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Intros, Endings and Turnarounds Review

Robert Conti is no stranger to readers of JJG. He has dozens of DVD learning products available, and I want to be sure that you do not miss Intros, Endings and Turnarounds. This valuable learning resource fills in a major gap for most players.  I will admit right off the bat that I am a Robert Conti fan, although probably not for the reasons you may think. Yes, I am impressed by the almost super-human number of notes that he can squeeze into a few minutes while remaining tasteful and true to the tune, but there is more to Mr. Conti than virtuosity. You see, I am a fan of great teaching and it is his dedication to teaching others that makes Robert Conti stand out in my book (and in his books and DVD’s as well).

With Intros, Endings and Turnarounds Robert Conti addresses those fine points that can make an arrangement outstanding and turn a standard-sounding version into a poignant and personalized one. They say that “God is in the details” and mastery of these musical details are crucial to perfecting your performance. If you are looking to add a  touch of spice to an accompaniment, or searching for a distinctive element for an arrangement, you will find this DVD a goldmine.

A close look at Robert Conti’s learning products shows that he has very specific learning goals for each DVD or book. Each fills a specific need for a learner, whether playing for  one’s own enjoyment at home or on stage at a major venue. Each fits into a specific niche in an overall curriculum with the aim of making the student into a “complete” guitarist. Intros, Endings and Turnarounds is part of the superb “Source Code Series.” Other volumes teach basic melodic harmonization, harmonic theory, melodic soloing, and dual hand coordination. This installment fits perfectly into the set, demonstrating myriad ways of introducing a song, embellishing it between verses and choruses, and going out effectively. After learning how to harmonize and play sections in earlier volumes, this one supplies the glue to hold them all together in an artistic, personal way. More than  that, it demonstrates how to embellish an arrangement effectively and to refine a setting.

This learning resource consists of a book and a DVD containing 4-1/2 hours of instruction. (Sorry if “learning resource” sounds a bit stuffy, but I feel that Mr. Conti does himself a disservice by calling these fine learning tools “products.” They are only products in the sense that, say, the Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery is a product!) For those of you who bought the book when it first came out, you will want to upgrade to the DVD version, for reasons that will become clear.

As a cross between an “added bonus” and a “warm-up” the set starts with 23 phrases called Quick Start Ideas. Here Robert Conti takes a few basic turnaround progressions and morphs them into all sorts of variations, getting you used to the chords and progressions, as well as his methods. These are no sterile exercises, though. Each is a great sounding idea that you can “take to the gig tonight.”

After the Quick Start section, 100 short phrases or “ideas” (most 2-4 bars) are presented, grouped by key. Only a few easy keys are used (C, F, G, Cm, Am) but as each example represents a concept they are easily transposed to different keys. In fact, as with many exercises, playing each one in a different key will help you learn faster and retain the ideas better. Each idea has a simple melody which is harmonized, and this provides valuable guidance. First, it ensures that each progression moves melodically as well as harmonically. It also enables Mr. Conti to show several different ways to harmonize the same phrase. Finally, it demonstrates to the student in concrete terms the different effects of substitution and re-harmonization, as well as how to find the alternatives available.

One note about rhythm to those who may be unfamiliar with Robert Conti’s melodic notation. Quite often the rhythm on the page is a simplified version of what Mr. Conti plays, and in some more complicated cases the note values may not even add up correctly. Given his penchant for learning to play first, and then learning the theory behind it, I suspect that Robert Cont does not expect that every student will be able to  read intricate notation, and so the simpler approach will aid the novice reader. In each case he demonstrates the correct timing on the DVD, as well as effective variations.

Two things make these DVD’s an outstanding learning resource: excellent content and Mr. Conti’s wonderful presentation. Robert Conti’s presence on these DVD’s is a pure joy. Even having played for decades he retains his unabashed enthusiasm and sense of wonder at the magic that these chord progressions conjure up. He is the ideal “older brother or friend” who shows you the amazing licks and progressions that they have picked up, in an engaging and encouraging atmosphere that reassures you that you can play this stuff and sound just as good as the pros. This is no small accomplishment!

The emphasis is on what the learner will learn, not what the teacher will teach. While this may seem a subtle difference, it really comes down to who is the center of the teaching and learning enterprise. Mr. Conti’s student-centered learning style is all about the  student. As Robert Conti usually says at least once in each of his DVD’s, it does not matter how well he can play if the viewer does not come away as a better guitarist from having worked with the learning material presented. My own  experience is that the  transformation can be quite startling and very rewarding.

You might worry that a DVD of someone presenting 100 examples would be less  exciting than watching paint dry, but only if you have not had the pleasure of Robert Conti’s company on DVD. He is a continually inspiring presenter who truly seems to be  as delighted to present the material to you as you will be to receive it. Very generous with his own knowledge and experience, I just enjoy having this guy in my living room, even if it is only on DVD! With any given example he may play it, discuss it, vary it, re-voice a chord, and in many other ways inspire you to fool around with it until you have something of your very own. Imagine having your own personal arsenal of 100 intros to choose from whenever you want to arrange a song. I found that some of the examples  virtually scream out to be used as an intro to a particular song. Sometimes Mr. Conti will present an example and continue on into a song that will be a complete surprise and yet work in a very musical way. I find this to be a fun exercise: how many different songs can one of these intros lead into? Or, how many songs can I fit this turnaround into? In either case you will find that you learn a lot more about the individual song and about the intro turnaround progression than you thought was there before.

If you are stuck in a rut, playing a few particular turnarounds in every song, you will findall sorts of new ideas to take your playing to a new level. For those of you with moretheory, you will find a fascinating lesson in variation and chord substitution, seeing onebasic idea generate a number of these examples. For songwriters, there are all sorts ofsongs hiding in these little gems too. If you already own the book-only version, you will be delighted at seeing Robert Conti vary the progressions, voicings, and melodies, even launching into an unexpected song. He also offers a wealth of tips in the most off-hand  manner as he goes along.

This is not a DVD that you will play through once and then put away to gather dust. While I suppose that you could theoretically sit through the whole thing in one go, I doubt that any guitarist would. There is so much information here that I find I can only go through about ten at most before I want to sit down and consolidate what I have heard.  This means getting out my guitar and playing the examples, trying them in different songs, changing the key, trying new voicings, fooling around with the melody, and just plain noodling. Sometimes I will have to stop after viewing just one, when a particular  chord voicing or harmonic motion catches my ear and I have to get it under my fingers and into a song or two. As with the best learning materials anywhere, there is so much here beyond just the stated material of Intros, Endings and Turnarounds. As a student you are bound to improve your knowledge of harmony, chord substitution, voicings, and inventive finger positions.

In summary, this is a wonderful reference that you will find yourself returning to time  and again, and getting more out of it each time. Robert Conti is a dedicated, enthusiastic teacher who presents quality material that can help you to improve your playing more than you might imagine. Highly recommended!

reviewed by “Dr. Dave” Walker for Just Jazz Guitar Magazine

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