Joseph Alexander Interview – Modern Day Guitarist
By: Matthew Warnock
Life as a modern guitarist means wearing many hats and moving between different aspects of a career often within a single day, or even afternoon. UK based guitarist Joseph Alexander is just such a musician, an educator, performer and best-selling author, Alexander is quickly becoming a go-to name in guitar education and publication as he continues to push out his high-quality and high-selling ebooks, print books and shortly, his first interactive App.
We recently caught up with Joseph to talk about publishing his own books, his daily schedule and where he goes from here.
Matt Warnock: You are a prolific publisher of books on how to learn various elements of the guitar. How did you get started into publishing?
Joseph Alexander: It was, and still is, a genuine desire to help aspiring players to avoid the same mistakes that I made when I was learning.
When I was studying at Guitar Institute, so much stuff was being thrown at us. Day in and day out it was the same, so that it was almost impossible for me to scratch the surface of all these hundreds of ideas.
I ended up very disillusioned with music, not knowing which way to turn and trying to incorporate all of these ideas I hadn’t mastered into my playing, often in the space of 1 bar, whilst judging myself against players like Martino, and Vai.
I was spread too thin and music became this horrible thing for me which was terrible because it had always been the one thing I’d loved.
I ended up having a bit of time away from it.
Attending Leeds College of Music a year later changed my life, and there I learned to take one concept at a time and forget about all the things I was feeling guilty for not practicing at that second.
The first book I wrote, “Fundamental Changes in Jazz Guitar,” was really the book I wish I’d had when I was getting into jazz.
Instead of spreading focus on all the myriad of possibilities, I took one concept, a major ii V I, and tried to show how you can build something solid from the ground up, one step at a time, in one position at a time.
Matt: With a number of things going on all at once, teaching-playing-publishing, how do you manage to keep your focus going across these different elements of your career?
Joseph Alexander: I’m not sure I do, I don’t sleep I guess. As we speak, I have another computer next to me running Pro tools and I’m bouncing all the audio for my new book “Rock Guitar Un-CAGED.”
There are 100 rock licks and just as many examples to teach rock guitar around the CAGED system, so there’s quite a lot to do.
Normally I get up about 7am and answer emails, work out, and write or record in the morning.
My students start coming at 3:45 and I have about 36 students each week at the moment.
They of course take priority, so I always leave myself enough time to plan their lessons and get their materials together.
On top of that, I’ve been gigging recently on a Sunday which is fun as it’s a jam night.
It’s important to keep playing and practicing, otherwise you just end up in an ivory tower.
It surprises many people, but I still have private lessons through Skype. This is normally the highlight of my week as my teacher is excellent.
Unfortunately, much to his despair, my practice is taking a bit of a back seat right now due to other commitments.
I have a few big life changing events coming up and my teacher does understand, but I really miss it.
When I can, I try to practice for about 45 minutes each day, normally this is quite late at night before I finally get to bed about 12.
You have to be very focused and disciplined in what you practice if you only have 45 minutes.
The thing I’m most regretful of is a bit of a neglect of my personal life. My poor girlfriend suffers a bit when I’m doing 14-hour days and I don’t get to see my friends nearly enough.
I’m working on it, but my advice to anyone is that your relationships and health comes first. It’s really important to take breaks and keep fit.
I did the Tough Mudder last year which was an amazing experience and a great balance to all the studio stuff. That’s it I guess.
Decide what you value the most, prioritise, and then be strict with yourself about breaking up your day. I wish I practiced more.
Matt: You manage the site Fundamental Changes in Guitar. How did you get interested in running your own guitar teaching site, and what advice do you have for other teachers that want to start their own guitar website?
Joseph Alexander: It’s funny really; the site was almost secondary to the books. I needed a place where people could download all the free audio examples for my books as CDs are really expensive to produce and a bit redundant in a world of Mp3s.
However, that quickly turned into me writing a lessons and offering free chapters from my books. It just grew from there.
There are some fantastic teachers around on the net these days so I them to write guest posts for the site. It’s great publicity for them and I get some excellent content to compliment my own. Pete Sklaroff, my teacher, and others have been amazing and extremely generous with their time and expertise.
Advice for other teachers who are looking to venture into this realm, it’s a lot of work, but WordPress is a God-send.
You can produce articles very quickly and the plugins etc. blow my mind. As with anything ‘computer’ be prepared for a lot of head scratching unless you’re an IT whizz, but the feedback and direct communication I can have with my readers is incredible and rewarding.
When someone emails me to tell me they loved something I wrote, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Matt: What gear do you use to record and edit your YouTube guitar teaching videos and how has the response been towards your video teaching as opposed to your text products and articles?
Joseph Alexander: For the picking technique video series I just did, I used a Nikon D3100 for all the close up stuff and a Sony HD Video camera for the long shots.
