Teachers Blog

Winter is Coming

...and today is the first day of "serious snow" here in Edmonton. From this moment on, there is a very good chance that everything will be white until next spring :-)

This also mean that we are officially entering Christmas Season. To spread up the cheer, I think it's a good idea to repost my video for Carol Of The Bells (prog metal version). Enjoy!

HessFest in Chicago - Aftermath

For all you guys following our adventures in Chicago... you are going to love this. Usually you get only my own point of view on how HessFest and the other events organized by Tom Hess are amazing. Well, this year one of our students came with us and was present at three of the events (HessFest, the Fretboard Domination, and the Total Mastery Week), and here are his thoughts about his experience.

Without further ado, I let our student John Loder speak for himself:


Trying to summarize the experience of attending Hess Fest, Fret Board Domination, Total Guitar Mastery, meeting great individuals from all over the world in a few sentences is like trying to park the Space Shuttle into a spot designed for a Toyota Eco, but I will try to lightly scratch the surface.

Upon our arrival in Chicago we met up with a fellow Albertan (former student of Tommaso) and another from Australia attending the event.  When you read about this event that people travel from all over the world to be here, this is truly the case!  When we checked into the hotel I was greeted by people from Australia, Finland, Norway, Malaysia, UK, etc….  It’s hard to believe that with such diverse backgrounds we were all very similar in personality and shared the love of guitar.  During the 2 week event I was fortunate to develop many great friendships that will last forever. 

First of all I should start off by saying that Tom Hess and all the instructors were exceptional people, guitar players, and instructors.  No matter what level of guitarist you are they focused their energy on making you a better guitar player regardless of the starting point!  This was stated in Tom’s first introduction to the group, his passion for guitar and teaching is amazing, this was proven time and time again throughout the 2 weeks.

The week started off with the Hess Fest, a four day event which included master classes from Tom Hess (along with our own Tommaso Zillio and others) that included discussions on specific skills related to mastering the guitar practically and theoretically.  In the evening we had the opportunity to observe and participate in one on one instruction with Tom Hess himself, follow by performances from individuals in the room.  This was truly amazing and the talent at the event was indescribable!

The Fret Board Domination was a 3 day event instructed by Tommaso and Tom were you were totally focused on understanding where you are and where you want to be on the fret board in real time.  This is invaluable information in the development of mastering the guitar through song writing, improvising, performing, etc….

The Total Guitar Mastery Week is a 6 day with nearly 10 hours a day of focused practising and playing your guitar!! It was insane being immersed in this training, you can literally notice yourself improving daily with the specific coaching related to the task being worked on!!  I could not even begin to tell all the little things that improved my technique.  It was like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant!  I can’t wait to continue with my focused training and applying the things learned from this event.  With the pages and pages of notes it will be months and years of fun practise!!!!

And last but not least I want to send a special thank you to Tommaso Zillio and Dan Smith for the opportunity to attend this event.  Without their coaching a guidance none of this would have been possible. 


KEEP SHREDDING AND ROCK ON!!!!!!!!!!!           

John Loder


HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 14

... and this was the last day of all the guitar events in Chicago this year. Over the span of the last two weeks I taught and trained musicians at an advanced level for a grand total of 110 hours. I am exhausted, but at the same time I'm happy to see these people learning and advancing.

And at the same time, *I* learned a lot on how to teach music and train musicians. :-) Not that I was bad before (I would not have been invited to teach here unless I already was at a high level both in my playing and in my teaching skills...), but now I have an arsenal of "secret weapons" at my disposal!

Our 8 hours session today felt easy, even if most people are (understandably) drained of most energy. I can definitely say that most "normal" guitar players would not have been able to withstand this training event. 

Here's a picture of the Training Team. From left to right Mike "the Siberian Krusher" Philippov, Charlie Long, yours truly Tommaso Zillio, Maestro Tom Hess, Mike "Sergeant Shred" Walsh, and David Rose. I feel honored and proud of having been part of the team for the last two weeks. 

Now the only thing left to do is to head back home, and take eveything I learned back to my students. Brace yourself guys! We are going to train like never before!!





HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 13

Second day of the Guitar Elite Training event. We are increasing the pressure on the students by giving them more an more difficult (and interesting) exercises. 

I give a few exercises on string-skipping scales and arpeggios, and while I'm halfway through it Tom Hess jumps on stage, stops me and asks me to start again because (paraphrasing and censoring the original comment) "stuff that good needs to be filmed on camera".

Mike Walsh shows some great legato licks that are not very difficult but sound awesome... and Mike Philippov add to that with some great octave-displacement tricks. Charlie Long shows some cool 2-string scale ideas.

David Rose ends up with a masterclass on chicken picking... and at this point I sat down and took notes because these licks and ideas sounded SOOOO good. 

Again, after one week of teaching for 10h, the mere 8h of this event feel very easy and relaxing. Tomorrow we have the last day of this event, and then it's time to go back home - more inspired as a teacher than ever and ready to take names!

HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 12

The Total Guitar Mastery week ended yesterday, and now we are starting immediately a new event, the Elite Guitar Force Training that lasts for 3 days and features masterclasses from an elite team of teachers and trainers.

The event is still an 8h/day long learning/training session. But to us trainers, this feels like a vacation after the 10h/day of the previous event :-) 

Let me tell you, I have learned SO much about how to train guitar students in these events. On one hand I have seen how all the others trainers in the team explain their lessons and approach the audience. But also, I have "practiced" my training skills for 10h a day in the last week! It is incredible how fast I can spot a guitar playing problem now, and how many ways I can find to fix it depending on the level, personality and attutude of the student.

I can't wait to apply all this stuff to my students!!

This very last event is maybe the most fun fo me because the students are (as the name of the event says) the most advanced. This means that I can have my fun in giving them some of the hard exercises - and today I gave them at least a couple that looked very easy but in practice are incredibly hard. And I'm really pleased at how they reacted to them!!

After dinner I have a long business meeting with other music schools owner/managers among the students and the teachers, and we look over each other's business plan. There are SO many things I am going to be doing for my students to teach them better... Can't wait to go back home an start working on these ideas!

HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 11

Ok, this blog post was due yesterday... Well it was a VERY busy day. The last day of the Total Guitar Mastery Week, where we pushed students to the limit.

Now, I would have liked to get some pictures of the diploma ceremony, but I didn't calculated that I can't take pictures AND give diplomas at the same time. So you guys will NOT have any pictures of that. 

Instead you are going to get something MUCH better. :-)

You are going to get photos of Mike Walsh' legendary interpretation of Sergeant Shred, the guitar drill sergeant. In the Mastery Week this happens usually during one of the "endurance" sessions. Mike goes around the room, yelling hilarious "insults" like a drill sergeant - while students keep practicing (if they can while laughing that much). Incidentally, this also makes them practice for a longer time... :-)

Sergeant Shred enters the room! This is the pep talk where he reminds all the students that they need to practice more as there is not enough testosterone in the room.


Notice the grenade he is wearing...





Sergeant Shred drilling our student John Loder! "Soldier, I can't hear you above the sound of how much your playing sucks!"







John nearly can't play by how much he's laughing! Sergeant Shred gets ready to get to our teacher Dan Smith while the cameras make sure to not lose any moment of the action!







Getting up close and personal. :-)









Trying the drill sergeant routine with a student who is ACTUALLY a real Colonel. Needless to say he didn't even flinch!







Audience reaction. Personally I had trouble shooting photos as I was shaking so hard from laughter...








This even was really fun to teach from my part. The students were fantastic and were really practicing as much as they could. A few days ago I showed a guitar with missing inlays from too much practice. Today I show you one foot stool:

We really made them to practice untile they or their equipment could not take it any more. If you want the guitar training equivalent of a Navy Seal (complete with drill sergeant...) you only need to sign up for the next Guitar Mastery Week by Tom Hess. 


And tomorrow we start with another 3-days training event: the Elite Force Training, an event reserved for the best of the best. 

HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 10

Another exciting day at the Total Guitar Mastery Week. I could stay here and describe session-by-session what we were doing today... but this time I am just going to post a few pictures of the event so that you can have an idea how much fun we are having. (For the record, we are also working pretty hard... but there's no harm in having fun while you are working hard!!)

Let's start with some guitar pictures. You see here on the left a Les Paul guitar that has been practiced so hard that one of the inlays fell off (see that one of them is green? That's what behind the mother-of-pearl inlays on the fretboard). 

Can you imagine practicing so hard that your guitar starts to fall apart? Well, that's what happens here!






And here we have the guitar that one of the students is using... notice anything strange? Check out the color of the strings: they are all different!

(and yes we teased him to no end...)



 Here on the left we have our student John Loder and our teacher Dan Smith both practicing hard.

If I remember correctly, this picture wat taken during the "endurance" training, that consists in playing various legato licks for 1h. Without stopping. Yes, with the right pre-training you can do that... but don't try this at home without supervision!! 









These are a few of the students during the "real-life" practicing session (which is personally one of the most fun sessions) where people play music while walking around or jumping, or in this case using other stage-like positions.

Everybody who tried that knows that this is not as easy as it seems!



... and this is our student Carl in a corner of the room during the real-life practicing session. 

No, not everybody was required to jump that high: Carl is an actual professional dancer and I asked him for an "interesting" pose. Due to my non-existend photographic skills (I am a musician, not a photographer!) the jump does not look as high as it actually was. Believe me, it was impressive. 








And finally, this is a shot of the audience just to give you an idea of how many students we are having here (I was not able to get all of it... there are more outside of the picture).

This picture was taken while Tom Hess was announcing some future events. But these are top secret right now so I can't talk yoiu about them... all I can say is that I am really exciting about the future. These events are bigger and better every year, and I am extremely proud of being a part of it, and being able to bring back to my students what I am learning by teaching at such high-profile international events. 

