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Discover Robert Conti by Rik Jonna

In recent weeks, I have had the pleasure of reconnecting and speaking frequently with my friend, Master guitarist- Bob Conti.  Bob & I met 15 years or so ago in Vegas where he was performing. I went to the club and introduced myself as a friend of PM’s. It was a memorable night – one I will never forget- great music, some good Italian food and wine, and talking guitar with a humble and generous jazz giant. I should mention that Pat & Bob grew up in Philly together. Both young guitarists hit the jazz circuit playing clubs in their early teens. That’s another story!!!

So- where was this man, the great Robert Conti, when I was subscribing to, what I consider, an antiquated approach to jazz guitar – The Berklee Guitar Method. PM stated in his groundbreaking book- Linear Expressions- “There are no better ways, just different ways.” (patmartino.com)

What’s good for some, may not be as good or beneficial or enjoyable for others. So, I’m simply stating that, for me personally, it was a rigorous approach that didn’t appeal to me, especially after getting to know PM. What he shared with with me in a few hours, would provide “food for musical thought” for a lifetime. I should mention that Pat has continued throughout the years, now spanning 4 decades, to share with me many eye-opening thoughts both spiritually and musically, his perspectives, compositions, approaches, ideas, etc etc., in addition to his love, support and never-ending mentoring and friendship – which I remain forever grateful for.

Back to Bob…In more ways than one, PM and Robert Conti are geniuses with remarkable and keen abilities to present both their knowledge and music approaches to us- IN WRITING.
I came from a school of record copying when in my youth (lifting and dropping the needle – with very little site reading until I attended the Berklee College of Music). It is clear that the Conti approach would have been much easier for me to engage in, and develop a comfortable command of the fingerboard in its entirety – in a much shorter period of time. In addition, to being acclaimed globally for his technique, wizardry and mastery of jazz guitar, Robert Conti is a world-class instructor, who has been sharing his no-nonsense, thought provoking and simplified approach to guitarist around the world for many, many years and with great success. His efforts have resulted in methods that, if applied properly, give jazz guitarist’s a total and full command of the fretboard without having to, well… “think your ass off”. I only wish his innovative approaches were available to me in my youth. Very few accomplished jazz musicians have the ability to break down, and share with you their approach, not to mention, simplifying the entire improvising process.

So all you young players, and anyone else for that matter, who love the guitar and want to “get with it” swiftly, and expand your knowledge rapidly and sensibly, I urge you subscribe to Robert’s approach. It’s a game changer!!! YOU WON’T BE SORRY. In fact you won’t want to put your instrument down. I sure don’t!!

In closing, the intent of my thoughts was to simply introduce to the jazz guitar enthusiast, and especially you young players, an inspirational learning source; refreshing, engaging, and well thought out content from a true gentleman and, in my opinion, one of the greatest jazz guitar players and educators of all time. Simply put- NO BULLSHIT!!! Robert Conti is brilliant. Peace….ENJOY!!!

Original post: Facebook

Labor Day Event & More Exciting News

Labor Day Sale & More Exciting News

Happy Labor Day weekend to all the hard working people throughout the world! In celebration of this holiday, we’re offering a 25% across the board discount on all of our learning products, including the Signature Chord Melody Arrangement series, whose price has been reduced for the new downloadable format. This sale event is now in progress, through Thursday September 8, 2016. The discount coupon will be automatically applied to your shopping cart.

Signature Chord Melody Series – DOWNLOADABLE

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Since day 1 in the year 2000, the Robert Conti Signature Chord Melody Arrangement series has been the go-to resource for numerous working players and those jazz guitarists who appreciate the elegance and artistry of beautiful music.

By popular demand, we’re pleased to announce that this series is now available as downloadable PDF files.  By changing to this format, we were able to significantly lower the cost for our patrons. Please visit the new Signature Chord Melody Arrangements page to see and hear new samples.

Visit: Signature Chord Melody Arrangements

One Happy German Fellow!

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We wanted to take a moment to share this heartfelt and motivational commentary from one of our patrons in Germany:

The Assembly Line & The Formula

“I found Mr. Conti when I saw a video of him showing how to play chord melody.  He said something like: “Learn the chords and understand the system.” I already knew most of the chords he was playing but didn’t understand the system. In the background I could read www.RobertConti.com, so I googled this, and there I found another video were Mr. Conti  plays this cowboy song and explains what is shown in the Chord Melody Assembly Line and The Formula as I remember. So I ordered the Chord Melody Assembly because $40.00 is not so much, even if it is useless. IT WAS NOT. Mr. Conti doesn’t lie when he promises you: “You can learn it” YOU CAN.

My wife asked me: “Was it worth the money?”  I said: “Yes, if I knew before, what big connections the Chord Melody Assembly Line would give me, I would have payed 10 times more, because I can play chord melody from one moment to the other and I understood the system at once, even though I still didn’t know were Robert Conti got all these chords in the Signature Chord Melody Arrangements. So I will order the other books too.” That was a pretty good idea.  After reading The Formula, I knew not only were Mr. Conti got the chords from, I can create chord melody by myself. If you told me this before, that I am able to this, after understanding the system, I would not have believed it.

Intros, Endings & Turnarounds

It works with The Formula and it is very good to have 120 ideas from an experienced musician that you can combine to create new intros.

The Precision Technique

This book sped up my picking and it feels like I can play twice as fast as I could before. My speed increase was also helped with his thin pick. I experimented with different picks before, but never used such a thin one, because when I tried thin picks they deformed and were looking pretty soon like a boomerang not usable.

I think that Mr. Conti’s books are interesting for any guitarist at any level. I am sure that 99.99% of the guitarists don’t know every thing explained in these books. See what you pay, maybe for a guitar, then need a better one. Maybe the new  guitar sounds better but you are still playing the same.  When you work with the “Source Code” line, your playing will increase immediately and Robert Conti lifts you up to a higher plateau. So he did with me. I can play things I couldn’t play before and other things, which I could hardly play, I play with ease now.

I’ve played guitar for 44 years and been playing jazz for 10 years. I never made this much progress in such a small period of 2 months. Thank you for all these books Mr. Conti. You are the best teacher I’ve ever seen.”

Kind regards
Markus Wolf, Germany

Return of the Conti Guitar – Soon!

Been waiting patiently for the next generation of Conti Guitars? we are pleased to inform you that the first completed instruments should arrive in the latter part of September – and they are gorgeous!

Although a notification will be sent to our database, please keep an eye on the site. In addition, feel free to add your email address to the interest list for advance notice of introductory discount pricing.

The Turning Point

The Turning Point by Dave Ruggiero

I prepared this narrative in an effort to apprise other aspiring jazz guitarists about my experience with the Ticket To Improv DVD series and The Jazz Lines by Robert Conti. I own all five products (the Ticket To Improv series has four current volumes for those unaware) and have spent several months working through the material and watching the DVDs. I am comfortable enough to share my experiences in a way that can benefit aspiring jazz guitarists. It is also my hope that this narrative will resonate with other aspiring jazz guitarists who are frustrated after struggling with the academic modes/scales approach.

I’m writing from the perspective of a hobbyist that doesn’t have time for lessons and wants to make every second of practice time count. I have had my fill of theory-intensive method books, and my experience with all of them goes a little something like this:

  1. Practice scales and modes/read about theory
  2. Occasionally find a tidbit of jazz theory that would allegedly “crack the code” for me
  3. Get excited and believe that I was finally getting it
  4. Play the exercises and eventually get bored because I was playing exercises
  5. Fail miserably at every attempt to improvise over changes, without playing something other than a menial exercise
  6. Get frustrated, lose confidence and put down the instrument only to eventually
  7. Buy a different method book and repeat steps 1-6 all over again.

My Turning Point

In 2010, in lieu of yet another method book, my usual step 7 took a very different turn during my first visit to the Robert Conti website, as his No Modes No Scales® approach quickly caught my attention.  After working through the free Take the A Train lesson on his website, and getting those lines under my fingers, I immediately realized that my prior lack of progress and frequent loss of interest was not the result of any inadequacies on my part.  That free lesson convinced me that my prior lack of progress, was the result of mistakenly approaching jazz guitar from a predominantly academic/theory-based perspective, which  was non-productive and did not  translate into any meaningful playing skills.

