Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Alex Skolnick's Jazz Guitar: Breaking the Traditional Barriers

For a rock and metal guitar player like myself approaching jazz guitar can be a daunting task. The chords, scales and rhythms can seem overwhelming and can be so intimidating that many guitarists simply give up before getting a handle on this music. So when The Rock House Method asked me to review this new DVD set I was pretty excited.

Alex Skolnick is a great metal and rock guitarist best known for his playing in Testament. Alex has branched out musically though to study jazz guitar and head his own jazz trio " The Alex Skolnick Trio". He has even arranged metal classics for Jazz guitar. One example included on this DVD is the Scorpions tune "Still Loving You" which features a lesson as well as a live performance.

You can read more about the details of the DVD on the rock house site but you get a 3 DVD set which includes a printable PDF tab e-book with all the musical examples ( over 50 pages). You also get some great online extras that Rock House is known for inlcuding downloadable backing tracks, extra lessons and free lifetime membership to their members only website. For those of you on the go the set includes ipod ready video.

What I loved about this video was the quality and clarity of the instruction. Alex is really a great teacher. He clearly explains each concept and presents the material in a logical order that allows you to steadily build on prior lessons. He begins with some blues progressions and expands into standard jazz progressions like the ii-V-I and traditional jazz changes. He breaks down the basics of triads and modes and show you the fundamentals of using these in a jazz context.  The examples build in complexity and introduce concepts like chromaticism and targeting chord tones and playing over changes. Many examples on the DVD include a trio playing  the examples first with Alex and again with no guitar so you can practice over them.

Then he breaks down a classic Jazz Standard "Autumn Leaves" with a look at both the chord changes and a solo. The arrangement is explained very clearly and Alex demonstrates how and why the chords and solos are arranged. The DVD also touches on other Jazz Rhythms and how Alex arranges.

My only criticism of the DVD was that the tab did not include standard notation. I think especially with the more complex examples it would have helped to learn the phrasing quicker. In fairness though more complex examples are broken down slowly and Alex explains the phrasing well.

I would recommend this DVD to any rock and metal players who want to branch into Jazz guitar and are not quite sure where to start. I think this is suitable for beginner/intermediate to intermediate level guitarists. Alex clearly has some Jazz chops as the live performances attest to. I hope his schedule allows for a Jazz Guitar II that can continue where this leaves off.

On a side note I've been caught up in world cup fever so the regular guitar licks have gotten a bit delayed. Six hours of football daily can definitely eat up the free time. Thanks for being patient.