If you are reading this article then you know well our buddy Tom Bukovac – AKA The Session Man, AKA Uncle Larry. But just in case you need an introduction, go and watch the Tom Bukovac Homeskoolin Show on YouTube – any episode will do it justice and have you hooked and wanting more.
Or if you want to come in with a show worthy of a guitar hero legend, have a look at episode 100 and you will know what I mean.
As a fellow session player, prog-rock fan, and with David Gilmour as our favorite guitarist, I found gold when I found uncle Larry’s channel. Personally, I would still be watching Tom Bukovac homeskoolin us even if Uncle Larry quit playing his mesmerizing intros and giving out free guitar wisdom – but here on this article I want to focus on Tom Bukovac’s guitar lessons and try the best as I can to list some that opened my eyes and improved me as a session player over the last year.
Your goal is to be free
By watching only 1 episode of Tom Bukovac Homeskoolin and his mesmerizing intros, you will notice that Uncle Larry is always in the zone when playing. He even takes the concept further by being in, out, above, below, and stretching the zone. In his words “drifting” “floating” somewhere above in space. He is Free!
What I mean by being free is that he doesn’t need to think about chords, scales, or anything else. He just plays – and the secret to that lies in having mastered the fretboard, techniques, and developing your “groove” for melody and rhythm.
All the techniques learned, all the theory and knowledge points out to the ultimate goal of forgetting about all of them and being Free in your playing.
As stated by another music legend, Victor Wooten in his amazing book “The Music Lesson” this can be achieved (or not!) by splitting your “practice” time between conscious focused practice time, for example, theory, finger exercises, etc. with unconscious practice time. And if you find it hard to get into “the zone” then remember this quote from Victor:
“If practicing hard does not work, than practice easy!”
Uncle Larry and Victor have a lot in common I believe in the way they play “music” and only not the instrument.
Don’t noodle, play music instead!
Just listen to all the intros from the Tom Bukovac Homeskoolin show. Tom never noodles aimlessly the same old licks and always plays with Intent. He is drifting in space while jamming but all have a musical context and are structured like a song.
His sense of rhythm is impeccable so much that you could build a whole song just by adding bass and drums to his loops. Well, they actually are doing that right now up in Nashville at Shanon Forest Studio!
If you don’t believe take a look for yourself at how all is kept nice, sweet, and short without any extra jamming on the Homeskoolin 100th episode live stream show.
What I learned from this is to always play what is on my mind, not in my hands. Personally, when I grab the guitar I stop for a moment and imagine a rhythm section in my head, that helps me set the groove. After that try to understand how I am feeling at that moment in time and try to express just that.
Listen to yourself and transmit what you hear in your head to your finger – that’s all there is!
The Bass is your friend
If you have watched the homeskoolin channel for a while now, you know that he is as good of a Bass player as any Pro Bassist out there, and it’s not even his main instrument.
I believe that the sense of groove and the love for playing Bass has armed Tom with a very special and handy skill that is- filling the whole frequency spectrum with your guitar, and only your guitar.
Here you can see Lil’ Tommy playing Bass for his lovely talented wife Sarah Buxton.
Being myself a player in a 3-piece band and usually the only guitarist in the band, I have to find ways to make the guitar sound full, as if I had a rhythm guitarist with me. Having started with acoustic (a beat-up classical guitar with acoustic strings actually!) fingerstyle playing and having relatively big hands helped a lot with this.
Little Tommy showed me how to be a rhythm player first, then add leads above the rhythm without compromising it – if you do the opposite you can be the best lead player out there, but your solo won’t groove!
My advice personally would be to learn some fingerstyle tracks, you don’t have to get the technique 100% correct, just find your own way of playing the bass notes while playing your leads or arpeggios.
Other than Tom I can mention other guitar greats such as Nuno Bettencourt or Lindsey Buckingham –that never compromise their groove and the “fullness” of the song just to find that right note.
Have your basic food categories covered
How many guitars do you really need and how will they make you sound?
Well as Tom said – all he plays still sounds like him!
You can hear this with all the top guitar players out there. Just give them a guitar, any guitar, and it will sound how you expect them to sound. With this in mind, there are certain major guitar categories that a session player needs to be a jack of (almost) all trades.
Usually, to cover most genres a session player should have at least one instrument of each of the major brands that make the sound of that particular genre. For example, One Telecaster/Stratocaster for your clean/crunchy tones and a Les Paul with humbuckers for when you rock out is a common combo for guitarists. A 335 has a typical tone that maybe should be the choice if you are asked to play a specific kind of leady (Think Larry Carlton).
