Started: Guitar - Age 7 in 1991; Drums - Age 12 in 1996
Instruments: Guitar, drums, bass, voice
Styles: Rock, Acoustic, Jazz
Recordings: Alex Nolan 2002 Raise the Bar 2004
Gear: Les Paul Custom, Yamaha pacifica, Epiphone emperor DR electric strings, Elixir acoustic strings, Dunlop picks Peavey classic 50, Marshall 2x12 combo Morley wah Pedal, Digidesign (pro-tools 6.9), Shure microphones
Lesson Text: Learn to Play Rock Guitar With Alex Nolan Alex' lessons are for beginners who want to learn to play rock guitar and add essential skills to their playing. Her course covers subjects that will help you with soloing, playing chords and with comping, completed with instrument-specific technical exercises. Alex discusses strumming syncopation; 5th and 6th-string root movable chords; movable major scales; minor pentatonic scale system II, III, IV, and the major pentatonic scale, followed by a lesson on combining major and minor pentatonic scales. Discover sliding power chords, pedal tones with power chords, and chord embellishments. Practice pull-offs and hammer-ons, and combine slides and vibrato, and you're ready to rock.
Influenced by the sounds and talents of Sting,The Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Alex has wanted to be a rock star since she was 5 years old. She's recorded two albums to date, "Alex Nolan" and "Raise The Bar". She is a senior studying music production and studio jazz guitar at USC. She's been both student and teacher at the National Guitar Workshop. She also teaches privately.
How did you get started? It was my dream to play when I was 5 years old. I used to listen to pop music and imagine myself on stage - I wanted to be a rock star! I asked Santa Claus for a guitar, and didn't get one until I was seven. I immediately started playing and taking lessons. After I got my guitar when I was 7 - 8 years old I started asking Santa Claus for a drum set. I didn't get it until I was 12, for my birthday. I just always loved instruments in general. Who were the performers that got you excited about playing? It's funny, I don't remember as a kid being necessarily interested in guitar players - it was more pop music in general. I was into rock bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Nirvana. And I'd always really been into listening to drums, like Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. But Sting has been the most influential artist for me. When did you find your voice as a player? Looking back, I guess what I noticed was I was always dying to play in a rock band, and it was always hard to find a kid that age who played. And if they did, they didn't really have a grasp of playing chords and everything. So I guess I started to realize when I was young that most kids hadn't begun to play at that level. When I was 14 I started playing in a local rock band. The youngest person in the band was 24 or 25, and the rest were in their 30s. The guitar player was leaving, and they had heard about me and asked me to start learning the stuff to replace him. And that was the first time I realized, "Hey - I can hang with these adults. They want me to play in their band". It was fun - it was really exciting to be a freshman or sophomore in high school and rehearse with them two nights a week. Performances were really something for me. At first I was pretty intimidated. The lead guitar player in the band whose position I filled was an amazing guitar player, and I was intimidated by that - I thought, "I can't play like him for sure." But I realized that I could listen to their CDs and learn the stuff. Like most cases when that happens, where you're intimidated to sit in on a gig or something, you find that once you're there, and in the chair, you can hang. What do you do when you get stuck? I'm still trying to find the answer. That's a tough question. I would say take a step back from it - don't beat a dead horse. I find sometimes that I just say, "You know what, I'm just not going to practice this any more. Maybe I'll take look at this exercise next week." And then when you've had time to get away from it, when you come back, you can hit it hard. How do you keep your playing fresh? Also a really tough question. I might say the same answer actually. Never be afraid to take a break. Practice is really important, but never be afraid to stop. What do you still find hard to do? Everything. Guitar is a really hard instrument. One of the most frustrating things is when you can hear something in your head, and you can sing it, but you can't play it - it's not immediately available. Of course that comes with playing, but that's something that's very frustrating. How often are you surprised by your playing, or what you're listening to, or music in general? It doesn't happen often, but it happens more when I'm not trying so hard. When I'm forcing myself, I tend to not stumble across something that surprises me. Country music gets a bad rap a lot of people say, "I like everything except country." I was definitely surprised at how beautiful some of the songs are. As far as pop music goes these days, and especially the radio, I'm not that impressed these days. Do you have a regular practice regimen? Since in the last couple of years I've become more interested in production and less in performance, I haven't kept a regular practice routine, but when I was trying to do that, I would try to set aside a time and schedule it in. It's very important that if you're going to practice, you set a certain amount of time to practice, and that you stop when that time is over. (You don't want to overuse your hands.) And it's important that when you're practicing, you're focused only on your practice. So for instance, even if you're doing an exercise that may be real easy, like a warm up exercise to get your fingers moving, it's very important that you concentrate on exactly what you're doing instead of just letting your mind wander. Is there a piece of gear you just can't live without? I