5 Things I’m Thinking About When I’m Playing Guitar For American Idiot

5 Things I’m thinking about when I’m playing guitar for American Idiot: 1) What’s Next 2) How Heavy 3) Guitar-Switching 4) How Well Do I Know This Song 5) the Tuning Thing

American Idiot has hosted near to completely sold-out crowds at every show these past two and a half weeks and the remainder of the run through March is indeed sold out. I am so proud of this one. The production and performances have been getting so many compliments it’s humbling and energizing. I continue to be so grateful for D.Mike’s introduction of me to the musical theatre world five years ago, Scott Miller’s belief in me, Sue Goldford’s cooperation and concern for the music, the rest of the New Line band for “rocking the shit out of this music” and the support of the cast and crew who slay every night giving 100%.

It’s no secret that I play when I work and when I’m working hard I’m playing for fun and I’d do it for free if I could. With “The Making Of American Idiot” coming up on Tuesday, I’ll offer here a behind-the-music-stand look at what I’m working on during playtime:

1. What’s next?

This is honestly what I’m thinking about second-most-often throughout the show and it’s one that is constantly being answered and asked again and again:  ‘Oh god what’s next – does D.Mike start this next one? Do I need to switch guitars? Do I need to settle down and breathe? Are we all in at once? Is there a long intro? Stage cue? Do I need to watch Sue for a tempo indication? How loud should the intro be? Should I lay low or come out pulling the trigger? Do I have time for a slug of water?

“If you’re thinking about the chord you’re playing you’re already behind.” – Jazz teacher at Webster U.

2. How heavy?

This is probably one of my biggest considerations during the show and something my volume knob and I think about at each twist and turn. It’s something I listen to the action onstage to answer: ‘Who’s singing? Is this an ensemble piece that’s loud on it’s own?’ What are the other instruments doing?’ It’s some of the most valuable feedback I get from Scott after the show and nothing feels better than when he affirms the mix of a) GTR 1 vs GTR 2 b) Band vs Cast c) Acoustic vs Electric by saying “Good balance tonight”.

I’m always asking myself ‘Where is the climax of this song?’ Sometimes it’s subtle like in “Whatsername” where the whole song kind of keeps building.Other times it’s obvious like in “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”. Other times, like in “Holiday”, it seems like it’s a constant back and forth of loud and soft. Temptations to pull the trigger are mitigated in some songs (‘Wake Me Up…’) by stage action that isn’t as pumped up as I am. ‘Stand down,’ I remind myself.

ADfm Marhsall Boost

There are those moments where I ponder a self-serving jump. (I can’t help it – I’m all in.) Certain downbeats of “21 Guns” are more properly experienced when landing from mid-air and that’s a fact. But a jump has to be timed just right to land at the right time and it really does matter how and when. There are obvious times like in the opening number where I can really dig into a good one from behind the wall of actors or other times where the music hangs on in the dark by an easily timed cue that allows me to prep it just right.

Certain downbeats of “21 Guns” are more properly experienced when landing from mid-air and that’s a fact.

I’m always thinking ahead a song or two: ‘What kind of stamina is required for these next few? How energized is this group of songs? Is there a water break in-between parts or songs? Or is this gonna be more of a machine gun situation? “St. Jimmy” is definitely a machine gun situation. But after that I need to get my act together for some mellow acoustic stuff and I’ll need to breathe deeply and un-spaz. before I attempt that.’

3. Guitar-Switching

I am playing my Fender Squire through a super high-gain overdrive straight from my Marshall combo for most of the show. The other times I’m playing my Takamine acoustic, fitted with a Fishman piezo under the saddle which is also going into the Marshall combo via analog mixer. There’s lots of switching back and forth between guitars. The music for both guitars in this show is written that way, and not uncommon in general. I’m constantly asking myself: ‘What’s my switch-window for this upcoming section?’ I’ve found that I can do it in about three and a half measures at a medium tempo if my straps are laid out nicely on the stand and there’s no tangle.


