Rick Beato’s Pat Metheny Interview Summary

This post contains my summary notes from Rick Beato’s interview with guitarist Pat Metheny.

This is one of the best guitar/music related interviews I’ve watched. Almost 2 hours in length, this interview contains many nuggets and insights. Rick and Pat discuss triads over bass notes, the mystery of melody, improvisation, importance of coming up with new shit, transcendence of music and so much more.

Full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEgalcH_-b4

Summary Notes

Triads over bass notes (14:00)

“A beautiful and eloquent and unbelievably communicative way to explain harmony to an audience. Whether they know what they are getting or not, they are getting a full dose of what those chords mean.” 

In his debut album “Bright Size Life” Pat’s playing had a unique music “language” that not many guitar players were using. It was the concept of triads over bass notes, often called inversions. 

For example you take an A major chord triad (A C# E) and put a Bb (the flat 9) in the bass to create an A/Bb chord. If you rearrange the notes (Bb A Db E) this chord could now be called a Bbmin/maj7#11. Or you can simply call it an A/Bb.

The benefits of this approach:

  1. Another (simpler) way to call a 7th chord.
  2. Gives a clue to the person playing it how you might want the chord voiced and how you want it to function.

The song “Falling Grace” by Steve Swallow got Pat started in thinking about harmony beyond the traditional linear way. It was about the movement of notes between chords. It could be bass notes, or it could be a common tone that cuts through the chords. It became about unlocking all the angles that you could look at a set of chord changes from.

“Sometimes I’ll play Falling Grace in all 12 keys for 5-6 hours…infinity is represented there…”

You should start thinking about harmony by knowing how to invert chords in at least 3-4 different ways, using different chord tones as the pivot points.

The drummer is the leader (24:25)

“I always say…the drummer is the leader…the drummer is the leader of every band, it’s all about the drummer…”

My job(s) in the band (28:45)

The main thing is music. Will write 90% of the notes. 

Right under that is “band leader”. The main job of the band leader is to create environments for things to happen and invite people who are the best people you can get to help you realize your vision.

“I want to come up with settings for really good improvisers (including me) to do their thing.” (35:01)

Come up with new shit (30:00 – 35:00)

“Come up with some new shit…”

In the early days of Pat’s career the culture was about trying to invent stuff. There was no other option. Pat was around players that were inventing. Gary Burton, the vibraphonist developed a pianistic style of four-mallet technique as an alternative to the prevailing two-mallet technique. Jaco Pastorius took the frets off bass to invent fretless bass. In that era that is what you were supposed to do, invent stuff.  

Pat did come up with triads over bass notes on Bright Size Life, but had the feeling of what else could he do?

Started experimenting with alternate tunings on a 12 string guitar. Didn’t think of the instrument from a guitar player’s point of view. Thought of it from an orchestral perspective, it was a specific type of sound to create with. This led to the creation of the song “Ice Fire”.

Spreading the sound out (32:35)

Pat observed that on stage the sound of the drums and saxophone came from seemingly everywhere. Whereas the guitar sound came from an isolated area of the stage where the amp was. He wondered if the sound could be spread out.

Was coincidentally introduced to a company (Lexicon) that had just invented a new device, the “digital delay”. 

Pat had them hook up three amps to multiple digital delays (1 amp ran straight, the other two amps had a delay between them) and that created the spread of sound he had imagined. Today everyone uses this technique (creating a delay between two amps), but at that time no one had heard anything like it.

“This is what was required, you had to come up with some stuff…”

Melody: the idea of developing an idea (37:56)

What is melody? People will define melody as to how it feels…as “pretty”, “memorable” or “singable”. But is that what it is?

The idea of developing an idea may be a better way to think about what melody actually is…”

What makes a melody great? How does an improviser create one?

You can go to college for 4 years and study harmony. You can go to college for 4 years and study rhythm. On the topic of melody your teacher will talk about intervals, lyrical playing. But it won’t explain why if you have two melodies with all the “right” notes, but one melody works and the other does not.

Melody: Happy Birthday (40:15)

Use Happy Birthday as a perfect example of a melody where you establish an idea and then build on it, explain it.

Happy Birthday
Part 1: idea
Part 2: development 1
Part 3: development 2
Part 4: recapitulation

“If you played like that, a lot of people would love the music that today just goes over their head…”

Musicians that embody this principle:

  • Ornette Coleman
  • Lester Young
  • Clifford Brown
  • Stan Getz
  • Max Roach
  • Wes Montgomery

Melody: the mystery (42:15)

“It’s the way it goes together, the way it flows, the way it connects, the way the idea explores the territory it suggests…that’s melody…”

“It’s a matter of human consideration. You want to illuminate things. As musicians it’s our responsibility to illuminate things that we think are cool…”

“Check this out, listener. Look how this flat 6 goes to that minor chord, this is really cool, I want you to notice this…”

“That kind of effort, it’s like talking to someone, you really want to share this cool thing with them, let me tell you about this, that’s melody…”

“How you get there can be using intervals…but it can also manifest from harmony, from rhythm. All work together with melody being the mystery thing…”

Playing through complicated chord changes (46:40)

“I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get to the point where I understand, so that I can be…”

It might sound like it’s easy, but it’s not. You need to put in the work to get to a point where it begins to appear to others as if it’s effortless.

“The stuff I can’t do, that’s what I want to learn. I don’t want to work on the stuff I can do. Regarding the bridge of the song “James”, I’m going to write something like that because I can’t do it. Over years, hours and hours working on it, I’ve gotten to the point where I can do it…”

Universal theme to all music (48:30)

“I think that’s universal to all music, it’s gotta feel good…”

“It’s cool to go outside and try different things, but have you mastered the fundamentals? Can you play good quarter notes? Because if that’s not happening, all that other stuff doesn’t do much. The most important thing is feel…”

“It’s easy to focus on the superficial aspects because it’s fun, good for magazines… but the basic stuff is the basic stuff…”

I lean heavily on the preparation department (59:00)

Some guys go off talent, reach a plateau. Pat works constantly to improve. Always trying to answer, well why?