Stay tuned for the last day of the Mastery week tomorrow!

HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 8 and 9

The days are incredibly busy here in Chicago at the Guitar Total Mastery Week.

Here I have 10h of training and teaching a day (hours that I spend mostly running from one student to another to answer all their questions: they are hungry for answers!) and then 2-3h every night of business meeting with other music schools owner from all over the world. We have barely time to eat and sleep!

In the last two days (which are days 3 and 4 of the Mastery week, out of a total of 6 days for this event alone) we have increased the pressure to the students in order to take out of them the best that they can give. And it is indeed incredible how much progress these fuys have made in just a few days! Their playing is so much cleaner and faster and effortless...

I also learned some new techniques to make students improve in a matter of mere seconds (Mike Philippov and me explaing one of these techniques in the photo on the left. Photo by Simon Candy).

In fact, I am kinda angry with myself because I knew some of these things "forever" but I never found a reliable way to communicate them to students. Thanks to a few conversation with Mike and some students at the event we finally came out with ways to explain it. 

Is is effective? Well, what about comments like "I finally feel relaxed by holding a guitar", "I always used to have backache when playing, and now it disappeared", "5 minutes ago I could not play this scale THAT fast... this is incredible". ALL actual quotes - I am not making these up. 

(We have one strudent training here who has focal dystonia. After 4 days of training his hand looks completely different. Now, I am NOT a medical doctor, but I can recognize improvement when I see it)

Another incredible thing is how much of the improvement of the student depends on the student's mindset. While EVERYONE at this event is massively better than when we started (and we are only 66% through the event... there are 2 days more!), the people who are really hungry for becoming better and that trust us intructors (and follow whatever we tell them to practice) are the ones with the most incredibles changes in their playing. 

I wish that programs like taht were available when I started playing guitar. This would have taken a decade out of my practice time. Seriously. 

HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 7

I know I keep saying that every day, but today was simply amazing here at the Total Guitar Mastery Week.

After "just" two days of practice (8-10h of practice per day...) I can see so many people making incredible progresses! It is such a pleasure to be able to teach such motivated students that implement immediately all the directions we give them and practice really hard. Many of the participants already managed an impressive transformation of their playing.

As usual, we kick off with one hour of "intelligent" warming up (that also serves as a technique optimizer exercise) and then we divide the class for one hour of "single teacher" sessions. The session I teach is about the biomechanics of Sweep Picking and how to get to incredible speed with very little effort. It is amazing in how little time motivated students can get the basic of sweep picking. It is a lie that it takes years to learn it... it can take as little as 60m. Some of the participants are living proof of this.

We end the morning with a session on playing consistency (how to play difficult passages right all the times) and then we head out for lunch.

Since one of the students is trying to pick up one of the waitresses at the reastaurant, the conversation during lunch becomes quickly a little lecture by Tom Hess on what would be the best strategy to do that... :-) Strategy that promplty works once the students puts it in practice. (In other words... if you want to play guitar at a world-class level AND being able to pick up girls, just come to the next training event!)

In the afternoon we have sessions on legato accuracy, lead/rhythm integration, and motive creation. I also manage a class on how to compose a "Super Badass" solo ("Super Badass" is a technical term)!. A couple of the students manage to write some seriously impressive pieces, and during the short rest between lessons I see them record their solos on an iPhone. I can't wait for them to record the final versions when they get home!

We have a dinner at a steakhouse where the waitresses dance on the song "Footloose" (I love that song). After dinner we have other two hours of VIP training sessions whose content I cannot disclose... but I can say that we had a little playing contest with a very funny prize for the winner (who is going to wear it on his guitar tomorrow. I'll see if I can get a photo)

After lesson I head to bed immediately (I actually got some more practice time for myself). I know that tomorrow I need to be rested - I want to give the maximum to all the participants. It is inspiring to see students so motivated.

HessFest 2014 in Chicago - Part 6

Today we start the Guitar Mastery Week event: a 6-day, 8h/day (or 10h day for the the VIP participants) guitar training event.

YES the participants actually DO train 8-10 hours PER DAY. And YES it is hard. And YES it is TOTALLY worth it (when I attended as a student in a previous edition of this event my physical speed on guitar alone improved 40%. And I was also better in accuracy, fluidity, and ability to integrate different techniques).

As usual, the very first session of the day is dedicated to advanced warming up strategies. We then proceed to a session on fluidity and another on creatives uses of technique before heading for lunch.

In the afternoon I personally manage one session on sweep picking biomechanics and a custom session on fixing specific problems with guitar technique. Other afternoon sessions involve legato mastery and playing endurance. 

At dinner I get a killer plate of barbecued shrimps at the local "australian" restaurant (Outback). 

After dinner we continue with other two hours of training with the VIP participants (I am not at liberty to divulge the kind of training that happens in these hours). 

The last highlight of this long and exciting day is a great conversation with other members of the Elite Guitar Teacher program that gives me SO MANY ideas about possible things I can do for my students that I actually find it difficult to sleep (I am too excited!!)


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