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Jane Miller: Newsletter

dim the lights - May 7, 2008

i got to play with my old pal chet williamson last friday night. he is a jazz and blues and anything style harmonica player. it's like working with a horn player. they don't come better than chet. hopefully, we'll have more gigs to tell you about soon, but for now, i was filling in for our friend steve cancelli (amazing guitar player). you can catch the two of them every friday night at val's in holden, ma. nice place, nice owner, nice music. chet is an encyclopedia of american music history and is just an absolute blast to work with. he is also editor and writer at worcester magazine. we know each other from doing radio in worcester, where he was my mentor and we spun the platters and hosted concerts and had all kinds of fun.
i have a piece in the next issue of acoustic guitar magazine. it's the july issue, out at the end of may. they wanted a story about diminished chords, so if you want to read a story about diminished chords, check it out. there's a new song for the lesson in there, too, which can be heard on their on-line magazine site once the print mag is released. it's called "dim the lights." many more stories to come for acoustic guitar mag, so keep an eye out.
my dog, betty, is quite a story teller, too. she's in the middle of a forensic investigation of some crow feathers on the hill. and some bread under the neighbor's house. and the leaves that maybe a deer or something like that must have brushed by this morning, or was it last night. and that stick over there. and and and...

the seventies - April 17, 2008

my dog's best friend comes by from time to time to visit. we have to spell his name around our house because the very thought of him causes so much excitement it's hard to bear. when betty is just about jumping out of her skin either when her friend comes over or when i come home or go to pick her up from her vacation spot, she grabs the first toy she sees to show it off. i like to think of it as her way of story telling. here's what i've been playing with since i've seen you last. here's what i can do with it. here, you try it. try to take it away. see how strong i am.
it could be that none of that is in her head at all. it could be that she feels like she'd better grab something or else she just might bite me because she's so excited. or it could be that she just wants to play. but it makes me think of the many ways of expression. many art forms. many teaching styles. many sports. many languages. many studies.
max is a big boy dog, one month older than betty. he teaches her how to stay around and play with us rather than running off to find food in neighbors' yards. he teaches her to come in the house with us when the games are over. he teaches her to drink like a big slobbery dog out of the big water dish. he teaches her to be and have a best friend. so when i started spontaneously singing "ma-a-a-a-a-aps" from the "yeah yeah yeahs" the other day, betty's eyes lit up and her body stiffened ready to spring for the great outdoors to see her pal in the yard. no such luck. but when he is there and i say "go see maxi" and she leaps like a bunny all through the field until she finds him, i am in the lucky position of witnessing pure joy.
that's the draw toward guitars. that's the draw toward learning and listening to music. that's what we pay for to either learn or listen to in classrooms, studios, clubs, concert halls. as i played a lick during an impromptu jam with susan werner one day last year, she said "i want that for christmas," and i knew she felt the joy of music in the right spirit of fun and excitement.
you can't force that stuff. it's as natural as betty and max. when it's right, it just is.
today, i have a lot of work to do for school and for a magazine assignment and some general other parts of life to take care of, but there's no way i'm doing any of it right now because it's in the seventies here in new england, and i am following my heart to the great outdoors with betty.
you gotta be flexible with that stuff.

snippets - March 13, 2008

open strings are so cool.

someone that plays loud and confidently can sure fool a lot of people into thinking that they are adept or musically accomplished when in fact they might just be having a blast and not be either of those things and that's ok, too.

java chip ice cream is so good.

roy clark showed up on the beverly hillbillies now and then and played his butt off.

playing bass is an absolute blast. i almost believe that bass players and drummers must belong to a secret club.

what, that chord again? try finding a new note.


oh, good, that chord again--i love that one.

hey, who took my F#? you know when you take your finger off of the first string when you're playing a D chord and it sounds cool, but you kind of miss that F# that got sacrificed? try making a barre across the first three strings on the second fret and then add the E on the 5th fret of the second string. you'll get your pretty "9" sound but you won't have to lose the good F# in the process.