It goes like this: Crouch down. Put the guitar on the guitar stand. Lay the strap nice. Push off the overdrive channel (still don’t have a f*ing footswitch). Turn up the the mixer channel. Grab the acoustic. Stand up. Switch picks. Play correctly. Reverse process for next switch. ‘How much time do I have?’

There are a few tunes where us charismatic guitarists tag-team the score using teamwork. For example, in “21 Guns”, there’s no time built into the score (via vamps or long chords holding out) for me to put my acoustic down from strumming the 2nd verse and land the downbeat of those big power chords in the chorus (“One! Twenty one guns!…”) So D.Mike takes over playing the last line of the verse for me, transitioning from what he’s doing on lead guitar to take my chords while I put my guitar down. Likewise, on “Wake Me Up…” I stand in on acoustic for D.Mike while the guitar 1 part switches from acoustic arpeggios to electric rocking out power chords.

Charismatic guitarists

4. How Well Do I Know This Song?

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the next song and it sobers me up as I realize I need to actually concentrate on playing the right things. Honestly, at this point in the show, there are no tricky parts anymore but there definitely are places to concentrate on and be organized for.

Even now I’m tweaking little things. In fact, mid-song just the other night I grabbed my pencil franticly to circle a section I wasn’t happy with. I know what’s easy and what’s not. I know what songs to play on (“American Idiot”, “21 Guns”) and where to work (“Lobotomy”, “When It’s Time”). And with one or two exceptions, I’ve prepared all 22 songs of the score to be played from memory or cheat sheets so I know them really well.

My stuff no acoustic
Fitting the amps up with mics for our promo video. (L-R) Music stand, violin amp, guitar mixer, guitar amp, Squire.

The music stand is there but I have my book modified with paper clips grouping multiple songs together with a cheatsheet cover page on each grouping. I don’t flip pages I flip groupings. Sometimes, depending on the complexity of the music, a single page of notes covers three songs. If the song is too complicated it goes on two pages that lay side by side. The first 9 songs and forty pages are condensed into five single pages. Remember Scott yelling “YOU’RE PLAYING IN THE WRONG KEY!” at me during hell-week as I fumbled through my pages pre-paper clip method? I’ll never forget that. I went home after that rehearsal and re-organized my whole score.

For the occasional ballad or super-song “Last Night On Earth”, “Homecoming” I just read the music but for the most part I am making quick glances at it here and there. For this music I don’t want to be wearing my glasses which I need for music reading (I’ve never worn a contact lens) and have enjoyed affording myself additional mobility.

An early version of a cheat sheet for “Last Of The American Girls”


So, with Scott’s reluctant trust and blessing, I’ve written on blank paper in super big font (Sharpie markers) my parts for each song. It’s mostly lines of chords that I know already. Interspersed throughout are little notes to self like “the Db thing” or “jump! (pogo)” (for the party/club scene in “Last of The American Girls”). My notes have gone through several incarnations and at this point in the run they are totally fool proof – Idiot proof.

5. F# = G, B = C, Eb = 7th fret, ACOUSTIC = NORMAL

I’ve mastered playing up a half-step by now but it was rough for a while during rehearsals. The Squire is tuned to Eb to save guitar space in our close quarters onstage and I switch back and forth from it and my acoustic, which is tuned normally. It requires me to go back and forth in my head which instrument I’m playing and what the fretboard layout is. It’s similar to reading in Spanish for one song then Italian for the next. I can usually get by without a second thought at this point but I do find myself double checking.

My notes are written unchanged from the book so that I am using the same notation as the rest of the band in case we need to talk about chords. If there’s talk about measure numbers I have to dig through to find it.

Most of the time I’m not looking at my fretboard and so the tuning thing is irrelevant i.e. the next chord goes up two frets or down a fifth or the progression makes a certain shape along the fretboard and I can feel it, like most guitarists can. But there are plenty of times where I do a quick double check before strumming. After all, it is pretty weird to play F# on a fret that looks like G.

