Yesterday, this question was asked on the Wampler Pedals tonegroup on Facebook.
“Do you ever get to a point in your music that you just feel stuck where you’re at? And that you find yourself losing sight of where you need to be in your music to inspire yourself to learn new things? What do you do to re-inspire yourself to get you back on track?”
This struck somewhat of a chord with me (da daaaaaa) and my personal experience is why I have so many strings (da daaaaaaaa) to my bow as a player. You see, I’ve been in so many ruts with my playing I think I could write a book on how to get out of them. Well, maybe not a book, but probably a blog piece.
So, in the many ruts I’ve historically been in, how did I elevate myself out of them? The trouble I’ve been in is that I’ve been in one for a while and I was lifted out of it this weekend. But, I’ll get to that in a minute.
- The first and most important thing I’ve done as a player is to see live music. As much as I could, as often as I could. My wife always kinda laughs at me when we see music together as, apparently, I stare at the guitar player’s hands, all the time. My concentration levels are so high I am barely aware of the world around me, I’m just drinking it in. Absolutely everything they do. Notes, rhythms, vibrato, phrasing… everything. I just watch them. Any decent player, that doesn’t have to be decent on the level other than playing in a local pub band, will have something to offer you if you only pay attention. For example, on Saturday our band shared a bill with a Reggae/Dub band called The Barefoot Bandit. I quite like Reggae and Ska, so I was always going to like it, but they had a guitarist in that band (Harry) that enthralled me. He had the kind of right hand you don’t come across often, his rhythm work was sublime – yet subtle, his chord inversions were perfect (he was complimenting the other guitar player of the band) and his solos were genre perfect. When we went on after them I was so inspired to make my right hand stand out better. I didn’t play anywhere near as many notes as I usually do, but I hope I was a little funkier. Ever since then, I’m been working on my right hand, I hadn’t planned to, but it’s opened a new door for me.
- The second most important thing I’ve done is learned that it’s not all about your preconception/expectation of a player. View every player you hear/see as a potential teacher and take something away from them for yourself. If you pick something up from a player, take it home and incorporate it into your own. For example, the one thing Vai has taught me over all the years I’ve been listening to him is phrasing. It’s the same lesson I got from Clapton, Nuno, Beck and Quayle. When I first heard those players the last thing I thought about was their phrasing, but that’s what I’m left with from them. I looked past my expectation and found something they had that I didn’t. I unexpectedly learned from them, after I first got into them.
- Listen to everything you can bear to listen to. Don’t just listen to your comfy music, the stuff you love, stick something on you wouldn’t normally and try to hear something different in it. When I am coming home from a gig (when the wife isn’t with me) I often listen to Classical Music, or Jazz, or something else I would never listen to at home – so, use your radio. Put a channel on and listen to it. There will be something there for you to latch on to, even if it’s just one thing – the more you do it, the better you will become at picking stuff up. And DON’T just listen to the guitar parts, listen to the phrasing and attack of brass sections, listen to the depth and power that a certain inversion of a chord that is being made by the strings in an orchestra… It’s all the same thing, it’s all just the application of the notes and the intervals between them. Then think about that in your own playing, something will pop out at you.
- Don’t be afraid to stop playing, or go to a different tuning, or pick up another instrument. A piano in the house is the best thing for me to have as a guitar player, I often sit down at it and play with chord inversions or different scales over chords on the piano… I look at the patterns on the piano I wouldn’t normally look at on guitar - I try to play guitar stuff on piano and then piano stuff on guitar. Most of the time it sounds like utter crap but the thought that has gone into it ALWAYS opens another door in my head, and when I get back to being me on the guitar again I usually notice something has changed somewhere, something new has arrived.
How does all my waffle above deal with the question posed? When I’ve been in a rut I’ve found that someone, somewhere, will pop me out of it. Harry did it on Saturday, I heard something that I wasn’t expecting, and dived into it. I’ve also found that if I take something from someone musically and put it into my own playing, it will then open another door. So, if you want a challenge, learn a song by someone you never normally would. Then look at the chords underneath it, then take a hook from that song and put it in a completely different one and see what happens. You will find that your playing will become more interesting and you will discover a new direction to play. This is the reason I successfully play a lick from Steve Vai as part of my stock solo in “Bring Back The Sunshine” by Eddie Rabbit - and I’ve been told it sounds good.
Most of all, do not limit yourself to one genre or group of players. Listen to everything, take a walk with a different tuning or a different instrument. Primarily, just stop worrying. Someone will come along and scare the crap out of you enough to make it all exciting again.
Thank you Harry, you did it for me on Saturday.