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How To Play Manouche Jazz Guitar:

Django style guitar for the experienced player, in 6 months, 10 easy stages (and less than $6 a day) By Mike Hardaker
1.

Dont buy a Selmer (or a good replica). Buy a crap guitar Its too easy to sound like a half-decent manouche guitarist if the guitar just oozes "that sound". The deep-down secrets are actually:
o o o o o o

Physical strength (of fingers and wrist) Dexterity Knowing the fingerboard Knowing the chords Knowing the scales Squeezing every ounce of tone from your instrument Numbers 3, 4 and 5 in this list may seem pretty obvious, but theyre a lot harder to crack than you might think (especially if youve been playing guitar for a decade or two). The rest are less obvious, and even harder to get tapped. If youve been playing a Gibson, PRS, Martin, Taylor or even a Yamaha for a while, the odds are that youre not very strong theres no need to be. Get one of those things that are designed to build up hand strength in tennis players (they look like two short sticks joined by a coil spring). Can you squeeze the thing closed 50 times in each hand? And then do it again? And again? If not, youre not ready for the Django stuff. Now youve bought the tennis thing you can do some boring physical exercises every day and you should but its a lot better to fight with an old plank of a guitar with a halfinch action at the twelfth. Your innate desire to make the beast sound almost reasonable will force you to press down harder, release quicker and, generally, build up the strength of your fingers. Dexterity comes from this as well. Finally, the odds are that the old plank sounds awful, so youll start using serious finger vibrato while attacking the strings with your right hand. And thats the secret to tone, basically. Oh string the bugger up with flatwound 12s. Theyre even harder to play, and sound particularly bad on most guitars.

If you dont have a crap guitar, buy one 1960s "student" archtops are pretty cheap and almost always horrible. If you cant buy something crap enough, go for a Hofner Congress or something like that not exactly "crap" but totally inappropriate!
7.

Get your right hand sorted Most rock/folk/jazz guitarists rest their fingers on the guitar while playing, holding the pick delicately between thumb and forefinger (or middlefinger). This wont do. Clench your fist and then park the plectrum (which should be seriously heavy like 3mm thick) at 90 degrees to your thumb. Clamp it there. Play like this. Itll hurt (a lot but youve got that tennis thing to build up your wrist) but thats what you gotta do. Honestly. Look at the old photos: no fingers on the box... Itll take a while before youre comfortable with this, but in the meantime you can...

8.

Learn the chords I mean really learn the chords. Not the chords you already know. Unless youve been dicking around on an ES-175 for forty years the odds are that you know lots of chords that have your hands in completely the wrong position and that youll never use in manouche jazz. Get Mickey Bakers book on Jazz Guitar and look at the first few pages. Learn every one of the chords. Properly. Then string them into sequences and get these off pat. Then do it again. And again... The chords may seem more appropriate to Bop than manouche jazz, but they all even the really odd ones will help your soloing later. Then start inventing chords. Find the bass note you want and work out (1... 3... 5... 7... 11...) where the other notes are. Youll find new inversions that arent in any book (because theyre a bit weird) but that sound great when thrashed out with a boom-chicka beat. But dont get hung up by finding all the notes in a chord. Any 7 th can be perfectly satisfactory with only three notes (even though it "needs" four) and so on. Look for the rhythm and the feel. And get those changes moving at 300bpm, four changes per bar.

9.

Learn the scales and arpeggios Boring? Yes. Essential? Also.

Get the basics drilled into you: major, minor, major 6th, major 9th, diminished, augmented, chromatic... Then do them faster. And faster. Then pick a spot on the fingerboard at random and do every scale you know from there. Learn every scale, every arpeggio, in every position, until playing them is as natural as breathing. If youre the sort of person who likes to know theyre playing a G mixolydian over a B7 phrygian then learn all that stuff. Otherwise, just build the sense-memory of where you fingers go for all the options. Both approaches work...
10.

Transpose standards, then learn them Most jazz standards are in awful keys for the guitar eleven flats, and the like. Transpose them into something civilised like G major and then learn the rhythm part (using modified chords youve learnt earlier and with the assumption that "G" never means "G", probably means "G6", but could be anything...). Then practice that rhythm part until you can produce the best rhythm part for Sweet Georgia Brown (or whatever...) that anyones ever done. Then build on the rhythm part, imagining Grappellis doing his solo while you vamp. To stay fresh, try to be Eddie Lang behind Joe Venuti. Thats what Django did, after all... Only when you can hear the chord changes in your sleep should you learn the top line. Get the melody down pat. Then try the whole business in different keys. Eleven of them. Itll be hard, because youll still be struggling with that crap guitar but do it anyway.

11.

Noodle Record your brilliant rhythm parts and then play over them. Start by just working around the top line and then, after a week or so, pretend you dont know the melody and just follow the important notes of the chords (the ones you "hear" best) and throw your scales over them.

12.

Forget your roots, find Djangos You probably grew up listening to the Beatles, the Stones, Nirvana or that Spears woman. It doesnt matter remove all these things from your life. Listen exclusively to French valses, flamenco, Bach, Satchmos Hot Seven and the like.

Then bring in some Django, and the better disciples (Rosenberg Trio, Romane...). Avoid the speed-freaks such as Jimmy Rosenberg pick up the melodic sense (which often gets lost when too many notes are involved). Speed-freaks will just intimidate you, pointlessly. Django will intimidate you, of course, but that does have a point...
13.

Noodle solo Forget the backing tapes. Just pick up a guitar and make beautiful music. Dont worry about what youre playing, just play.... When you spouse/parents/offspring/SO/poodle think it sounds nice, move on to...

14.

Buy a Selmer (or a good replica) You are now ready. Its time to phone up Maurice Dupont (or your luthier of choice). Youll be relatively scrappy, but you wont actually embarrass yourself. And youll sound a lot better than you used to...

15.

Grow a moustache You need this before your first gig. No manouche guitarist can be taken seriously without one. If youre under sixteen (or female) then buy one from a joke shop. And if youve reached this stage in less than 6 months, youre either a genius or youre lying to yourself....

By Mike Hardaker mike@classicbear.com