On reflection I’ll swap them around next time. The guitar audio is recorded into Pro Tools via my amazing Avid Eleven Rack along with the audio, I use SE mics, and then everything is synced to the video in Power Director 11.
It’s a bit too early to judge the response just yet, but on the strength of the videos I’ve had a few emails asking for bespoke video lessons so that’s reassuring and a nice feeling.
Video can be more immediate for many students but I think it works best when it’s supported by written examples.
That’s what I tried to do in the video technique book. It was released as a PDF and for kindle, and the book contains links to private YouTube videos.
It works really well in my opinion and the feedback has been good so far.
Matt: Our readers love to talk guitars and gear. What is your go-to guitar and amp setup right now?
Joseph Alexander: The purists will kill me, but I use my Avid 11r for everything right now. It does literally everything I could wish for.
It’s the front-end of my Pro Tools system, and really accurately models the best amps out there, which is so useful for the diverse nature of my books.
I can go from a great rock tone to a really crystal clean jazz sound at the flick of a switch without having to worry about mic placement and a billion other things.
When I’m gigging I just take it out of the studio, stick it into the PA and get a monitor mix sent to me. Not only that, I can record great vocals and bass through it too.
One of the most useful features is that it will record a wet and dry signal at the same time.
So if I’m not happy with the tone, I can send the dry signal back into the amp to re-amp it. That works with vocals or virtual instruments too. That’s just so valuable to me and I think it cost about £450 on eBay and that includes Pro Tools.
My guitar is my baby. I designed it from the ground up in conjunction with the guys at Suhr and Gary and Rick who now run Tone World in Manchester.
I spent hours in there testing different bodies, necks, fret wire, bridge, you name it.
Essentially, it is a Suhr carved-top with a Mahogany body, mahogany neck, 5A quilted Maple top, rosewood finger board, Active EMG’s, a Floyd Rose and an awesome mid-boost pull-pot hidden in the tone control.
It’s ridiculous, but I can go from clean jazz to a passable Van Halen without touching my amp.
The neck pickup is mellow and rich and the bridge humbucker with the boost engaged will rip your face off. That’s dead handy for private teaching as I don’t often have to fiddle with my amp.
When I walked into the shop, the first specification I gave them was it had to be purple.
I also have an Ibanez JP20, hand signed Joe Pass model from ‘82. It’s a bit beaten up but I love it.
I prefer to have one or two guitars that I actually use rather than 50 hanging on the wall.
Matt: Where do you go from here? What new products and adventures do you have planned for the coming year?
Joseph Alexander: I’m moving back to Thailand. It’s a long story but the wonderful lady in my life wants to go and teach English in Thailand She’s got a job down near Phuket and the flights are booked.
A lot of my private students are staying on through Skype, I can write anywhere in the world and I’m also trained as a SCUBA instructor.
I’ll get some gigs out there too, it’s always fun playing in the beach bars and clubs on the islands which I did when I lived there for a few years ago.
Work-wise, I’m just mixing the tracks for “Rock Guitar UnCaged,” the follow up to the best-selling “CAGED System and 100 Blues Licks for Guitar,” and hopefully it’ll be out on Amazon by the time you read this.
There’s also the inevitable app. It’s in the trial stages right now, but it’s based on my blues book. In a nutshell the concept is to teach blues vocabulary in an interactive way.
There are 25 licks, 5 based around each shape of the minor pentatonic scale. The lick shows up on the screen and there’s a scrolling bar to help you learn it. There’s going to be a little mixer too so you can play along or lower the levels of the backing track and click etc.
It’s coming on quickly so hopefully that’ll be around soon, and if it’s successful we’ll do a few more to cover Mixolydian, Blues Scale and Major Pentatonic licks.
We’re thinking of doing it with my “Complete Technique for Modern Guitar Book” and new “Rock Guitar Un-Caged” books too.
It’s been a whirlwind! I’m looking forward to a break in Thailand in September! – Never a dull moment!
About Joseph Alexander
A professional guitar teacher for over 12 years, Joseph Alexander graduated from The Guitar Institute in London with a Diploma in Popular Music Performance. He continued his education at the prestigious Leeds College of Music achieving a BA (Hons) in Jazz Studies in 2002.
Immediately following his graduation Joseph was awarded a bursary and internship writing music for the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds where he composed scores for three individual works.
Music has taken Joseph all over the world. He has performed on little islands in Thailand and 100,000 ton ocean liners in the Caribbean. He currently lives in Manchester, England and is busy teaching a new wave of upcoming guitarists. He has often worked as a peripatetic teacher in Cheshire schools and at times has over 40 weekly private students.
Joseph has written four Amazon best-selling books for guitar students. His new book “Rock Guitar Un-CAGED” is out soon