitors that are working, but that kind of stuff can’t affect you.  You’ve got to just play and be in the music.  Steve Vai says he likes to be the notes that he’s playing.  Everyone has their own term for it, but it’s not just something you can say to someone and they’re going to be able to do it.

I go to rehearsals now and I purposely play through some amps that I don’t usually play through. I’ll play through an amp in the studio – it might be a piece of junk.   I’ll get an overdrive box, shove it on there and play through the set.  It’s like we’re playing live.  I kinda get myself into the zone that there’s an audience, I gotta play through my stuff, I’m not gonna worry about what the sound is and I’m gonna get in the zone.

A lot of people think this is crazy but I don’t use monitors when I play now, because when you have a monitor blasting back at you, the sound of your guitar is right in your face. Your picking is affected and everything about how you play is affected.  So I play with earplugs, to where I almost can not hear my guitar. If you had your amp turned around in your practice room and shoved it up against the wall – and you only heard that muffled sound, that’s what I like to play with.  It’s a muffled sound like it’s in another room, and I really don’t pay attention to it too much.  I listen to my drummer, I listen to the bass player and I just play. It’s like a freedom almost…you’re not really worried about where your sound is, you’re just in the moment and the music.

Theres a good book by Kenny Werner called “Effortless Mastery”.  It comes with a CD and it has a sort of meditation that you can listen to and it gets you in the mindset.  The book is about all this stuff that I’ve been talking about – not worrying about whether you’re going to play something perfectly, performing live and how you should practice. It’s definitely something I would recommend for people to check out.

 

Innovative Guitar DVD
Innovative Guitar DVD

The interface for the video is really slick.  Obviously a great deal of pre-planning and pre-production went into the release.  Can you talk a little about the logistics and experience of filming that?

As far as Rockhouse is concerned, they’re a good group of people and really have the production side together. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen as far as the filming was concerned. We filmed it on a sound stage in Connenicuicut and when I went in there it was a fully blown out [production] studio. The set was really made to my liking [which] all happened in the spur of the moment. I’m into purple and so they made the lighting purple and we put a bunch of my guitars in the background and worked in those little devil ducks (laughs) and that made it a lot more comfortable for me as a player.

The thing that was easy for me, and I don’t think it is easy for everyone, was doing the filming. I’m used to teaching, I’m used to talking and doing clinics but I don’t think it’s the most comfortable atmosphere for someone who hasn’t done anything like this before. If you’re a rock player and you’re used to playing and doing shows and it’s time to do the video it’s going to be kind of initimidating because you have like 50 people around watching you and time is clicking. We filmed it in a weekend… all day on a Saturday and a Sunday but there was a lot of preproduction that went into that. I sat down I came up with the ideas I wanted to cover and I sat down with [Rockhouse’s] John McCarthy and went over it. John’s been doing this a long time so when I said I wanted to do something like the chord morphing thing he had a lot of ideas for how approach it and we were able to bounce ideas off each other.

One thing John suggested to me was, “Rob I know you’re very well spoken and you’re very good on your instrument but filming and doing this on camera is a very different animal. I suggest you go back to your house and actually film yourself going over the program. “ So I had a really good friend of mine come by and he sat with a video camera and I did the whole program like we were shooting that day. I did that a couple of times before I went and, I don’t know if everyone does this, but I took his advice and on the day of the actual shoot it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t like pulling teeth. [laughs]

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I’ll also bet that there was a big difference between the first time you filmed yourself and the performance you had at Rockhouse. It’s a great lesson in pre-production, and I bring this up because I think that when something is done really well the technique behind it is seemless.  It’s one thing to observe that a video looks good but the technical aspects of shooting a video to look and sound that good are something else entirely.

I definitely know what you’re saying. The good thing about it is I didn’t have to think about the technical stuff as far as filming. The Rockhouse guys were very in control of how the film shots were taken. They were the one’s worried about all the technical stuff and they said, “Rob just do your thing”. There’s a lot of [pre-production] work and then they have the pleasure of transcribe the stuff (laughs), that’s a pain in the butt as well.

 

A lot of people are making You Tube videos out there.  Can you share any production tips for making their videos more professional?

To me it’s a separate world. In the sense that I do a lick of the week every week on my web site and it’s so raw down to the bones that it’s not even funny. I throw on a web cam or a zoom and I really don’t do too much editing and it’s like “bam – hey how ya doing this is this…”. So I like that in that it’s off the cuff and it’s coming straight at you with no production value in it. So for the You Tube side – I come from a different side on that. The problem is I try to put stuff up fast but if you have the time – the cool thing about it is you can do it your self. You can set up two cameras and get two angles – one on the picking hand and one far away, talk about a lesson topic. Put it into Imovie and edit it together. If you’re going to do something like that it’s worth the [extra] effort. It definitely has a different feel to it and people might get something from the quality of the video or the angles.

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Thanks again Rob!  Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview where Rob and I get into the nuts and bolts of the DVD!

 


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Scott Collins

Scott Collins is the author of the pedagogical/reference series, The GuitArchitect’s Guide To: and several e-book titles that include: An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out. His playing is inspired by a wide range of western and non-western music, and, as a performer, he specializes in real-time composition.

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