on a different topic, there will be a new acoustic guitar magazine article/lesson/song of mine in an upcoming issue. not sure when.

last year during spring break, i got injured in my own back yard. this year, i'm going away.

every now and then my dog reminds me that she is indeed an animal. and by every now and then, i mean a lot.

i have a mandolin. i don't practice much. if you turn your guitar upside down and try to play like that, that's how i feel with my mandolin. it's a blast.

in the morning, my dog wakes me up singing eric dolphy licks.

on days when i have to work at home writing, i spend the rest of the day wearing her out.

at night, she sleeps in the big chair in my office and lets me type.

if i try to rush that process at all, i get eric dolphy-ed again.

expressive and artistic and real and raw.

give me a D-7 in third position with F on the second string and the open high E string singing along.

give me a decaf grande mocha.

sshhhhhhhhh the yellow dog is sleeping.

wooo hooo - February 4, 2008

hi folks,
it's true, the acton jazz cafe has been rescued by its many friends and so we're back on for gigs. i'll be with the doug lowe group on saturday february 9 for the early show-7-8:30. jerry wilfong on bass, chris poudrier on drums and doug lowe on sax. lots of fun. please come support the acton jazz cafe as often as you can-it's really a gem. and suppport doug and his music, too.

oh, and you have to go see "juno." it's a wonderful story beautifully told and kimya dawson's songs will take you right to your simplest and beautiful essence. (she always does that. check out her cds with the moldy peaches). it's a great match of film, story, and music.

friday night in acton - January 23, 2008

this weekend-january 25, 26, and 27, there will be some really fun fundraising going on at the acton jazz cafe. i am playing friday night from 730-8pm with saxophonist cercie miller and our special guest just announced, tim ray on piano. don't miss this great line up of musicians all night and saturday night too and sunday all day and night. it's a great way to chip in and help the club get back and running and it's a great chance to hear some amazing players. check out the lineup at

gwenn and the acton jazz cafe - January 18, 2008

my friend gwenn mentioned something about the tax people freezing her accounts when i saw her last weekend in the midst of a packed saturday night house taking in the group "no static," the incredible steely dan tribute band. she's been through plenty to keep the jazz cafe going for 11 years now, so i trusted her sense of calm and casualness about it to mean that this was no different and she would fix it and continue. on wednesday, we all got word that that's not how it is. since gwenn is inseperable from the cafe in just about every sense, my first reaction was to make sure that she and her two terrific daughters would be ok for now. since then, remarkably, there have been some signs of hope that it might not be over forever for the cafe. to explain all of this better than i can, here's what pianist, friday- night-booker, and friend to gwenn and us all, molly flannery wrote to the community of caring musicans:

Dear Friends,

As you all know, the Acton Jazz Café has closed its doors. Currently, the Café’s Liquor License has been revoked and all funds associated with the Café have been frozen by the Department of Revenue.

Many of you are asking what can I do to help. Gwenn just emailed me, "The response that I have received has been so overwhelming that I now believe that we have the strength to win this one. An awful lot of people care an awful lot about me, this beautiful place, and the music. There is an army. We can mobilize." To me the Cafe is almost like a church (too bad it doesn't have the same tax exempt status....) because of the wonderful sense of community and love that flowers there. I think I see more hugging there than anywhere. And then of course there's the incredible music thanks to the richness of the greater Boston community -- placing the club in Downbeat Magazine's "100 great jazz clubs in the world" selection. And there's the amazing Gwenn who works around the clock to make it happen. The place is a treasure.