I proceeded to purchase Volume 1 of the Ticket To Improv DVD Series.  The lines are hip and they are very easy to learn.  It was also a tremendous confidence booster that renewed my interest in improvising over standards. Robert’s DVDs give the viewer the feel of being in a private lesson with him. Ticket to Improv is no different. Robert takes each solo and breaks them down measure-by-measure, note-by-note and teaches students exactly how to play them. Robert does this in two-to-four measure increments, which is very useful as it allows students to easily navigate through the DVD’s main menu.

Robert’s introductory narrative alone is worth the $24.95 price of the 4 Hour DVD.  This is not a short introductory piece.  It runs approximately 30 minutes and proved to be an extremely valuable and substantive educational experience for me.  By imparting over 40 years of playing and teaching wisdom into a plainly-spoken and accessible narrative, I was convinced that all I needed to do to learn to play was to play my instrument and let the rest of it (i.e. the theory) take care of itself.

Robert’s approach is modest and matter of fact.  He speaks from experience when he says: “Play your instrument and get the music under your hands and the light bulbs will come on.” There are no false promises here.  What he said will happen, and it  has happened for me.  He is the real deal and my videos as a student further reinforce his credibility as an instructor.

The improvised solos contain the real jazz language, professional-quality jazz lines made very accessible to entry level players. Once again, going against everything I thought I knew from the theory/scales approach, I was immediately immersed in the jazz language without having to waste time with boring scales, modes, meaningless blocks of safe notes. I was employing chromatics without having to learn about them separately. I was adding dissonance over dominant chords without having to learn an “advanced” scale to do so. Robert’s fingering protocol, a system based on building lines from the major chords shape most guitarists will already know, puts these concepts right under the player’s hands. There is not a single entry-level jazz guitar textbook that comes remotely close to teaching these concepts in as comprehensive a fashion as Robert does, nor as efficiently.

Robert’s solos got me into changing positions on the fretboard very easily, and at no point does it feel overwhelming.  In time, it became second nature. The line construction breaks from the convention of “box-scale” type thinking. I was moving all over the fretboard with ease and confidence, in a more effective way than any standalone fretboard method book could do.  Again, to quote Robert, I’m “learning jazz by playing jazz.”  A lot of thought was put into these lessons from the choices of standards to the solos becoming progressively more difficult from one project to the next.  Furthermore, even to the players that can learn the lines quickly, in each of the projects, Conti presents additional impromptu thoughts, ideas and “off-the-sheet tips.”

When it comes to the learning process, it did not end when I mastered the three main project solos.  The more obvious aspect of this experience is that each DVD has a Project 4, which is yet another improvised solo on a different standard.  However, learning the Project 4 solo note-for-note, while helpful, is not the key takeaway from these lessons.  Robert constructed the Project 4 solo simply by re-employing lines that I already learned in the first three projects on the DVD. A light bulb went on, and it then became apparent to me, if someone else can take lines that I now know, and create new lines and solos with them, why can’t I?  The point is, I can, and I will.  I have to work for it, but I now have a viable and readily employable foundation of jazz vocabulary that I’ve learned from the improvised solos, and other harmonic devices in those DVDs.

It’s now a matter of making them work the way I want them to work (all of this being accomplished without wasting a single second with abstract concepts and theory).  As strange is it may look on paper, I not only learned real jazz vocabulary but I learned how to learn. This has prepared me to move on to more advanced material (Note: since the time of this writing, Dave has recorded advanced material as seen above, and in the Players Gallery). On that note, I think the Ticket To Improv DVD series delivers on its ability to teach entry-level jazz to students and to prepare them for what is to come.

Peeking Under The Hood

That said, there are other benefits to the Ticket To Improv series that I began to appreciate more as my skill level has progressed.  As I like to peek under the hood and get to the “nuts and bolts,” shortly after getting through the first Ticket To Improv DVD, I purchased The Jazz Lines in the Source Code DVD Series.  I have viewed that material as a critically important supplement to my learning.  The Jazz Lines goes into greater detail about the harmonic devices that Robert uses to construct his lines.  For a lack of a better term, I will call it “applied theory.”  There are discussions of theory but they are only there to illustrate why the lines work the way they do.  Perhaps other players would reach the same conclusions I did a different way, but after spending considerable time working through the first five or six lessons in that book along with the After The Gig section (a section worth at least twice the price of the DVD/Book), I started to internalize those concepts (still a work in progress).

The more I continued to work with the Ticket To Improv series, the more the light bulbs went on for me,  as I was able to discover how Robert employed the same harmonic devices that he uses in his solos on the bandstand at 300 bpm.  However, he has made those harmonic  devices accessible to entry-level players.  As I see it, by design,  Robert has successfully created a platform for entry level students that gives them his absolute best at that level of ability, through his selections of lines and harmonic devices.  I later discovered that the entry level lines and harmonic devices from the Ticket To Improv series appeared again in The Jazz Lines, and in the Advanced DVD Series.  However, Robert presented those lines and harmonic devices at the far more complex pro level.  I was already prepared to move on to more challenging material simply because I had already played the easier versions of those lines and other devices.    In essence, I was able to understand the harmonic devices and  “applied theory”  after the fact, because I had played these very same things so many times before.   Only now, instead of seeing a series of notes on the page, I started seeing them in blocks because of my growing familiarity with them.

Conclusion

By no means is learning a short process.   However, my experience with both The Jazz Lines and Ticket To Improv has been continuously productive, and they have unquestionably made the journey easier and far more enjoyable.   No hobbyist should have to worry about learning the theory before learning to play.  I have no aspirations of becoming a music instructor or joining the academy. I play jazz guitar for fun so if my lack of knowledge does not sit well amongst certain people, that’s not my problem.  The old school approach has been working for me, so I see no reason to approach improvisation through any other means than the effective way Robert has taught me.

Through that education, I have learned that I have no use for abstract concepts without the meat and potatoes behind them.  Jazz was an art form learned in the streets, and there is no concept out there that can not be communicated through playing.  No entry level student needs to sit through a course of theory, scales and modes before being ready to play (especially players new to jazz coming from other areas).  Robert’s Ticket To Improv DVD Series completely blows the concept of modes and scales out of the water.

I was one of those aspiring bedroom players that knew more theory than I cared to, yet I was still discouraged about improvising.  Today, while I am pleased about the progress that I have made, what excites me more is that I feel that I am finally on the right path.  No longer do I practice my instrument every night. I play my instrument.  No longer do I sit and hope that learning some scale is going to help my jazz vocabulary, I take lines that I have learned, play them enjoyably, almost until my fingers bleed, and I am now neck deep in making those lines my own.  Most importantly, The Ticket To Improv  series and The Jazz Lines have made learning and playing jazz guitar fun, and if it’s not fun, then what’s the point?

-Dave Ruggiero
Summit, NJ USA

Vol 4 – Ticket To Improv Review in JJG

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, then Robert Conti must feel very flattered these days because he seems to have scores of imitators who have just “discovered” the value of teaching without modes or scales. Not that I have anything against teaching with the best methods available, or changing course when you find something better, but let’s give credit where it’s due. I’ve seen Robert Conti abused for decades for daring to teach lines instead of scales and modes, so I think a little appreciation for his pioneering work is in order.

And speaking of pioneering teaching, Robert Conti’s Ticket To Improv series has been a goldmine for guitarists wanting to learn jazz soloing. Ticket To Improv Volume Four returns to the formats of the first two volumes with solos for 4 of the most beloved and requested  jazz standards ever written:  Days of Wine and Roses, Bluesette, Wave, and Georgia On My Mind. Ever attentive to his student/customers’ requests, Mr. Conti gave us the best introduction to jazz blues that I have seen or heard with Volume 3 of this great series, and now he returns to soloing over these new tunes with renewed vigor and invention. These truly are solos that you can “take to the gig” and they will amaze your friends as much as they impress your audience. When I review any learning product I work through it, and I have to tell you that I always look forward to a DVD from Robert Conti. I always learn and lot and have a blast doing it.

This DVD represents a great bargain. Beyond learning four outstanding jazz solos, you get real-world playing tips from a master who really remembers what it was like struggling to learn to improvise. Robert Conti’s on-going comments are more than worth the price of the DVD, even without the solos. There is more useful information here than most teachers would pass on in months of lessons.

