studied at the Conservatory , and then I studied at York , and then I went to Berkeley . And so , I ended up with this really kind of weird mix of music education . And then of course , I went to Spain because for flamenco , you ’ ve really got to end up in Spain at some point . And so now I have these three schools of music that I come from : jazz , classical , and flamenco . Now , I don ’ t try to think too much about what school am I doing , what technique am I using at this particular moment . I have a mix ; I play my fingers and I play with a pick . My nails are reinforced with acrylic , because sometimes when you pound the guitar with your fingernail , they can really splinter a nail pretty quickly .
CM : These days , do you have a practice routine you generally follow ?
Cook : No . So , I practiced about 10 hours a day when I was a teenager . And I had a piano teacher who said if you wanted to be a concert pianist , you had to be really talented and have great teachers all through your childhood and practice a lot . And then at some point , you had to give up your life for two years and practice 10 hours a day . So , I did that . I thought , well , that ’ s the trick . I need to do that , but with the guitar . And I did that for many years ; I did more than two because I was afraid I maybe I wasn ’ t practicing the right stuff , which I think actually is correct . I go through periods where I ’ ll go back and I ’ ll start practicing five hours a day again , or six hours a day . And then there ’ s periods where I ’ m just focused on writing and other periods , like during COVID , where I was mostly making videos and posting them . I ’ m not really worrying that much about maintaining the stuff that I have from when I was younger , because that stuff ’ s pretty hardwired . I ’ m usually more trying to bring some new technique into my fingers , and I find as I get older — I ’ m now 58 — it gets harder and harder to , you know , train your body to do something at a really high level . For the last six months , I ’ ve been doing a lot of that like trying to add that three finger picado into my playing , and I can do it great at home , but then I get into a concert or situations where you don ’ t want to fuck up and sometimes the band ’ s playing something way faster than you would do in rehearsal or whatever . Just because you can do something at home doesn ’ t actually mean you can do it in concert , you know what I mean ?
CM : Do you have a favorite guitar or piece of gear ? Anything with a sentimental meaning or great story behind it ?
Cook : I don ’ t know if there ’ s a great story behind it , but my new Conde , the one I just got a few months ago , was made by Felipe Conde . The traditions that they use for playing guitar and making guitar runs back hundreds of years . And so , people make flamenco guitars over here , but they ’ re really at a different level from the ones that come out of Spain . In ‘ 97 , I was in Madrid , and I ended up buying a guitar from [ Conde ’ s ] shop and I just loved it ; I told him I was in love with a guitar , and I recorded all my records with it . But I never took it out on the road because it was too great and I would feel weird drilling a hole in it and putting a pickup in it , and I find guitars , especially flamenco guitars , the woods are , very , very thin and they ’ re quite fragile . They just get beat up and die on the road even with really expensive cases . For years , I did my records with the Conde and then I ’ d go out on the road with some other guitar that was nice , but they weren ’ t my favorite guitars . My favorite guitars kind of lived in the studio where there was somebody fanning it and feeding and grapes . Finally , I was like , ‘ This is crazy ; I do 100 dates a year all over the world and I ’ m never bringing my favorite guitar ,’ and so that was that was the other reason why I ended up ordering a custom . It ’ s been really nice to suddenly have that sound . Every guitar sounds quite dramatically different .
CM : What advice would you give to newer players for improving their craft ?
Cook : There ’ s two ways of looking at it . One is , if you really love it , just play , play , play , play , play . The but the other thing , of course , is that people always want to know how to get good at things . And they ’ ve kind of rushed to try and get to play it the way it ’ s been played , when you hear your heroes playing on stage , or whatever , which will be fast or complicated or whatever . And obviously , the best way to practice , it ’ s this weird thing that everybody tells you , where the best way to get fast is to play slowly . Because when you play slow , you have time to play it perfectly . If you know that saying practice makes perfect , and then recently , people started to say , no , actually , it ’ s perfect practice makes perfect . And I think that ’ s true . And then the last part of that as well , the only way to do perfect practice is to slow it down so you can you have time to monitor what you ’ re doing . Because when you ’ re playing fast , you know , you can ’ t think that fast . If the notes are just flying by you , you actually need to slow it down to the point where your brain can go , ‘ Oh , wait a minute , there ’ s an inefficiency and movement , my finger is moving too far away from the neck of the guitar , and that ’ s slowing me down .’ So , if you just try to keep all those fingers curled closer to the string , then they have less distance to travel to get back to the string for the next note . I always feel like that kind of slow , methodical repetition , where you ’ re just practicing and practicing efficiently and trying to have an economy of movement , that ’ s really the way to get to get to the point where it sounds great , and it sounds clean and all that business .
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 55