Category: From the Throne

Many men do their best thinking in their “library.” I was told years ago by a reliable source that most magazine articles targeted at men are written so that they can be finished in the time it takes to ummm… do “number 2.”

It’s no accident that the articles written for older men are much longer.

With all this new technology, men can bring their laptops in with them now.

Most won’t admit it, but I suspect many men get a lot of emails done “from the throne.”

It makes sense. My dad used to work as a public-relations person for a government-related agency. He’d spend many hours doing radio interviews at home; in bed in his underwear. This was long before the internet.

I’ll be the first to publicly admit it. I’ll be writing most of these pieces in my “library.”

Try not to think about the image.

Steve Morse Residency at Berklee March 26-28, 2012 (what it was like)

I first heard Dixie Dregs way back in the late 70′s when a friend of mine whipped out a copy of of “What If” and played the tune “Ice Cakes.” He qualified it with, “Ya GOTTA hear this.” Typically, I get skeptical in moments like that. But this time I was utterly blown away. “Ice Cakes” and all the other tracks on the record were a perfect blend of a wide range of genres. Deep and detailed compositions, sniper-like execution, emotional, dynamic, funny, smart-ass, sensitive… pretty close to being a perfect work. I didn’t know that kind of playing was even possible at the time. My direction as a musician was forever altered at that moment.

Over the years, I’ve had the great fortune to meet Steve Morse and all of his bandmates (including Dave Larue, who’s a close friend and we’ve worked together many times…) several times. Further, I’ve even gotten to jam with him a few times in a few different situations.

A week ago (as of this writing), Steve came up to Berklee to spend three days doing a “Major Artist Residency.” The idea is that he’s available enough that anyone who wants to can pick his brains in detail. Of course I was excited about the prospect because I’m such a giddy fan.

Then Berklee asked me to be intimately involved in the process. Make sure his gear needs, and organizational duties are sorted out. Of course I said yes. Over the weeks leading up, Steve and I exchanged several emails over how best to approach it. Steve really wanted to make sure that school got what they needed. He DIDN’T want it to be “just another clinic.”

On the day he arrived, I called him to discuss any last-minute needs. During that conversation we both agreed that he should perform at the clinic that would take place at Berklee Performance Center (1,500 seat theater on-campus).

It was something that, for whatever reason had fallen off our radar. But with so many talented musicians around, I assured him that getting great people to play wouldn’t be hard. I called Joe Santerre and Larry Finn to play drums and bass. They said yes immediately. Steve asked me to play 2nd guitar. I stammered, “errr… aaaa…. yes” because I knew I’d regret it if I refused. Jamming with Steve is like playing basketball with Michael Jordan.

I can’t tell you how impressed I was with everything that happened. I got to spent three days of my life hanging out with a major musical influence. I had tons of opportunity to ask him all the questions I’d always wanted to ask:

-How to approach all those chromatic lines when you improvise?

-What do you think about when you compose a tune?

-How/where do you find your inspiration?

-How do you set up your live rig?

-What made you set up that “Frankenstein” strat/tele you built years ago?

Most of his answers were surprising, but sensible. Overall, he seems to have a clear picture of what he wants, then sets about creating it in reality. Whether he’s digging a hole, building a guitar, flying a plane or writing a song, the task is already finished in his mind. From there, it’s a question of how to get it done.

Mostly, I learned that he’s the real deal. He’s so not interested in being a rock star. He does it because that’s what he does best. But for him it’s all about the music and how much he loves it.

Steve, thanks for another life-changing moment. I’ll never forget it.

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Larry Finn (drums), Joe Santerre (bass) Steve Morse (guitar) and Jon Finn (guitar)

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Jon Finn and Steve Morse kneeling at the altar of effects

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Jon Finn and Steve Morse Jamming in 1996

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Chord naming conventions

I was reading through some posts that made me think about what conventions people use for naming chords.

There are some chords that can be called several different things. For example this chord:

-5-
-5-
-5-
-5-
-5-
-x-

can be called many things:
D9sus4
Am7/D
D11
C6/D
among them. Generally, I choose the name based on context, and who I’m trying to convey it to.

Part of the challenge is that if the chord has more than 4 notes, sometimes you have to make judgements as to what notes you play vs. which you leave out.

For me, learning about it is ongoing. What about you? How do you approach naming chords? How do you approach it if you have to leave notes out? How do you decide?

