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Why Teaching Is So Much Fun For Me

Ever since I can remember, whatever I learned on the guitar, I felt it was necessary to pass on. I really can’t say why it is I have always felt this way, but it certainly was never really about the money, even though many of us professional musicians have always turned to teaching as an added way of making some income!

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am totally self-taught, and so many people would always ask about my distinct style, and how I could show them some of it. This has always been the case ...folks wanting to learn my unique string bending approach, my pedal-steel like licks, my slide guitar, etc. … But yet, one can never really create a clone of one’s self from teaching, but lord knows sometimes it can come awfully close!

I do know that more than anything, teaching is inspiring. It’s not so much learning things note-for-note, which may be some one’s approach, but more about getting the overall “picture” of what another player’s style is all about, and plugging THAT into my, or someone else’s style. When I was developing as a young player, I definitely had certain influences, and even continue to, but I never needed to learn their solos or parts note-for-note, rather, it was important to “capture” a bit of what they were about, that would inspire me and push my technique and style in new directions.

This is why here on the Gibson lesson I love to hit you with varying ideas and concepts, and to surprise you with things that you never expected to learn! I always made a pact with myself that every time I picked up a guitar, on any given day, I would force myself to learn something new! This, believe it or not, is still the case, and it’s what keeps me going, always creating new ideas and new concepts to learn as well as teach.

Another great aspect of private teaching, which I still do, is that it keeps your “chops” up incredibly well! It actually makes you a better player. For example, I have some really advanced students who create a huge challenge for me, making me “dig deep” for new ideas each time I teach them. Well, this really makes me a better player, because I must focus on certain styles in a very concentrated way, such as string bending, vibrato etc., and this forces me to make the technique that much better.

In the end, it’s really the student that also teaches the teacher, by challenging him to come up with new and fresh ideas, and before you know it, you’re playing together! I know this, because many of my students I have mentored, and brought into my band! More on the joys of teaching next time … till then, adieu!  


Posted: 1/28/2009 10:32:41 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More Joys of Teaching

More Joys of TeachingLast time, I was starting to speak about the true rewards of teaching and why it can be so much fun for me. For myself, it’s always been an amazingly fruitful experience, and I’ve actually made some of my best friends of all time as the result of first knowing them as my students! This certainly gives you pause for thought….it seems that If we share something so deep as music together, particularly when it really connects, there is an instant bond and a road to a close friendship that quickly makes it hard to even take any money from such a friend! I know I’ve been in this awkward place many times before….where it just no longer seems right to be taking money from someone for lessons, because we’ve become so close as friends.

On a larger scale, I’ve also toured all over the world giving clinics, sometimes with audiences as large as 2000 people, and what’s great about those is that they become “intimate performances”, where you really have the undivided attention of all the folks who came. This kind of gathering is very enriching, and it’s something that neither the performer nor the audience soon forgets! It’s especially great when you go a long way, like a big crowd in Birmingham, England, where the first question from the crowd is “what do ya think of the beer in this part of the country!?”

I played a concert here in NY last night, and needless to say, besides the couple of hundred regular folks who came, there must’ve been about 40 people there who were either currently, or at one time, my students!

One of the things I love to say, which also pertains to my past, is that “we tend to remember our teachers more than what we learned”. I believe this to be true..that it’s the PERSON behind the teaching that really makes the impression that we remember. Try to think back to grade school, and what you remember, and it’s always going to be the teacher rather than what he or she taught that sits so well in our memories. I believe when we are learning an art form such as the guitar, or painting or literature, it is really the inspiration of the teacher that we recall, more than what was taught! So, till next time, remember who your inspirations are!



Posted: 1/27/2009 5:01:37 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

A Rant About Today’s Music!

