Jami – Your website says that you play around 200+ live gigs a year, that’s great! Are you playing with a group, or solo? Tell me more about the type of music that you play.
Craig – Coincidently, I’m working on my taxes.. so I see that I did 238 gigs In 2018! I’ve maintained at least 180-250 per year for the better part of 27 years. It’s really all I’ve ever done besides teach guitar lessons.
Currently I’m playing in an acoustic duo with an an amazing singer/pianist, Lyndsley Green, called Acoustic Inferno. We do everything from Jazz to Motown, Blues, lots of Classic Rock and Pop from the 70’s and 80’s and even throw in some Latin style and Metal depending on the gig. Since I’m the only instrumentation, I use a looper so I can solo.. and I do plenty of solos and improvisation throughout the 3-4 hour gigs. Improvisation is really my favorite thing to do. To me, it’s the last frontier of original music.
Acoustic Inferno is my ‘full-time’ gig and we play 4-5 days a week at resorts, bars, restaurants and beach clubs all over Central Florida.
I also play with an acoustic trio with some ex-bandmates of mine, singer Chris Knappin and bassist Michael Amico. Mike was Pat Travers bass player for a long time and has toured the world a few times around. We do primarily acoustic rock, lots of improvisation. Mike and I do a lot of trading solos. It’s a blast!
The remaining random gigs throughout the year are the occasionally solo Classical gigs for weddings or private events and an occasional sub gig… usually electric guitar, playing rock cover stuff. I don’t do as many electric gigs as I used to but they’re still fun when they come up!
Jami – What’s your favorite gig you’ve ever had or played?
Craig – Probably my favorite single gig performance was opening for Ratt at The House of Blues in Orlando in 2010. Growing up in the 80’s they were probably my second favorite band (after Van Halen).. so that was a great time. I remember being in the dressing room and Warren DeMartini walked in to say hi after our soundcheck. He had a good laugh when I told him I had posters of him all over my wall when I was a teenager. That’s a memory I’ll always cherish.
My favorite regular gig was a 10 year run I had in Luminescence at the Gaylord Palms resort. We did 3 shows a night from Thanksgiving thru New Years every year from 2005 to 2015. It was kind of a tourist version of the Trans Siberian Orchestra Christmas show. I had a blast doing those shows and it is without a doubt the most elaborate stage show I’ve ever been a part of.
Jami – When did you start learning how to play guitar?
Craig – I started playing guitar in late 1987. My parents were NOT supportive at all, so I was 16 and dying to get my hands on one. I was dating a girl in high-school who’s Mom let me borrow an old Hondo acoustic. I never gave it back and the rest is history!
Jami – Did you take lessons?
Craig – I was self taught for the first few years, but I was taking Music Theory in high-school. I had a great teacher Mrs. Bergstrom who arranged it for me to take Music Theory 1 & 2 twice my Senior year in place of some other electives.
I didn’t take my first real Guitar lesson until I was about 18. I took a few lesson off of a local shredder who set my technique straight and a few lessons on Jazz composition from a Berklee grad.
I’m an avid reader though.. so I’ve read every music theory and guitar book I could get my hands on since I started playing. I’ve learned mostly from books.
Worth mentioning, I took non-credited Classical Guitar lessons from Dr. Stephen Robinson at Stetson University later on in my 30’s. That was a real eye-opener for me! It changed everything about how I approach the guitar, even outside of the classical genre.
Stephen was one of the last Segovia students from his Masterclasses in the early 1970’s. It was a real treat for me and I learned so much from him!
Your website Lifein12Keys.com says you have taught guitar lessons for over 20 years. What do you like most about teaching the guitar to others?
Craig – I actually started teaching part-time in 1990 and full-time in 1992. When I say over 20 years it is a feeble attempt at sounding a little younger while still having some authority on the subject. 😆
I’ve always loved teaching guitar to everyone and anyone that wanted to learn. Things were a lot different then. Coming out of the 80’s there seemed to be an abundance of young students who really had that fire and desire to learn the instrument.
The internet has really changed everything. Students are different now. I’ve changed my focus from teaching in-person to writing and coaching online. With my gig schedule its impossible for me to maintain a regular teaching schedule anyways, so it works better for me too.
Jami – What can a young guitarist expect if they were to attempt a full-time career in music?
Craig – I think more professional musicians should talk about what NOT to expect. I think there is a horrible misconception that if you’re not swimming in money like Taylor Swift or Nickelback, you’re some type of failure.
Or… most musicians are bums who are broke and living on someones couch. Ha! Well ok, maybe some are.. but that has always bothered me and is certainly not true for most of us.
Being a full-time musician on a local or regional level can be a very rewarding career and one that you can do your whole life. Most of the Pro Guitarist friends I know live happy, comfortable lives. Sure, we’re not rich, but neither is the Schoolteacher or Fireman or I.T. Tech who live in the houses next to mine.
