Matt Warnock Interview: Jazz Guitarist and Educator

Matt Warnock is one of the most highly respected and prolific writer and educators in jazz guitar today. He runs, a free online resource for jazz guitarists of all levels.

F/C: You have built of the most highly ranked jazz guitar websites on the internet and it’s still growing rapidly. What inspired you to share your knowledge for free, and how do you see the website evolving over the next few months/years?

Matt Warnock: To be honest, I just wanted to put together a set of jazz guitar resources and lessons that

my students could use for a reference point, and if anyone besides them and my mom read it I would be happy.

Little did I know it would grow into being a full-time job, and allow me to meet and work with so many very cool people all over the world.

One of the coolest things about having a site like this is getting to interact with people from so many different cultures and backgrounds all over the globe on a weekly basis.

It’s been a lot of work to get going after it started to take off a bit, but when I talk to someone in Iran, or Wichita, or Sydney or Kalamazoo who has checked out my site and told me the lessons have helped them learn jazz guitar, it’s all been worth the hard work.

As for the future, I think I’ll move more into video and keep putting out the interactive apps and eBooks.

There’s always new technology coming out every year, and so I’m looking at integrating my teaching and lessons into these new platforms.

One thing I’m researching now is a Jazz Guitar App for Google Glass, but we’ll see if that ever becomes feasible or not.

Whatever happens with the site in the future, it’ll always be free and I will always continue to put up lessons each week for people to enjoy, but the method of delivery might be different over time as technology grows and changes.

F/C: Your work ethic is prolific to say the least. You write new lessons for your site each week, columns for international guitar magazines, guitar apps, books and give Skype lessons… all this while lecturing at Chester University, being an examiner for the Registry of Guitar Teachers and flying around the world to present workshops and seminars….. How do you balance all the demands in your life?

Matt Warnock: Well it’s not easy to say the least, but I’ve always had a good work ethic and so I’m fine with putting a lot of hours in to things that I enjoy doing.

I love teaching and running my website, as well as examining and the other things I have on my plate right now, so I have fun when I get up at 5 or 6 to start work each day. I think that having a variety of things on the go at once is good for me.

That way I don’t risk getting burnt out on one thing. So I teach a bit each day, work on writing different articles, ebooks, apps and other projects, and then travel for exams and gigs when those come up.

So it allows me to focus on one thing for a short amount of time, then switch to something else, picking away at the different projects I have in small chunks, that add up over time to the various jobs and educational products I’ve done over the years.

F/C: What do you say to students who can’t find 30 minutes a day to practice?!

Matt Warnock: Well, it would be different for every person, but I do focus on five areas with my students, Harmony, Melody, Repertoire, Ear Training and Vocabulary.

So if they only had a few minutes a day I would suggest running a few chords through a tune, or transcribe one bar of their favorite solo, or even just learn one lick from their favorite player.

Try to cover one or two of these areas each day for even a few minutes, and then over the course of a week they would have practiced each one a few times or more.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask students, especially those that are doing this on top of a day job and family etc, to work hours and hours a day, but with short, consistent and focused practice time, even a few minutes a day can add up and produce visible results over time.

So for me, I just tell my students to grab the guitar and do what they can every day, even for a few minutes, and just keep moving forward. Over time, those minutes will add up and things will come together if they stick with it.

F/C: I believe that luck is a product of the amount of work we put in…. What is the best opportunity you have been offered as a result of the hours you’ve worked to help others learn jazz?

Matt Warnock: Well, I don’t think I can pick one opportunity, but being able to travel and live in other countries, meeting all sorts of very cool people along the way, has been a big deal for me.

I always love going to a new country and working with students in workshops and musicians on gigs who I’ve never met before. Living in the US, Brazil, and now the UK, and traveling around Europe, Australia and New Zealand for work has been a great experience, mostly because of the people I’ve met along the way.

So, I think that’s been the biggest opportunity for me, to get out and experience the many great cultures and people that the world has to offer, first hand.

F/C: What is your advice to anyone who wants to start teaching guitar?

Matt Warnock:  I would say that it’s important to always be prepared for lessons, and always have a positive attitude in lessons, especially with beginner’s who might need the extra encouragement.

Sometimes we’re at the end of a long day and we’re tired, and all we want to do is go home and relax, but we have a few more students.