Hell Yes, Thank You & Cheers

I’m having the time of my life. Cheers,


I love these people
I love these people


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Crossing Paths Pt. 2



Double Duty


Halfway through my Sunday afternoon talk with Broadway guitarist Alec Berlin, I returned to an aside that he mentioned while describing particulars of a certain number: the fact that he played both Guitar 1 and Guitar 2 books during the run. He said it wasn’t that common. 

AB: I did the Guitar 1 chair when I went to Berkeley [the original production] and I came back here [when the show went to Broadway in New York] and they gave the Guitar 1 chair to another guy [Michael Aarons] and I ended up doing Guitar 2 chair then the other guy left the show at some point so they just moved me back to Guitar 1. 

Playing The Song “American Idiot” Correctly

The opening number and title track of the album/show is a quirky one because it includes a chord [as does the intro to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit] played by letting go of the fretboard with the fretting hand. Think of it as a sort-of stylistic guitar slang. The sound is very unique-to-Billy Rock on Idiot Stageguitar and gives a brief dissonant and unravelled effect. The open strings of a guitar are tuned E, A, D, G, B, E and a chord made of up those notes could be notated in a variety of ways depending on the range of strings actually hit. All of them would make something like A9(add4)/E. Sometimes it’s simply notated with x’s or indicated as open strings. In this case, the notation refers to something that seems like more of a substitute for what’s happening than an actual representation of the notes being played. We talked about this chord during our conversation of Eb tuning:

Alec Berlin: I mean there’s also that whole… [plays “American Idiot”] – You know that chord that they play all the time?

Aaron Doerr Fellow Musician: Ya the… the open strings. And it’s listed as just half-step up power chord. But it’s the open strings right?

AB: It’s totally that, it’s not a half-step up power chord.

ADfm: Ya…so who – like when you notice things like that – first of all, was it written in your score that way?

Ya, it was.

Okay second of all, did Billie ever see that?

Ha – It was so weird like, he didn’t really look at the music like that – 

IMG_3531ADfm: He never looked at it?

AB: He didn’t look – he wouldn’t get – so… Someone else wrote the orchestration – Tom Kit did the orchestration… Billie like, they all came to many different performances you know. They were there for weeks – Billie was in the show at a certain point – So essentially when things started getting close there was one day when we got to rehearsal – this is when we were at Berkeley – suddenly Billie jumps onstage and was like, ‘Hey, can we talk about something real quick?’ and he grabbed a guitar and like, we just went song by song through the whole thing and so we got to that part I was like, ‘Hey Billie it’s just this right’ and he was like, ‘Ya’ and he played

Kitt, Armstong and Mayer discuss acoustics
Kitt, Armstong and Mayer discuss acoustics

it for me – AT me even – and he played it just the open strings. So I felt like once I got it directly from him that’s the way I can do it.

We were trying to be as faithful as possible to the way the music was recorded. There were a few small incidences where there were transpositions made to accommodate singers and things like that but by and large it’s a faithful representation of the music. I mean if you listen to that record everything is composed – the guitar solos are very composed you know? 

Novocaine, Ink and Vacuums

Alec Berlin: That’s one thing I tried to play along with: I would – the Guitar 2 chair plays the solo on Novocaine –

Aaron Doerr Fellow Musician: Ya, our theatre took that part out! LOL

AB: What the whole Novacaine scene?

ADfm: The whole solo. I’m so pissed. [Additional solos from the Guitar 1 book have also been removed since this initial cut]


AB: Oh yeah I don’t blame ya. I mean that’s a really cool part – fun to play. And like at a certain point, maybe two or three months into the Broadway, run I was just like, ‘I’m gonna play what I wanna play,’ and I just played a solo there. I did my own thing. I sorta based it on what’s on the record but it was ninety percent my own thing. And the problem is, you know, what you play is not only like- there’s other people who are depending on hearing it a certain way: The choreographer, the stage manager’s gotta make certain lighting calls –

ADfm: Maybe even some of the actors depending on how they rehearsed it –

Totally. Like… you’re not doing anything in a vacuum.



