Avenged Sevenfold’s Synyster Gates Discusses Launch of Online ‘Synyster Gates School’ for Guitarists [Interview]
Avenged Sevenfold's Synyster Gates ranks among the top guitar players in rock and metal and part of how he remains at those lofty heights is by continually studying his craft. While Gates has staged clinics for fellow guitarists in the past, he's taking things a step further with the help of his father, Brian Haner Sr., who has played with the likes of Frank Zappa, Tower of Power and more, as they launch the Synyster Gates School.
Gates stresses that the new venture is an "online guitar school with a deep emphasis on community." Father and son have helped design the curriculum for players of all experience levels with a wealth of guitar tutorials and interactive playthroughs, and the Avenged Sevenfold axeman expects it to be a more engaging experience with players being able to add their own input to the school as it expands. We had a chance to speak with the guitarist about the Synyster Gates School. Check out our interview below.
I know that you've done clinics before but this is the next step that you're doing here with the Synyster Gates School. Take me into the thinking and the inspiration on how this came about and what you want to do with the school.
It’s been about six or seven years since I kind of started trying to reinvent my playing and I was a little stuck. The learning curve was basically in the studio with Avenged Sevenfold writing things over my head exploring different music and all of that different kind of stuff but, I never really studied from an actual viable source since my time at MI [Musicians Institute] until about seven years ago. I just found this wealth of information online and I know I sound kind of like a "Johnny come lately" to that kind of stuff, which I was. I mean I've only had an Instagram for fucking nine months.
I just went through this renaissance of passion and the one thing that I found though while I was trying to traverse the endless preludes of the maze that is YouTube and other such places, I felt like it could have been curated a little bit better. People were putting up passion projects left and right and different things they were into but, I felt like the solid system and method of places like Berkeley, Juilliard, curriculum from MI, it really didn't exist.
So, just based on the primary adage of the necessity breeding innovation, it was just like 'Well, what makes me the guitar player that I am?' and I feel like, I listen to so much different music and I'm a student of so many genres of music and I feel like it's fun to apply those things and anything super applicable to any type of music. It just enriches and deepens music. So, long story long, I wanted to create that for the fans, create something that I didn't have when I was growing up pretty much during my formative years, so that was kind of it.
You're getting a chance to do this school with your dad. He's obviously had a long career playing professionally. What are some of the things while talking to him about the formation of the school were things you wanted to make sure were included?
To begin with, it's a very systematic approach to playing a multitude of different styles. What I was digging, what was helping me as a guitar player I felt I could be for Avenged and what also made my dad so useful to a whole host of giant fucking bands and artists like Frank Zappa and Tower of Power who never gave him a courtesy play ... he just came in and would add so much to certain songs, so that it was a very symbiotic relationship. He always wanted to be a rock star and I always wanted to be a fucking studio musician. So, we had this great perspective, and I think the thing that really worked about the school is that it's hard to know what drives yourself and what you're composed of but, it's very easy to sit and pick another dude apart especially when it's father and son. And so, there's no oversight I feel.
He's taught me things about myself that absolutely blow my mind. Some for the better, some for the worse. It's great. So, we've really learned a lot of certainly the missteps we want other kids and inspiring players to avoid which is really important.
I think it's really cool that the school offers all the way from the very basics of how to hold your pick at the very start up to the most advanced techniques. There's something for every type of player out there. Having your dad be a professional musician, are there things in the curriculum that he taught you when you were first starting out that will be in there?
Absolutely, the cool thing is there's seldom something there that is just primarily me or primarily him. We have discussed every single lesson, every single segment, at great length, to figure out how to best communicate what a major scale is. When you just think about the very foundation of how to communicate to somebody who's never picked up a guitar before what a major scale is - because it's pretty early on when you get into the theory or theoretical part of the school - how the fuck do you articulate that? And I'll tell you what, for fucking six months, it's impossible to articulate any of that shit. And that's why it's taken five years upon conception, but about four solid years of really delving into this shit heavily and just bringing the brick wall after brick wall. And the main thing is how do you articulate it to these kids to help them understand it, because there is, inherently, a deficit or a chasm in learning online.
So you have to be so delicate with your words and so delicate with what you're teaching, and so delicate about style, as well. So, that's lead us to what, we think, is another innovation we're pretty proud of and that's the communal aspect. The first generation is going to be a little bit tough, but there are profile pages where you can upload videos and stuff like that and really join this community and feel like the social media impact and this networking sort of thing.
Hopefully, kids can monetize off of it immediately and make some money and do some Skype lessons or whatever. Get gigs. But basically the impetus behind that is to get kids to be able to teach each other, instead of just having one teacher. I mean, I am a product of an amalgamation of different teachers. If it was just one teacher, even just my father, I would be half the player that I am today. Probably a damn good player, but it's all the crazy people that I've studied with, like TJ Emerick, Brett Garsed, all the different styles, Frank Gambale, and stuff like that. That's where even just the most rookie kid, and I truly believe this with all my heart and soul, even the most rookie kid, a rookie player has something to offer if you're willing to listen and creatively apply said knowledge to your craft. So that's the big thing, is having people be able to contribute.
