Like many before him, John Huldt moved to America with a head full of dreams, and a hand-full of advanced guitar techniques. But after a few weeks at Los Angeles Music Academy, he had to re-evaluate the way he played, and all but start over again. Sounds like a bad thing? Actually, it wasn't a bad thing at all...
My curiosity and thirst for knowledge has always taken me places. When I moved from Sweden in 2006 to go the Los Angeles Music Academy (LAMA), I was tired of many things about my native country. Most notably the lack of places to play and never seeing the sun. I also wanted to learn about all the great American styles of music; Blues, Jazz, Funk, Country.
I had dabbled in it a tad on my own but I wanted to really get submersed in new music. I wanted to find myself in a creative environment and learn a ton of new things from people who were masters at their craft.
Back in my hometown I was considered to be "one of the guys" (a mid sized fish in a veeeery tiny pond) due to my shredding prowess and technical mastery of the guitar (or so I thought). However fast forward to where I first sat foot on American soil and I still remember the first day at school as if it was yesterday. We all sat in one of the classrooms, 20 something guitarists from all over the world, checking out each others playing, everyone doing their thing.
In walked Frank Gambale (who was then the head of the guitar department at LAMA) who talked a little bit about the school and then it was basically "- So today we're improvising in C major. Something simple, who wants to start?". We were all nervous like crazy, me more than most I'm sure, since improvising was most definitely not something I knew anything about (the first step to my complete re-evaluation of my skills as a musician) and I'd pretty much just been blowing scales up and down the neck, like a lot of those other shredder dudes I listened to a lot at the time. To make matters worse, Frank took a solo that pretty much obliterated anything anyone had ever seen or heard before, and I had a tremendous "Ooooooooh sh*t" moment. It was like my first glimpse into a whole new level of musicianship.
And so it went on, every single day for a whole year. For every slight improvement I made, I was made aware of 10 new flaws (most of which I didn't even knew existed). Even classes I thought I'd be great at, like the rock curriculum... Nope. Not that either. And what I found out was that many of the things I had spent a lot of time on; a massive Yngwie-esque vibrato, sweep picking up and down the neck, speed picking etc didn't mean a god damn thing out in the real world.
Being a professional guitar player demanded a completely different set of skills than the ones I'd be honing in my bedroom back in Sweden. A tough wakeup call it was indeed. I learned so much about improvisation, altered dominant chords, musicianship, groove, rhythmic placement, the list goes on and on and as terribly I felt about my playing, I grew a lot as a player.
I remember teachers telling me to slow down, not use too much vibrato, use the clean channel on the amp (which I completely had overlooked for the first 10 years of my playing) and it felt like an almost insurmountable obstacle that had been laid in front of me. Here I thought I'd come to America and kick ass with my playing. Not so much...
Los Angeles was also a fantastic place to see the absolute top players in the industry. You could (and can) go to the Baked Potato in Studio City any given night and see guys like Carl Verheyen, Steve Lukather, Michael Landau etc just completely destroy everything you thought you knew about good guitar playing and it was an extremely humbling experience. You think you're hot sh*t in basically everywhere else? Well, I got news for you son. Come to Los Angeles (or New York if you're a jazz guy and Nashville if you're into country) and you'll get a good spanking.
Since I graduated from LAMA, it was quite a bit of rebuilding from the ground up to try to get my playing back in order. Out of all I had learned, what to keep, what to not worry so much about. I learned about the skills that were most important as a guns for hire and studio musician (basically, play fantastic rhythm, nail everything on one take and never solo anything else but pentatonics) and my practicing priorities changed dramatically.
Through a peculiar set of circumstances, I got a call one day from one of the teachers at LAMA who asked me if I could come in and teach the last part of the revised rock curriculum, which now included a lot of heavier rock and metal and also more shred techniques.
I taught the class a few times and it was so well received that they asked me to write the new modern/advanced rock class and for me to teach it. So as I'm just finishing up the charts for these new songs, I laugh to myself as I'm coming back to LAMA to teach all the things they told me not to do when I was a student there. Sometimes life comes full circle and fate it seems, does not lack a sense of humor.
John Huldt is a Swedish guitar player who has called Los Angeles home since 2006. He works as a session and studio musician, he has 2 solo albums out, he works as a composer, band coach, guitar teacher at LA Music Academy and is the lead guitar player in LA metal band Ampora.
Find him and his music at:
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