AB promo standingSo I got told- it was very understandable I’m not trying to say it was confrontational at all- they were like ‘You gotta really stick to the ink,’ and you know, that’s the nature of the gig. You know you’re in a tricky place where if the music says ‘play it a half step up- that one chord- you know that’s what your job is: to play what the music says. But on the other hand, there’s the composer right there LOL trying to get you to play… like, he’s answering questions on how to properly all these tunes.

21 Guns

ADfm: And there’s a slash chord in “21 Guns”… It’s like… the chord that hits on “twenty one guns…”

AB: 21 Guns that’s [plays song over the phone] that’s that one right?


Um I mean I think the rationale behind calling it A5/E is it’s a very piano-oriented way to write that voicing. Like, if the first chord is F and then the next chord the bass drops down a half-step, that’s not gonna sound pretty you know? You have [playing guitar] E over F… I mean if the F power chord is F over C and then it’s… E & C  – that’s what it is [plays transition]. I think that’s all that’s going on there… I just don’t think they use a chord like A5/E.


ADfm: I don’t either I think they just – it’s a power chord and then they let go of the bass string when they play the power chord

AB: Totally.

IMG_0626We wrap up our forty-two minute chat and he made sure I knew he would answer any more questions I had anytime. [Really cool.] It feels good to get confirmation of my intuition on some of this – from a pretty good source in this case – and good to nerd-out on guitar music for a while with a pro. 

My goal with this show – one that I’ve been looking forward to performing for quite a while – is to play to the best of my ability a faithful representation of the recording, work with the cast and crew to propel the action and story on stage, and supply a Green Day punk-rock energy to the rest of the band, actors and house, because Green Day.


AMERICAN IDIOT runs March 3-26, 2016, Thursday through Saturday evenings, all performances at 8:00 p.m., at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. March 3 is a preview. Click here for directions.

Tickets will are on sale through Metrotix outlets, including the Fox Theatre box office. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. To charge tickets by phone, call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 or visit the Fox Theatre box office or the Metrotix website.


HIGH SCHOOL DISCOUNT: Any high school student with a valid school ID can get a $10 ticket for any performance all season long, with the code word for each show, which will posted only on New Line’s Facebook page. This offer is available only at the door.

EDUCATORS DISCOUNT: New Line offers all currently employed educators half price tickets on any Thursday night, with work ID or other proof of employment. Not valid in connection with other discounts or offers, available only at the door, and subject to availability.

MILITARY DISCOUNT: New Line offers all active duty military personnel half price tickets on any Thursday night, with ID or other proof of active duty status. Not valid in connection with other discounts or offers, available only at the door, and subject to availability.

This show contains adult language and content. All programs subject to change. New Line Theatre receives funding from theRegional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council.




Crossing Paths With Alec Berlin Pt. I

Guitar-Nerdiness rating: 8/10

Green Day Gawking rating: 7/10

New York pro guitarist Alec Berlin might be best known for his work playing the Guitar 1 chair at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California for Green Day’s American Idiot, the musical, which moved on to Broadway in 2010 and took Alec and the rest of the cast with it where he switched back and forth covering both guitar 1 & 2 during the run [we’ll break that down next time]. The U.S. tour in 2012, which came to the Peabody in March of that year, had a mostly new cast and crew which Alec was not a part of.  

Alec 2

Starting Over

Maybe it was all the Beatles, Elvis Costello or Joni Mitchell he grew up on that encouraged the song lyrics in his head to continue pushing out Jazz compositions bit by bit. Having earned a master’s degree in jazz improvisation from the New England Conservatory in Boston and gotten a jazz album out of the way (Crossing Paths, 2000) he threw the cards in the air and got himself a website job. 

There was a big difference between the music that I felt like I should be playing and studying and the music I wanted to listen to. – Alec Berlin

He started listening to more lyrically-driven music and writing his own more narrative songs for the first time since high school. It was a big-time starting over. It was time to get back to the Music. Fast forward to when his most recent album (Innocent Explanations, 2012) was mixed by Chris Dugan at Green Day’s Jingletown Studios in California.