The solo lines themselves are miniature works of art, and these are only “beginner” lines insofar as speed is concerned; as Robert Conti demonstrates, taken at speed or with a few embellishments any of the sections of any of the solos would be more than welcome on a professional recording. These are not exercises, they are music.

A very clever touch is the use of variations of motives used in the previous Ticket To Improv volumes, making each one an incremental learning resource. Devices such as extended chromatic passing note motions and extended chord tone arpeggios reappear in new tunes over different chord progressions, modeling for the learner the inner workings of Mr. Conti’s deep knowledge of improvisation. While you do not need to have worked through any of the previous volumes to learn this one, those who have will find their knowledge and confidence growing at an even greater rate. It’s almost as if Robert Conti is tricking you into becoming a much better improviser by having so much fun.

Wave is another great solo and one that departs from the standard 32-bar format which adds even more variety to the material here. Once again this solo is “entry level” in that any guitar player with basic technique will be able to master it, but in any other sense it is truly “pro level.” Mr. Conti demonstrates this on a few phrases here, and I can corroborate what he says. I’ve actually slowed down some of his recordings and many of those lines are found in the solos on the Ticket To Improv series, at slower tempos and in some cases slightly simplified. In fact, many of the “off the sheet” tips that Robert Conti provides are ways to take these lines to the next level while developing your own personal style. Quite a “bonus”!

For those who may not know, when discussing improving speed and accuracy Mr. Conti refers in passing very quickly to “another DVD” – this is his Precision Technique, which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to improve both speed and accuracy in their playing. Of course you don’t need blinding speed for these solos since they sound very good at almost any tempo. Bluesette is a nice addition that will give you some experience soloing in 3/4, which sometimes gives the impression of going faster than the actual tempo since the bars are shorter.

Another great bonus of this DVD is the ways that earlier motives are re-used to fit over different chords and progressions. This not only demonstrates how to adapt these lines yourself; it also gives you insight into how Mr. Conti himself views the guitar neck and how he can improvise at such blazing speed. A related point is how to change positions smoothly and how to use the entire neck, rather than being handcuffed to a single position.

This actually gave me a moment of concern when I first worked through Georgia On My Mind. This is one of my favorite tunes, and I had been hoping to see it on a volume of Ticket To Improv, but when I saw that it was the Bonus Project – one that would consist of sections of the previous solos re-purposed – I was a bit worried that the solo might not be of the same level as the others. I need not have worried! This might be the finest of the solos, and it certainly does justice to this great song with a solo that anybody would be proud to play in concert. It is just as valuable as a lesson on taking parts of lines and reworking them over similar (and even some not so similar) chord progressions. If you can take musical phrases from Wave and Bluesette and play them over Georgia, you are well on your way to being able to solo over virtually any standard.

Never one to put his name on another’s work, Robert Conti is scrupulous in giving credit to guitarists from whom he has learned ideas, licks, tricks, and techniques, greats such as Howard Roberts, Pat Martino, George Benson, and Wes Montgomery to name just four. However, the goal here, as in all of Robert Conti’s teaching products, is for you to develop your own style, and to sound like yourself, not a copy of anyone else.

I highly recommend this DVD to anyone who wants to learn to improvise better and to have great fun while doing just that. Order it direct from RobertConti.com.

The Conti Philosophy

The great guitar players learned to play by playing the guitar. That sounds simple and it is but then ask yourself why so many teachers make playing music among their lowest priorities. They assign all sorts of esoteric scales, modes, chord formations, fingerboard patterns, numerical mumbo-jumbo everything except the very music that the learner wants to play. This may build character and it certainly builds the teacher’s bank balance but does it do justice to the learner? Robert Conti is a teacher with a difference. He is a pioneer in jazz guitar teaching who early on discovered that the way to learn to play jazz guitar is to play real jazz lines, not to study scales and modes endlessly. By playing real jazz that is just beyond the player’s current ability, Mr. Conti provides an attainable goal that increases both technical proficiency and a sense of achievement in the student. Nothing succeeds like success, and no one practices so willingly as a learner who is making progress.

Many types of learning bear out this methodology. Consider language. We learn it by hearing others speak and gradually using it ourselves. We do not make 3-year-old children sit through courses on grammar and syntax. We do not correct them by insisting that they use only certain structures. “No child, don’t say ‘ma-ma’; say ‘Good morning mother, how are you today?’ ” In fact we only become concerned if they do not learn to speak this way. And when a child does speak, we do not just hear our own words parroted back to us – soon the child can form his or her own ideas in sentences which are completely original.

Wes Montgomery tells of his start in the music world. He learned the solos of Charlie Christian note-for-note, and played these in a band, but that is all that he knew. “I’d lay out until time came for my solo, play it, then lay back out again.” After months of this, and at the insistence of his band leader, Wes discovered that he could come up with his own ideas, and as time went by he sounded less like Charlie Christian and more like Wes Montgomery. He learned the language of jazz guitar and became able to “speak it.”

In refining his teaching approach, Robert Conti soon realized that this was the most effective approach. Like spoken language, music is an aural art – we hear it, and are heard when we produce it. To learn the language you had to hear it, become familiar with it, then produce your own. To learn to play jazz guitar, you had to play jazz guitar, starting with simpler but real jazz lines and progressing to more complex ones. The student starts by copying real examples and progresses to producing his or her own.

The Conti Approach is what academics classify as experiential learning. You learn by doing something, starting simply and gradually increasing complexity. This may be more precisely defined as Situated Learning, which means that the skills are developed in and for a specific milieu. With jazz guitar that would be the jazz world in general, and jazz gigs in particular. From this viewpoint, if you only practise scales then they are all that you will be learning to play. If all of your practice is just for your next lesson, you will be learning to play for a teacher, which is why Robert Conti produces solos that he urges the student to “take to your next jam session or gig.” The materials and context are aimed toward performance, not toward a lifetime of lessons as a perpetual student.

My own expertise is in a refinement of situated learning called Legitimate Peripheral Participation, coined and explained by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger. It may sound daunting, but the term is very precise. Lave and Wenger pointed out that many activities are best learned when the tasks leading to them are real, authentic actions that someone proficient in the field would perform (they are “legitimate”); that the learner works in the field, but at its “outer edges” rather on the cutting edge or center of activity (peripheral); and that the learner is a true part of the community, say by playing at jam sessions or gigs (participation). From this viewpoint, a jazz guitar learner would become a jazz guitarist by carrying out authentic learning activities as a junior member of the jazz community, maybe as a regular at jam sessions or as a sideman for an established player. Think apprenticeship. Think comping in a band until you learn the repertoire of songs. Think playing someone else’s lines until you are confident enough to come up with your own.

The Conti Approach To Jazz Guitar

Robert Conti provides just this approach to learning. All of his soloing courses, from beginner to pro, feature his full performance of the material along with a bar-by-bar breakdown and explanation of the material. This is an updated version of a traditional learning method where beginners would go to a gig just to watch a master’s hands as he played, to “cop a few of his licks.” In this case, the master himself shows the student every lick, speeding up the process considerably. Most importantly, these are solos for some of the most popular standards in the repertoire, which means that the learner will have solos to play at a jam session, and thus get valuable real world experience. By choosing songs with common chord progressions, Mr. Conti ensures that the student has a repertoire of phrases or licks that will fit in hundreds or even thousands of similar songs.

Robert Conti’s approach is a hands-on practical guide to playing real jazz. Rather than begin with theory, he lets the theoretical issues arise from actual playing situations, so that the solutions are put in a meaningful context. For example, after playing some of Mr. Conti’s chord melody arrangements, a student might want to learn how to harmonize melodies on his own; or after playing a solo from the Ticket To Improv series a learner might want to increase the speed or precision of his picking. These kinds of issues are covered in the Source Code series of courses which are targeted to a specific need. Again, all of the lessons are geared toward musical solutions and the examples are presented from actual songs that the student will learn.

Of course different people learn in different ways. Fortunately the Conti Approach is flexible, and driven by the student’s own learning goals. A learner may begin with chord melody, or single lines; with jazz or blues; with beginner solos or more advanced : these are just some of the options available. Even those who prefer to start with a more theoretical bent are accommodated with the full Source Code series. The common thread that links all of the courses is the backbone of the Conti Approach: you will learn to play jazz guitar by playing real jazz that is just slightly beyond your current ability. From there, the only limits are your own time and effort!

