37863_409686911221_6329760_nJustin Poon is an eighth-semester guitar principal at Berklee studying performance and electronic production and design. As a founding member of Affiliated Gallery, a creative design group based in Toronto, Justin is involved in film scoring and sound design. You also check out some of his work here.

I started playing guitar in the fourth grade, learning songs out of the same book that pretty much every guitar player at the time was using: the Hal Leonard Guitar Method Vol. 1. I still remember the exercises that got you into learning every string one by one, the basic open position chords, and how hard it was to go back and forth between C and G7. When I had finally discovered tabs, my mind was opened to learning any song I wanted to near-accuracy. By then, I was learning all the Blink-182 and Linkin Park songs I wanted.


At one point I really thought I was this guy…

The first band that made me passionate about playing guitar was Guns N’ Roses. I remember being blown away by these large textures and guitar chords, and guitar solos that took the song and its listener to a higher level. Looking back, I realize that a lot of these classic songs were easier to put together than it seemed at the time; I remember reading something about how Slash was just messing around on the basic chord shapes, and eventually came up with the opening riff for “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Listening to the classic rock band today, I realize there’s more to the music than just power chords and volume; there’s just an undeniable spirit behind it all.

There was a two-year period where I pretty much exclusively listened to Dream Theater and other progressive rock artists. This was probably a precursor to getting into jazz music (as well as coming to Berklee!). I was checking out records the other day with a friend and he was trying to get me into the bands Phish and the Grateful Dead, both of which I have a really hard time

One of the greatest albums of all time

One of the greatest albums of all time

digging. I listened to some songs and none of them really resonated with me in such a way that I could feel the passion. However, reflecting upon how Dream Theater was heavily influenced by psychedelic and progressive bands such as the Dead, Phish, Yes, King Crimson, and many other bands that I couldn’t quite get into at the time, I started to understand the thinking process behind a lot of DT’s work. I started to understand where they quickly combined changing textures within a given song with complex arrangements as well as the rock ‘n’ roll spirit.


Since taking on the producer’s cap, my ear has definitely shifted into visualizing the whole scope of the music. For one, I could hear how the guitars and drums completely dominated the mix of their later records, which completely makes sense, given that guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy were the producers on those record.

While I fell in love with the feel of swing and the spirit of that tradition, I was drawn to the Pat Metheny Group because I saw it as, more or less, an acoustic version of Dream Theater. The band’s music is an exploration of rhythms and textures all over the world, both electric and acoustic. There was still a respect for the jazz tradition and its compositional methods made every member of the large ensemble seem needed, and on top of that, it all presented Pat Metheny as the rockstar of the group.


A record that really got me into songwriting

One of the many records that really got me into songwriting

While I was heavy into jazz, I still had to have music to listen to that would take my mind off the mentality of chord-scales and changes, and I turned to alternative and indie groups such as The XX, Death Cab for Cutie, and Washed Out. There was a different kind of beauty in the music. Texturally, there was a lot more exploration and there wasn’t this compulsive demand for killing musicianship, or for the listener to be blown away by the musical theory behind the music. Not that I stopped appreciating that kind of thing—it was just nice to have another palette handy. Revisiting this music, I realize there are a lot of choices behind the performances that we tend to take for granted or not notice, whether it’s unorthodox recording techniques, peculiar instrumentation, or the concepts behind the lyricism.

Justin Poon