Green With Gear

I’ll admit I am easily star-struck. Berlin met Green Day and their crew in California and then the whole Broadway New York thing. I knew that. He played guitar with Billie Joe Armstrong and talked shop with Mike Dirnt and the gang. I knew that. Selling out St. James Theatre, Tony Award for Best Cast Recording – things I already knew about him. But when he mentioned the hookup Green Day had with Gibson guitars and Marshall amps I went a little Jimmy Fallon on him.

Alec: …and like the guitar techs set us up with guitars and the amp techs, you know, we used Green Day’s amps and

ADfm: Whaaat!!? Really?

Alec: Ya totally. Totally!

ADfm: Oh my god that’s awesome!

They lent us guitars for the run too.

No shit?  Any that stood out to you that you were like ‘Oh my god I get to play “Blue” – Billie’s “Blue”…?

No, no but there were some Les Paul Juniors that they lent us, to the production: vintage Les Paul Jrs, which is what Billie played on stage, and that was AMAZING – Every day going to work and playing those guitars… so I played mostly 335’s and I had an SG backup. I chose the 335 after having seen Green Day in concert [21st Century Breakdown tour ’09-’10]. I felt like… Les Pauls are heavy as you know and I thought I could probably get away with using a 335. And an SG is also a comparable guitar – it’s a little bit lighter… I tuned down half a step for one tune and that’s what I used the SG for.

BJA and his guitar collection, photo credit GreenDay.com



Notes To Self

1) Memorize It

He recounted some set design considerations like the installation of light railing around the orchestra to keep the large moving props (bed, couch, gurney) from bumping the band or their equipment. There were music stands attached to the railing but…

Alec: So the music stands were there but pretty much everyone who played that show memorized it cause you just – there’s just no time to be turning pages. Sometimes people made cheat sheets but… it was just too much going on and it happened too fast… It wasn’t that much music. We sorta approached it –

the whole band was like ‘It’s as if we’re playing a rock gig’ you know?

Kitt has rearranged the Green Day songs for the American Idiot musical
American Idiot String Section, arranged by Tom Kitt, photo credit GreenDay.com

2) Idiot-Proof Everything

I asked for advice on my situation: potentially transposing everything up one half step so I can use my Eb guitar on the whole book saving myself from having three guitars up there. He reminded me that

  1. Some of the songs use open strings (like that one chord in Holiday – more on that next time),
  2. It’s weird to hear a different pitch from a fret you’ve gotten used to hearing a certain way over the years 
  3. You’ll already be nervous with adrenaline and the crowds and the music’s energy and the lighting and choreography…

This general summary of those points, in pun-form, is exactly what I needed to hear:

“When I do these things, no pun intended, I try to make them idiot-proof.” Alec Berlin

Punk’s Silly Attitude Problem


There’s a myth out there in guitar playing where, and I don’t know or care where it came from, if you’re playing punk rock or metal that you should be playing all downstokes with you’re picking hand. Something about making it sound heavier or feel more frenzied. The pick hits the bass strings first as it goes down which produces a bigger overdrive crunch and the bigger and louder the better. Mr. Berlin thinks that theory has an attitude problem.

Billie Punk Quote
Your own way might be upstrokes


Alec: I got a lot before the gig – a lot of people were like ‘Dude you’re gonna get tendonitis from all the downstrokes and everything.’ And I just… I don’t think they play that way.

I think, like I was saying, their music… he’s [Billie Joe Armstrong] a really, really great guitar player but he’s not a super technical guitar player. Like if you’re gonna play all downstrokes on some of those really fast tunes you’d really really need to focus and shed that and I don’t think he does that. I think he plays just what comes naturally and sometimes that includes upstrokes… I definitely heard the bass player say that – I heard Mike Dirnt say ‘No it’s not all downstrokes, but when it’s comfortable”… like St. Jimmy – you know the tune St. Jimmy?

