Fan Q&A: 30 Questions With Jazz Fusion Master Gustavo Assis-Brasil

By Gustavo Assis-Brasil 

Hello Everyone!

Over the course of several months, I used my social media outlets (mainly Instagram and Facebook), to open up for followers’ questions. I’ve selected the ones I considered useful to share here with you. I hope you find a couple of them relevant to what you do.

Can you explain what hybrid picking is?

If you play with a pick and use any other finger to pluck the strings, you are using hybrid picking. Most players use only the middle finger, while others might use the middle and ring combined. I choose to use them all, including the pinky. 

What are the hardest aspects of hybrid picking?

Persistence and consistency. 

Is it essential to have long nails to play with hybrid picking?

I don’t think it’s essential. It’s just my personal preference. I’ve seen great players playing without long nails. Tommy Emmanuel is a good example of it. 

Who were your main influences when you started playing with hybrid picking?

Wayne Krantz (who was also one of my teachers), Danny Gatton, and Brett Garsed. composers like Villa-Lobos and J.S.Bach were also very influential. 

My time and tone often seem to fall apart when I’m using my pinky. Any suggestions?

Patience combined with metronome and acceptance of the fact that the pinky will never feel perfectly natural due to the anatomy of the hands. It took me eight years to start feeling comfortable using it. 

You encourage guitarists to write their own music. What are the main barriers to not copying other musicians?

If you feel that you need to copy other musicians’ styles, my advice for beginner composers is to copy many musicians at the same time. I’d say at least ten different ones. If you mostly copy one, people might not be interested in listening to your music. 

Photo by Renata De Assis-Brasil

How would you describe “outside” playing and what advice would you give for getting better at it?

Describing this concept isn’t that hard. The difficult part is to make it sound musical and interesting. There are many ways of approaching this topic. Side-slipping, superimposition of changes, and polytonality are all considered “outside” approaches in the jazz world. The basic definition of playing “outside” is any arpeggio, line, scale, etc. that does not belong to the key or chord of a specific moment in a tune or song. For example, if you are improvising over a D Dorian mode (D, E, F, G, A, B, C), then all the notes that don’t belong to that mode are considered “outside” (Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db). One can say that all the “wrong” notes are “outside” that tonality, and in this case, we can say that if you play Eb minor pentatonic over a D Dorian vamp, you are playing “outside”. There are many approaches to how I teach this topic. One of the most important things in my playing is to always try to resolve melodic tension by voice-leading it back to the original key, regardless of what note choices I have when I choose to play outside. Transcribing Keith Jarret, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker, and listening to Allan Holdsworth also helped me a lot.

What’s the best way to study improvisation besides transcribing and learning chord scales?

Playing with people. 

How do you visualize the fingerboard?

The most important thing is to know all the note names and their intervallic relationships. Then I recommend my students to study twelve things in one region and twelve regions for one thing*. *Thing = scales, arpeggios, chords, sequences, etc. 

Are your books good for compositional purposes?


List three suggestions for jazz improvisation starters:

  1. Listen to jazz
  2. Take lessons
  3. Learn how to swing

What to do when you get stuck and start playing the same things when improvising?

Play less and listen more. 

What do you recommend to get better at sight-reading?

Violin Sonatas and Partitas by J.S. Bach 

What would you say are the key elements of your practice?

Sound, improvisation, technique, rhythm, harmony. I’m also always ready to write down or record ideas I come up with, even if I ended up not using them later.

Best chromatic exercises to share?

Permutations. I have an entire book dedicated to them.

How many hours do you practice a day?

Quality time with the instrument is much better than the number of hours.

What was the first song you ever transcribed?

“Samba Pa Ti” by Carlos Santana.

Are there any Classical composers, besides Bach, that were influential to you?

Too many to list here, but some of my favorites are Debussy, Villa-Lobos, Messiaen, Stravinsky, and Mozart.

Thoughts on Allan Holdsworth?

Allan was one of the most influential guitarists in history. Very underrated, in my opinion. He has really innovated as much as Charlie Christian and Jimi Hendrix did. 

How can I let go of scale patterns and develop a more organic melodic phrasing?

Listen to yourself more and avoid repeating old habits. Get my Hybrid Picking books and my videos from My Music Masterclass. Be patient. Don’t be afraid to restart/refresh.

Who are your five favorite guitar players?

I don’t have five favorites. I have more than a hundred.

What’s a good way to start practicing hybrid picking?

I always recommend buying my first book “Hybrid Picking for Guitar” first. A little bit of classical guitar also helps. Patience combined with consistency also helps.

In your opinion, what are the first steps to learning chord melody?

That’s easy to answer. Start listening and transcribing Joe Pass. You can’t go wrong by learning from him. 

Do you have any tips for using harmony as multiple individual voices instead of memorized voicings?

Yes. Voice leading is a great way to start doing that. I was lucky to have the opportunity to study with Mick Goodrick at Berklee College of Music. He has a few books that explore this concept. I’d also recommend people to learn some J.S.Bach chorales. 

Why is the melodic minor scale so useful in jazz improvisation?

You can hear it when you transcribe the masters. It has been an essential part of the jazz vocabulary since the bebop era!

What are you thinking when you’re composing? Any specific goal?

Honestly, when I’m composing the only thing I might think is “am I going to finish this one?”

My biggest struggle is composing. Any tips on how to improve and build on that?

I’ll give you a good exercise. Make sure you write (or record) something original every day for about a month. Short ideas. Even a measure or an interesting voicing would be enough.  No judgment. Don’t listen or play the ideas back until you have about thirty of them. Give it a try and see if that works.

Gustavo, what’s your advice for a musician struggling to be better?

Learn how to love and accept the struggle. You’ll never overcome that kind of feeling. I have fun struggling, that’s the force behind why I keep trying.

What’s the best way to absorb a lick or phrase and apply them in real playing situations?”

Try applying them to standard chord changes and/or original tunes. 

In your opinion, what’s the hardest topic to master?



Gustavo Assis-Brasil is a Brazilian-American guitarist, composer, educator, and author based in Boston, USA. He has written five books on hybrid picking and has taught clinics at USC, Berklee College of Music, Musicians Institute. Gustavo has used .strandberg* guitars since 2015. 

For books, transcriptions, and much more, please visit Gustavo’s website at www.GustavoAssisBrasil.com

If you want to learn more about these approaches and many others, please check Gustavo’s “Jazz Guitar” instructional video series from My Music Masterclass.