– by Dr. Dave Walker

Jazz Guitarists to the Rescue

An Inspirational (and true!) Tale

No jazz musician needs to be told how tight money is in this recession. Budgets are being slashed everywhere, and perhaps most in education.Now imagine that you have a class of eager guitar students but no guitars and no money to buy them.  What would you do?  Welcome to the world of Bruce Edmiston. Bruce has been teaching his guitar class at Oxnard High School for thirteen years, focused mainly on jazz guitar. He tells us: “I inform everyone from day one that I teach music and that we will be using the guitar as the instrument to bring that music to life.” JJG readers will be familiar with the materials that Bruce uses in the classroom: “Robert Conti offers materials that are just fantastic. From chord melody, to improv, to technique, he provides it all. Most importantly it is affordable which is important because of dwindling school budgets for music. Howard Morgen is a  treasure trove of material as well. I believe that I have every book both of those men have published which might explain why I haven’t bought a new guitar.” Bruce also uses his    own teaching materials, an extensive collection that he has built up from his years of playing with different acts. Lots of material, but no guitars.

Robert,Thank you for your introduction to your friend Jon Puhl at Dean Guitars, as your influence resulted in extremely favorable pricingthat enabled me to obtain sixteen guitars for my class. This pictures represent your willingness to help a bunch of guitar playing students in my music program at Oxnard High School. You have been a part of helping make some dreams come true for some very enthusiastic guitar students. Don’t forget we want a blonde Conti for our showcase. ” Where Words Fail Music Speaks, Bruce Edmiston

So picture Bruce in his classroom trying to think up a solution to his dilemma. He picks up the phone, and calls the office of Robert Conti to ask for two Conti Guitars – just two, and he really could not even afford them! “Having begged, borrowed, and stolen for so long I’ve become numb to making ridiculous and outrageous requests. But I hold on to the noble notion that my motivation is teaching guitars to kids, swallow hard and open my mouth and ask for the impossible.”

It turns out that Bruce had made the right call. Considering the request, Robert decided that two guitars would not be enough for a group of sixteen eager young guitarists, so he got on the phone to Jon Puhl at Dean Guitars to see if there was something they could  do for Bruce’s kids. As a favor to Robert, Jon did. Dean Guitars decided to offer Bruce 16 archtop jazz guitarsat a tiny fraction of their true price – enough guitars to outfit the entire class!

Back in Oxnard, Bruce was floored to receive the call from Robert Conti telling him of the generous offer from Dean Guitars. Having planned on holding a competition between the students to use one of the two new guitars, here was an offer of one for each student – but he still had no money to buy them. “I didn’t have enough money at that moment but went calling in every favor I’ve ever done for our administration and district personnel until I got the money and we purchased our guitars.” Are the kids happy? Take a look at their picture!

Bruce Edmiston is unreserved in his appreciation of Robert Conti’s magnanimous gesture. “If not for Robert Conti we would not have these beautiful guitars to play. Mr. Conti has helped create an excitement in my students that is unmatched. Thank you Robert! You walk the walk. Look at the photo and the sheer delight on the face of the students. This is why I do this job and I am grateful to JJG and Mr.Conti.” Ever the gentleman, when I contacted Robert Conti about this story he pointed to Jon Puhl and Dean  Guitars as the ones who saved the day, but I think we can all agree that this was a group effort.

In these tough economic times, it is inspiring to see jazz guitarists pull together to help the next generation on the path to music. Robert Conti, Jon Puhl, and Dean Guitars – you are an inspiration to us all!

Dr. Dave Walker

Volume 3 – Ticket To Improv Review in JJG

Robert Conti may well be the most successful jazz guitar teacher on the planet, and deservedly so. With over 31 instructional DVD’s ranging from absolute beginner to pro, Mr. Conti seems to barely finish one before his fans and students ask for more. While most other guitarists, including some of the finest players, are finding it difficult to maintain a student base, Mr. Conti has continued to attract more students with each release.

His highly successful Ticket To Improv series is Robert Conti’s introduction to jazz improvisation. The first two volumes set the tone for the series with high quality jazz lines that were well within the technical capabilities of most beginning jazz players. However, Mr. Conti’s success is a combination of his know-how and teaching skill combined with his intense interest in the needs and requests of his students. So when he was deluged with requests for material that was easier to play, and also for an introduction to jazz-blues improvisation, he combined the two into his latest DVD: Ticket To Improv Volume 3.

With Volume 3 Robert Conti continues to improve this outstanding series. If your approach to blues soloing is noodling with the pentatonic scale,then you need this DVD! As in the first two volumes, Mr. Conti presents several projects by playing a solo and then teaching it bar-by-bar. For Volume 3 this means three blues solos over different chord changes, from very basic to more complex. The chord progressions range from basic blues changes, to Miles Davis’ All Blues, and finally Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man. But although they are well worth the price of admission alone, these very cool lines and their explanations are only the beginning.

From the very first solo, Robert Conti emphasizes the usefulness of each line over different chord changes. He illustrates this by playing individual phrases over more and more complex chord progressions, showing that the inner motion that directs the lines over the basic chords functions equally well over a more elaborate progression. This should be both a revelation and a relief to those many players who feel intimidated by “jazz changes” for the blues. This alone should open up the possibilities for almost any beginning to intermediate improviser. Best of all, you can try these for yourself as the DVD includes the backing tracks as MIDI files so you can set the tempo that is comfortable for you. If MIDI is not your thing, the backing tracks are also included in MP3 format. All of the solos are included in PDF form with both notation and tablature, and the PDF also contains the different sets of changes for each solo.

If you have worked through one of Robert Conti’s other DVD’s, you know that he will often spontaneously come up with a brilliant tip that adds a new dimension to a line, a fingering, or a chord progression. In the past couple of DVD’s he has added a light bulb to the screen to make these insights easier to find again. For Ticket To Improv Volume 3 he goes even further by adding several sections after he has finished teaching the solo. These demonstrate the use of phrases over different chord progressions as well as ways to beef up your own comping. Another section gathers up tips and hints on varying the lines and creating your own style. After you have learned the solos, you will be coming back to these sections to learn fresh ways of varying them and creating your own style.

Those who have worked through one or both of the first two volumes of Ticket To Improv will find that some of the phrases from the earlier solos are given new shape to fit into these blues lines. This makes learning the new lines easier, and has the added advantage that your own modifications to the other lines will also work with the new blues material. Don’t be surprised by seeing light bulbs go off around the world as legions of students suddenly ‘get’ how to form their own blues lines over any chord progression. This is a powerful technique for accelerating learning.

Emblematic of Robert Conti’s love of teaching is his addition of a Bonus Jam to the DVD. After recording over 4 hours of video for the DVD, he let himself be gently coerced into adding one of his own blues songs, which he teaches in detail as well.

In short, this is a great learning resource for anyone who wants to improve their improvising with the blues. You get top-flight instruction on great lines over classic changes, all geared to make you play better. At over 4 hours of instruction, this DVD is a great value for a little money.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Dr. Dave Walker for Just Jazz Guitar Magazine

2010 Just Jazz Guitar Cover Story

Preface by Paul Getty

During a recent conversation with Ed Benson, we were discussing how the economic downturn has affected numerous guitarists who voiced complaints about their substantial loss of income from lessons, gigs etc. Our conversation turned to the success of Robert Conti. In the midst of the punitive economic conditions during the last three years, he recently released his thirty-first full-length DVD, as an obvious result of the ongoing demand for his unique ability to teach effectively. To my knowledge, that level of consistently creative teaching production is unprecedented. On the heels of ongoing DVD production plus a heavy performance schedule, Robert continued to bulldoze through this economy with the successful launch of the high quality Conti Archtop Guitars.

Robert Conti is clearly a maverick on many levels – he is a virtuoso player who performs an endless number of
private first class engagements for the huge corporate clientele he has developed.  As evidenced by the production of thirty-one DVDs to meet the demand for his effective teaching skills, he is an extraordinary educator.  There are great players, and there are great teachers.  But the rare breed is the artist who is both a great player AND a great teacher.  As undeniably indicated by the demand for his products, Robert Conti is clearly in that elite and rarefied category – a virtuoso who is also an effective entrepreneur who clearly knows when to “roll the dice.”  Ed Benson and I agreed that an in-depth interview  was in order to share this amazing success story and perhaps have Robert offer some insights to help other guitarists improve their career circumstances.