ADfm: Ya, oh ya

St Jimmy Punk

Alec: It’s like [plays St. Jimmy over the phone] If you were to do that all downstrokes you’d kill yourself!

ADfm: Ya not at 150 [BPM]…

Alec: And they’re not playing it all downstrokes… like so maybe you COULD do it, technically, but you’d really have to devote a certain amount of time to developing that skill.

And I think that just sorta flies in the face of the whole punk aesthetic.

They’re playing in-your-face, meat-and-potatoes guitar and sometimes that means there’s upstrokes.

Early Green Day, photo credit Gabe Meline

ADfm: Ya, it feels like to me with basically all rock bands that their first priority is putting some kind of energy out there. And so you need stage presence and you need energy and then after that it’s, you know, it just depends on what your guitar or instrument training is. And then there will be upstrokes or not depending on how you grew up playing.

Alec: Ya, I mean I totally agree with you and I would go further and say, once I got closer to it this whole notion that ‘it’s all down strokes because it’s punk rock’ just strikes me as silly like… I don’t have a lot of punk rock experience but I imagine the punk rock approach to playing the guitar is not that you need to avoid upstrokes but you just –  you have a certain limited capability and you make it happen however it needs to happen…. You don’t think ‘It’s gotta be all downstrokes’. That question would never – that’s a very outsider and very guitar-nerdy question: ‘Is it all upstrokes or downstrokes?’ You know? It’s just whatever you gotta do to play the song… and that’s what I feel like the bass player Mike Dirnt was like ‘No dude just play the song. You’d kill yourself if you try to do all downstrokes.’

ADfm: Ya. Save some of that energy and make some rock and roll faces or something. Or jump around a little more LOL

Alec: LOL Ya ya…I’ll say this:

They play really hard… They’re very aggressive players.

Billy Rock on Idiot Stage
Green Day & Cast photo credit: GreenDay.com

ADfm: Yes

Alec: So I think and that’s just the way they play: it’s not about finesse of the touch….

Standing Rock Pose

In every musical I’ve played I’ve sat in a chair during the performance. All the orchestra members are always seated dutifully marking their page turns and adjusting their music stand lighting. In watching Broadway Idiot though I had noticed that the orchestra members were actually never seated. I had read review after review praising the production’s energy. I reminded him of those accolades and asked if they were standing during the show.

ADfm: Were you standing during the show?

Alec: Yes… [describes the railing around the orchestra bit & music stand situation]

ADfm: You were rocking out! LOL You can’t do that when you’re sitting down.

Alec: Ya man it was so much fun – Ya totally – You can’t play that music sitting down. I mean on top of that the choreography: I don’t know what you guys are doing for choreography but the choreography for our production was really aggressive and it reflected the music. And I’ve always enjoyed that about that music.

And you know, you don’t just sit there and stare at your fingers…

It’s just… it doesn’t work for me and it’s not gratifying and I don’t think it serves the music if you’re just glued to the stage. That said there were those times where we’re doing the show in the middle of winter and you’ve got a cold or something like that. It was not always the most enjoyable experience.

I felt like to serve the music you gotta sorta inhabit it and let it inhabit you a little bit.

AB promo standing


I spoke with Alec Berlin from his home in New York last week. You can listen to his music on Spotify. The second half of my interview highlights will publish here in the coming weeks. If you like behind-the-scenes type stuff, look up “Broadway Idiot” the documentary about the making of American Idiot the musical. Join me as I rock the guitar 2 chair for New Line Theatre’s production of Green Day’s “American Idiot” in March. The show basically runs Thurs, Fri & Sat nights in March. 

Crank It Up, Jimmy!

“St. Jimmy” Song Tempo = 148 BPM, Punk pattern

St Jimmy Punk.jpg

It’s the fastest and punkiest song in the show and even though Billie Joe made his broadway debut for a surprise show as this character it’s not really one of my favorites (“My name’s St. Jimmy and you better not wear it out” – really?), so I’ve let it go unrehearsed for a while until yesterday when, after a play-through with a nice guitar-less backing track I asked myself “how fast can I do this?” The Broadway version is a bit faster than the Green Day album version. It’s one of those songs that gets played faster live in concert, and I wonder if that had anything to do with setting the higher tempo in this book.

