Session Guitar: Preparing for Sessions Using Osmosis

Let's start this blog post with a definition.

Osmosis: The process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.

Years ago, when I was just beginning to think I could be a guitarist, I decided to take lessons from the best I could find. Some known, most not so much. But all great players. I concentrated my efforts on jazz because I figured if I could get a handle on the intricacies of jazz improvisation, soloing on pop rock and blues would be infinitely easier.

This may have been one of the most fruitful insights I've ever had. I'm not sure where it came from, but the concept paid off. I also really enjoy jazz. (Thanks, Dad!)

I had already studied in a local music school for many years. But when I was a teenager, I felt the need to dig deeper. I went for lessons with a well-known jazz guitarist, but it was over my head. He sent me to a real teacher named Alan DeMausse. Alan got my right-hand-finger independence together and, more importantly, my theory. Tonal centers, phrasing, chord substitution, etc. After that, I went on to few others.

Now here's the thing: The teacher was the real info giver, but the players rarely went into too much detail! They taught by example. They played more than they spoke. A lot more. And I was a sponge. I sopped it up like a biscuit to gravy! And what I found was this: For about two hours after each lesson, I swore I played just like them!

Now I know I didn't, but I captured the spirit, the attitude, the essence of who and what they were. I experienced them. I heard the tone, the mistakes. I knew what they smelled like. I breathed them in — and I became them. However, after my two hours of rapture, it started to fade away. But I kept something. A lick. A way of thinking about playing over chords. A style. The attitude. It seeped in and became a part of me. Osmosis.

These days, I use this concept to prepare for my sessions. The process sets up my mind. It settles me in. My attitude changes. Here's the simple way of making your playing grow for every session. And this works for practicing too!

Let's say I'm about to play a pop rock sort of thing. I will listen to a few players I respect who play in the attitude and have the sound I want to emulate. Jess Lewis. Larry Carlton. Steve Lukather. Or maybe it's a Southern rock thing or country. Brent Mason. Keith Urban. Or Joe Walsh, even if it's a bluesy rock thing. Get it? Or if I'm feeling laid back but must play on a very aggressive song, well, Slipknot seems to do the trick!

When I practice, I run through the basic warmups and sight reading and scales and chords. I try to learn something new theoretically and stylistically. I let Nicholas Slonimsky help with the theory, but I go for the players I love and respect to give me inspiration and emotion!

As a session guy, I love Carl Verheyen. He never ceases to give me a good kick in the ass and challenges me through YouTube to be a better player by watching a master do his thing. And some of it usually rubs off.

We are a product of our influences. Who are yours? Find them. Watch. Learn. Attend a seminar. But please try this simple technique. Warm up your hands and warm up your head. Osmosis.

Till next time …

Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.

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