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Since I get asked questions like these, I figured it would be useful to keep the answers in one place...

 

  • What is that instrument you play?

My instrument is a Chapman Stick, in particular a Grand Stick, which I began focusing on as my primary instrument in 2004. This is a unique instrument developed around the concept of Emmett Chapman's Free Hands two-handed tapping method. It incorporates elements of guitar, bass, piano and percussion, and rather than plucking or strumming the Stick, both hands tap the strings onto the frets, making multi-part arrangements easier to realize. On the Grand Stick there are 12 strings, and each set of 6 strings can be processed separately and/or go to a different amp.

  • Is it hard to learn the Stick? How long did it take you to learn to play?

It's as hard as you want to make it and takes as long as necessary! I'm not trying to be vague, it's just that many factors are involed here- it depends highly on the individual person and the kind of music you want to play. I had several years of music experience (piano, bass, guitar and flute) before focusing on the Stick and a fair amount of formal music education, but I wouldn't say that's necessary to learn the instrument. Knowing music theory and having some other instrument experiece generally does speed up the process though. Also, learning to play solo pieces is typically more difficult than using the Stick in the context of a band, where you can focus on one or two things rather than the whole song.

In my case, I got my first Stick around 1995 but only played it on and off, eventually traded it for an NS/Stick (which is more like an 8 string bass designed for tapping), then in 2004 jumped fully into solo Stick playing by getting a Grand Stick and developing my own version of a mirrored 4ths tuning. So that's when I REALLY focused on it, but obviosly previous experience factors into how slowly or quickly I was able to develop as a player.

The greatest challenge to new Stick players, in terms of playing it as a solo instrument, is the two hand independence concept. Keyboard players have a bigger advantage here, and it may take guitarists/bassists much longer to get the hang of having both hands doing different things.

I will say that the Stick has required a significant commitment to get to a point of performing solo pieces live- I've spent hardly any time playing anything else since 2004. But it is also by far the most rewarding instrument I've ever played- for the first time I truly feel I am able to communicate some of the musical ideas in my head.

As a point of reference, it took about a year after I got my Grand Stick before I could play a solo piece live, and about 4 years to develop around an hour of performable solo music (which has a lot of room for improvement). I'm not a pro musician, so practice time averages an hour or less a day.

Since I use a non-standard tuning, a lot of this practice time involved developing a "style", experimenting with ideas and trying to apply concepts I learned from other instruments and music theory. For those who want to use one of the "standard" Stick tunings, Stick Enterprises has several instruction resources available. There are also great teachers in different parts of the world - I suggest posting on Stickist.com to find out if anyone is in your area.

It can be a bit of a shock to pick up a Stick for the first time- I think I was expecting it at first to be more like a bass and guitar on one neck, but it feels and plays totally different, and will present a learning curve no matter your previous experience. But for me, the time was well worth it and easy to invest- I can't think of a more satisfying instrument to play.

  • Where do you get one and how much does it cost?

A Stick can be purchased directly from Stick Enterprises- see their website for current models and prices. You can find used Sticks on Ebay and stickist.com

  • Why do you play the Stick rather than (some other tapping instrument)?

After experimenting with other kinds of tap instrument types (including a few years with the NS/Stick from Stick Enterprises), for my music I personally find the standard Stick to be the most optimal design for dedicated two-handed tapping. With more "traditional" guitar designs using a shoulder strap, I personally don't like the way the headstock can float around and the fretboard is "out in front" of you- on the Stick, the belthook design allows the neck to naturally angle back towards the shoulder and tilt into better view. The instrument feels more secure and centered, allowing me to impart more muscle energy into my playing.

I also like some of the unique designs on the Stick like the adjustable nut (easier fine tuning of string height at the nut without having to re-file anything), the precise feel of the stainless steel Fret Rails, the uniform, narrower neck width (works particularly well with my mirrored 4ths tuning). I also feel the pickup designs better capture the attack transient and full frequency range of the instrument.

Everyone has their own musical approach which might dictate other instrument preferences, but this is what works for me!

  • How do you feel about people file sharing your album?

I suppose on one hand it's kind of a compliment that within days of releasing One Cloud, it began popping up on torrent sites, allowing people to download free illegal copies of the album. The worst thing that could happen is that no one cared about my music. But I also think supporting musicians is vitally important (particularly independent ones).

I'm all for supporting the latest media/technology trends and have tried to make my album reasonably available worldwide from a variety of sources (both CD and download), and the entire album can be previewed here, Bandcamp and SoundCloud. But I don't support the idea that just because it's easy to take music for free (against an artist's wishes) means it's acceptable.

I think widespread illegal filesharing is like a cancer to the independent musician, and will have lasting effects on the overall quality of music being produced in the world if the means for musicians to work (even just part-time) is eroded away. Developing musical skill and experience takes TIME, and the demands of full time jobs and family make it difficult to acheive those things when music is just a "hobby" for a few hours a week.