It’s not all sex, drugs and rock-n-roll either. I’m 47 and have been married for 21 years. I have 4 dogs and a cat and have owned a home since I was 29. I live a completely normal, domestic life! The only difference is, my job starts a little later and sometimes alcohol is encouraged by my co-workers. 🙂 I’d highly recommend it to anyone who truly loves music and the flexibility of being your own boss.
Jami – Tell me more about your book – The 7 Day Practice Routine For Guitarists. Why did you write it?
Well, I really wrote the book for myself at first. I needed an organized, thorough guitar practice routine that I could do during the week in-between my gigs and crazy schedule. I wanted something detailed but with a clear beginning and ending each day and also something that covered all of the techniques I need for live shows.
I’ve curated a wealth of material from teaching Guitar lessons over the years, writing out exercises for myself and my own guitar students. The music and exercises in the book are setup to facilitate getting your hands and brain in shape in as little time possible. The routine is setup so that once you get it, you can maintain it.
After the guitar practice routine was finished, I filled the book out with all of the music theory that would be helpful to get the most out of each day’s lesson. I may even be guilty of overdoing it a little. I kinda went nuts with the extra theory stuff. The feedback I’m getting from readers is.. “wow, it’s a lot more than I expected for a 7 day routine!”
Jami – What did it teach you as a guitarist along the way?
It taught me to understand my own technique better. We’re all different. We all have physiological differences that will enable us to do different things on the guitar at vastly different levels. There are some people that have a natural technical ability and some people will plateau and level off. That’s OK!
The trick is to find your weak points and work on them. One thing I’m most proud of is the amount of different guitar techniques I was able to cover in a 7 Day routine. There’s really something in there for everyone I think.
I do these exercises every day myself. They really work! I think once you get into it, you’ll make it your own and mix and match the routines to better suit your own style of playing.
Jami – Do you need to be an advanced guitar player to use it?
I don’t think so.. but at a glance it may appear that way. I’ve been told it was a little overwhelming at first and after a few read-throughs everything started to click. I’ve had some pro guitarist friends check it out and the reports have all come back positive and that it has made a real difference in their playing and overall technique.
I think an advanced guitarist can get right in and use it as a 7 day routine, bypassing a lot of the theory elements. A beginner or intermediate guitarist may need to spend some extra time learning the shapes and diagrams a bit before proceeding to the next chapters.
Jami – Are there exercises for beginning guitar players?
Craig – Absolutely. Chapter 1 starts off with simple chromatic finger exercises. No theory. Just simple finger patterns to get your fingers moving and your picking hand coordinated. These are the same exercises I’ve had tremendous success teaching to my own students on their very first day.
As the book moves forward into Scales, Chords and Arpeggios, I’ve done my best to break down the music theory as you go. Each chapter also includes easier and more advanced versions of the routine.
Jami – Have you been listening to any great music lately that you’d recommend beginning guitar students listen to?
Craig – I love lists! Sure, here are some of my all-time favorites that should be essential listening for any guitarist.
- 300 Years of Guitar Masterpieces – Manuel Barrueco
- Van Halen – Van Halen
- Pat Martino – Impressions
- Tilman Hoppstock – Complete Lute Works by J.S. Bach
- Megadeth – Rust In Peace
- Stevie Ray Vaughn – Texas Flood
- Jason Becker -Perpetual Burn
- Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
- Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia – Live – Friday Night in San Francisco
- Andy Timmons – Resolution
- John Williams (the guitarist, not the film composer) – Music of Barrios – From The Jungles of Paraguay
- Dream Theater – Black Clouds and Silver Linings
- Django Reinhart – with Stephane Grappelli – The Complete Recordings
- AC/DC – Back in Black
Jami – Do you have any last words or advice, inspiration or tips for beginning and intermediate guitarists?
Music is such a wonderful journey that can fill any void in your life if you let it. It does require some work, but the rewards are tremendous. Stick with it and enjoy the ride!
Everything great thing that’s ever happened in my life I owe to the guitar and music. I met my wife playing guitar, all of my best friends. Every great memory I owe to this life in music.
Tips? Remember, it’s always better to practice a little each day rather than many hours on the weekends or days off. Put a little time in each day and your goals will be reached!
Craig Smith is a Professional Guitarist, Writer and Blogger in Sanford, Florida. After teaching and performing for over 25 years he started www.Lifein12Keys.com as an online outlet for his writing passion. An Educator at heart, Craig loves to teach people how to play Guitar. When he’s not playing Guitar, Skateboarding or arguing with you about why Vinyl Records sound better than CDs, you may find him by the pool with his wife Celeste, 4 Chihuahuas and a drink.