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Visions of music

FMCC registrar’s guitar instruction books offer unique visual method

January 12, 2014
By BRIAN McELHINEY , The Leader Herald

Fort Plain native Scott Collins began playing guitar in high school. And like many guitar students, Collins started with basic musical rudiments including chords, scales and modes, taught to him by friends and teachers.

But while he was able to memorize the different finger patterns, he found that what he was learning didn't make very much sense to him when he went to actually play music and improvise.

"There were certain things that [people] would present to you, like someone would show you how to do a scale or someone would show you how to do a chord or something," Collins said recently from his office at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, where he has worked as registrar since September. "But it didn't make sense on the fingerboard to me; seeing this big pattern across to a specific part of the fingerboard didn't make sense to me, and I didn't understand how to take that and be able to play it anywhere on the neck. It was like, here's this little thing, and then you learn this one little pattern, and then you're anchored in one part of the fingerboard."

Article Photos

Scott Collins improvises on his acoustic guitar while sitting behind his desk in his office at Fulton-Montgomery Community College on Jan. 8.
The Leader-Herald/Brian McElhiney

In the years that followed, Collins eventually worked out his own shortcuts to make sense of the music theory he was learning. He studied guitar at Berklee College of Music in Boston, graduating in 1993, and continued to play with groups in the Boston area until 2006 when he relocated to California to pursue his masters in guitar at the California Institute of the Arts.

While in graduate school Collins began teaching guitar lessons, and it was at this time that he developed his previously learned shortcuts and methods into a unique visual approach to playing the instrument that he dubbed GuitArchitecture. The key to it all was realizing that the fingerboard of the guitar is modular, containing a series of patterns, Collins said.

"Once I came to that, I mean, that was a big lightbulb moment, that thing of like, oh wait a second, it's just this," he said. "And then once you see that, it's digging into the application of that and seeing how deep that application goes."

So far that application has spanned six guitar instruction books that Collins, now 43, has self-published, beginning with "The GuitArchitect's Guide to Modes: Melodic Patterns" in 2012. The sixth book, "Scott Collins' Fretboard Visualization Series: The Minor Pentatonic Scale," was published in December.

"I could write another 30 books about it and still not really scratch the surface of what it is," Collins said.

Collins' musical career has spanned various genres and taken him around the world. His resume includes stints with The Bent Men - which for a time featured Reeves Gabrels of David Bowie's band - while he was living in Boston, as well as with John French of the Magic Band while he was in graduate school. He also performed in the premieres of avant garde guitar composer Glenn Branca's "Hallucination City and composer Tim Brady's "Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks," according to his biography on his website, www.guitarchitecture.org.

While in Boston Collins met John Harper, 49, co-owner of FnH guitars, while working at Sandy's Music in Cambridge. Along with working together, the two played in a band called The Mark in Boston, and Harper was soon building instruments for Collins. They remain in touch to this day; Collins' current electric guitar is an FnH.

"One of the first memories I?have [of Collins] is of meeting him at the store; he was writing out charts of different parts for a different band he was in and showing them to me," Harper said. "He was writing all these different parts for cello, electric bass and guitar, and I remember thinking that was very impressive at that time. I think he was maybe 20 years old."

At the California Institute of the Arts, Collins studied under Serbo-Croation guitarist Miroslav Tadic, who specializes in Macedonian music, Collins said. But his first musical love was rock 'n' roll, specifically Jimi Hendrix and Yngwie Malmsteen.

"Jimi Hendrix was the guy that got me to pick up the guitar, and Yngwie Malmsteen was the guy that got me to practice, because I heard that and I was like, 'That's what I want to be able to do,'" Collins said. "So in high school I definitely got more serious about it."

At first he wanted to play drums in his high school band, but he soon realized the instrument wasn't for him.

"I would practice rudiments and do other stuff but I wasn't really focused on it, and one of the guys who did stick it out, Jeff Green, who ended up being a band mate of mine when I was in high school - I finally was like [to him], 'I'm really not enjoying this; I'm not going to do it,'" Collins said. "So I said, 'I'm gonna go play guitar.' And he had actually said, 'You're never gonna play guitar.' And that was enough of a fire to get me angry about it, to kind of go into guitar playing out of sheer spite."

In addition to working full-time at FMCC since September and occasionally performing solo in the area - he performed at the Gloversville Library's Carnegie Room in December to mark the release of "The Minor Pentatonic Scale" book - Collins continues to teach guitar using his GuitArchitecture method. Francis Buchanan, 54, an auto mechanic in Saratoga Springs, has been taking lessons with Collins for about 12 or 13 weeks, and intends to continue. Buchanan, whose musical interests lie with experimental and noise rock artists such as The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and John Cage, initially thought he would just take 10 lessons with Collins.

"Scott showed me very quickly some of the methodologies, and he blew my mind with some of the approaches to take," Buchanan said. "The improvisation approaches to take, he geared those totally toward me. It was really exciting, these exciting approaches that I could do at any time and apply to any of my ideas for experimental music."

Collins likens this approach to learning guitar to a baby first learning language. While at first the syllables and words learned don't make sense, eventually it all comes together into speech, Collins said.

"Well, with guitar it's the same thing, so you learn these little musical phrases that in-and-of themselves in the beginning don't make a whole lot of sense," Collins continued. "But then you start gradually learning how to contextualize them, and you learn how other people use language and you listen to other people and you copy what they're doing. And then eventually you start pulling the thing together in kind of your own unique way, so that you're kind of synthesizing your sound out of what all these other people have done."

Collins is currently working on further titles in the GuitArchitecture series that will be released this year. He also will play on a recording with the band Onibaba, featuring his longtime collaborator, bassist Daren Burns, due out this year along with an EP with an instrumental group Rough Hewn Trio and a solo acoustic album. Some upcoming solo performances include Feb. 22 at the Gloversville Library, where he'll perform backing music for a silent film, and the Buck Moon Arts Festival at FMCC in July.

"Every time that I take a lesson [with Collins], I feel like I get something, every time; it's not some long progression of learning," Buchanan said. "Every time I get a value that I recognize for my money."

 
 

 

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