Preface by Dr. Dave Walker

I first heard of Robert Conti in a USENET newsgroup, where he was the target of some vicious attacks. I had to see for myself what could cause such outrage. After visiting Robert’s web site and emailing a few of his customers, I decided to order a number of books. I was thrilled at the level of instruction in them, and was even more impressed with the personal level of service I received when international shipping broke down and my order seemed lost. When I began reviewing DVDs for this fine magazine, I had to see what was new in the lineup and was very happy to see that the materials were now on DVD. Watching Robert teach, I became even more impressed with his approach, especially as I had spent the previous decade in intense research on educational methods. In fact, I was shocked at how closely Robert’s teaching approach was to the “optimal” approach that was showing up in the research data.  Having reviewed about a dozen of Robert Conti’s DVDs, I was happy to receive a call from Paul Getty asking me to do this interview. [One procedural note: Robert means “he or she” when the text refers to “he.” I left in the pronoun “he” in order to save space for more of Robert’s comments.]

DW: Robert, I understand from Paul Getty that congratulations are certainly in order, as your website and publishing company completed their 10th year at the end of 2009.  As both a customer and observer I must say that the growth of your catalog has been most impressive. In researching for this interview, it struck me that one could literally spend days reading the customer commentaries on your website. I also noticed the addition of the student video gallery where several of your students demonstrated the skills they learned from your DVDs.  This is a real testament to your skill as an educator.

My reviews  of your “Ticket to Improv” DVDs followed by my reviews of “The Jazz Lines” and “The Comping Expo” from your Source Code DVD series have generated an almost unbelievable amount of enthusiastic feedback from readers who purchased  those  DVDs.   My own experience with your DVDs corroborates this. I admire your approach to teaching and its effectiveness.  So let’s start  this interview with this question:

DW: Who do you see as your primary student audience?

RC: Any guitarist (rock, blues, country player, semi pro jazz player) who has some basic playing skills, but more importantly, has a strong desire to play jazz guitar along with the willingness to improve  his/her skills. There are also many Semi Pros and Professionals who are utilizing my learning products.

DW: You have a somewhat unique approach to teaching with your No Modes No Scales® method. In doing some background work for this interview I have heard from quite a few of your students who love your approach and have made great strides in their playing. What do you feel makes your method of teaching so popular and effective?

RC:  Dave, your question seems like a conspiracy between you and Paul Getty to have me reveal my trade secrets.  Just joking, as I am delighted to present that information to assist others in their teaching endeavors. Actually, my approach is very traditional, in that I teach jazz guitar the way that I and countless others from my generation learned, i.e., by playing. Numerous great jazz musicians from yesteryear were able to achieve uncommonly high levels of playing skill.  This art form began in the ghettos of New Orleans and continued to evolve in a variety of bars, speakeasies, burlesques, backrooms of all types of undesirable environments from New Orleans to Chicago to the East Coast.  History will reveal that those musicians honed their skills by playing their instruments, sharing their lines and ideas – not talking about modes, scales, or engaging in other non-playing activities, as some would like you to believe. The reality is that playing jazz was how they practiced and mastered their craft to a high degree.

Through the years I have had endless numbers of students who complained that they took several years of lessons, and dutifully mastered modes and scales, as directed by their instructors. Then after a year or two, the instructor said, “OK, you’ve learned all your modes and scales, now go apply them and play jazz.”  Most people who have had that experience feel as if they’ve been hoodwinked – and in my opinion, rightfully so, as the only thing they accomplished is playing modes and scales very well.

Try to imagine the following scenario: One sunny day, on a college campus, Wes Montgomery sees his friend Grant Green approaching. Wes then says, “Grant, my friend, what a beautiful and delightful day it is on campus today. Sorry, but I can’t chit chat with you right now, as I must hurry to my modes and scales class – but let’s do lunch. Ta ta!”  Guaranteed, nothing even remotely close to that scenario ever happened.  The more than likely scenario at some after hours bar,  Wes might have said: “Grant, let’s hang after the gig, I worked up some hip new stuff I want to lay on you!”  That’s the way I teach jazz guitar.

DW: You’ve been teaching for a long time now, haven’t you?  Has your approach evolved over time?

RC: I gave my first lesson nearly 45 years ago, and since that time, as an educator and observer I have adopted many techniques into my teaching approach.  One of the cornerstones of my products is to continuously bridge the gap from presenting a concept to making music.  More specifically, in each DVD I present the viewer with data that is, or will become, useful immediately upon assimilation.  My approach, in a sentence, is to teach improv or solo guitar by presenting the student with an improv line and having him play the line into chord changes.  The same applies to solo chord melody work (as seen in my lesson contributions to JJG).  When the student hears actually himself playing a line through some changes, he becomes a believer – in himself. Once that happens, there is no stopping that individual’s progress.  Take a few moments and watch those students on my website.  A few of these people were rockers a few short months before those videos were submitted.

DW: We keep coming back to the basic truth that you learn jazz by playing jazz.sp_2010-11-JJG-Interview

RC: Let me draw a parallel: if one wants to learn to swim, one can read about swimming forever, sooner or later one must get in the water and swim.  If one wants to ride a two-wheel bicycle, one must sooner or later remove the training wheels and ride the bike.  If one wants to drive an automobile, sooner or later one must actually drive the automobile.  The automobile is an excellent analogy.  Consider that untold numbers of people can get into an automobile, and drive thousands of miles without a clue as to the mechanical  functions that cause the vehicle to move forward, in reverse, steer, turn, etc.  After years of driving most folks begin to understand a variety of basic mechanical functions, usually as a result of repair bills  Other people may elect to read the owners’ manual or ask questions to their auto mechanic.  However, with or without knowledge of the mechanical functions, the subject party can still drive the automobile – just as one can play jazz without modes.

An army of instructors will tell a student they must learn modes – before he can play jazz.  The net result?  After learning modes and scales, the student still has to learn to play.  So, if modes are the purported pathway to playing jazz, doesn’t common sense dictate that if he learns to play first, then he would have the modes that he did not need in the first place?

DW: Let’s talk a bit about how you implement your approach in your products. You provide a DVD or two as well as the music transcription in both notation and tablature. I have said before (in my reviews for JJG) that I am impressed by your bar-by-bar explanation of how to play the music and what is going on in those bars. How did you come to settle on this approach?

RC: Again, it is our commitment to render every assistance possible to the student.   Notation and tablature offer an additional point of reference to the student. Taking the time to completely dissect a single note solo or a chord melody arrangement,  bar-by-bar, note-by-note, is simply another personal commitment to be certain the student assimilates the lines, fingerings and every playing component of the lesson. Many of my students also like the convenience of having notation and tablature available since they find it easier and faster to review my lines without having to go back to the DVD.

DW: You have now authored thirty-one DVDs (I had to check the number). That is an amazing output by anyone’s standards. I see a solid structure behind them and wonder if you would tell us how you see their structure? And if I can add a second part, the most common question I get whenever I review one of your DVDs is “Where should a beginner start?”

RC: Every DVD is focused toward playing music.  The only exception is “The Precision Technique,” which is a utility type DVD that is focused solely on improving one’s technical facility in a short period of time.  I might add this DVD does not use scales, but rather enjoyable melodic studies that will develop one’s right and left hand technique very quickly. It is also the blueprint to the development of my attained technique by the time I became 16-17 years old.  In fact, an entry level player  can master only a few of the studies in “The Precision Technique,” then go to the Ticket To Improv DVD series, or the more advanced “Smoking Lineman”/”Sound of Rio”/”Big City Blues” DVDs.

DW: How do you decide on the topics for each new DVD?

RC: The improv DVDs are based on chord progressions that students seem to have the most difficulty negotiating. Those DVDs present a working ‘Pro Level’ improv solo, that the student quickly learns to manipulate and essentially morph into endless new ideas.

DW:  So you have carefully thought out an educational structure for the whole series?

