Notes From the Desk of a Jazz Guitarist By Greg Chako

In a pro-career spanning 40 years and 5 countries, Cincinnati-born jazz guitarist Greg Chako has released ten albums and played countless shows around the world. His bi-weekly column, "Notes From The Desk Of A Jazz Guitarist” shares his expert tips on becoming a better player and person.

The Shed and the Toolbox 

If you want to build your own shed, you’ll probably need some tools. 

If you don’t have any tools, or if you don’t have enough tools, you’ll need  to get some new ones. In other words, you’ll need to build your toolbox. 

But even if you eventually have the best tools available, there’s no guarantee that that, in and of itself, will assure you finish the building project with the best shed! 

For the sake of our purposes, the toolbox represents musical scales, arpeggios, patterns and exercises we practice. The shed represents our playing, i.e. the actual finished musical product. 

In my 40 years or so experience as an accomplished player and teacher, I believe that all too many music students seem to confuse the shed and the toolbox. Most of us are very proud to have the finest shed on the block, but few I suspect, are quite as proud to have the best toolbox on the block! 

Yet, many students put more of their precious energy into building their toolbox by practicing, and perhaps, by "showing off" all their scales, arpeggios, and patterns. In my opinion, when they do that, they are not focused enough on the ultimate goal of building the greatest shed, which is of course, their actual playing of music! 

Have you ever known someone who constructed a shed with only the barest of essential tools? And perhaps you wondered, how on earth did he/she build such a nice shed with only one hammer and a screw driver? 

Well, when I listen to Master players like guitarist Grant Green, I recognize right away that I have students right now whose toolbox is larger than Grant’s was, yet their “shed” (playing) pales in comparison to Grants’ (playing). 

I believe that’s because their focus to-date has been somewhat misguided. It’s my job as their teacher to inform or remind them that, instead of accumulating more and more “tools,” and better and better “tools,” they need to learn how to use one or two tools, like a hammer and a screwdriver, very, very well! And they need to turn their focus here on out to playing music as opposed to building their toolbox.  

Stay tuned for more posts in which I plan to discuss some various ways to do just that . . . 


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