--- Troy Stetina Interview--- 21/Sep/10
Hi Troy, thanks for joining us - let's get started! You're in a band called Oversoulss, can you tell us a bit about the band and its history?
- Hi Ben... Sure. I hadn't been in a band for a few years, but after I hooked up with Mark Tremonti and started giving him some lead lessons, he inspired me to put a band back together again. That was in 2002. Since then I've gone through about 5 singers, but I think we're on the right track finally. All the pieces of the puzzle seem to have fallen into place at last.
You have also written a number of successful instructional guitar books including the highly successful 'speed mechanics for lead guitar'; do you plan to do any more in the future?
- I've actually got one more "large scope" book that's nearly finished. It's sort of the companion to Speed Mechanics in a sense. But that's it. I don't see myself writing any more books after this. Maybe a quick DVD shoot here or there. No in depth books though.
You are obviously a very established guitar instructor, how long have you been teaching guitar?
- I taught for several years at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, but I don't do teaching any more. Well, through the books and magazine column a bit. My main focus now is the band project and as a studio producer.
What made you decide you wanted to get involved in the instructional side of guitar playing?
- That started as a necessity. I began teaching at a music store on the side just to make a little extra money. Then along came the opportunity to write these books for Hal Leonard and I followed through on that, and found that it was something I could do well. So I continued. But I never started out with a desire to teach. I'm still a musician first and foremost, and only a teacher secondarily.
When learning to play guitar seriously, how much time do you recommend people spend practicing?
- I believe you have to follow your own inspiration. However I would say that sometimes the inspiration doesn't kick in until you are already practicing. So I suggest people try to keep some kind of routine to get to it every day, but stay flexible and always follow what inspires you. The more you play, the better you'll get. I don't really practice these days, but in the past I've spent plenty of days playing 8 or 10 hours, and some days not at all. It's probably best to try to hit at least an hour a day even on the days you're too busy and don't feel like it, and then when the inspiration hits, and you love what you are learning, stay at it as long as you can.
Do you have any tips or recommendations for practice routines?
- My whole philosophy about that is posted here at: http://www.stetina.com/tips.html. In a nutshell, it's about finding the right balance for your goals and your personality, and watching your own level of inspiration and drive as you work on different things. There's no "one size fits all" here. What works for one person may or may not work for someone else. So while the principles for effective practicing are the same across the board, how they get applied to different people can be different.
For guitarist who plans to master the instrument, as opposed to just learning the fundamentals, how important is it to listen to a variety of music genres, and why?
- Well it will certainly give you a wider perspective, which can ultimately enable you to pull more influences. That has an advantage of making your ultimate synthesis of styles more elaborate and perhaps unique. But that's not necessarily better. There's also an inherent disadvantage, which is that the synthesis takes longer to "roll together" into your own style. The opposite view is to go with your particular area of specialization and take that as far as you can. So there isn't any one way that's better than the other. It's a matter of your own specific goals. I went to rock and metal and specialized, but at the same time I had a real desire to understand all styles in order to be able to relate one to another. What is the same from one style to another, and what is different? Having that larger perspective is something that I value greatly. I think I derive some confidence from that knowledge, and that translates into having more faith in the ideas that I do have, which is the ultimate key to developing a uniqueness of personal style. But on the other hand, if you just want to do the music that you want to do... and you know exactly what you want to do... other tangential things are just sidelines. So I say, if you are curious about other styles, dig in and learn them. Even if it seems totally separate from your main style. Nothing is really separate. But do that just because somebody else said it's the thing to do.
How important is it to have decent equipment to practice effectively? Does having a cheap rig limit your progress at all?
- Well, if you hate the tone you are playing with, it's not going to inspire you, therefore it's holding you back. The other thing is that your technique adapts to your sound... how I play changes a bit depending on the sound I'm using. So ideally, you'd want to practice through the right tone. Of course, exactly WHAT is a "good tone" is all personal preference. What might be a great tone for you, might grate on me, or visa verse. But yeah, it's important. The guitar tone sets the feel of the band. I'd also mention though, that tone is a relative thing and it depends on context. The tone that I find sounds best in a live band situation, or a mix, is not necessarily the tone that will sounds best to me when hearing the guitar by itself.
Are there any songs you have come across, that you would particularly recommend someone learn, when starting to develop some advanced techniques that may help them to exercise their new found skills? Anything spring to mind?
- I don't really learn songs.... these day I mostly write and record. After you gain a level of proficiency, there isn't a need to really continue to practice in that way. Also, after one develops a complete sense of relative pitch, one knows for the most part how to play any song simply by listening. So "learning" and "listening" essentially become the same thing. So of course I do listen to lots of current material and I appreciate any songs that are well done. But suggesting anyone learn specific songs isn't something I'd be up on, other than to say the general rule applies: 1) Learn what inspires you, and 2) Learn songs that are at or slightly above your current level of technique. The other thing I'd say to "advanced beginners" or "intermediate" level players, is that it's all about groove. You want to focus on developing that complete feel for rhythm, such that you always feel both rhythms simultaneously: The rhythm you are actually playing and the underlying pulse behind it. Both should be felt fully and freely expressed. That's the basic underlying theme throughout my Metal Rhythm Guitar books... how to fully develop that kind of feel for rhythm. That will help you play anything well. And by the way, how well one plays rhythm is critically important to the feel of the band.
If you could say just one thing to the readers that may help them, what would it be?
- Follow your heart and do what inspires you.
And lastly, what are your opinions on the following guitarists:
- Yngwie Malmsteen - Amazing technique, but not enough musical variety to hold my interest for long. Seems to me like too much focus on the minutia, and not enough on the "big picture" of the songs. It's like all his creativity seems spent on lead work and technique, but the songs themselves aren't interesting or creative. I guess I like simple and memorable melodies best, and I feel technique should serve a larger goal than showing off one's technique. Still, I can't help but marvel at his technique.
Marty Friedman - He's a very good player and musician. More interesting to me in terms of melody, and his technique serves the song better generally.
Michael Angelo Batio - Very nice guy and a good friend. Exceptionally clean player, and freakishly crazy with the ambidextrous ability. On the musical side, his playing often strikes me as very focused on the minutia again, and less on the flow of the songs. I guess I prefer to listen to songs, with the guitar serving the song, and Michael's thing is blasting on runs as fast as possible. And that's fine... he knows his thing and he does it very well. There's something to be said for doing your thing and taking it to the extreme, and thereby finding your unique voice.
Jimi Hendrix - For a player like Hendrix you have to judge him in the context of his time period, by looking at his contemporaries. Music evolves and technique evolves. So forget about everyone that came after him for a moment and go back to understand the state of music as best you can in the late 60s. In that context, Hendrix was groundbreaking in every way. So while I never particularly liked his tone, and by more current standards his playing was sloppy, that hardly matters. He had a great blues feel, was an amazingly innovative and creative player, and he changed the course of guitar and music. I never fully "got it" off his records, but if you watch his Woodstock performance, you will see what I mean about him being one with the guitar and the music.
Van Halen - Awesome. A great example of technique used right. Van Halen 1 is still one of my favorite recordings.
And that brings us to an end! Thanks very much, and good luck with the band!
- Thank you, Ben