RC:  Yes, prior to producing the first videos in 2001, I took the time to compile from memory: 1) many questions from students over the years, and  2) I also queried several guitarists at different skill levels as to what they would most like to obtain from a video product.  After reviewing my long-term teaching experience and the results of my survey questions to numerous students and semi-pro guitarists, I developed the educational schematic of the catalog that now exists and presumably, the very reason for  this interview.

There are five volumes in each of the Smoking Lineman, Big City Blues and Sound of Rio DVD series, a total of 15 DVDs.  In each of these DVDs  I  present the viewer with the pro-level improv solo over the chord progression to a popular standard amongst jazz musicians.  In the next step in each of those DVDs, I then watched the improv solo in two measure segments, which allowed me to break down the solo into small digestible pieces for the viewer.  While this is a very tedious and time consuming process, the benefit of a measure-by-measure, note-by-note, close-up demonstration proved to be invaluable to the viewer.  I continued this production format in the “Ticket To Improv” series for entry level players and  the “Play Pro Chord Melody” series.  The mission of those 25 DVDs is to provide intermediate players with an immediate and huge vocabulary of lines and rhythmic variations to employ in their playing.  The same DVDs will provide semi-pro and several pros with new ideas and approaches to improvising.

Rewinding for a moment to the beginning of this individual response, my survey questions to numerous students and semi-pro guitarists clearly indicated a complete disgust with videos continuously presenting repackaged versions of modes and scales.  The 25 aforementioned DVDs do not present any theory or scales, and therein lies the reason for their popularity and success in the marketplace.

I would like to cite the previous analogy of the automobile to present a word picture to the readers.  The 25 DVDs cited above are the equivalent of handing someone the keys to a high powered sports car.  After weeks or months of enjoying the vehicle, the driver might then say, “I’ve got to discover what makes this machine run,” at which time he would be presented with the owners’ manual to describe every aspect of the mechanical functions in great detail.  Specifically, the Source Code DVDs  are the owners manual that will tell the student  “what’s under the hood” or more succinctly stated,  the horsepower and the nuts-and-bolts explanation and details that fuel my improv skills and the ideas in those 25 DVDs.

DW: How many titles are there in the “Source Code” series?

RC: At the time of this interview there are currently 6 titles in the “Source Code DVD Series.” Each title focuses solely on one necessary aspect of playing jazz guitar.  By doing so, I avoid the possibility of any tangential  discussion.:  The Jazz Lines (8 hours), The Precision Technique (4 hours), Intros, Endings & Turnarounds (4 hours), The Formula (6 hours), The Chord Melody Assembly Line (4 hours), and the Comping Expo (4 hours).  I’d like to also mention that the first five Source Code books were completed in the latter part of 2002.  Those books were so successful that we started adding the DVDs to each title in 2007.  This was certainly a tedious process to undertake.  However, the value of the visual addition to the student viewer proved to be immeasurable. Students not only see and hear the lines – but they also learn a multitude of techniques to spice up the lines and make them their own. My lessons are not just about playing notes – but making pro-level music using rhythmic variations, embellishments, and various other devices that I have discovered throughout my career.

DW: I have noticed that you often ask a question that a student would likely come up with in a face-to-face lesson, and then answer it. It’s almost as if you were doing both parts of a Socratic dialogue. Why did you adopt this approach?

RC: After numerous years of teaching I discovered that students  always seem to retain information that is question based, as a question is a clear manifestation of one’s thoughts.   When that question is properly answered, it creates a form of resolution for the student, and the student therefore retains the information that has resolved his question.  A well-planned DVD eliminates the need for a student to submit written questions and/or videos for a critique.  More specifically, when producing a video I compile a list of questions that I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the student will ask. In essence, I anticipate and answer the questions before the student asks the questions, that’s why the “Source Code” DVDs range from four to eight hours in length.

DW: I must admit you have an almost uncanny ability to anticipate student questions, but I guess that comes from doing so many of these videos over so many years.

RC: On the strength of consumer demand, I firmly believe in the efficacy of the methodology I’ve taught since 1966 – without deviation. I believe my analogy is absolutely correct based on the reviews that have been in this magazine and other publications, and most importantly, the results embodied in our customer commentaries, and the visible and audible student videos on the website.

As an additional testimonial to the result-producing efficacy of my approach, in the recent past, I began receiving numerous calls and email from patrons who read the advertisements very closely. Like you, long term subscribers of this magazine and the jazz guitar community quickly recognize No Modes No Scales® as the hallmark of my ad campaigns for many prior years. In fact, although I’ve been maligned and criticized, I’ve relentlessly spent a fortune to create immediate public recognition of my methodology that I teach.

Another guitarist who previously taught modes for years suddenly switched gears to no modes. With no regard for the advertising dollars I’ve invested, that guitarist openly utilized my No Modes No Scales® hallmark and even presented my methodology as his “…guitar method.” In recent years, my website has become a “buffet” for ad copy by some unscrupulous musicians. We are constantly receiving reports of our well known ad copy appearing on other websites. Some are blatant copies while others, in an attempt to camouflage ad copy, such as my “measure -by-measure note-by-note” approach, actually mangle the words into a linguistic tragedy. However, we are well aware of those who engage in these practices.

DW: Well I must commend you not just for the excellence of your teaching method, but for the constant encouragement you give to the student. I really think that this is a big factor in keeping the student motivated and interested, and just plain having fun. And the fun seems to be a big part of the learning experience, at least from my point of view. Is this part of your goal in having them start right in playing real jazz?

RC: Yes, absolutely. There are truckloads of learning materials that present a series of disjointed concepts, and the student is then expected to figure out how to get from the concepts to making music. In my opinion and observation, that very poor methodology only serves to frustrate or cause a student to lose interest! I produce my DVDs with the focus on placing the student into a “musician mindset” by presenting an idea, then having the student utilize that idea to produce music within the framework of playing a great standard.

DW: I find it ironic that your method is so different from the standard academic model of many colleges and universities, when research on learning from those same institutions strongly suggests that your type of teaching provides a more thorough and longer-lasting learning experience. In fact, my own research over the last decade has shown this to be the case, particularly in music. How conscious are you of these differing approaches?

RC: The strength of my learning products is predicated on the concepts, principles, and methodology that has been consistent and effective since 1966. My core teaching principles are based on “playing music” and really knowing what works for the student! The core principles of my approach have stood the test of time and they have been enhanced by the high quality DVD format. I see numerous websites that are technology driven, not content driven, and are therefore subject to influence by current fads, trends etc. The documented record will demonstrate that I’ve been a dedicated educator since the 1960’s. Many websites appear from players who suddenly turn into educators reaching for any type of income to stay afloat. Some hang a shingle out with the implied premise that “since I am a good player, I must be a great teacher.” Not true. Buyer beware.

DW: Let’s switch gears a bit. The success of your teaching business has been remarkable, particularly in the past three years when the economic picture has been dismal for most businesses. Going completely against this current, you have produced even more instructional DVDs and even launched the Conti guitar. You seem to have tapped into a strong demand for quality learning materials on jazz guitar. So tell us, what is your secret for success in such a difficult economy?

RC: I’m somewhat of an old time guy with old world values and I believe in the principle of a wise old business sage who stated: “one can not charge a profit – one must earn a profit.” Those words have had a profound effect on my business career, as I continue to adhere to that principle. The answer to your question is very simple – if one delivers an extremely high level of value or a service that is perceived by the consumer, to be far greater than the cost of the product, then the purveyor of that product will flourish in any economy.

DW: I have been playing the guitar for 45 years, although I did have to abandon it for a number of years due to work commitments. I discovered your books as I was thinking about getting back into the guitar, and they were what really got me back playing again. Reading through your testimonials, it seems that this is a common story. Are people in their 50s and older a large part of your student base?

RC: Yes, in fact, that age bracket is a large part of our patron demographic, for a wide variety of reasons. There are many who played guitar in their teens and twenties. Marriage and children create circumstances that cause many to abandon playing for many years. The interest never leaves and eventually they come back to it.

DW: Like any successful businessman, you have overcome some adversity. It seems that anyone who achieves a measure of success will attract detractors who want to deny it to them. For example, I used to read the USENET newsgroups and noticed that you, Pat Martino, George Benson, and other successful guitarists have been the targets of ridiculous criticism that is at best unfair, and in many cases, libelous. How do you deal with that?