So, Phil Argyris and I have established a trust fund for Gwenn and the Acton Jazz Café, called the Gwenn Vivian Support Trust created at the Middlesex Savings Bank in Littleton, MA:

Middlesex Savings Bank

ATTN: Gwenn Vivian Support Trust

P.O. Box 954

Littleton, MA 01460

Checks can be made out to the Gwenn Vivian Support Trust and can be sent to the above noted address.

thanks, molly, for letting me copy that here. plans are beginning to solidify for a benefit concert weekend on January 25, 26, and 27. at the moment, it looks like my good friend cercie miller and i will be playing a duo set on friday night. at various times in my life, i've said: if not for cercie, i wouldn't be working. and: if not for gwenn, i wouldn't be working. these two people mean a whole lot to me. let's see what we can do, ok?

modes - January 17, 2008

who needs 'em.
one of my favorite lines delivered so wonderfully by the gruff lou grant on the mary tyler moore show was while unexpectedly babysitting for phyllis' daughter: "do anything you want, kid. just don't play with matches."
i keep coming back to that "it's all good" attitude while practicing, listening, learning, discussing, teaching, reading. it's all so deep and complex and it is so simple in the end. make it sound good to yourself. have fun with others. other people may want in on it, and that's good, too, but it's beside the point. but before we pick up our instruments, pens, paint brushes to "do whatever we want," we need to spend some time learning the language. learn the rules of the game before talking all that trash.
quick exercise of the week: choose an open string, choose a mode, and play the mode all up and down that one string, going back to the open string between fingered notes. or find an open string that works as an adjacent string drone to the string that you play the mode on.
see what that does for your playful mood.
then do whatever you want.

thaw - January 9, 2008

little by little, the betster and i (that's my dog, you know) have been making our way around the trail we love so much. at first, we were brave and trudged through very deep snow and went a short distance but worked hard enough to feel like it had been miles. then a little more, a little more, until today when we could finally get all the way around and still be somewhat challenged by snow. the fields are almost bare, with big drifts and piles from the plows remaining. i spent a week in texas, where they say it snows sometimes. why, just back in 1985...
i played my fairly new nylon string guitar for a fairly long time last night. i like it. it's fun to have around. it's a cordoba. i am looking at another in a series of spectacular sunsets from my upstairs window. this is a good seat.
my states of input and then pause have been so great that i have been happily forgetting about any output requirements. but now there is music in the music room again and there are stirrings in my daydreams and there are fun little percussion instruments to look at and ponder and there are 65 degree days in january in new england.
betty (the betster) tiptoed off on my birthday and secretly ate enough to feed a small nation. i know this because later that night, she was so uncomfortable, she couldn't sit down or lie down or get comfortable at all. so her loving people whisked her off to the emergency vet where she got a squirt in the eye of something or other and out came all that food. crazy kid. she feels much better now. as one of her loving people, i shake my head and learn from her every day.
output, indeed.

whooooooooosh - December 4, 2007

i usually remember to prepare my students for what feels like seconds between the time we come back from thanksgiving break until the end of the semester. the thing is, i'm just as surprised as everyone else every year anyway. so now there is snow in my yard, holiday decorations and christmas music all over the place, a silly dog catching snow flakes and zooming around while i scrape off the car and send snowballs in her direction,hot chocolate, and well, you get the picture. let's see, cold, boots, hats, gloves, christmas music; oh,'s time for mark marquis' annual christmas show this coming weekend. the 20th annual,no less. this will be my 18th year playing with the gang (i missed the first 2, but i think he will still give me pizza at the after party anyway). check the calendar page for details. highly recommended to put you in good spirits and to help children in need of some christmas toys. see you there.

mel bay piece - November 1, 2007

The fantastic e-zine, "Guitar Sessions," which is a part of the Mel Bay web site, will be making the switch to the November issue soon. I contributed a piece on the Thanksgiving song, "We Gather Together." Ah, Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for about a billion things.
Here's a link:

go sox - October 24, 2007


i walked around fenway park the other day and stopped to pat the statue of ted williams on the knee.

colors - September 30, 2007

don't tell anyone but the leaves are getting rather pretty around here.