Even though we’ve been teaching all day, this is that student’s only lesson of the week, so they’re excited and have been looking forward to it for 6 days.

I would say that any beginning teacher should get in the habit of treating every lesson like it’s the first one of the day, even when we’re tired or have other things on our minds.

Students can tell when we’re not there in the room mentally or distracted, and so being involved with every student can go a long way in creating a positive learning experience for the student.

F/C: The world has sped up dramatically in recent years. The days of wearing out the vinyl while trying to learn guitar by ear have gone. Do you think there is a danger that the instant gratification of YouTube (for example) can replace the essential skills of ear training and transcription?

Matt Warnock:  I think that technology has had a big impact on guitar teaching, and most of it has been positive.

I love the fact that I can mention some rare jazz recording that I want a student to check out and they can find it on Spotify or iTunes in seconds  and check it out, whereas I would have had to get out a mail order catalogue as a kid to try and find any jazz records where I grew up. So that’s a positive thing.

The instant gratification thing is a bit tough to deal with, especially when it comes to playing jazz and improvising, which doesn’t happen over night.

But, I think that’s where we, as teachers, come into the picture. It’s our jobs to provide the student with the right material and exercises so that they are seeing immediate results with small items and concepts, but that those small goals are all coming together over time to outline the important long-term goals any advanced musician needs to attain in their development.

So, I think that if someone is trying to sift through the millions of youtube videos and lessons out there on the internet and learn to play jazz guitar on their own, that would be tough.

But, with a good teacher working with them, pointing them in the right direction and organizing their focus and practice time, then there’s never been a better time in history to learn music.

F/C: Who were your early influences and do you think they still show through in your playing?

Matt Warnock:  My early influences were a mixed bag of rock, blues and jazz players that I would say all still come out in my playing in different ways.

I was really into Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton when I first started playing, and then when I got into jazz I became a huge fan of Wes, Jim Hall, Lenny Breau and Mike Stern.

These days I’m influenced by a wide variety of players such as Omar Rodrigues Lopez from the Mars Volta, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and Ted Greene, an incredibly talented solo jazz guitarist. While that is a weird collection of players, I find that I’m drawn to guitarists that take chances, so Omar and David fit that bill, as well as have a strong sense of melody and a variety of textures in their playing, like Ted.

F/C: Can you give us a quick rundown of your live set up, guitars, strings amp and picks?

Matt Warnock:  My set up is fairly simple actually. I use a Koentopp custom Tele with hand-made Sheptone pickups for my main guitar. I use flatwound strings since I play fingerstyle and they don’t wear away my nails as much as normal strings do.

For amps I usually use what’s on the gig since I travel a lot, but if I have a choice I go with Fender Princeton Reverb’s or Polytone Mini-Brute’s. Can’t go wrong with those amps usually.

F/C: You have just released a new bebop guitar vocabulary book focusing on building dominant 7 vocabulary, can you tell us a bit about that?

Matt Warnock:  Sure, it’s part of my Building Bebop Vocabulary series of books that I’m working on, volume two in this series. Since 7th chords are such a big part of the jazz idiom, being the middle chord in a ii-V-I as well as being three chords in a blues, I wanted to put together an in-depth presentation of the various ways one can go about soloing over this commonly used chord.Building Bebop Vocabulary Volume 2 by Matt Warnock

The book focuses on two sounds, 7 and 7#11 chords, and lays out a number of ways that one can use these sounds in their solos. I cover arpeggios up to the 13th, triad pairs, altered pentatonic scales, modes, Bebop scales, Bebop scale patterns and more in the book.

Though the book is geared towards advanced beginners and intermediate players, there’s something in there for everyone to check out and bring into their playing as they study the various elements that make up the material in the book.

F/C: If there was one lesson or piece of advice that you could give to a novice guitar player, what it be?

Matt Warnock:  I would say take your time and don’t be in a rush to learn everything all at once. It takes time for our ears to digest the material that our fingers can get down quickly, so spending a few extra days or even weeks on a concept now will go a long way to solidifying that concept in our playing for years to come.

Also, learn from the Masters as much as possible. Transcribe licks and solos, then analyze these ideas and try to get into the heads of those great players when they were making the music we love to listen to.

If you can digest this music, learn to play it and figure out why it sounds so good, you’ll be on the right path to making your own music that people will want to hear.