RC: As I recall, the first time I saw a newsgroup was in 2001 or 2002. According to a friend who, in periods of boredom while traveling, visits the newsgroups occasionally, I’m pleased to report the same group of participants continue to ‘serve their life sentences’ in a newsgroup. There is a core group of individuals who, based on the content of their comments, create nothing of value for themselves, let alone anyone else. Unfortunately, it appears that they can only acquire self-esteem by denigrating the success of others, including many well known guitarists and this magazine.

Ironically, there are many nice people who read and sometimes participate in the USENET groups. I would liken those groups to a local “Cheers” type of neighborhood tavern. Everything goes well until a small group of self-perceived tough guys show up to destroy the camaraderie. If a participant reports satisfactory results from a DVD or some other product, there is a core group of individuals who immediately default to an idiotic practice of dissing and bashing with a host of inane comments such as: “this guy is a shill” or “no product is that good”, and “his advertising is hype.”

Any intelligent person immediately recognizes such comments as the stock-in-trade of a small cast of non-achievers, malcontents, and other manqué characters, etc. Our advertising copy is compiled solely from customer feedback, which has, to say the least, empowered our ad writers to present aggressive, but always true advertising. Advertising must be somewhat aggressive to be noticed. We have been accused of hype, and I would like to comment on that accusation.

DW: I am glad you brought that up because it seems to be a particular target for your detractors. While I have to admit that your advertising approach is not subtle, I always say that no successful businessman keeps an advertising method that does not work. So can it really be hype if it connects interested guitarists with materials they find to be very valuable?

RC: Hype is a tactic that is utilized to induce a consumer to buy junk or any inferior product. Any intelligent person would agree that, if a consumer purchases a product that proves to be completely unsatisfactory, that consumer is certainly not going to make a second or third repeat purchase of that product. Our data stats indicate that the overwhelming majority of our patrons purchase all or nearly all the DVDs I’ve produced. For unknown reasons, those people who make those hype accusations seem unable to comprehend the reasons I’ve been able to produce thirty-one DVDs. Perhaps, they are under the impression that we manufacture thousands of DVDs to decorate the shelves of a Nevada warehouse? As an aside, it is interesting to note that there are actually far more lurkers who do not post messages, they simply read the USENET occasionally and they often visit the target of the posters.

DW: I have to agree with you that their tactics often backfire. One of the reasons that I decided to check out your web site way back then was because of the ludicrous accusations that were made in one particular newsgroup. I had to see what it was that got these people so upset. Once I found out, I became a customer, and a very satisfied one at that!

RC: Thank you. And I thank them!

DW: Let’s talk a bit about quality. Your materials are very well done. How do you maintain that level of quality assurance?

RC: Over the last ten years we have continuously refined a Quality Control List that requires a check of every facet of the production process. After a few expensive mastering or printing errors, you learn to get it all correct before the consumer receives the product.

DW: Another area where I have noticed that you outpace the competition is in your shipping prices. I understand that you do not mark up shipping costs, which is common with many other companies, and you even give significant discounts to domestic customers. Why do you do that?

RC: For lack of a better description, it is simply a customer amenity. We are not in the shipping business and we do not seek to earn a living by padding shipping fees. At present, we have a Domestic Flat Shipping Fee of only $3.25. That minimal fee applies whether it is an order for one or twenty DVDs. On international orders, we charge the exact postal rate for International First Class Mail, and in most cases we upgrade the customer to International Priority Mail at no additional cost.

DW: In recent years there has been a huge proliferation of online video lesson web sites. It seems to me that you have chosen not to enter this arena. Readers have asked me about this. Do you see online lessons as a passing trend, or is this just something that doesn’t interest you? Would you care to comment?

RC: Yes, I will respond to your question in a candid manner and with the preface that I am not passing judgment, but only stating my reasons for not entering the online arena.

Indeed, the production and manufacturing cost of just one of our DVDs would pay for numerous years of hosting fees for an online lesson site. Clearly, website cost is not a determining factor. In essence, we are firmly rooted in the business of teaching jazz guitar. When I produce a 4, 6 or 8 hour DVD, the quality is always at the highest level, as we have incurred the risk of losing substantial production and manufacturing costs, if I were to produce an inferior product. Conversely, the cost of shooting a 5, 10 or 30 minute online video is figuratively tantamount to the cost of some paperclips and rubber bands.

As previously stated, a well thought out DVD is complete. As a skilled educator, I anticipate and answer all of the student’s questions on the subject matter of the DVD. Every student’s best gains are always made by playing his instrument. I believe everyone would agree that most people in today’s world are busy with jobs, family and many other obligations etc. Therefore, reasonable logic dictates that a student who is typing questions is clearly wasting valuable time that should be spent practicing – not typing.

Further, in any scenario other than a recreational situation, being in front of a video camera is a stressful event for most people, and especially for a student who is trying to play something to the best of his ability. Again, a student who is trying to make a video clip is losing his practice time. If a student utilizes that time practicing, his results will be self evident to his ears, and not require any external corroboration.

While that concept may work for some people, from my perspective on the strength of my long-term experience, I believe a student’s best gains are made by playing the instrument, as opposed to expending valuable practice time to submit videos or typing questions to wait for a response.

As to the argument of immediate online downloading vs. a short wait for delivery: A two day or three day delivery time is insignificant compared to the time a student loses typing messages, making a video, waiting for a response etc. According to my web gurus, we now have approximately thirty informational satellite websites on the internet. Those sites, in addition to this magazine’s website deliver well over 10 hours of complimentary full-length online lessons. That volume of high quality lessons that will keep anyone busy until their DVD arrives.

Although the above comments reflect our current position, we continuously seek to create greater value for consumers. Current technology allows the online transfer of videos of relatively short duration. If a future technology supports uncorrupted transfer of our 4 to 8 hour high quality DVDs, then we will most assuredly offer online downloading of our videos.

DW: Again, in my research for this interview, I recall reading a comment on your website about the “Internet Minefield”

RC: I have no issue with anyone attempting to make a living. However, computer technology and the internet have caused a flood of junk to be sold on the internet. There are an endless number of websites selling learning products with ridiculously false claims such as: “secrets to be revealed” – “miracle systems” – “learn theory instantly” – “ultimate program” – “play this in three days” – “be a guitar god.” Buyer Beware! Unfortunately, the endless flood of products also forces real pros to compete with amateurs who actually present themselves as pro level players/educators behind a barrage of unverified claims. Even worse, on a daily basis, they confuse new players and essentially dupe numerous aspiring guitarists into spending their hard earned funds for nothing more than more repackaged modes and scales.

Consider that every doctor, lawyer, engineer etc, must obtain educational and regulatory approval to legally practice medicine, design buildings and bridges. However, boatloads of products are usually presented by an army of amateurs whose credentials amount to nothing more than ownership of a guitar. Those amateurs flagrantly present themselves as professionals in the belief that they have some inherent “right” to make some quick bucks on the internet.

In our ongoing pursuit of producing high-impact jazz guitar DVDs, my staff has made some interesting observations. In nearly all of the websites above, after bombarding you with ridiculous claims and promises in an attempt to appear credible, there is one very important element that is noticeably absent or intentionally omitted. There is no video or press documentation of the player making the claims, or any verification of his ability to actually play what they claim they will teach you to play in their ad promises.

DW: So you don’t regard these sites competition for you then?

RC: No, not for those who are seeking a verifiable high quality learning product.

DW: As I said before, you have bucked the whole “economic downturn” trend by actually growing your business. What business advice can you offer to guitarists seeking to increase their income?

RC: For Hotels, Restaurants, Private Corporate Work:
If you are seeking to procure work in any high dollar environment, be absolutely professional when you engage business people, especially corporate types who do not buy into the “hey man, what’s happenin’? I wanna talk to ya about gettin’a gig here” type of dialog. You will immediately be pegged as an idiot if you make this kind of a comment to any upper management individual who has the authority to hire you. 2) Decorum includes wardrobe and personal appearance. While earrings and/or a ponytail may be cool on a blues gig, they are not appropriate in a fine hotel or other establishment. Don’t wear a suit from a thrift shop that’s been ironed so many times it looks like it was Simonized. And don’t wear a pair of black tennis shoes as your good dress shoes. You’ll be disqualified when you walk in the door.