I’ve  decided to stray a little from my previous blogs, which were more about my past, and about the music business in general, for today’s “rant”! The problems with the music business are one thing, and yes, I’m sure it is connected to problems with the music in general, but there are some serious issues I have with what is taking place in today’s music.
First of all, be sure I am talking about “mainstream” stuff here … I am aware there are still great audiences everywhere for great music, but the stuff we are getting shoved down our throats these days that is considered “pop,” or Pop Country for example, is really getting hard to swallow.
  The number one culprit in the “unlistenability” of today’s music has got to be AUTO TUNING! This is a device that with the advent of digital recording, has made it easy for producers and engineers everywhere to correct the pitch of any singer or instrument they want. The problem is that when overused, which is usually the case, it gives the voice an incredibly artificial sound bordering more on the sound of an electronic keyboard than the human voice itself! Also, depending on how it is set, and how out of tune the singer may be, it creates these really annoying “bumps” in the vocal that sound like an obvious effect. Just think of Cher’s “Do you Believe in Life After Love,” and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
  The saddest usage of this effect is on country recordings. I mean, after all, isn’t it Country music that really embodies the best of people playing and singing in tune?! I have actually heard contemporary Bluegrass recordings that have heavily used this auto-tune thing that makes it sound like a totally artificial creation! What ever happened to real human beings using their own ears to tune to each other??!! This little device totally defeats all the originality and soul that hopefully was there to begin with at least, and just renders it useless, in my opinion. Worse than all of this, I can hear it being used LIVE! I mean why not? These artists are so dependent on auto-tuning, and their audiences are so used to hearing it, that they must feel they’d not be giving a real “show” unless the auto-tuning was being used. So now, the “fake” recording gets to be replicated at a “fake” concert!
  The whole sound of it sickens me, and I can’t help but hear it everywhere! If I walk into one more convenience store and hear Rascal Flatts in the background sounding like a bunch of auto-tuned “Chipmunks,” I’m gonna scream! More on this “blight” of the business next time! Till then … Check out ARLEN ROTH'S LESSON OF THE DAY

Posted: 1/21/2009 7:47:01 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Keeping Your Dreams Alive

It’s no secret that one must have a dream to simply keep on going. In a danger-fraught world such as music this is truer than ever. I know that I have had my personal dreams realized and also dashed forever in my own personal and professional life, and it seems at times to be a never-ending rollercoaster of triumphs and tragedies for me. Yet still, I press on, as I only know how to.

It’s daunting to say the least sometimes, especially when you have to always “blow your own horn,” a very uncomfortable place to be professionally. I mean, who really wants to have to talk to someone like a club owner who’s never heard of you and have to tell him your life story?!
This all can get very tiring and quite debilitating, and can really make you want to give up sometimes, but if you do in fact, have a real dream, you must go on!

Also, remember that this can take many shapes. I mean, if, for example, you just had a day of calling booking agents who won’t ever return your calls, channel that drive into something else that might be even more productive, such as writing a song! Why not? The act of songwriting really can get rid of a lot of tension that’s built up within you, not to mention it may be that very song you are penning that may make those club owners wish they had called you back, as you become a star so big that you would never play in a dump like theirs ever again!
It’s a tricky road, and even though folks say you need luck, the only luck in this biz is the kind you really earn. You must put as much positive energy “out there” so some of it will come back to you. And come back it will, because I believe that all good things lead to more good things, and it can become like a chain reaction of positivity, as long as you stay focused, and make all the right things happen.
Connections, and “who you know” are never enough … it’s all about what YOU are saying as a player, musician, performer etc. that will really decide your eventual fate in the business. It only makes sense, as we know that while the business keeps on changing into new forms every day, the one constant will always be your talent and determination … that can never be artificially created or duplicated!

'Til next time … 

Posted: 1/21/2009 5:02:09 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Less Is Definitely More!

As I started to enter the studio work scene, both in Woodstock and in New York City, it really started to become apparent that the old adage of “less is more” is so true. I used to joke that “no, you mean Les is Paul”, but that’s just one of my typical puns I simply could never resist!

Les is PaulI was basically a guitar player who came “roaring out of the gates”, and was so live performance oriented that it was really hard for me to reign in my pure energy, and make it something that would fit more into the world of recording. Keep in mind that also of this recording I was doing was not even what I liked to play, which had a huge impact on me as well. It’s a very strange situation indeed, when someone falls in love with your playing because of the uniqueness they saw you do in a live venue, but then they put you in a studio, and give you so much terrible misdirection that they literally sap all your creativity and energy. I never understood this..I mean, don’t you hire the musicians you want to TRUST?! I always play with players who bring something unique to the table, and only if I need something different from them do I ever need to give a slight “nudge” in the right direction. A true professional should always react to that kind of suggestion with total respect and deference, and if they’re there because of your respect for THEM, then the whole picture should balance out nicely.