The cliche is true: good luck is where preparation meets opportunity…

“I lean heavily on the preparation department, and I’ve been fortunate in my life with opportunities. I really want to understand how the music that I love works. It’s been a continual process of trying to understand…”

“Preparation requires really knowing what the material is. Being able to play it if not in all 12 keys, in a lot of different keys. Can look at material from different angles. Be able to hear it…”

“I do better when I’m hungry, I never eat from when I wake up in the morning until after the gig…”

No drinking, no drugs (1:00:30)

“I started out young and saw musicians indulge in substances and they sounded worse as the night went on. I wanted to sound better as the night went on so I took note and avoided substances. No drinking, no drugs…”

Fixing things in the studio (1:04:00)

“For me a lot of times fixing things in the studio is messing it up, you want it to be real…”

Number 1 quality of a musician (1:04:50)

The number 1 quality is the ability to listen. To really pay attention to stuff. No matter what your band setting, no matter the genre of music, by listening you’ll be able to get to the ultimate goal: to transcend and channel all that “other” stuff in the beyond.

“Life and music requires an astute awareness of how things are feeling…”

The hustle in the early days (1:08:00)

In the early 70s, as a young band they put in the work. Every gig was 2.5-3 hours long. Bought a van and would drive themselves to gigs across the country. Pat would be the driver most often. Put 300k miles on the van in a few years.

That’s how it works, you go out on the road, and you play a small gig, six people show up, but if you kick ass, next time you come back 200 people show up. 

“I was the tour manager, road manager, everything…”

You want it to be like a magic show (1:12:00)

“I would never accept people to come on the bandstand with music. No charts on stage. You want it to be like a magic show for the audience…”

I’m interested in being a musician (1:14:20)

“What I’m interested in is being a musician” to be able to offer, as the great music does, a window that’s like a mirror for people to see the best of what might be that is transcendent of everything. I think our community gets to that more than anybody else…”

“To be a musician, you have to understand how things work…”

“It’s really satisfying to work on something you couldn’t play before (say it’s in a new key) and then what does that open up, typically it opens up 10 new things…”

Most of the people that will check your thing out are not born yet (1:16:50)

Initially no one noticed “Bright Size Life”. 20 years later people started to talk about it. 30 years later it became culturally relevant.

“Most of the people that will check your thing out are not born yet, they aren’t on the planet yet – so do your best, do what you know is good, because the only thing you know is what you know is good. Don’t worry about whatever someone else thinks is good, if you do that, you have the chance to get to something, but if you’re chasing whatever everyone else is doing, it likely won’t happen…”

Death And The Flower (1:19:40)

Pat is a huge fan of Keith Jarrett and the tunes he wrote, in particular “Death And The Flower”.

Your band (1:20:40)

“Don’t cast a band in your image…get people that think different…”

The robustness of the tune (1:26:20)

A tune is robust if it becomes something separate from you, “it is”.

Songs like “You’re Everything” and “Spain” “500 Miles High” by Chick Corea embody elegance of allowing. People will be playing these tunes for ages, they are indestructible. You can pound on them, you can do a jazz vocal version, solo version, write variations in a baroque style and it will still be “500 miles high” and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

The Beatles are a perfect example of this, every tune on every record is robust.

Pat gets his guitar and talks about the bridge in “James” (1:26:39)

On using pentatonic to solo over James: Pentatonic is a solution, you won’t offend your neighbors but you also won’t say much about the chords. You’re surviving…playing above it all…

“Whether it’s a straightforward progression or a complicated one, my approach to soloing over it is to show people the changes, check this out…look how cool it is when this note changes to that note, I’m trying to find the places in the chords where the activity that’s moving the chords along is happening…looking for common tones to connect ideas…”

Soloing fundamentals (1:29:00)

“The key thing for me on any tune, is to be able to solo playing the notes in the chords. For much of music history, improvisers played in a “vertical way” (up through the chords) versus a “horizontal way” (across the chords). Before you can get to horizontal playing, you gotta get the vertical down…”

Step 1 is to be able to play the root, third, the fundamental chord tones. It’s simple, but very effective to outline the chords. You can outline the chords by taking the bass note, and adding one note on top. So just two notes and follow the progression.

On warming up (1:35:00)

“Make up things that I don’t have to think about too much. Take an idea and let it follow it’s way through. Could take a section from a song and use that. Try to do stuff warming up where I’m not engaged, so that the first note of music comes at the first tune of the set…”

Soundchecks (1:36:45)

“Soundchecks should be treated like what they are, a soundcheck. I don’t like jam sessions at soundchecks – save it for the gig. I’ve seen bands that play a long songcheck and then the gig suffers…”

Importance of dynamics (1:40:00)

Dynamics are critical on guitar – an instrument that naturally has a very small dynamic range (compared to say drums or saxophone).

“I try never to play any two notes at the same volume, you’re getting louder and softer all the time…”

“It’s like talking, we aren’t monotone, we are dynamic with our voice, add accents, same thing with playing…you want there to be variety…”

“If you’re at 8, 9, 10 volume all the time, you probably won’t be a very dynamic player…”

It’s gotta feel good (1:43:00)

“There are many ways that you can get into a note, however you get to a note, it’s when you get to the note that’s really the thing, I spend a lot of time thinking where in the beat it’s going to fall, whatever you do, it’s gotta feel good…”

Additional Insights

Check out my guest post on JazzGuitarLessons.net for additional insights from this interview.

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