Just for fun I tried to see how fast I could do it (sitting down in a controlled environment): playing the main rhythm figure with my drum machine a couple times first at song tempo (148) and then going up by tens and playing through each until I reached 180 and had to give up. 180 BPM is my limit. Even just with clicks I couldn’t get it.

Maybe after a couple pots of coffee I’ll have enough spaziness to get to 180 but let’s just agree to keep it where it is at a comfy vivacissimo.


Delicate Lobotomy


Just a hint of overdrive in Eb tuning brings out the right amount of grit for this delicate punk anthem. A vocals-only backing track was a special find. It helps to watch my picking hand for a lot of this.

ADfm American Idiot (Before The Lobotomy)
Punk Anthem!

The last chord, the Db at the fifth fret, is without it’s fifth because the open shape just slides up. I didn’t catch that a couple weeks ago and tried playing a barre chord there and it was awkward. I’m glad Billie Joe and I are on the same page with that movable C-shape. I love the descending bass as it goes through and how the Eb on top of most of these adds a crisp sparkle that really sings.








The Difference de Uno Semitone



For the entire score of American Idiot I’m transposing up by one half-step on the fly as a way to problem-solve a tuning requirement in the second act. Most transposing is done in writing and I’ve thought about it getting a complete re-write but decided against it. (Some instruments like flutes, clarinets and saxophones are known as transposing instruments because of their pitch range across their family’s variants.) Instead I will become like a language translator. Continue reading “The Difference de Uno Semitone”

Hi Green Day, nice to see you again.

Dear Billie Joe Armstrong & Green Day,

Five years ago, I pulled up a seat next to Scott [Miller, New Line Theatre] after our last rehearsal for my first musical gig as a professional guitarist. We were dining across the street at Applebee’s or something after a long night of detailed run-throughs. That weekend was opening weekend. Preview night was the next day.

The conversation was good and so was the downtime with my new co-workers. My experience with theatre was limited but I liked talking about improv and we did. I knew Scott was a rocker so I asked him if he’d ever consider doing American Idiot, “you know, the one by Green Day.” It was on his list already (of course). I promised myself I’d play that show and five years later, (seventeen years after it first opened in California and went on to Broadway, and four years after the national tour in St. Louis at the Peabody Opera House) It’s our turn! Us locals finally get to take it on in when it comes to New Line Theatre for four weeks in March. It’s here,  I’m doing it, it’s happening.

ADfm American Idiot
My copy of the score for Guitar 2

I’m sure you love that my students are learning your stuff still. Them and their guitars look just like I did back in the day, except they have someone to talk about chord building and minor scale vocab with. I know you’re proud of American Idiot. It’s a freakin’ beast of an album that’s here to stay. After watching your making-of documentary I’d say it’ll leave a good dent in the theatre world too. Congrats on the Tony for best cast album. It’s so cool how influenced you became by this whole thing. Maybe, given your vocal lessons and performances singing showtunes as a kid, you secretly hoped that someday  you’d be performing your songs at the Tony awards.

Anyway, here’s that pic from Wednesday. Look at us: I’m wearing a cowl-neck sweater with elbow patches and you’re spiral-bound and published LOL! Me & Green Day

I love how far we’ve come. In [the above mentioned] Broadway Idiot you and your wife were the best dressed ones (with Mike [Dirnt, bassist] a close second). Remember that pic of you – I don’t remember which magazine I saw it in now (maybe Circus or Parade? Guitar World?) –  of you getting pulled back from a wall or fence that you’re trying to climb? That was one of the first images I had of you guys as I was reading about you in magazines when Dookie came out and wanting to be a part of whatever this fun counter-culture was (I had nothing to rebel against and still don’t.) Even though punk rock seemed kind of dangerous to me in seventh grade, my friends and their older brothers showed me what it looked like in real life (suburbia) and I loved it. Now, twenty years later, I have the maturity to respect it and love it even harder.