But it’s tough when you’re the rookie, the new kid on the block, the one who needs to “break in” to the scene. I can remember back around 1974, I was fast becoming the “house” guitarist on lots of sessions at a hot recording studio called “914”, in Rockland County, NY. I was playing on Dusty Springfield records, Janis Ian, Don McLean and on and on…literally all in the same place. Well, one day, the call was for me to play pedal steel guitar on Janis Ian’s “Between the Lines” lp….the one where “Seventeen” became a big hit. She and I were also frinds in Music and Art High School in Manhattan. Now, Nobody knew about pedal steel guitar in NY at that time, and the only players were me and my buddy, Eric Weissberg, of “Dueling Banjos” fame. So, the session begins, and I’m playing my single-neck E9 Emmons, and I’m noticing that they’re only recording me direct through the board, no amp, no reverb, just a totally dry, lifeless sound, that was also almost impossible to hear in the headphones!

So, I, in a very professional manner by the way, make a suggestion to the Producer/engineer, who will go nameless here, that it would be a heck of a lot better if I was going through an amp, with reverb, and then mic’ed. They said, “sure, no problem Arlen, sounds like a great idea!” Then I figured everyone was happy, and then we went on with making actually quite a nice recording.

Well, weeks and then months passed without ever hearing from them or those sessions again. No calls, no work. I was totally baffled. Well literally YEARS later, I found out that that producer/engineer, who was so full of himself anyway, told everyone, “ how DARE that young upstart Arlen Roth tell ME how to record. I’ll never hire him again!” Can you imagine what that sounded like to me……I mean here I was, making a perfectly logical and humble suggestion, bringing my STEEL GUITAR expertise to the table, and it didn’t matter! It all became about his ego, who should dominate who, who’s in charge, all that nonsense….and all it really did in the end was stand in the way, albeit momentarily, of my career.

You know, it all makes me want to say to you to “be careful”, but at the same time, the thing that really sticks out in my mind more, is “stick to your guns!” It was the producer/engineer who was childish, and who should have really taken into account that I was new to this whole process, and definitely given me the benefit of the doubt. He needed to check his OWN emotions and ego at the door! More next time…keep on hangin’ in there!


Posted: 1/16/2009 8:20:46 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

When You Get to a Fork in The Road, Take It

Today I’m continuing a bit on that early odyssey I made in my late ‘teens, where I was already on a good path to individuality in my playing and my music, but was still faced with having to play many a gig that did not live up to the billing I was hoping for!

In a live performing sense, this often meant that I was with such an inferior band, that there was never any hope that I could see in terms of a longtime musical growth together…something that is critical in the band context. Also, in the recording studio, folks seemed so unsympathetic to the real needs of a player such as myself, and would rather stay harping on the good old “time’s money and money’s time” adage that puts so much unnecessary pressure on the players and the situation in general.

Still, this is how the world works, and especially a large portion of the music business. I do know that regardless, even though these were at times, great learning experiences, I still had to stick to my guns in terms of what and how I felt about the guitar music I really wanted to play. It’s funny, because sometimes this “sticking to my guns”, and also being such a unique player would really affect the kinds of weird gigs I would sometimes have to play!

For example, there was one time, because I was just about the only Lap Steel player in New York City, I actually got called upon to sit outside at an opening for a version of the play “South Pacific”, and wear Hawaiian outfits, including plastic floral leis around my neck, playing old Sol Hoopii and Jimmy Rodgers songs. Song, by the way, that I had to stay up all night teaching my girlfriend so she could play rhythm guitar along with me! Needless to say, when we finally set up and did the gig, it was so weird, and we were so invisible to everyone else, that I literally can’t remember one person even stopping to take a listen!

All this aside……it was actually FUN to sit there and play some Hawaiian guitar, and being unnoticed even gave me more of a reason to just go off on tangents, and use the time to become a better player! These are the kinds of situations where you MUST look on the bright side, and really focus on what’s good about the predicament you are in! After all, it’s the love of Lap Steel guitar that put me there in the first place, so I might as well make the best of it! I probably wouldn’t have had the patience to otherwise sit down and play the lap steel that much anyway, so it really helped me play better and learn more.