my dear friend sonia is playing at club passim on wednesday october 3. there was some talk of me sitting in on a tune, but whatever happens, catch her show wherever you live; she's touring and celebrating her newest recording called "tango," which is an amazing project. also, she will be visiting one of my classes at berklee, so i will get to hear her music a lot this week. i recommend it to you, too, and i also recommend being happy. it's very cool.

acton jazz - September 1, 2007

the mcm trio will be at the acton jazz cafe on september 15th. we're doing the early show; it's a perfect time for dinner and jazz with us. later that night, myanna will be there with her group, which is an excellent jazz/r+b group. mcm (cercie miller on sax, david clark on bass, and me on guitars) has not played in acton in quite some time, so we're really looking forward to being there again. it's a feel good gig. lots of excellent listeners. we love that. also, yes, cercie and myanna were the two sax players in "girls night out" for you trivia buffs, so what a fun night all around. i've played with myanna a bunch, too, and she is a very special real deal great player. i think you'll want to make a night of it.
see you there.

it takes months - August 13, 2007

or years. or days. there's nothing worse than some pretentious writer going way hogwild overboard on hyperbole while discussing their garden as a metaphor for life itself.
i'm sorry. but my tomatoes are so awesome.
i've been told, and i've told others, that what you're practicing on your instrument now will begin to come out in your playing in about six months. taking classes, studying, working on a piece for a performance; it's all a little like shopping. (wait, what happened to the garden metaphor...). we gather and collect and take things away and come back to our home base and start to sort through our bags. or maybe we move and go through things we haven't seen in awhile and make the tough decisions about what stays, what goes, what finds a new home, what takes on a new role. once we have the gift of time to look it all over, think about the contexts, the textures, the shapes, then we can really make it work in ways that make sense to us. i've paid good money for things while shopping and listened to someone schpeil on about how it works or what it does, but it's not until i get it home and work with it in my own way that i really get at what it's all about. and it might be very different from what the experts say or from what the next person in line says.
so if you feel like you can't play today, it's because you didn't practice six months ago. if you are having a great time playing and interacting musically and making sense of things that you collected six months ago, congratulations. it's working. it's time to pick the tomatoes. it's time to clear out the closets. it's time to rearrange that bookcase or move that cd collection. or listen to that music you had forgotten all about and really hear what's going on for the first time ever. and then play play play and hear and feel what happens. it doesn't happen every day. it takes months. years. minutes. days. lifetimes. four bars. entire choruses. paragraphs. all seven harry potter books. one sentence. one small workable phrase at a time.

fox - July 23, 2007

my dog betty and i set out on our morning walk today and, since i reached the top of the hill first, i was the first and only one of us to see the red fox hanging out below in the field. i decided it would be best if we stayed around at the top of the hill for awhile this morning. improvising over changes, you see. we settled in on the lawn which is not a bad way to spend a july morning anyway, and betty had her nose engaged the whole time. there's just no fooling that kid. now she's snoozing in the big chair next to my desk, which i thought was going to be my chair, but i was wrong; it's clearly betty's. soon we'll head back out, maybe on the same path, maybe a slightly different one. i read up on red foxes and they're not so bad. you just have to have breakfast and a nap and some hot water in a mug and decide that it's ok to be a little bit sleepy on a low pressure almost rainy day and use a pick instead of playing fingerstyle and listen for what the piano player does and enter the measure in a different place and start out at a different time and respond to a few unexpected bits of news and respond to a happy situation and maintain and adjust and see that those four bars are way over with and betty forgot all about it and we'll go back out later.

home run derby - July 9, 2007

back back back back gone...
that's what i keep hearing. it's not a real game, of course. it's the night before the all-star game. there is someone-some manager or other-standing behind a screen lobbing in cream puffs for the heavy hitters of major league baseball to crush over everything. it's really fun to watch and to see just what these hitters can make a ball do. how far can it travel in the san fransisco sky. it's not a real game but it's pretty cool.