have a Les Paul custom that I used on the WorkshopLive lessons and I love it. The sound is so heavy and literally, it's very heavy - bad for your back. It just rips for rock. And I have a Peavey Classic 50 amp that I got last fall, and I love it. Are there one or two core ideas that are central to your teaching that you make sure every student learns? Because I play drums as well, I always make students focus on playing with other people, and how important that is. When I used to take guitar lessons I would have loved, as part of the lesson, to jam with a drummer. And so that's a big part of my lessons. I've got a studio at home, and I've got my guitars and amps, and drum set. Let's say if I've got an hour lesson, we'll do a good half hour, maybe 40 minutes just on the concepts, or if it's a song they want to play, on learning the song - and then we jam to the end of it. I talk about how to lock in with somebody, and I think that's really the most important part of playing. Do you find yourself returning to listen to the artists who inspired you when you first started to play? I had an older sibling, and she exposed me to a lot of music when I was 10. My mom was a jazz singer, so I've always been listening to music since I was really young. And sometimes I'm really impressed with what hip songs I picked out as a kid, that the actual songwriter value that I heard was really good. For the most part, I definitely listen to and still like the stuff I was first interested in. Does your playing change when you switch instruments? The fact that I play drums has made me think about guitar differently. I think more in terms of tempo and getting locked in, of course. A lot of guitar players get carried away with licks and stuff, and by playing drums I realized that the most important thing is locking it down, keeping a good rhythm and a good background for the vocalist or the soloist. 99% of the time, that's what people play. You don't often find yourself in the position where you're playing licks all over the place. So when I'm playing guitar I'm thinking of the beat, the snare hits, the fills. Looking at it the other way, a lot of drummers don't listen - they're kind of in their own world. In my opinion a lot of drummers are paying attention to the beat, but not the music. So as a guitar player playing drums, I'm thinking of the song, and the melody, not just the rhythm I'm playing. Pat Metheny has done a couple of clinics at USC, and he has said, "All guitar players should learn how to play drums." I truly believe that. How often, when you're playing, do you find those moments of pure music, when your head is clear, your fingers are working, there are no distractions, and it's just you and the music? More often than it used to when I was a performance major, and you just had to be practicing all the time or you just couldn't hang at all. It happens more often when I'm just playing songs - it's not really when I'm practicing, it's more when I'm hanging out. What music would you suggest for your students? Tori Amos - her stuff is quite interesting, and I would say Sting. My favorite album of all time is "THE SOUL CAGES." The reason I would suggest Sting is because so many kids today, especially rock guitar players, have this idea of Sting as like a pop icon, and they really have no idea how much his music is jazz influenced, how hip it is in jazz terms, and how well crafted it is in terms of songwriting. What are you listening to these days? I have quite a wide variety on my computer. Billie Holiday's always there, ready to go. Rainy days just seem to go well with Billie Holiday. Stevie Ray Vaughan I listen to a lot. Every time I listen to him, it really does something to me. Sting, I'm always, always listening to. I've never been a guitar geek. It's not something I necessarily seek out. I'm always on the lookout for drummers - I'm really more of a drum geek that a guitar geek. So I always listen to any drummer that plays with Sting and Jimmy Chamberlain with Smashing Pumpkins, Matt Cameron with Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. I try to search out new music because I'm going need to get a job in the music industry, and a big part of it is knowing what's out there - the upcoming bands and stuff. I've listened to a lot of country, actually, which I had never been into as a kid, but I'm surprisingly enjoying a lot of country songs - some really great songwriters. Do you have a musical wish list - other instruments to learn, people to play with, artists or styles to explore? Yeah. I got a flute about a year ago. My brother in law plays sax with the Tommy Dorsey band. He teaches flute, too, and he gave me a flute for Christmas. I've tried it; I haven't taken a lesson yet... so that may be my next instrument. I haven't studied drums in a long time. Since I've come to school, I have no place for a drum set. I'd really like to get back into studying more seriously and become better at it and learn some different styles - maybe some Latin or fusion. I'd love to take a drum lesson from somebody like Kenny Aronoff. What make a great teacher? I've had all kinds of different teachers. I was a student at National Guitar Workshop for 5 years and I had a lot of brilliant teachers there. I remember taking lessons from somebody who would always create a scenario for me. He'd say, "All right, the Smashing Pumpkins lead guitar player can't play tonight, so you've got to fill in, but they're going to modulate the song up a minor third, so you've got to figure out what to do" - things like that. It was always fun, and always kept me interested, so I've tried to put that in my teaching. Let's say I'm playing drums and my student is playing guitar, and I really want them to lock in, so I say, "Pretend you're playing a gig, you're on stage, and everyone's dancing, and you can't drop the beat" just that kind of thing. It tends to keep kids interested.
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