Anyway, at least no one was there telling me what to do, or what to play, so it became a little lesson in making sure I got the most out of a rather depressing situation! You, as a player, will find yourself confronted with this kind of thing many times, and there is really nothing you can do about it except ride it out, and take the best you can, musically and otherwise from the situation! See you next time!



Posted: 1/14/2009 9:15:44 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Woodstock Continued...

Those days in Woodstock for me, from ’70 to ’71, were actually quite rough, especially being so young. I mean, I didn’t even drive yet (real city kid), so, I always depended on hitchhiking and friends to take me everywhere, which got old fast. Still, the recognition was really starting to take hold, and it seemed as if every good thing I did led to yet another. One good show, next day a phone call…….it was amazing how this all started to fit together.

I can remember in my earliest days of Woodstock, I was still going to school at the Philadelphia College of Art, and me and my band, who were living with me at the time, would take weekend trips up to Woodstock, to investigate the scene, and to hopefully be heard.

We heard about this club called the Sled Hill Café, which was kind of a “dive”, but a lot of great groups would play there, and folks like Paul Butterfield, who I really wanted to impress, would sit and drink at the bar. We came in and sure enough, there was a band called “Bang” playing, featuring the great Buzzy Feiten on guitar, who had been playing with Butterfield at the tender age of 18. When they took a break between sets, I went up to him, and boldly asked if my band, Steel, could actually sit in and play their instruments, doing a couple of songs. Buzzy said “sure..just be careful!” So, we launched into 3 of our best numbers, got a great hand, and then that seemed to be it. I did notice Butterfield say to his barstool neighbor, “hey, did get a listen to this kid?”, which was worth it all to me right there!

Needless to say, all three of us left feeling a little dejected, because it seemed that the club owner paid it no mind, and we’d never hear from him again. So, a few weeks passed, and our depressions soon turned back to optimism again, so we figured we’d give the old Sled Hill another shot this time, armed with a demo tape. As soon as we walked in the door, there was the owner, and he started screaming “oh my god! Steel! I’ve been trying to figure out how to get a hold of you ever since that last time you played here! Everyone loved you! Just shows…… gotta keep trying…………

Arlen Roth


Posted: 1/12/2009 3:57:09 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Woodstock At Its Peak!

Back in my early days as a professional player in Woodstock, NY, I learned very quickly about being self-reliant in many ways. One of the great problems for me, was being so young, and being so taken advantage of. Of course, it all somehow didn’t seem to matter then, as one so young feels so invincible, faced against the wildness of this new and heretofore, untested life! Woodstock, NY at this time was a hotbed of great, creative musical activity. From The Band and Bob Dylan, to Eric Andersen and John Sebastian, these were the kinds of folks you could sit in with at their homes or onstage at a place like the Joyous Lake restaurant.
It was not uncommon to be playing “Silent Night” onstage, Christmas eve, with the entire town in attendance and with the stage inhabited by folks like Paul Butterfield, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, John Sebastian, Happy and Artie Traum, producer John Simon, bassist Harvey Brooks and myself, totally intoxicated by all the great feelings that were abounding. It was a kind of nurturing feeling that went on, and when you’re the “hot new kid” they’re all talking about, it’s really quite encouraging to say the least!
Needless to say, the phone would start to ring for sure, and tour offers and recording dates would start to flow in. Most of the time, the only pay would be literally the bus fare to make it to the session, but regardless, I felt these were important “building blocks” on the way to recognition and a real musical career. Who was I to judge? After all, I just figured this was the way one “paid their dues”, and how they showed others, much older, that I was willing to work hard, and to do my best. And do my best I did! Imagine being only 17 or 18 years of age, and all these 30 and 40 year-old musicians who actually made records were showing me respect, and needed me to change their sound and approach. I wasn’t just “fitting in,” I was making a difference!
This was such a magical time, it’s barely possible to describe, but it set into motion something that never really left me. I mean, even to this day, I get a certain musical “thing” that comes over me when I am in Woodstock. It was really evident in this latest album I recorded with Levon Helm, the elder statesman of The Band, and a longtime resident of this quaint little upstate NY town. The instant camaraderie and feeling that I had when I walked through the doors of his barn was unmistakable, and it showed the resonance of both of our musical and personal tenures in this fabled place. There is, unquestionably, “something in the air” there, and it’s really good for the musical soul!
More on Woodstock next installment … till then, stay tuned!