laying down a basic rhythm track for yourself is a great way to practice improvising over changes or working on endurance or speed or picking or melodic lines of any sort. bam. bam. look at those 16th notes fly over the golden gate bridge or the prudential building. ooh. ahh. look at how that angular pattern of 4ths bursts into a colorful display over the rocky shore of kennebunk. you can make all kinds of things happen when someone (even your computer) is handing you the right tool. feeding you the right word. laying down a simple groove. standing by to listen and watch.
in a real game, players interact. they respond to each others' moves and cues and hits and misses. they back each other up. they fool each other and adjust for the spontaneous curves and change ups. in real music, we listen and respond and play and adjust. we have some of the necessary tools for the game because we practice home run derby all the time. but we only get better at playing the game when we really get to play the game.
like when we comp for our friends. let our friends comp for us. comp for ourselves rather than telling our computers to do it for us. it doesn't have a soul and a heart and ears and a sense of humor and whatever all else it takes to make us play with each other in real life.

bam. there goes another one over everything. the guy's got chops; you gotta give him that.

territorial tutorial - June 28, 2007

my dog betty has a few friends in the neighborhood. they share toys and sticks and walks in the woods. they come into our house and drink from betty's water bowl, which she hardly ever does (betty prefers showers, but that's a story for another time). betty still has puppy energy and sometimes gets the zooms when she's excited about something. i know when it's about to happen. she gets the look and then she's off like a shot, all streamlined and pretty and windblown. anyway, they all know where they each live and which toys and bones they will find at each others' houses and where the cats hang out and where the food bowls are and who their people are and what their cars sound like when they are coming home. they are clear about their home base.
yesterday, i was talking about right hand finger style patterns for guitar and how much more efficient it is when you really practice the concept of each finger having its own string to play. it's not a strummy kind of movement, it's a closing in of the fingers; bending. each one gets its own place to be in charge. T12321 pick a bass note and use the first three open strings and just do that over and over again and you will get the clarity of it. practice in your head, on your knee, on the steering wheel, and especially on the open strings of your guitar while the red sox game is on. ok, be a little sensitive to your loved ones-people and animals that are trying to watch the game or sleep. from this practice comes independence and control over your right hand (or picking hand, as it is so correctly called in acoustic guitar magazine so as to cover whichever dominant hand type you may be) and from there, so many things can happen: that's my melody note. ok, well, then these are my filler notes. yeah, and over here, i'll take care of the accompaniment part. ok, but just let me play the bass notes all the time, got it?
wheeeeee. oh, that was betty taking off with her friend's tennis ball. ok, so there's always room for creativity and individual interpretation.

simply lemonade - June 17, 2007

input. blue sky. above 80 degrees. cool grass that is finally dry enough to sit in. special bone for betty. the rhythm is both random and steady. her teeth set up a steady groove on the edges and the occasional slip and the weighty drop make unexpected accents. fenway park. green gray brown red. steady murmur. crack. loud swells. boats. paddles. swoosh. swoosh. drip. drip. background music for simple chores. instead, i sit listening. it's coming from itunes. it's coming from betty. it's coming from the red sox. it's coming through the window. it's input. it's about to find the wood and the strings and the newness of creating. there's a vegetable garden growing in my big back yard. there's a rose garden smiling brightly in boston. there's room between buildings and cement and asphalt. there's room for all of it to find a path somewhere between the lemonade and the view and the scent of betty sleeping between my guitar and the red sox on tv. there's room on the collage to add something.

that simply lemonade is good stuff.

long night - June 7, 2007

wow, that was a good nap.

ok, so anyway, the new issue of acoustic guitar magazine is on the stands-it's the july issue and i wrote a lesson for the woodshed column called "visualizing changes." i hope you'll get a chance to check it out. it's also online at as a matter of fact, the online version has the correct chords to my new song that i wrote for the lesson called "the shape of things." you can hear audio examples there, too. this month's password is firecracker.

things i like: little martin guitars, raezor's edge speakers, k+k pickups, being able to start the lawn mower, and dog walks.

good morning-good to see you again.