Regarding Performance or Educational CDs/DVDs:
Over many years, I can’t tell you how many musicians I’ve known whose lives became very difficult as the result of financial disasters – more specifically, imprudent decisions resulting from a lack of business acumen. As a non-negotiable rule, do not give up any of the bundle of rights afforded by the copyright statutes. While you may allocate percentages of income for managerial services, never, under any circumstances, relinquish any legal control of rights or the revenue stream. I could fill a hundred pages of this interview with business advice. In short form, if you don’t understand what I’ve just said, then it is in your best interest to enroll in courses that will teach you the legal aspects of copyright, contracts, and the music business. Also, make the investment in a reputable attorney of your choice, not a manager’s attorney. A private attorney will keep a manager and an agent honest. If your skills are now, or should become in the future, a marketable commodity, any failure to learn the rules of the business world and the legal operation of the music business will assuredly keep you in a state of poor financial condition.

DW: I am sure that all of our readers have been waiting for a discussion of the new Conti Archtop Jazz Guitars. What were your thoughts in designing the Conti Guitar?

RC: There is really nothing to add that is not on the website. However, for those who may not have a computer I will touch on the high points. As anyone would imagine, I am talking with guitarists every day of the week. After hearing endless whining and complaints about the high cost of good guitars, I set out in 2006 to design and have manufactured, a high quality jazz guitar that would meet the needs of every working guitarist.

Rather than making a guitar that had missing attributes, my dream instrument would have to include: A solid spruce top; solid maple sides and back; a 24 fret ebony fingerboard with low playing action and with easy access to the upper register; Grover tuners; and a high quality pickup. After receiving the Conti prototype in May 2007, I played that guitar nearly every day and night for two years, as a quality assurance trial run. I produced five new Source Code DVDs and two Ticket To Improv DVDs with that guitar, and I produced several lessons for the JJG website, along with numerous engagements in Las Vegas.. That prototype delivered flawless and absolutely perfect service during the two year test run.

At the 2009 NAMM Expo, I commissioned the first production run. Now my office has become a madhouse trying to keep production in line with orders. Even though the introductory price is still holding at $1,995.00 for the Sunburst, I dare not rush the manufacturing process of a high quality instrument. Based on the comments from our patrons’ continuously growing demand for the Conti guitar, I believe we have the perfect combination of features at a price point that is very appealing to a wide range of guitarists. Several working guitarists report that the Conti guitar is the instrument they now take to their gigs, as it delivers superb playability and sound – thereby allowing their more expensive guitars to remain at home to avoid weather, damage or theft. As a result of our success with the original Sunburst model, we are now offering a Natural Finish (Blonde) model that is attracting a broader audience. The Conti guitar is the IDEAL jazz guitar for playing a wide range of gigs. It is not too expensive – and it delivers the goods on the bandstand.

DW: In my experience, a vital component of a successful business is staffing, and you seem to have an incredibly enthusiastic and dedicated group of people working for you. How do you build such a team of people that provide customer service that goes far beyond most companies?

RC: One of the key elements is ingredients is to obtain intelligent people and maintain employment longevity, even if only part time. I have a few select customer service people who monitor the website during hours that we have determined to create peak traffic resulting in customer inquiries. For these services, I try to use people who are music students, or perhaps a retired musician who no longer travels and enjoys this type of work, and of course it is important to treat your employees well. My Production Manager, Mike, has also been another cornerstone to our overall success, as he is on top of every facet of the business.

DW: So sort of winding things up here, what particular events stand out in your memory from the 10 years of business?

RC: There are many high points. The release of each DVD is always a cause for celebration, as it is much like delivering a child into the world. I sincerely enjoy receiving CDs and videos from our customers, as those items let me know that I was able to make a positive impact on someone’s life.

DW: Where do you go from here? What is in the future for you?

RC: Over to Newport Beach and a nice sailing trip over to Catalina.

DW: Robert, on behalf of Just Jazz Guitar and our readers, I would like to thank you for this candid and insightful interview.

RC: My pleasure!

Comping Expo Review in Gitarist Magazine

Gitarist Magazine Masthead

Gitarist Magazine Cover

The Comping Expo

Robert Conti? A jazz guitar virtuoso who likes to keep things simple. As complicated as his bebop licks and chord melodies may sound, Conti constantly stresses that you can learn all of it without spending years and years being bogged down by chords, scales and arpeggio’s. Conti rightfully thinks that the the was he learned to play is most natural; you hear somebody play something that you like and you go and find out what he did. The next step is to try and use that new information in your playing, and finding variations on it, too.

The Comping Expo is a DVD/book package on jazz guitar accompaniment, featuring chord progressions and rhythmes and using well chosen examples. Conti’s motto is: watch, listen en reproduce what you see and hear me do. The DVD also contains practice materials in MIDI and MP3 formats plus footage of Conti in live action. The book shows the examples and possibilities that Conti shows on the DVD in chord diagrams.

Verdict? What a relief! Conti demonstrates how he has used the same few dozens of chord forms, plus a few tricks to spice them up, throughout his long and distinguished career. These he will show you on this DVD and his goal is to get you to out those into your playing right away. Wholeheartedly recommended!

Conti Thinline Archtop – Equity Model

Mike Irish Conti Guitar Review


Mike Irish Conti Guitar Review

A Player’s Perspective

I just bought a new guitar.  I don’t do this very often, but when I do, I need it to have two main characteristics:  it must have a beautiful sound and  it must facilitate the expression of my music.  On both accounts, the Conti Archtop hits a home run. I had been wanting to move up to an archtop that has a solid spruce top and a wonderful sound.  But, for me, price was a consideration.

The instruments ranging in price from $3,000 to $10,000 are way out of my range.  So, I was intrigued when I saw Robert Conti playing and endorsing his new Conti Guitar.  I had experienced the sound of this archtop from Conti’s terrific instructional DVD’s and the YouTube videos from the recent 2010 NAMM Show, and I was duly impressed.  But, again, I figured that the street price on this guitar would be in the $3000 – $4000 range.  Man, I was really surprised to see the guitar on his website at the current introductory price of $1,949.00 plus shipping.

I seldom buy a guitar sight unseen, but due to Conti’s exemplary customer service record, I decided to give it a try.  It arrived via FedEx overnight, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.  I was so impressed that I could play the Conti Thinline Archtop right out of the box – it was set up perfectly.  So, I put the rest of my life on a two-hour hold, and commenced exploring my new guitar.  It exceeded all of my expectations.

The guitar has a beautiful “singing” sound, the action plays like butter, and I couldn’t believe how light and balanced the guitar was in my playing position.  I have never had easy access to 24 frets before and loved exploring that new range.  The appointments on the  guitar are beautiful: Spruce Top, Ebony Fingerboard, Rosewood Tailpiece, High Quality Grover tuners, Florentine cutaway, etc.  When plugged in, the single pickup with the ’57 Alnico specs delivers a bright (yet, warm) sound and is very even throughout the range of the guitar.

 

That night I did something unusual – I took this brand-new, out of the box guitar on a gig.  It was a quintet gig with trumpet, tenor, guitar bass and drums.  The Conti fit right in, played effortlessly and really allowed me to focus on the music.  I love it when the guitar just “disappears” from the equation, and it is just me and the music.  The Conti really facilitated the flow of ideas.

The next day, I recorded some solo guitar stuff in a studio. After laying down a few tracks, the engineer came out and just had to see the guitar  making such a beautiful sound.  Needless to say,  he was very impressed (as was I) with the recorded sound of the Conti Archtop.

I have found no weaknesses with the Conti.  Prior to my purchase, some of my “gear-head” buddies told me that the fixed bridge would alter the sound of the natural wood top.  I have not found that to be the case. The unplugged sound of the axe sings and sustains, as does the amplified sound.  The resonant sound quality of the solid spruce top Conti is far superior to other guitars I own with laminated tops.

I am extremely happy with my purchase, as it is certainly a great  value at the current introductory price of $1,949.00.  I strongly encourage other  archtop players to check out  the Conti Archtop at www.RobertConti.com .   Thanks again, to Robert Conti for making  this sweet guitar readily available to the public. Just like the motivational bang in each of his DVDs, the Conti Archtop is a six string stimulus package that really delivers!

Mike Irish
Director of Jazz Studies
Michigan Technological University
For Just Jazz Guitar Magazine