Producing Bireli Lagrene’s instructional videos

I spent the past month preparing the lesson materials for the official Bireli Lagrene instructional videos, which will one day (please don’t ask when) be available at DC Music School. It was a bit of difficult task considering the number of styles and instruments that he plays. Furthermore, we are dealing with a 100% self-taught musician with very little knowledge of music theory, if any.

When producing “In The Style Of” videos, my goal is to stay true to the personality of the artist. I avoid making them talk about things they wouldn’t really say. Nonetheless, I usually spend some time coaching the artists on how to communicate their ideas, or I gently push them in a certain direction.

Bireli’s musical development is without a doubt more than impressive; however (and the interviews confirm it), behind all that, is a tremendous amount of self-discipline and a strong sense of observation, since a very early age.

I spent hours carefully listening to his entire discography and watching many bootleg videos that I had, trying to analyze his development and his playing. I have transcribed close to 200 of his “licks”. I put licks in quotation marks, because quite frankly, he does not play really play licks in the traditional sense. Every lick that he plays, he is always manipulating it, either melodically or rhythmically, on the spot. Already at the age of 13, he was truly improvising; he understood early on, how music really worked. In transcribing some of his solos, I would notice that he would play certain similar sounding ideas, but he would always change them on the spot in one way or another. The melodicism, the risk-taking, and the use of melodic/rhythmic development are all very evident in his playing.

So how does one organize this into a lesson series? Well, I’d like to keep that a surprise! One thing is for sure, Bireli has certain concepts that he likes to use, but rather than play licks, he takes the general idea, and plays with it on the spot; he is a very spontaneous player.

Another thing that is very apparent, is that, despite all the diversity of influences, when he plays a certain style, he tries to stay true to that style’s spirit. If he’s playing in the Django style, even with all the modern influences, we can still hear the Django and Gypsy spirit. When playing bebop, he may throw in some of the Django ideas, but it’s very much in the old school bebop language of Wes Montgomery, for instance. When playing rock or fusion, he plays like a solid body electric guitar player. When playing electric bass, he plays like an electric bassist, so on and so forth.

I have analyzed his playing in all those styles, and hope to be able to present them in a coherent way. We will focus on the various aspects of his musical baggage:

  • Django style
  • Bebop
  • Rock/Fusion
  • Violin
  • Electric / Upright bass
  • Solo guitar improvisations

As with all my “In The Style Of” series, you can expect a number of etudes where he is improvising over backing tracks of known standards. I have prepared over 50 of them in all the styles that he plays.

Here is a behind the scenes clips where I record a backing track to his composition Made in France. This is not necessarily the final take, but it will do for now. I may redo it once Bireli has added his part.