The Guitar Hero Series: David Hodge
Written by Ava   

The Guitar Hero series on Jemsite features interviews with guitarists and musicians who may not have star status YET, but their current situations have shaped them to be who they are--determined, fond of their craft, and heroes in their own right.  Perhaps you'll see in these upcoming entries the next Jimi Hendrix, Melissa Etheridge, or Duane Allman.  Or perhaps they'll become household names by doing what they do best---doing their thing

David Hodge is more than just a guitar player.  He's the quintessential self-proclaimed "working class musician" who worked hard to get to top greatness. And that's why he's our Guitar Hero.

A guitar teacher in more ways the one, David teaches guitar privately and writes lessons for Acoustic Guitar Magazine and Play Guitar! Magazine. His first tutorial book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing Bass Guitar, hit the bookstores (in the real world and online) on September 1, 2006. (To hear some of his original music, visit David's music page at SoundClick) and his official website.

Tell me about your beginnings in guitar? Is it more of a hobby or a career or both?

I have played music since an early age. My dad played saxophone in wedding bands and in community music productions and would double on guitar and banjo from time to time. I took up piano, mainly to get to play with him when he practiced at home. That taught me about reading music and it helped me to pick up a lot about basic chord construction. I also played trumpet for the school band.

When I was in high school and making plans for college I realized that I might want to pick up the guitar as well since I didn’t know if where I’d end up would have easy access to a piano and I didn’t want to bring the trumpet with me. So the summer before my senior year I saved up and bought an Ibanez twelve-string guitar and restrung it as a lefty.

Like anyone, I had dreams of “making it big,” but I also realized early on that most of making it big had to do with the business end of things and not the music itself. And I was having too much fun to even think about business stuff. So even though I played in a number of bands and it was incredibly important to me, back then it certainly was more of a hobby than a career. An incredibly time consuming hobby, but a hobby nonetheless.

How did you get the opportunity to become “Lead Editor” for Guitar Noise? Do you believe you and Paul are making a contribution with this site?

When I began teaching more in earnest rather than as a hobby, around 1996 or 1997, one thing I did was to check out the resources for guitarists and teachers online. And one place I kept finding myself coming back to was Guitar Noise (www.guitarnoise.com), which was also called “The Online Guitar College” at the time. Guitar Noise had been created by Paul Hackett.

One day in the fall of 1999, I happened to be browsing the site and noticed a “help wanted” icon at the bottom. I clicked on it and found a page with a note from Paul asking for writers on a volunteer basis. I thought, “I could do this,” and dashed him off a note. He liked what he read and invited me to join the team. My first article went online on November 11, 1999.

That first year I wrote articles on almost a weekly basis. And I started getting emails from people reading them as well as emails from other people wanting to contribute to the website. At the same time our online traffic was growing by leaps and bounds and Paul was finding himself spending more and more time dealing with the actual nuts-and-bolts running of Guitar Noise. I gladly took on more responsibilities and eventually landed the title of “lead editor.”

That title is actually a bit of an in-joke. Since guitarists tend to classify themselves as either “lead” or “rhythm” players and since I’m usually more of a rhythm than a lead player, I thought being a “lead editor” would make up for things. Of course, we have no “rhythm editor,” so it’s a pretty lame joke. If we were a traditional magazine instead of a website, I’d probably be called the “managing editor.”

As “lead editor” or “managing editor” or whatever you’d like to call it, I handle all the articles and lessons that are on the Guitar Noise website. Since the vast majority of them are my own lessons, much of the editing I do is on my own material!  

Guitar Noise receives close to twenty million page views a month, representing a little over two million unique users from all over the world. I think Paul told me that we’ve readers from over a hundred countries.

I like to think that we are making a contribution, that we are helping people all over the planet to take up the guitar, to create music and to share that music with others. We get a lot of positive emaisl. One of my favorites was this one gentleman who wrote to tell me that, after reading a few of our lessons, he went and wrote a love song for his wife. That just really struck me as wonderful.

What was it like writing The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing Bass Guitar? What sort of message were you trying to convey to beginner guitarists and why did you choose bass guitar to convey it?

It was the bass that chose me, actually. The Complete Idiot’s series of books is by Alpha publishing. My partner, Karen Berger, teaches piano. She also is a travel writer who has published twelve books. Through her contacts, she landed the job writing The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Piano Chords (a great little book) and when she was in the process of writing that, her agent happened to ask if she knew someone who could write The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Playing Bass Guitar, as Alpha was looking for an author. Fortunately, she mentioned me. At the time, I’d been writing not only for Guitar Noise but also for Acoustic Guitar Magazine and Play Guitar! Magazine. Also fortunately, the folks at Alpha liked my writing and gave me a shot at the book.

