Michael Angelo Batio's top 5 tips for guitarists
Any man who plays a four-necked guitar isn’t bound to get bored easily, but when six- (or is it 24-?) string hard-rock/heavy metal great Michael Angelo Batio finds himself in the occasional musical rut, he hits the books.
“Whenever I need to perk things up, if I’m in a music shop, I pick up a big song book,” Batio explains. “It could be something by Al Di Meola or maybe it’ll be a jazz book; it might even be a bluegrass songbook or something on just chords. Whatever it is, if it can take me to a new place, it’s an enriching experience.”
An in-demand clinician and instructor (he’s given lessons to guitarists such as Tom Morello and Mark Tremonti, among others), Batio lives by the motto “always a student”. “I’m always listening and learning,” he says. “I’ve studied many composers over the years, and the biggest takeaway I’ve gotten is that music has no limits. There’s no set way to do it, and there’s no rule that can’t be broken. There are no rules anyway. If you believe that, you should adjust your way of thinking, because it’s wrong.”
Batio’s latest release is the career-spanning retrospective set Shred Force 1: The Essential Michael Angelo Batio, which can be purchased at Ratpakrecords.com. On the following pages, Batio runs down his top five tips for guitarists.
Have faith in your own abilities
“I was lucky to have been born with artistic talent and musical abilities, and I believed that I could use them to accomplish something. Steve Vai once said in an interview, ‘Don’t concentrate on what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you’ve got.’ Too many times in life, people focus on what’s missing in their lives - the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. I’ve never gotten bogged down by negativity like that.
“The only way to achieve anything in life, and this is certainly true of playing an instrument, is to move forward. Don’t worry about what anybody says - there will always be critics. Whether you’re on the A list, the B list or whatever, people will always try to tear you down. Don’t let 'em. Believe in yourself and get on with it.”
Practise, practise, practise
“Even with the abilities I was born with, I still had to practise. A lot. ‘Practise, practise, practise’ are words I take very seriously. Whether you’re a musician or an athlete, you have to develop and expand your skills. There’s just no substitute for the time put into something. Talent plus practice goes a long, long way.
“There’s two types of practising: what you want to know and what you need to know. You can’t avoid the tedious part of it, the repetition, but you can still make practicing fun. Whenever I taught students, after we did the exercises, I would ask them, ‘What are you listening to? What do you want to know how to play?’ Once you’re finished learning what you need, that’s when the fun can start. You can change gears and play one of your favourite songs. It keeps things interesting.”
Learn cover songs
“I only know of one famous guitarist - I won’t mention his name - who doesn’t know any cover songs. That’s pretty incredible, really, because if you ask any working musician, 99.9 percent of them will tell you that they know other people’s material. Cover tunes are important on so many levels.
“If you learn a great song that somebody else wrote, you tend to go, ‘Well, that’s not so hard. I could’ve written that.’ It demystifies the writing process for you, and it can boost your confidence. You might try to write more. And playing other people’s music can open you up to chords and structures that you might be unfamiliar with. It’ll help your overall musicianship.
“The other thing that happens when you learn somebody else’s song and you play it in front of people is that you can tell how an audience reacts to that music. It can be a barometer against your own music. If the crowd goes wild for the cover tune and they just stand there for your original song, then you know that you have a ways to go.”
Write your own music and release it
“It’s never been easier to release music around the planet. I’m not saying it’s easy to write great songs, but nowadays pretty much anybody can get their music out there for people to listen to. Releasing your music is key for another reason: It means you have to actually finish it.
“In my guitar clinics, I always stress to people that you have to set goals and accomplish them. So many people have ideas for things - they get all excited and they start writing a song - but they never complete the task. If you finish something, you can then go on to the next thing. Before you know it, you’ll have a bunch of material, and one of those songs might be the one that connects with people. But you’ll never know unless you see it through.
“Releasing your music is important because you’ll get reactions. You can see if your music hits people, and if it doesn’t for whatever reason, you can then recalibrate and figure out what you might need to change. There’s no reason not to release your music nowadays - it’s so easy.”
Film and release videos online
“This is a continuation of the previous tip. It’s not enough to put your music online these days; you should also get videos out there. That’s the final frontier. You’ve got to find a way to present your music visually in a way that will make people want to watch it and listen to it. If nobody wants to watch it, then you have to figure something out.
“When artists have really good music and they find a way to project that visually to an audience, that’s an unbeatable combination for success. There’s no excuse for not doing videos of your music. They don’t have to be elaborate productions - simple iPhone videos can be enough, if you’ve got the right presentation.
“When you look back at great artists of the past, whether it’s Elvis or The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, they all look cool. They knew how they wanted to look, and it went hand-in-hand with their music. You don’t always have to be flashy - a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t dress up, but that image was perfect for the kind of music they played. Or Metallica - what did they wear? T-shirts and jeans. Their look fit their music. On the other hand, KISS’s image was exactly right for the kind of music that they played. Be who you are and present it to the world.”