Marty Friedman and I had this great game that we would play—well, he insists it wasn’t a game, but it was fun, so I say it was a game! We would take turns playing chords, with an established tempo, and the other guy would solo. Here’s the catch: We wouldn’t tell the soloist what chords we were going to play. It was completely random, with no thought of key signature whatsoever. The chord guy usually didn’t even know what he was about to play..
The challenge for the guy soloing was to try to play a pretty and flowing melody and man, that was tough! Marty was pretty good at it. He knew how to seamlessly bend a wrong note into a perfect one. Steve Hunter has said that you are never more than a fret away from the right note. You can also say that there are no wrong notes if you end up on a beautiful one.
I was writing lots of stuff that we would incorporate into the existing songs for the Speed Metal Symphony album, or that we would start new songs around. Marty had molded a motivational device for himself out of me. I was becoming so creative and prolific that I kept him on his toes. It was so good for both of us to have the other breathing down our necks. The constant desire to create the next beautiful melody or bad-ass riff or tune made writer’s block nonexistent. I highly suggest finding a musician who is better than you, no matter what type of music they play, and jamming with them all of the time, always asking questions.
Speaking of musicians who are better than I am, when I was a freshman in high school, my pops took me to get lessons from Dave Creamer, who had played with Miles Davis. I was excited but nervous. At the time I was mostly playing blues. He taught me all the positions of an F major scale, and a sweet jazz chord progression that I could practice the scales over. I spent hours practicing all he had shown me, and he was impressed. He would give me notes to play and I would have to name the chord they made. It was tough at first, but became easy and fun.
As I improved, he kept throwing more advanced ideas at me. He taught me about intervallic arpeggios and 12-tone rows. I devoured it all. I would still be taking lessons from Dave if I could play today. When I would get together with Marty, he couldn’t wait for me to show him what I had learned from Dave at each lesson. Marty and I were constant students of music. We never thought we knew enough. We wanted to learn as much as possible. I have seen so many students who think they already get what you are showing them; they don’t listen or even try the idea in front of the teacher. There should be no ego when learning. It is good to be a perpetual student of music and of life.
Jason Becker is a composer and guitarist whose work can be heard on his solo albums, and with Cacophony and David Lee Roth. Check out this sexy man’s story in the awardwinning documentary Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.