Looking back at it now, I can’t quite believe how much I took on. There was the whole book to write, not only the text but all the musical examples and exercises that were included. Plus I had to put together the art (except for the cartoons) and to produce and record the CD that accompanied the book. And I was also responsible for the cover! For a first-time author, this was all a bit overwhelming.

The main message that I wanted to convey, and one I hopefully did a good job conveying, is one that works for all musicians – have fun and use your head. Playing the bass, like playing any instrument, isn’t all that hard to start with. But then you find yourself wanting to get better and learn more. On the bass that means learning about the language of music, things like scales and chord construction and how song progressions tend to work out. I truly believe that a musician’s ear is critical, but a musician who chooses to not use his or her brain is often limiting himself or herself.

The second message is that music is meant to be shared and played together. Guitarists can often forget this, but bass players by their nature have to be aware of the importance of working as a group.

Do you believe contributing to a group is just as important if not more important than being a solo musician?

Personally, I believe it’s more important. Don’t get me wrong, being a solo musician is a blast and there’s no end to the good a single musician is capable of. But there is a very different dynamic to a group situation.

Many solo players get this. In fact, the good ones tend to think of their audience as part of the group. That’s a key developmental step as an artist. Anyone who thinks that he or she is simply working his or her art doesn’t get the fact that art is about communication and communication by its very definition is about more than the individual. If an individual is truly concerned with his or her art, then he or she has to be concerned with whomever the artist, musician in this case, is communicating.

In a group situation, listening has to be the biggest concern for the players. This is also true of a solo artist reading his or her audience and it’s why true musicians will tell you that your ability to listen is the most important talent you can have. It’s the number one thing to work on. Listening means that you’re putting the song first, above the singer, above the writer, above the players involved. It’s about getting that song to the other listeners, the audience.

When you’re involved in a group, no matter how many people are in the group (and the last time I was on stage there were ten musicians all playing a single song), you realize that everyone has a part in delivering the song, whether you’re playing a shredder-style solo or hitting a wood block every other third beat.

What are some other ways to contribute to the “guitar world” without being a solo musician?

There are people making a living in music in all sorts of ways. When we think about “making it,” we almost always see ourselves as the Rolling Stones or the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Green Day or whoever you want. Or we think of ourselves as the lone indie artist who’s managed to not “sell out.”

Whatever side of the coin you fall on, you’re totally forgetting there’s a whole “working class musician” set as well. Think of it this way, your parents want you to be a doctor or lawyer. You want to be a starving artist. But there are also millions of things in between from grocery store employees to paralegals to plumbers.

In the musical world, in the “guitar world,” if you want to narrow it down further, there are, of course, teachers, writers, music and concert reviewers, agents and managers, all sorts of people doing sound and lights and other stage work. There are the guitar techs, the luthiers and repair people. There are even salespeople. One of the best rhythm guitarists I’ve ever played with also worked for both a big guitar company and a big microphone company doing sales work.

And don’t forget the art side of things, from people who write songs to people that design the CD covers to people who make the T-shirt designs (not to mention the shirts themselves) for concerts.

But as I mentioned at the very start, the music industry is first and foremost a business. You have to be able to think of it in that manner to make it work.

As a guitar teacher, would you say that you’re making a significant contribution to your students’ playing?

My contributions aren’t so much contributions as they are me just being me. I run into more people than I care to say who will tell me, “Oh yeah, I used to play an instrument. I used to make music.” And that, to me, is possibly the saddest thing one could ever hear. So, as a guitar teacher my goal isn’t even to turn someone into a professional guitarist. I simply hope that I can give my students a gift that will be with them throughout their lives, a gift that they in turn can share with others. I will give them what tools I can to achieve their goals, but ultimately it’s all about the contribution they are going to make to the world. I’m just a very small part of that.

What are your fun jams for students and friends like?


Basically we get together and play. We have notebooks full of songs and I also ask people to bring along copies of any songs that they might be interested in playing as a group. So we’ll sit around, usually in a circle, and each person gets a chance to pick and lead a song. We play it and then anyone can say “Let’s do that again.”  

Usually these last anywhere from four to seven hours. We try to make sure there’s “down time” as well – having a meal perhaps or just sitting around and talking. People get to exchange ideas and question each other on techniques and just hang out.

Who are your musical influences?

I don’t think I could begin to list them all. I listen to a lot of different music and I’m always finding even more to listen to all the time thanks to suggestions from my friends and family and students and Guitar Noise readers.
 
It’s also easy to find musical influences outside of the guitar. One of my favorite pieces to perform at shows is Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, which most people never would think of as a “guitar song.” So I’m constantly listening to all sorts of songs not only for enjoyment, but with an eye (and ear) toward working out arrangements for both groups and solo guitar players.

But even though I didn’t know it at the time, I guess my dad was the biggest influence. He could sit with all sorts of different people and make a contribution to the music being made. And I try to do the same. I’ve got no problem at all just hitting a wood block every other third beat!

 
 

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