This is my request: If my music is important to you (i.e. you listen to it more than a couple times and it's permanent part of your collection) I ask that you purchase it. I'm confident that I offer something of value, and an enormous amount of time and energy goes into my music, so I feel the price I ask for something you can keep the rest of your life (the price of 2 or 3 drinks at a pub) is reasonable.

When someone supports an artist by going to concerts, buying an album or merchandise, (especially independent musicians that finance their own efforts), that listener becomes part of the music making process, allowing the artist they support some extra ability to develop and produce more music.

All money directly helps me to improve my skills and write more music, record more, promote myself, set up travel to other parts of the world to perform, and so forth. Thank you to everyone who has purchased an album or attended a gig!

  • What effects/amp do you use?

As a minimal setup for live gigs I got a lot of mileage out of the Stick and a Fishman SA220 for a few years. More recently I got a Fishman Loudbox Performer to replace the SA220 as a portable 2 channel amp with built in EQ and reverb, which can also be used easily as a floor monitor.

When I play through more effects, I use a Line6 POD HD 500 which allows me to process each side of the Stick separately, in conjuction with a few other pedals- Strymon BigSky, Strymon Lex, and Boss SY-300. To amplify this pedalboard I use an RCF HD-12A.

In years past I was using a Boss GT-10B for the bass side and Boss GT-10 for the melody side, and even before that I was using a rack with two Boss SE-70s and two Boss GX-700, controlled with a Behringer FCB1010 (this was the "sound" for my original One Cloud video).

For recording with Apple Logic Pro, I'll use a combination of dry Stick signal, external effects, and plug-ins such as Native Instruments Guitar Rig.

  • What tuning do you use?

Most Stick players have the bass tuned in fifths to take advantage of wide chord voicings and other ergonomic advantages, but because I wanted to adapt some melodic bass and acoustic guitar style techniques that are an important part of the sound I'm after, I have my instrument set up in a mirrored fourths tuning (low bass E up to F in fourths on the bass side, B to C in fourths on the melody side). I give up some pitch range compared to fifths on the low and high end, but in addition to the reasons above I feel this tuning also makes it easier to read keyboard music as well as providing a nice symmetrical relationship between the hands. Stick Enterprises now offers this as a standard tuning. See my article there for more information on the tuning.

  • What is your music background?

I started playing flute in the fourth grade, and thus played in concert bands and orchestras through high school and college. I also took a few piano lessons along the way, taught myself some guitar and bass, took some music theory in college, and worked on writing music as well. Eventually I studied music full time at Northwestern University and earned a Master of Music in their Music Technology program in 2000. This program was a combination of formal conservatory-style music education and software development focused on music applications (DSP, synthesis, computer based composition, etc).

I became fascinated with music technology from the moment I, as an impressionable youngster, heard Wendy Carlos playing Bach on Moog synthesizers. I'm intrigued with new and intuitive ways to control sounds beyond the conventional keyboard, new ways to create sounds, easier ways to compose and organize musical ideas (i.e. shortening the path from imagination to reality) and so on. Technology opens up a whole universe of new musical expression and creativity, and I pursued some of my interests in this field while at Northwestern University. See my Projects page to read about or download things I've worked on.

  • What are your music influences?

I like music which reflects a lot of creativity and emotion. When pop music got really bad in the mid to late 80s I ran for the hills and locked myself into a room where I only listened to classical music. Also, I was a male flute player which caused all kinds of insecurity problems as every other flute player in my high school was a girl. For some reason I thought "since my parents won't let me play drums, I'll pick up flute". Initial self-esteem issues aside, this turned out to be an enourmous blessing. I heard about this band with a flute player called Jethro Tull, and my life changed. This opened the door for me into the world of progressive rock. This is a genre of music that's a lot more adventurous and creative than the mostly predictable rock music one might hear on the radio. Apart from some artistic bands that do get some recognition like Jethro Tull and Rush, most of the music I listen to I found out about on the Internet, since this is not music geared towards popularity, hit singles and making millions of dollars. Not to mention, I can count at least 10 prog rock CDs of mine which incorporate flute in the band. I had a cool instrument after all!

These are a few of the musicians who have inspired me enough to persue music and provided continual inspiration: Jethro Tull (Ian Anderson), Marillion, Rush, early Genesis, Gentle Giant, Kate Bush, Wendy Carlos, Iron Maiden, The Police, King Crimson, The Cars, Boston, Queensryche as well as some of the classical greats such as Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Holst, Vaughan Williams and Scarlatti. I've also always had the support of my family, good friends (like Bill Roeder, my most longtime fan) and music teachers throughout the years. And I'm fortunate to have a significant other who shares my passion for music (my wife Eleanor, who studied vocal performance at Notre Dame).