Carlos Santana MasterClass Review, Summary & Key Lessons
At the moment, MasterClass.com have two courses by guitarists.
The first course I tried was by Tom Morello and you can read the in-depth review and summary here. Tom’s MasterClass was surprisingly packed with practical advice and insights into his playing.
While I was skeptical of MasterClass, Tom’s course greatly exceeded my expectations.
In this review, I will provide a detailed review and summary of the Carlos Santana MasterClass and let you know whether it’s worth your time.
What is the Carlos Santana MasterClass
The site MasterClass.com produce online video courses on a wide range of topics. They use some pretty big names to host their courses, which is why they grab attention.
I’m always skeptical of celebrities slapping their names on products, so I was hesitant when my student wanted to take a guitar course from a non-guitar website.
With the Tom Morello MasterClass (link to my review and summary), I was thrilled by how far the course exceeded my expectations.
As you will see in this review, the Carlos Santana MasterClass doesn’t quite hit the same mark.
The basic idea behind the Santana MasterClass is that you’re given 16 videos on a variety of topics. Santana walks you through each topic and there are extra materials such as TAB to help you put the topics into practice.
Carlos Santana MasterClass Summary
To give you the short summary: this course was a horrible worst waste of my and my student’s time. The only reason I went through the course for the second time is in hopes I could extract some value out of it for my student.
I do not recommend this course.
Instead of taking this course, read through my key lessons and notes below and those notes will give you the main insights and lessons I was able to extract from the hours of rambling.
This MasterClass is the perfect example of what I said in my other review: being great at guitar does not automatically make a guitarist a good guitar teacher.
Tom Morello turned out to be an excellent teacher who was able to clearly explain the creative process. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Santana.
A spiritual guitarist
While Santana has a lot of experience and wisdom when it comes to guitar, he struggles to find a way to explain what he’s thinking and feeling. There are countless moments throughout the course where he’s searching for a word or phrase to explain something.
That’s the biggest problem with this course – it’s really hard to teach the topics he’s trying to teach. Santana is clearly a very spiritual person and takes a very spiritual approach to guitar. That way of thinking is really hard to put into words and almost impossible to teach.
The end result is you are left with vague instructions. Here are some direct quotes from the course:
- “Learn to breathe correctly”
- “Always stand like you’re going to do something”
- “Those notes are like when you’re crying and boogers are coming out”
- “The way to prepare your brain before practice is to dismiss it. Dismiss your brain”
- “When I’m bending that note, it has to really feel like a warm, wet tear”
It’s pretty clear that he hasn’t prepared or thought about what he will say in each lesson. There are times when you can see the surprise on his face when he comes up with a phrase he likes.
Other times when he can’t figure out how to explain something, he’ll make some weird sounds from his mouth or he’ll simply play guitar as if that’s meant to explain what he’s talking about.
He uses a boatload of metaphors throughout the course. Sometimes the metaphors make sense, other times they don’t.
Horrible guitar tone
I’ve always liked Santana’s guitar tone. In recordings, it has a rich quality to it – especially when he screams into solos.
For some reason, his tone in this course is horrendous. I was shocked by how bad it was and it really did distract from what he was playing. I don’t know if it’s his gear or the way MasterClass recorded it, but it’s the worst tone I’ve heard in an online course.
Have a listen to the below video to hear what I mean:
The high gain and the weird bass levels completely muddy his tone and make it hard to hear any articulation in his playing.
You may even notice that the action on his high E string is set up wrong so the notes buzz. Throughout the course, it was clear he would occasionally struggle with keeping notes on the high E string alive. Find out what action is, how to measure it and adjust it in this Ultimate Guide to Guitar Action.
The above video also gives a good representation of the type of rambling throughout the course.
Lots of stories and name dropping
I went into this course hoping to hear about Santana’s experiences and his collaborations with other musicians. Santana does a great job as part of a band and it’s clear he has a good understanding of other instruments.
Sadly, most of his stories were only loosely connected to any teachings. There is also a lot of name dropping throughout the course. He would say a name, play something in the style of that musician, then move on to something else.
It quickly became distracting and I started taking note every time he would name drop without giving context.
Compared to Other Courses
If you were considering this course to learn some Santana songs, avoid it. You won’t learn how to play anything because he doesn’t explain how to play his songs. You’re better off with a Santana course by Lick Library.
The above video shows the extent that a song is looked at. He will riff on it for a bit, talk about what he was thinking when writing it, then move on.
If you were considering this course to find out how Santana approaches writing melodies, coming up with solos, or jamming with other musicians, this MasterClass doesn’t cut it. Those topics are covered, but you’re only given metaphors and answers from a spiritual person’s point of view.
Metaphors might help you get into the frame of mind, but without any practical exercises or methods to use you don’t have anything to work with.
Carlos Santana as a Guitar Teacher
It pains me to say this, but Carlos Santana is a terrible guitar teacher. I respect what he has done as a musician and I still enjoy listening to many of his older songs, but he isn’t a guitar teacher.
Carlos Santana Key Lessons and Notes
I went through this MasterClass twice to try and write down as many useful insights or notes I could for my student. While I regularly had to pause the Tom Morello videos so I could keep up with writing down notes, I struggled to find anything note-worthy from this course.
The following key lessons and notes is all of the useful insights I took from this course. If you’re still considering taking this MasterClass, these notes should give you a good idea of the best insights you’ll get from the course.
In most of the below notes I’ve given my own interpretation as I knew the thought had value, but Santana couldn’t explain it well.
Practice as Musical Offering
Don’t call it ‘practice’: practice has a negative connotation so don’t call it that. See practice as an opportunity to improve yourself rather than something you have to do.
