IT’S A GOOD TWO HOURS INTO MUSICIANS
Institute’s graduation ceremony at LA’s
famed Wiltern Theatre, and the time has
come to announce whom GIT students have
voted as their 2008 Teacher of the Year. When
the name Daniel Gilbert is read, the crowd
explodes with applause. As Gilbert makes
his way to the podium, the assembly is still
cheering tirelessly, so all the beloved guitar
coach can do is look out over his devotees,
visibly moved. Well into his 30th year as a
GIT instructor, Gilbert has always taught his
way—with great strictness, structure, discipline,
and respect, but also with humor, and,
when necessary, the right level of irreverence
toward convention. So when it comes
time for him to make his acceptance speech,
even though the room is loaded with parents,
grandparents, and other people in front
of whom we’re taught to mind our p’s and
q’s, Gilbert does this his way as well.
“Sh*t,” he proclaims clearly into the mic.
The graduates only seem to scream louder.
Then, Gilbert does something amazing.
Like a conductor, he raises both hands in
the air and slowly brings his fingertips
together. Miraculously, for the first time
all day, the packed theater becomes perfectly
quiet. If a Fender Medium hit the
floor, it would be thunderous.
“You hear that, guitar players?” says
Gilbert. “That’s silence. You’ve just spent a
lot of time working on a lot of notes. Now,
it’s time to work on the silences—the spaces
between the notes.”
Gilbert has always been an inspiring
teacher, even, it seems, before he became
one officially. When he was a GIT student
himself in 1978, around the same time that
Keith Wyatt, Beth Marlis, Jesse Gress, Jennifer
Batten, and others were attending, the
great Larry Carlton was visiting the Hollywood
guitar school, giving a clinic, and he
wanted a student to join him on “All Blues.”
Knowing Gilbert would be too humble to
volunteer himself, some of Gilbert’s classmates
all but forcibly shoved him on stage
to trade licks with Carlton. When the song
was over, the master session player and
future Grammy winner looked at Gilbert
and said, “Great playing. How long have
you been teaching here?” GIT hired Gilbert
as a staffer as soon as he graduated.
“One thing that helped me a lot was
that from the day I got my first guitar, I
had excellent training,” says Gilbert. From
his youth in New York on up through his
studies at GIT, Gilbert has been mentored
by everyone from Danny Infantino and
Howard Morgan to Pat Martino and
Howard Alden. “I was given arpeggios,
picking studies, etc., and, most important,
structure. I soon realized I was lucky, because
I found out many students and even many
teachers hadn’t been given those things. I
think one reason students like me is that
every week I give them goals, and I really
hold ’em to those goals. ‘Here’s what you
have to do, here’s the tempo at which I
want you to do it. And you have to come
back and do it for me next week.’”
One interesting aspect of Daniel Benjamin
Gilbert’s teaching style (and perhaps
this ties in to the fact that his initials spell
a second-inversion G major chord) is his
regular focus on triads. The guitarist is
always finding inspiring ways of using these
three-note grips to learn the fretboard.
“I could foam at the mouth talking about
triads,” says Gilbert. As you’ll discover in
this lesson, he uses triads as springboards
to improve rhythm playing, melodic playing,
and everything in between. Gilbert
recommends getting started with triads by
learning chord scales such as Ex. 1. This exercise
ascends the F major scale diatonically
(i.e., using only notes from the F major scale),
starting with a first-position, first-inversion
F triad with the root on the first string.
To produce each new diatonic triad, simply
raise each voice one scale tone as shown,
and you’ll get Gm, Am, Bb, etc. When you get
to the highest triad—F again, but an octave
up—practice the chord scale descending.
Later, practice the same approach on other
string groups, including every string group
from second-third-fourth and third-fourthfifth
to “open” groups such as fifth-third-first.
And be sure to practice chord scales in other
keys, and while using other parent scales.
In a satisfying, R&B-inflected way, Ex. 2
evolves Ex. 1’s triads by simultaneously
hammering diatonic neighbor tones onto
the lower voices in each grip while letting
the first-string note ring in both chords.
Each double-stop hammer raises the triad
quality a fourth—or, one could say, drops it
a fifth—diatonically. (Note: The new triad’s
root is on the third string.) As with every
approach in this lesson, be sure to practice
Ex. 2 descending as well.
Next, try adding extra notes, as in Ex. 3,
which takes place on a new string group (second-
third-fourth). Here, we play each triad,
then raise its lowest note one scale tone,
which generates intriguing suspensions and
clang-y intervals of major and minor seconds
in the lowest two voices of each chord.
This is our first example that is played in
time. Any tempo is fine, provided the notes
are played confidently and correctly.
Of course, no trip through Sergeant
Gilbert’s triad boot camp would be complete
without melodic studies such as Ex. 4.
To play this right, pick the 9 of each chord
(such as the 15th-fret G, in the case of the
example’s opening Fadd9 grip) using a downstroke.
Then, economy pick (i.e., sweep)
the triad with an even upstroke as written.
To keep things truly melodic, don’t let the
notes ring over each other.
All of these diatonic triad approaches will
help you become able to hop around the neck,
playing wonderful stabs of harmony and
melody at will. For instance, ask yourself,
“What is the liveliest way I could comp the
simple I-VI-II-V progression in C presented
in Ex. 5?”
Gilbert might face the challenge
with Ex. 6, a triad tour de force he wrote that
he calls, simply, “Funky Triads.” It takes that
same basic C progression, but lights it up like
a Christmas tree via
bright chord tones and
ornamental double-stops, hammers, and
The regular use of syncopation keeps
the example rhythmically exciting.
Before we wrap up this lesson, let’s take
a look at ways triads can be used in less
diatonic settings—and in soloing situations.
“Triads are everywhere,” says Gilbert. “Larry
Carlton has this thing he calls the Grand
Arpeggio, and it is created by simply starting
on the root and going up in alternating
intervals of major and minor thirds.”
In the key of C, this approach creates a
Cmaj7 arpeggio with a 9 (D), a #11 (F#), and
a 13 (A). More important, it yields several
major and minor triads, as shown in Ex. 7.
“Out of this one shape, you get C, Em, G,
Bm, and D,” observes Gilbert, playing the
arpeggio using the fingering in Ex. 8.
great for triadic superimposition. For instance
I might use this shape to create a line that
superimposes C triads (C-E-G) and D triads
(D-F#-A) over the background key, like this
This creates a cool C Lydian sound.
Or, over A minor, it has an A Dorian sound.”
For years at GIT, Gilbert’s take-no-prisoners
teaching style had earned him the
nickname Rambo. “But I’ve mellowed out
a bit,” he says. “Not to cheapen the experience,
but humor is a big part of teaching,
especially in classroom settings. Students
need to be pushed, of course, but they also
have to be entertained a bit. A little comedy
is always welcome when they’re
learning so much stuff. And students sense
that, like them, I am also practicing every
day as hard as I can. They respect that,
because they know I’m kicking my own