Dave Illig, jazz guitarist

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Stephanies MP3's
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Advice Page

This page is poorly named.  I think it would be better to call it my trial and error page.  If you ask a 100 guitarists the best way to learn how to play guitar you will get a hundred different answers.  Hopefully my learning experience will help you.


"A half step is as close as you can get and as far away as you can get from a note". Sam Doman

"The hippest note you can play is a rest".  Don Mossman


How I learned to play guitar:

I became interested in playing the guitar at about age 15.  A close friend of mine showed me four or five chords before school let out and I went home armed with them.  I went to a music store and bought a $75 acoustic guitar for $40, it had been damaged in shipment.  I spent the whole summer playing those five chords.    Later I learned some bar chords, scales and some blue licks and I was off and running.  I thought I was sounding pretty good until I ran I ran into Sam Doman playing at the local music store called Doman's Musicland.  He owned three stores and visited the one in  my home town on Tuesdays.  I was basically a rock and roller.  We played a tune together and I was floored.  I had never heard jazz guitar before.  He could PLAY!! He had chops and taste.  I started hanging out there every Tuesday.  We would play for hours.  By working with Sam I got my playing up to a whole new level.  He helped me break into the business locally.  We played duets together, he got me gigs, it was  a real turning point.  Eventually we drifted apart but I will never forget him.  He was a great teacher and mentor.  I ended up teaching at Mossman Music for many years and playing with some of the top bands and artists in the Cleveland/Sandusky area.  Although I was playing professionally, my jazz abilities never grew.  I wasn't really happy with the way I played jazz, and couldn't work on it because I was busy flying airplanes and raising a family.  In 1990 I was hired by Continental Airlines and moved to Houston TX.  I played in one band when we first moved down here.  It was a country band, playing in some real dives.  I had had enough, Continental paid the bills and I was burnt out on music.  I put the guitar away for the next 12 years.

THE REST OF THE STORY:  In 2002 Don Mossman and Keith Barber wanted to come down and visit.  Don was the owner of the store I used to teach at and a great bass player. He and I had played many gigs together.  Keith was one of my best students.  He went on to study at Guitar Institute of Technology and ended up playing with one of the top bands in the midwest.  I didn't want to embarrass myself when they visited so I got the guitar out and started practicing.  I also discovered all the music stuff on the internet.   I highly recommend  Mark Stefani at Vision Music.  His site is great, jam tracks, free lesson's, all conducive to improving your playing.

I would recommend finding a mentor or teacher who can get you there.  They are far and few between.  We went through four teachers for Stephanie before we found one who was right.  If you are putting out a lot of effort and not getting the results you want, go shopping for a new teacher.  Becoming an accomplished guitar player is not out of reach for anyone.  It's about playing, not modes, scales and diatonic harmony.  Learn some tunes, learn to jam, have fun!


I am often asked how I find time to practice.  The biggest excuse I hear from adults about practicing is they don't have time.  You have to make time.  I will gladly share some of the things I have adhered to in my quest to become a better guitarist.  Below are how I overcame the hurdles that I believe effect most amateur musicians.

PROBLEM:  Finding time to practice.

SOLUTION: This is not a problem, if you want to improve you can make time.  I have one hour a day set aside no matter what.  Some days I may practice 4 or 5 hours, but I always try to cover my basic practice routine, which takes about an hour.  Do you watch the news, go out for lunch at work, watch the Today show, the evening news, Jay Leno, or just veg out on the couch some times?  I always start the morning with one hour of practice.  If we have a family outing or something going on, I have a Power Bar while the family has breakfast.  For jamming and just all around playing I often play while watching TV.  I use my solid body, it doesn't bother anybody.  I also bought a Hohner GT3 for traveling and use a Korg PX3 with headphones so I can hear what I am doing.  I have all my practice files converted to a format that plays on a Sony mini disc player.    All of this fits into a pouch on the travel guitars soft side case.  I can play on the road, at work, on vacation, it doesn't matter.   I have jammed on cruise ships with the house band.  As a pilot I have a lot of down time in hotels, now it is practice time.   At Continental we have many pilots carrying travel guitars, I flew with one pilot who had a trumpet with him.  He has a special mute with a pickup in it so he doesn't bother anybody.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  The only constant is: YOU HAVE TO PUT THE TIME IN TO GET RESULTS.  I know of no magic bullet that will make you a great player with minimal effort.

PROBLEM With my schedule I can't work in a band and can rarely get together with other amateur musicians.

SOLUTION:  I used midi files to compensate for a lack of musicians.  I have three different practice regimes.  First, I have my practice changes disc.  On it are various changes in cycles of fourths and fifths.  II/V -  II/V/I - I/VI/II/V/I - I/IV/V - V chords - MINOR II/V/I - in both short and  long versions all cycling in fourths or fifths.  This is the crux of my practice regime.  It takes about 30 minutes to run through all the changes.    On my second disc I have basic changes that just repeat over and over in one key.  It also has 5 variations of Blues at different tempos, Rhythm Changes, and a Minor Blues.  This takes about 20 minutes to play through.  Finally I have what I call my Tune List.  On it are 60 songs I either know or want to know.

WHAT TO PRACTICE WITH LIMITED TIME:  First you need to know what to practice or you are wasting your time.  The best material and methods of practicing are different for each player. For me the practice routine is very structured.  I spent years running scales and just jamming.   I pick a specific line I want to learn and work it out on the midi file that cycles through different changes.  Takes about ten minutes.  I start learning a new line very slowly and gradually increase tempo.  Then I spend another twenty minutes playing over the cycling changes so I don't lose what I previously learned.  That is 30 minutes.  At one line a week, your jazz vocabulary will grow fast.  For the next 20 minutes I play against the basic changes and song forms, reinforcing what I have learned.  The last 10 minutes is spent on chord melody or a new tune, usually working something up I have wanted to learn.  This is my bare minimum.  If I have time, I run through songs I already know, just like a set on a gig.  This allows me to continually refine what I like and don't like in the way I play them.  And finally if I have time I work on transcribing.  I have a program called Cool Edit Pro.  It's what I used to record the songs on my CD.  With it I can loop a line or lick continuously until I get it.  Sometimes I have a transcription and just work it up.  Sometimes I learn it by ear.  It really helps my phrasing by playing along with the original player. 

PROBLEM Staying motivated

SOLUTION:  Have goals.   The CD I made was a big motivator.  Finding other musicians, gigs (Steph and I often entertain at neighborhood cook outs), playing in church, the back yard, for your family, or any application for your music will keep you going.  Nothing like a deadline to get you in gear.