The Mike Stern Interview is Here!



The Cracking the Code Mike Stern interview is here! In this intimate chat, the genial jazz master shares a wealth of improvisational insights, delivered in an extemporaneous fashion as effortless his playing.

Mike is a great interview: friendly, discursive, and wholly unguarded about his process as a technician and musician. If you’ve ever wondered how an expansive and usable improvisational vocabulary is built, this conversation is a valuable window into how that job is accomplished. From the opening minutes, Mike’s abundant and continued curiosity in seeking out uncharted areas of his well-worn Yamaha Pacifica fretboard quickly becomes apparent.

Mike outlines technique after technique for pulling new ideas out of familiar scales and shapes. This includes using patterns and sequences thought-provoking brainteaser-style experiments, adapting lines from other instruments, and more. He fearlessly demonstrates a number of “work in progress” phrases he’s still figuring out how to incorporate — on the spot in the talk, flubs and all.

In the 65 musical examples that accompany the interview, we’ve transcribed almost all of Mike’s brain-busting and finger-twisting harmonic explorations. But the idea is not that you’ll learn these, wholesale, as stock phrases. Instead, these are the seeds of future music, bits and pieces of which may hopefully emerge in surprising ways in your playing later on.

It’s this procedural aspect of what Mike shares that is particularly exciting. Thinking beyond the pentatonic box is hard work, for sure, but the term “practice” doesn’t really capture it. It’s really vocabulary building. And what Mike shows us here is that it’s not just the desire to grow as a musician that matters. It’s that, in order to actually experience that growth, you need to fight back against complacency with specific, hands-on methods to generate originality. It’s a stealthily subversive and powerful message, delivered in signature affable style by one of the nicest cats around.

The complete Mike Stern package includes the one-hour interview, 65 slow-motion examples with tablature, and six chapters (20+ minutes) of analysis chapters on Mike’s technique.

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We hope you enjoy the interview! If you have questions or comments, you can head to our forum or shoot us an email at any time.


Yeah!!! So looking forward for that!


The interview is awesome! I like the bit where Leni is cooking on the stove and Mike, in the nicest way possible, asks her to turn the stove off. It adds some charm to the interview. Mike is a super cool guy I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several times. I remember one time after a show, he ran through a crowd of people holding a box over his head yelling “WHO WANTS CD’s”!!!, He started waving Cd’s around like crazy and loads of people bought them. It was hilarious!

Every time I see him his technique and musicality amaze me. I think you mention that he is primarily a DWPS guy. It’s funny because I had to transcribe one of Mikes solos on Giant Steps for one of my recitals in college and I was totally able to do the entire thing with DWPS. I didn’t have to change much from what Mike did.
Here’s the video of Mike on Giant Steps:

Here’s a video of me almost 2 years ago doing that solo:

Sorry about the camera angle I only had my music stand in the practice room to put my phone on.


Thanks Troy for the Stern interview!

When I lived in NYC back in the 90’s, the 55 on Wednesday night was my spot for two to three months straight! I sat down on the floor right in front of Mike just like you are in the video. Crazy I never really focused on his right hand! I was concentrating so much on the left hand stuff, the right hand stuff it just went by me! I didn’t realized I was trying to play Stern licks with UPPS McLaughlin style technique! I have been working on DWPS for the past few weeks! I will post a video soon! The sym dim stuff works great due to the four notes per phrase type of licks that are easily created created within it.


I’m looking forward to seeing this one! I’m going to settle down tonight with my iPad and watch it. Can’t wait to learn that fat time lick either. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


Great interview, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness when I hear Mike Stern refer to Jim Hall as “the greatest living jazz guitar player.”


Great interview! Mike and Scott Henderson were my two ‘gateway’ guys to jazz back in the early 90’s. I finally saw him live a few years ago when he and Eric Johnson did that tour together. ‘Meat and Potatoes’ isn’t a term I would ever use to describe Eric’s playing, but onstage next to Stern that’s kinda how he came across. That’s how DEEP Mike’s playing is. He just seemed to never run out of ideas throughout a 2 hour show. I still find Eric’s playing and records more to my liking, but Mike is just a monster of a guitarist/musician.

Congrats again on another great interview package!!


Awesome work again, Troy and the gang!

Thanks so much for putting this package together. Stern is such a deep musician. Lots to learn from this one!


It’s true, Eric is great, and he does his thing, and we love him for that. Same thing with players like Eddie Van Halen. As a kid I was firmly in the “Eddie Can Play Anything” camp, but as an adult you realize that you like these guys less because they’re all-poweful, and more because they sound like themselves.

Jazz players like Mike, no contest, in terms of the sheer variety of their vocabulary. That’s just not going to happen without all the work they do that goes into building that. If there’s a takeaway from this interview it’s that, if you want that kind of vocabulary, it’s not just divine inspiration. You need specific techniques for building it, pulling new and sometimes weird ideas out of ordinary stuff, and constantly expanding the boundaries of what you know.

The cool thing is, it’s also clear that you can keep adding those ideas your whole life. When I interviewed Albert Lee, he said he hadn’t “worked on anything in 40 years”. In Mike’s case, there’s probably not a day goes by he doesn’t try something new. Again, we love both players. But there’s something inspiring in knowing that journey doesn’t ever have to end.


I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like tab for that kickin solo @Troy plays in the intro :laughing:


I attended one of his clinics in 2003, he told to an amazed audience that he was still taking lessons from Charlie Banacos-and that was something he had often mentioned in older interviews as well. And also repeated a few times the zen like quote…“the more I know, the less I know”, referring to the vastness of the whole thing.
I’ve said elsewhere that the interview is great, and now with clips added is even greater. Good job, guys!


“the more I know, the less I know”

That’s the spirit to have in life. I’m 47 and have literally been teaching guitar for 30 years. Sometimes I feel like I’ve learned as much in the past 3 years as I have since those first few magical years of playing and discovering. Part of it is thanks to the internet - there is a limitless supply of inspiring music and players - and part of it is due to allowing myself to be honest about my challenges and shortcomings and address them. Mike Stern has been an inspiration since I first had Upside Downside on vinyl probably around 1986!


I studied briefly with Charlie Banacos before his untimely passing. Amazing, amazing teacher. And yes, he had many students that worked with him for 20+ years.


Lots of great material in the Stern file. To add even more, you can play with where the phrases begin and end, try swing feel, and change 16ths to 8ths. For example, I took the “Brecker Lick tk2” phrase and manipulated it a bit. The fundamental pulse of bebop is the 8th note, so I switched the 16ths to swing 8ths and jacked the tempo up to 260. I also displaced the phrase to show different feels. Phrases can swing harder if you start them on upbeats. I hope it is OK to post this here. Let me know if it is against the rules.

Of course, these techniques can be applied to the entire CTC catalog. Enjoy.


When was this shot? Makes me wonder what else is in the can, Troy. :slight_smile:

If people here haven’t yet read about Mike’s recent injury and remarkable recovery…

almost as incredible as the Pat Martino story!

Leni and Mike are clearly a wonderful team as well. I recommend people check out their appearance on episode 23 of the No Guitar is Safe podcast, and Leni on episode 6 of Shane Theriot’s podcast.


@openstring sorry to get off topic for a second, but what programme did you use for the tab with the jazzy handwritten font? Is it GP7?


[cough] Frank Gambale [cough]


I’d very much like to see that one, as well as the Tommy Emmanuel one from the collection of older interviews!


I am still using GP6. I have heard about many bugs in 7, so I was waiting a little while before I upgrade.



How do you set it up like that with that font? It looks cool!!