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Boston Pops July 3 and 4th on the Esplanade

Every year around this time, I cross my fingers over whether I’ll get that call or not.   So this year, I got the call two days ago.  I’ll be playing July 3rd and 4th with Boston Pops on the Esplanade for Boston’s celebration of Independence Day.
The featured performer would be Lionel Ritchie, but he’s bringing his own band.   My gig is to play w/ the orchestra.
July 3rd is the “dry run” and July 4 will be on live network TV as well as over a million people in attendance.  No, I’m not exaggerating.
At first I was excited.  But then today, as I was driving in to drop off my gear, I called ahead and they asked, “Did you hear?”
“Ummm no.  Heard what?”
“Lionel Ritchie’s out.  Martina McBride’s in!”
“Oh, what happened???”
“Don’t know” (I learned later that he’d strained his vocal cords and needed to back out).
So my next call was to the artistic director, who didn’t really know yet how things would play out.   I just wanted to know if I’d be playing with Martina McBride.  If so, what songs?  What guitars?  etc.   They didn’t know yet because this JUST happened.
About an hour ago, I got the email.   I will be playing, but the charts won’t be ready until the morning of the rehearsal.   That means we’ll sight-read it at rehearsal, then play it at the gig.  In the meantime, I’m making my own charts and learning the songs as best I can.
Why am I telling you this?
There’s been lots of discussion on this message board about the value of being able to read standard notation.   This is not the first time I’ve been in these circumstances…
For my money, if I wasn’t a pretty good reader, I’d be friggin terrified right now.  This certainly has my undivided attention, but I know I’ll do the best I can do in the time allotted.

Every year around this time, I cross my fingers over whether I’ll get that call or not.   So this year, I got the call two days ago.  I’ll be playing July 3rd and 4th with Boston Pops on the Esplanade for Boston’s celebration of Independence Day.
The featured performer would be Lionel Ritchie, but he’s bringing his own band.   My gig is to play w/ the orchestra.
July 3rd is the “dry run” and July 4 will be on live network TV as well as over a million people in attendance.  No, I’m not exaggerating.
At first I was excited.  But then today, as I was driving in to drop off my gear, I called ahead and they asked, “Did you hear?”
“Ummm no.  Heard what?”
“Lionel Ritchie’s out.  Martina McBride’s in!”
“Oh, what happened???”
“Don’t know” (I learned later that he’d strained his vocal cords and needed to back out).
So my next call was to the artistic director, who didn’t really know yet how things would play out.   I just wanted to know if I’d be playing with Martina McBride.  If so, what songs?  What guitars?  etc.   They didn’t know yet because this JUST happened.
About an hour ago, I got the email.   I will be playing, but the charts won’t be ready until the morning of the rehearsal.   That means we’ll sight-read it at rehearsal, then play it at the gig.  In the meantime, I’m making my own charts and learning the songs as best I can.
Why am I telling you this?
There’s been lots of discussion on this message board about the value of being able to read standard notation.   This is not the first time I’ve been in these circumstances…
For my money, if I wasn’t a pretty good reader, I’d be friggin terrified right now.  This certainly has my undivided attention, but I know I’ll do the best I can do in the time allotted.

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Brian Jones’ cover of “Always a Bridesmaid”

Brian Jones is an 8th semester student at Berklee who graduates in May 2011. Here’s his cover of “Always a Bridesmaid”! Brian Rocks!

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If money were no object…

Every once in a while it’s fun to look at stuff I could never (I mean NEVER) afford to buy, then ask the question, “If money were no object, what would I buy?”

Of course, that brings up the whole “money doesn’t buy happiness/you should donate it all to world hunger” discussion. Even though that’s certainly worthy discussion, it’s not what I’m talking about here.

This is pure fantasy.

Anyway, This website shows a new product line from Strand-Craft Yachts. The “budget” model is 122 feet long, 4 bedrooms, 14,000 hp, top speed 55kts.
What put me over the edge is that it comes with a “tender”: a custom-made (to match the yacht) 2-seater sports car… the SC-122 (at 800 hp it probably moves ok). Of course, the boat comes with a garage, complete with it’s own automated fold-up ramp so you can drive the car right off the boat on to land.

Her sisterhip, the 166 comes with it’s own hot-tub.

If money doesn’t buy happiness, it’ll sure buy a lot of comfort and amenities.

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Web site news 1/6/2011

So for the last few days, I’ve been busying myself with updating material for the website. Pretty soon, it’ll be ready for the “official” launch. There will be three sections: Public, Free membership, and Premium membership.