Posted: 1/7/2009 9:19:08 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Making your way into the music business

Arlen Roth Aged 19Last time, I started talking about what it was like to really start my career up in Woodstock, NY, and to believe in myself at such a young age. This is what I hope to instill in you, especially all of you aspiring players out there … you must really push yourself to be heard, and it’s perhaps more important these days than ever. With the advent of all this technology, such as home recording, private record labels and the Internet, I feel that more than ever, the actual “human contact” of live interaction between players and each other, as well as the players and the audience are becoming increasingly critical.

It’s too easy these days to get all wrapped up in the private world of computers and home recording and other clandestine activities, and to shut out the real world of “playing out.” It’s also so important to continually help to support live music, so that musicians are always encouraged to play out, even if the money is not so good.
Money should be absolutely the most distant consideration when one makes his or her way into the music business.

I know that my biggest shock was the first time I ever actually got PAID for a performance! I was only 11 years old, and was playing at a hospital for young patients. At the end of it all, I received $10, and was the most shocked person in the place! “What? You mean I actually get paid for playing music?!” Didn’t seem to make sense, since the only reason I played the guitar was because something in my soul made it “all consuming” to me … something that I “had” to do!

That is why I have never left that path I set out upon when I was 10 years old … to simply play for the love of it, and to keep on improving every day. I can remember sitting on the bus, coming home from school, waiting to once again be reunited with my guitar … and every day, when I’d do this, I would dream of licks in my head, and be so anxious to get home and to try them out! I actually, at this time, had made a pact with myself that every time I got home, or picked up my guitar in general, I would have to come up with something new!
That is a pact I have kept with myself ever since those first formative days, and still, to this day, every time I pick up a guitar, I am immediately composing, creating and most of all, making sure to challenge myself! I want you to do the same! Till next time …



Posted: 1/6/2009 9:52:18 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Hello everyone!

Hello everyone, and I first want to thank all of you for the wonderful and positive reactions I’ve been getting for my Gibson lessons! It seemed like a good and natural next step to start writing a blog that you could all keep track of, and where I could further get my ideas and thoughts across to you.

I have always, in addition to being a professional guitarist, been a great lover of writing. I have actually published 12 books to date, and I had a monthly column, “Hot Guitar” in Guitar Player Magazine for 10 years straight. These columns have also been turned into a book, Hot Guitar.
In this first entry, I figured we’d just get settled in and comfortable with each other, before I start discussing the innumerable topics I’d love to talk about. My years as a sideman, recording artist, teacher, father, author, songwriter, entrepreneur, touring artist, etc. will all come into play as I cover many topics. The range will be quite broad, from the art of guitar tone, all the way to the philosophy behind why one may write a certain song, I will really try to cover all the bases.
Why is it that we love the guitar so much? What are the particular sensual aspects of this rare creature that makes it the most popular instrument of all time? I know, that from the first moments I held her in my arms, the guitar was meant for me, and with my dad encouraging me, saying that he could literally “picture me with the guitar” even before I was playing it, it was certainly all the incentive I needed to get started. A few basic classical lessons aside, I was, and continue to be, completely self-taught. This is a road I have been on for a long time which has actually served to become further cemented in its foundation of self-reliance. I feel that this has only served to make me a better player as well as a teacher, because it’s the dissection and understanding of this self-taught journey that has really helped me help others to teach themselves.
After all, in the end, no matter how much help we’ve had along the way, we still are really teaching ourselves. This is what pushed me to jump up onstage with some of my favorite artists in Woodstock, NY when I was only 17 with a total belief in my own abilities. If you don’t take that first step, you may never be heard, and that’s so important to developing more self-confidence. I know you probably feel like you’ve heard this stuff before, but believe me, you’re getting it from the SOURCE here!
Anyway, I feel I’ve started this all off on the right foot, and my future entries will continue to build on this information. I want to make you all the best and most accomplished players you can ever be, and there’s great solace in the understanding that this is a process that literally never ends! See you next time…

Posted: 1/2/2009 10:38:33 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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