How important was it for you to have a community of guitarists around you, especially when you were learning how to play?
It's extremely important because since this conception, I've read at least five, six books on entrepreneurial behaviors and personalities and approach, and it all leads to a couple of primary, fundamental things, and a huge one is crowdsourcing. I mean, literally, there's Ted Talks where one dude - a book that I read - his opening Ted Talk, he pulls a bull on stage. A 295-pound bull and he asks everybody to guess it. And he brought in a couple of experts, or whatever it was, and the experts guessed kind of way off, relatively. And the whole crowd had these little things that they tallied their answers in, and they got it within one pound. I mean, literally, the expertise of the crowd is something that is undeniable at this point. And so, every book that I read touches upon this, if not completely expounds upon those types of qualities. So, right away, as I started reading and developing what I wanted this thing to be, that became imperative at a pretty early age in the school's development.
There are advanced techniques that you're going to address in these videos. Is there one particular technique that you favor as a player and find yourself revisiting more often than not?
Yeah. The thing about me is that I'm very fortunate to have had the opportunities with Avenged Sevenfold in songwriting. I really think it's helped to bolster my guitar playing as well. I try to, at least, think very melodically and my band forces me to think very melodically. Then, I'm studying the harmonica approaches of the great classical fucking masters. You start learning about counterpoint and definitely consequential harmonies, all these different types of shit that really get you thinking and hearing different things. I think it enables you to broaden your horizons or expand - I don’t know. It just makes it a little more colorful, I guess, it colors your playing a bit.
So, I definitely want to bring those type of elements as well because it's very easy to explain a technique, because there's no theory behind it. There's no philosophy. You can take a look at the technique things that I do, I call them A-Tudes and they're songs that I've written and I've played. We call them permutations or different variations of an arpeggio or a melodic line or whatever it is, then play it slow to fast. We do it with tapping, sweeping, economy picking - all this kind of shit. You can see exactly what I'm doing. There's nothing to discuss comparative to songwriting and harmonic structure, and stuff like that. I think it's really important to delve into theory and color. That's where I'm at now. But it's imperative. You can't get anywhere without taste and style.
As a guitarist, is there a certain guitarist that you've looked to for inspiration maybe more over the years - someone whose playing that has helped you become the player that you are?
I mean, there's definitely a few. I don't think I would be where I'm at without guys like Frank Gambale or Steve Vai. Later on like within the past decade, Allan Holdsworth has definitely inspired so many things, especially harmonically. He did so without Van Halen which helped me think well, harmonically Allan Holdsworth was just so deep and I think a lot of my fans would be turned off by him at first because it just sounds like a bunch of notes. But, Eddie Van Halen did a real good job of applying a lot of those different things. Chromaticism, playing outside the box a little bit, like modulations - key changes and all that kind of shit. So that has really helped harmonically as well as technique wise.
Frank Gambale is like the guy who gave me my bread and butter technical style, which is the economy picking. Once I had picked up a book, my father actually gave it to me, I forgot - modes and exercises, and it showed all the pick strokes. I was just blown away by listening to him. I knew he was picking those things, and there's a difference but I didn't understand mini sweeps as I like to call them now or economy picking. Which is two down, one up, two up one down where your right hand doesn't look like it's moving but your left hand is flying. Once I saw those pick strokes, I lost my shit. I was 18-years-old and I swore to myself that I would never alternate pick anything ever again a day in my fucking life, which obviously hasn't been true. But I renovated my style that day and I'm fortunate to have been so impacted by that because it's lead to so many different things that you just cannot achieve with alternate picking.
With the Synyster Gates School, what is the timeline? I know people can go in and sign up now, but you were talking about it's gonna be a little bit before it gets fully up and running. What is the rollout?
Like many things it's a work in progress. There's been setbacks. But we're still hoping for a 2017 launch. But the thing is, all the videos are done, everything is done. It's really just web development stuff. The guys who are working for us are just kicking ass. We're running into different snags. As a perfectionist, I can't live with that, sorry. Well that's going to take us another week. Well fuck, alright. But the cool thing is, we can implement these lessons into these email blasts. So, when you sign up we can - we're not trying to sell you anything but what we can give you in the meantime, what we get in the meantime is feedback, but what we give you are these lessons. We'll continue to roll out a couple here and then obviously some fun stuff that you just do - like some free merch contests and just some different things. So if you sign up, you get some fun stuff. We don't need anything from you, just a little insight, if you will. Just a little feedback to make it better for you. So that's the whole thing, we're hoping for a 2017 launch. Either way, if it's a little later you get more lessons on the way. You get more shit. It's all done.
Many thanks to Synyster Gates for the chat. You can learn more about the Synyster Gates School and sign up here. There are also tutorials on the Dorian Mode and the Five String Sweep already available and as the guitarist stated, while the school has yet to launch, those who sign up early can already access content through the site.
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