You have to reward yourself mentally for practice: if you put the work into learning scales or techniques, make sure you reward yourself by having fun with them.
Learn to breathe correctly: he spent quite some time talking about this and demonstrating breathing, but I couldn’t figure out what his point was. Sorry.
Once you develop your technical skills, you can forget about them and focus on the music: one of the better insights. Think of practicing technical skills as a way to get you to where you need to be to create music. Being technically amazing shouldn’t be the goal, it should be a way to get to your goal.
Leave a drone note ring out and practice with that note: by practicing along with a single note, it helps you dial in your ears to that note. This builds your confidence so when you hear that note in a rhythm part, you know exactly what you can play.
Play along with a rhythm machine: playing along with only drums gives you the freedom to try anything. You’re not bound to chord changes or keys, so you can work on anything you want. Just focus on staying in sync with the rhythm.
Learn every part of a song: to really know a song and build your confidence, learn all of the parts. Learn the drums part (tapping the rhythm on your lap), learn the bass part, keyboards, vocal melodies, etc. Learn to dismantle songs and really dig into them – don’t just look at the guitar parts.
Going Inside the Note
This part of the course was filled with a lot of metaphors, rambling, and struggling to find words for the thoughts he wants to express. There were zero practical exercises or advice and I found it frustrating to watch.
Here are the top quotes from this part of the course:
- If you can’t get inside the note, you can’t get inside people’s hearts
- Learn like an actor to get into character
- Always stand like you’re going to do something
- Those notes are like when you’re crying and boogers are coming out
- When I’m bending that note, it has to really feel like a warm, wet tear
I’ll leave those quotes for you to interpret…
Finding Your Sound
Compress everything you know into a juicy note: I took this as his way of saying take all of your influences and let them shape your style into something new.
We tend to look for greatness in somebody else instead of yourself: you’re capable of greatness as a guitarist, so work on building your confidence you can express yourself.
A Global Music Rolodex
Still not quite sure what the point of this part of the course was. My guess is it was just Santana giving his thoughts on music as a whole.
Redefine classical music: classical music isn’t just the stuff played by Beethoven and Mozart. Classical music is anything that will always sound good.
The future of music is in Africa: Santana believes that music outside Africa is regurgitated and has no future. Because Africans really move their body and dance when they listen to or play music, the future of music is from Africa.
Opening Your Ears to Rhythm
Build melody around rhythm: he created melodies based on the sounds from congo players. His melodies sounded so different than other guitarists at the time because he was inspired by congo players.
Listen to drummers: his rhythm playing was more inspired by percussionists than other rhythm guitarists. If you want to become a great rhythm guitarist, nobody knows rhythm better than drummers so learn from them.
Melody is Supreme
Slow it down: to get better at carrying a melody and giving it magnetism, you need to be present. To be present, you need to slow it down.
Put notes to everything: many Santana songs were written by putting notes to poems. Learn to put notes to everything. Turn the volume on your TV down and play guitar to match what you’re seeing on the screen.
The Music Beyond the Page
Learn to read music as a means to an end: Santana believes it’s only important to read music if it’s important to your professional goals (eg: want to play in an orchestra).
Leading and Playing in a Band
When the tempo, feel and groove is correct, you don’t need melody or anything else: he believes tempo, feel and groove are the core components a band needs to get right. If you get them right, you can stay in that zone forever.
Who is the Carlos Santana MasterClass for?
I honestly can’t put my hand on heart and think of who this course would suit.
If you’re a die-hard Santana fan, you will probably enjoy listening to him talk and play. But you won’t learn much in terms of practical advice.
I’ve listened to Santana my entire life, so I was looking forward to him deconstructing some of his songs or talking about how to come up with interesting melodies. As you can see from my above notes, I didn’t get anything near that.
You won’t learn how to play Santana songs in this course. You won’t learn how to improvise like Santana. You won’t learn how to compose melodies like him. You won’t learn any of these things because he doesn’t know how to teach them.
As a guitar teacher, I know that these are tough topics to teach. That’s why he resorts to metaphors. He can’t use music theory to help him explain what he’s doing because he doesn’t know it. It’s perfectly fine for a guitarist to not know music theory, but it really would have helped him as a guitar teacher.
While I happily recommend the Tom Morello MasterClass to a few different types of guitarists, I don’t recommend the Santana MasterClass to anybody.
I’m sure there are some people out there who would enjoy it (there are positive reviews on the MasterClass website), but as a guitar teacher, I’m finding it really hard to recommend it to anyone.
If you think the MasterClass does suit you, check it out here on their website.
The quality of any course or MasterClass comes down to the quality of the teacher. Being an amazing guitarist does not automatically make that person an amazing guitar teacher. Playing guitar and teaching guitar are two very different skillsets.
This is why I feel the Carlos Santana MasterClass fails. Carlos is a passionate and spiritual guitarist, but he isn’t an effective teacher.
I honestly struggled to get through the course. That’s coming from somebody who really enjoys Santana’s music.
While there are some great insights in the course, they’re buried in a lot of metaphors and ramblings. The lesson notes I’ve provided above was my attempt of digging through the course and finding the best insights.
If you read those notes and found them lacking, then don’t buy the course.
MasterClass do a great job at producing these courses. The video quality, site layout, and materials are all fantastic. But at the end of the day, the quality of the course depends largely on the quality of the teacher.
While I was pleasantly surprised by how good a teacher Tom Morello is, I was sadly disappointed by Carlos Santana as a teacher. I plan on reviewing any guitar-based courses by MasterClass from now on to make sure people get an unbiased and realistic review.
Any future guitar courses by MasterClass are likely to be hit or miss depending on the guitarist, so I feel it’s important that critical and unbiased reviews like this are written.
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