Public will be as it’s been but updated much more frequently. The new interface makes it MUCH easier to do get things up and running. Plus the “gigs” calendars are tied to my personal calendar. That means any entry I make to my calendar are automatically posted on jonfinn.com. Pretty cool!

Free membership will include some lesson material and instructional videos. With a membership, you can participate in the collective conversation about becoming better musicians.

Premium membership gives you the keys to the kingdom. Video lessons, online lessons, charts, music, unreleased .mp3s, backing tracks, free downloads, and more.

We welcome any feedback you can offer to make this better. Thanks so much!

Jon

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We all suck at guitar!

A few years ago, my son and I were taking a day-trip down to CT to see Dream Theater. At the time, he was starting to teach himself guitar (he switched to drums later, but that’s another story). He was 14 at the time.

At the time, he was lamenting over how he sucks at it. So I asked him, “Do you want the good news first or the bad news?”

“Good news first.”

“OK. Good news. Playing guitar is a blast. It’s a never-ending journey full of surprises. There’s always something new to learn about. In fact, the more you learn, the more there is TO learn.”

“Yah. I get that. The bad news?”

“No matter how good you get, you’ll always think you suck. The better you get, the further away your concept of ‘GOOD’ gets.”

So that night, we had backstage passes and he asked John Petrucci if he thinks he’s a good guitar player. Without missing a beat, John said, “I suck. I’ve got so far to go.”

It’s hopeless. We all suck at this. Just accept it. :-)

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Article in Boston Herald about Rockettes Christmas Show

Bah, Humbug. The Rockettes (which use live musicians in the famous Radio City Music Hall show in NYC) while their touring version uses tapes. The practice is common in the world of theater because many “secondary market” cities don’t have qualified musicians. But Boston? Is that a joke???

Musicians tell Rockettes to kick the canned tunes

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Voting

I thought about it very carefully, and exercised my right NOT to vote. This choice was not because of laziness or complacency. It’s because I trusted (maybe for the first time) that the general population would make the “right” choices (whether I agreed or not). Of course my vote counts! But it’s unwise to vote “just to vote.”

For those who did vote, thank you. We did ok!

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Why have I waited so long to start this process?

When Anthony and I decided to do a total re-vamp of the site he asked what I wanted to do. I answered, “errr… uhhh… I dunno. Let’s just make it…. better.”

Anthony is a very patient soul. We brainstormed for ideas. One thing he said is that modern-day websites need to be updated really often in order to succeed. He gently observed that the former version of jonfinn.com had suffered from a serious lack of attention. I agreed.

In the last version of jonfinn.com, we had a “forums” section where members could discuss various topics. At first it was great but it was very quickly taken over by spam bots. For the first two years, I was spending nearly an hour a day deleting spam posts and bogus “new members.”

I got tired of it and gave up. I decided to delete the forum, finish the new CD and re-visit the website when the CD was released. It felt better to make good use of my time, but I new the website was deteriorating every day I neglected it.

When Anthony agreed to do this, he expressed concern that same thing might happen again. I agreed. We’ve taken steps to make life much more difficult for spammers and bots. It won’t be perfect, but much better.

We’ve divided the site in to three parts:

1. guest (anyone can see)

2. free member (any registered member can see when logged in)

3. subscriber (premium content for small monthly fee)

We decided that we’d upload .pdf files, .mp3 files and vids. Then organize them so that the end user can find what they’re looking for.
Down the road, we’ll be adding content created by others (not just Jon).

I was excited about ALL of it except the videos. Years ago, I’d filmed a handful of instructional videos. I froze in front of the camera. I knew what I wanted to say, but couldn’t do it. The best solution I could come up with at the time was to just play the example for the camera, then do a “talking head” segment where I read a script. Very stiff (not to mention that it took way too much time), but it got done.

More recently, I’ve been practicing the skill of talking and playing at the same time. That seems to work better because I can verbalize what I’m thinking while I’m doing it. For some reason, if I try to verbalize after the fact, it’s much harder.

When watching other instructional clips, many of the players spend a lot of energy being charming. That’s great, but if these videos are meant to be watched repeatedly, I suspect the “charming” element will wear off pretty fast. Therefore, I will probably keep to the business at hand when doing videos.

Feel free to comment. Give and take is what makes things work. Would love your feedback thanks!

-Jon

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