Check out Tom’s Rig Rundown to see what I mean
This list can continue with at least 5-6 guitars that a session player uses regularly, without of course getting into the acoustics and 12 strings ones.
Personally, I’m in love with Uncle Larry’s white Strat. Having myself a white Strat with a rosewood neck I like to grab that, have a sweet crunchy tone on the neck on middle pickup, and play tries to play some chordal intros like Tom.
So the moral is that you (and I) will sound the same, but with a different context given to by our chosen instrument. Personally, I’m aiming to learn to play genre first, then getting the guitars!
Learn the secret!
The secret is Tom’s way of visualizing the fretboard. As another great guitar teacher, Tomo Fujita said “Triads are like Broccoli.” Uncle Larry probably would say triads are like rolling rocks, but you get it! Check out the lesson by yourself cause my writing wouldn’t do it justice.
All great guitar players share a form or variations of this concept which has been generalized by most players as the “CAGED” system. I applied it in a very “basic” way, only to find chords position on different spots on the guitar (because I never used a capo for whatever reason, never!) and sometimes arpeggios when I got stuck when playing over off-key chords changes. Tim pierce was the first to show me “the secret”
Applying “the secret” as part of my practice and part of my improvising and session work have radically made my playing better in 2 ways.
- I find it way easier to follow the more difficult chord progression
- I can start to hear the chords sometimes when I solo without playing them
As a personal testing ground for myself, whenever I’m playing gigs (we had a very short quarantine here!) with another guitar player, I try to apply “the secret” and force myself to always play in a different spot, a different inversion of what the other guy (we are all dudes, unfortunately) is playing.
I don’t always succeed in this as Tom does, but I try to keep it chill and hope the band will be kind enough to let me off easy when I mess up!
Common Tones and Intervals are your guides
A true Nashville musician talks with numbers, and uncle Larry does the same. Intervals not only give a great understanding of music and ease communication between musicians but also fuels great lead and rhythm playing.
I am born in Europe, where music teaching is mostly based on the note and not the concept of the interval. As a self-taught player, I had to master some of the concepts of this note when playing with more trained musicians. Tim pierce was the first to make me shift to the interval’s way of playing and Tom sealed it.
Other than that one highlight moment for me – you can consider that equal to a paradigm switch, an Aha moment in my life a guitarist is the following>
“ As long as you keep one common tone, you can make any chord change and it will not sound weird”
Uncle Larry says it’s an old Jazz Trick, well for me it’s an old Uncle Larry Trick now!
This is a new concept for me, even though I am playing regular remote sessions and believed that I knew (somehow) my way around the fretboard. After some months of applying this concept and taking risks when changing chords, I can say that my chord and improvising game has improved drastically.
Your Acoustic Guitar Has its own Reverb Fx
Please just check this one out for yourself and it’s going to be an “Aha” for you to most probably!
You play your personality
This is something that Uncle Larry has not shared directly but I believe that is reflected in his many session stories and his everyday jams.
Uncle Larry is like his opening Jams – Sweet, smart, takes you to unexpected places, and leaves the party when he’s having the most fun.
Listen to a couple of Homeskoolin Intros with these words in your mind and you might see that I am going somewhere with this. As you know our old Uncle is always positive no matter what happens, with a big personality and always for a good laugh.
You don’t have to be like him, just be you and let yourself go when you play the guitar to express yourself at your best. After all, “there can only one or two Big mouthed people in a session, or all goes to hell!” Little Tommy once said.
Uncle Larry brought the fire back
Of all I mentioned above, I think what Uncle Larry did most for me was bring the fire back to my playing.
In my teens and early 20s, I was known for playing my own version of improvised burst on guitar (not nearly as good as Tom obviously). It was generally only me improvising my way through chords and leads and fingerstyle playing for a bunch of people in a room. It didn’t matter if the guitar has 3 strings and was old and broken, I just did it.
Somewhere in the line that started getting harder to do as working with sessions and playing shows got “in the way” of that freedom I used to have. It was Uncle Larry that brought all that I had lost back and hope he did the same with a lot of you out there.
let’s treasure and support Uncle Larry while we can and let him do what he does best – Homeskool us!
I hugely urge anyone to subscribe to his channel and if you have the financial means to support him and his work and leave a tip and also buy his album as soon as it comes out, like in the old days!
- Paypal tip jar is email@example.com
- Venmo tip jar is @Tom-Bukovac-1
Care to know more about me and how I become a remote session guitarist?
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