American Idiot Fence Jumper (crop)
Found this online somewhere  but it is the same photo as the one I saw as a kid!

So for this show, I’d like to primarily use my (unnamed) stickered-up Squire. That and my Marshall combo is about as close to your live rig as I can get except for the fact that I just installed Fishman pickups in my acoustic. I’m pretty excited about adding a tremolo pedal to my collection for the intro of Blvd… They say you used an M Audio Black Box multi for that? Anyway, I can’t wait to dig into this stuff. I can’t wait to setup in New Line Theatre’s brand new (shared) space at the Marcelle downtown. I can’t wait to rock it so hard.

90's guitars
Billie’s “Blue” Fender Strat is a punk rock masterpiece. My stickered-up Squire almost got there.

I probably won’t smash my guitar: A) There’s too much talent on stage to steal the show like that; B) I can’t afford to replace it; C) I wouldn’t be able to repair it either; D) I’d be scared that I couldn’t actually break it and it would just dent the stage floor and hurt my wrist and; E) It’s got to live long enough to be named!

One little whiney bit here: The other day when I was practicing the arpeggios to “Before The Lobotomy…” I realized it’s in Eb tuning. You punk. Now I have to use three guitars. I hate you. That’s all the guitars I have! I need groupies now.

ADfm American Idiot (Before The Lobotomy)
Tuning down a half-step is worth it for a punk anthem.

Ok I gotta go walk the dog and drive to KWMU where I’m gonna email you for real and talk you in to coming out for this production and playing guitar for a song or two (depending on how generous I feel). Let’s talk shop more next time when after I’ve really spent some time on this. Honestly, I know this stuff pretty well already. I just did a pretty awesome rendition of a couple of your songs at my monthly open mic night last Saturday. My students and I played “Blvd…” and “21 Guns”. Of course all my lessons from now till March will be American Idiot songs, and with such a heavy album I’ll have plenty to reflect on next week. Till then sir…



“I Don’t Read Standard Notation. Should I Be Taken Seriously As A Musician?”

My polarizing question blew up my Linkedin group over the holidays last month – the group is a great network that I take seriously – and was overwhelmed by the numerous and lengthy responses.  The question was meant to be provocative and thought-provoking.  The comments have given me lots to think about – mostly as an instructor and professional guitar teacher.  I’ve left it out of my teaching for the past ten years because it never seemed relevant.  But it is in fact a universal language and a valuable tool, even if used infrequently.  I had I do want my students to know Continue reading ““I Don’t Read Standard Notation. Should I Be Taken Seriously As A Musician?””

10 Facts Of Life About Music Practice

Whether you are practicing Music by yourself, with a mentor, or group, an honest assement of your ability in each of the following catagories is absolutely crucial to productive learning. Always remember the difference between Practice and Play.  Aim for 50-50 of both and for SOMETHING daily.  My favorite quote: “If it sounds good you’re not practicing.”  I wrote about that.  But remember to play just as much!  My favorite concept: nobody learns a language successfully without using it regularly and in context.  (see Victor Wooten interview)  My main experience is with guitars.  These 10 concepts apply to any instrument.

1] Interpritation – What the #$*^ is this telling me?

There’s a real skill in deciphering sheet music, tabs or lead sheets.  They all have their own way of doing things.  Most online TABS or chord charts require AT LEAST a good re-formatting and at most a general corrections overhaul. Continue reading “10 Facts Of Life About Music Practice”

There Is No Right Or Wrong Way To Do Music.

There is no right or wrong way to do Music.  In my private studies with individuals of all levels of expertise I try only to show that person what I do and what I think about when I do it.  If they like it and relate to it then they may in fact learn something.  Often I see a way of playing or thinking that is foreign to me.  I ask myself if this way gets in between what they are trying to do or what might be allowed in the future if their way is continued and developed into muscle memory or habit.   Continue reading “There Is No Right Or Wrong Way To Do Music.”