any favorites? - October 18, 2006

i'm working on an arranging project for acoustic guitars. if any of you have suggestions for acoustic players or tunes, please send them along either via email or the guestbook. modern contemporary, early days of the guitar, and anything in between will be interesting to consider.

acoustic guitar mag on line - October 18, 2006
the password, which is available for all to see in the early pages of the current edition of the magazine on newstands now, is that bird lots of people eat on thanksgiving.

i did a bossa nova lesson.

big puppy chewing on keyboard stand-gotta go.

p.s.-you can hear recorded examples of the exercises, which makes it cool to practice, if you're into it.

open strings - October 15, 2006

did you ever get so deep into practicing something that you forget about the basics that are not only valid, but pretty wonderful and important to use? i suspect a lot of guitar players have that happening, especially because learning about position playing and movable forms, whether melodic or harmonic, is so critical in understanding the instrument. if we back up a bit from that, however, and remember the joy of the sound of the guitar, the ringing out of open strings, there is new magic to be found. remember what you love about the tone, the wood, the feel of the open strings next to the fingered notes. combine that with the newness of climbing to new heights up the neck. side by side, there's a note way up high on the fretboard right there next to an open string singing low. the right hand might be temporarily confused, but then it joins in with the excitement of newness all over again. choose a constant bass note and try some different scales on top of it using open strings wherever they can fit in. maybe you learned a D major scale as a beginner using open strings in the first position, but when you hear that against a G bass note, it becomes a G lydian with all of its beauty and angst and sophistication and, in fact, reasons for learning those basic scales in the first place.
maybe we learn one thing on top of another our whole lives; building on some foundation, discarding what we don't need, adding cool new things to our stash, sometimes trying to fit too many notes where they don't belong, sometimes trusting the basics and remembering how well our instincts guide us if we let go and listen.

Mel Bay web site - October 3, 2006

hi folks-
the e-zine for guitarists on the mel bay web site is a fun and informative place to visit on line.
this month's issue is up and viewable:
i wrote a fingerstyle lesson for that page this month in case any of you guitarists want to check that out. it's a little exercise to try out on a chord progression you'll recognize.
have fun.

calendar girl - September 25, 2006

here's a fun link and it supports a wonderful organization:
some of you may know that i adopted a puppy back in april when she was just 8 weeks old. she had been bred to be a guide dog for the blind, but decided against it after some testing. good decision for both of us. the people at NEADS had referred me to the Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Patterson, NY about 2 years ago. NEADS raises and trains assistance and service dogs here in central massachusetts. they recently put out a call for photos and it turns out my little betty, who is 7 months old and big now, won honorable mention in the calendar contest. that's her on the bottom of the july page running through a field with her tail up.
the above link will take you to pictures of the calendars for sale and provide links for ordering them. they make great gifts and the money for NEADS is a very good thing. the puppy pictures will make you feel as good as acoustic guitar music on an autumn afternoon, and the folks who need NEADS and their wonderful dogs will thrive on.

woodshed - September 25, 2006

it's harvest time around here. there's an inviting and warm smell of wood fires in the air now and then around the neighborhood. there are morning walks with my dog which gradually have involved a couple of extra steps before getting out the door; let me just grab that jacket.

in acoustic guitar magazine, there's a column called "the woodshed" in which contributing writers share some lessons with players looking for some challenging new practice material to start a new climb. the november issue is out and this month's woodshed is a story and some musical examples from me about playing fingerstyle in the tradition of american folk music and seeing that through to playing some bossa nova. the on-line version of the magazine will have recorded examples of the written examples as they appear in the article. i just love those guys at acoustic guitar mag and i hope you'll get a chance to check it out if you're interested.
much more later-long overdue stories of vibrational healing and the betar and my aching knee and the pretty yellow dog and playing and writing and writing and playing and teaching teaching teaching. there, maybe i did just tell the story. nah-there'll be more later.
'til next time,stay safe, have an apple, watch the peanuts great pumpkin special again and again, and listen to fun music.
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