Tuesday, December 21, 2010

1,2,3,4's ... is it just me?

Copyright All rights reserved by Spencer Starnes

We've all been taught 'em.

For years I just did these without questioning them... kind of an eat your vegetables type thing. But in the past several years I have begun to question everything - and it has helped my playing immensely to do so. I think we should question the logic of non-musical drills on a musical instrument. Sure they are cultural to the guitar, sure many advanced players endorse them, we have all been shown them. But dont they seem kind of ... dumb? Or as one forum poster put it "akin to those "fret-hand exerciser" devices that provide spring-loaded resistance training for your fingers"

This you could make a legit argument for:


But this?


My issue is that 1,2,3,4's are not a chromatic scales, as many call it - there are notes missing:

1 (F) 2 (F#) 3 (G) 4 (G#)
1 (A#) 2 (B) 3 (C) 4 (C#)
1 (D#) etc......

No A or D notes here. This scale has odd whole tone leaps every 5th note.

The discussion isn't one of doing or not doing drills - it is one of "why" are we doing certain exercises. What gains are in 1,2,3,4's that are NOT found in licks and scales? After a bit of time you should be able to easily, mindlessly run a major scale - it uses all fingers? Many solos and etudes have the same advantages .... wouldn't you be better served to memorize and etude and use that as a warm-up?

From Wikipedia
Practicing: a method of learning by repetition

So I ask what exactly are you 'learning' from the second example? What you ARE learning is to 'play without thought'. You are also learning 'pattern type thinking'. You are also learning a phrase you WON'T use in actual performance ... These are ALL very bad things IMO.

To be 100% clear - for a raw beginner who knows nothing and has a hard time remembering these are great. Their simplicity to remember is the only tangible advantage I can identify. But to a player with a scale or etude memorized I dont see the advantage over those forms.

Why are you being such a wanker about a stupid exercise?
I know, I know, it seems odd for me to get all up in arms about a simple exercise. But I am, as of yet, to hear a compelling reason why these are so good they warrant regular use. Other than "awesome player X said to do them". To not bore you too much with my personal details, but it is kind of important to understand my stance, so let me say this.

These days looking back, I divide my years spent playing in 2 phases:
  • The years before I learned to listen
  • The years after

The first part was 20+ years. I fixated on technique and drills etc. Did pretty well - lots of live experience etc. But in the last 7-8 years something has clicked. All of a sudden, I stopped mindlessly playing and started to treat each note with respect (as if I would run out). I haven't slowed down, or use less notes per se... just really listen deeper. I started scrutinizing EVERY SINGLE NOTE - even during drills. I NEVER play anything anymore that doesn't have time, tempo or key - NEVER. Music first, all else a distant second. This has been like an epiphany to me.

My playing and understanding has gone way beyond those early years. I get more calls for projects, more compliments, despite the fact that I 'play' LESS actual hours. I am faster RPM too shockingly.

I always remember, years ago when I was a Steve Morse disciple. He said (paraphrasing) "Someone should be able to walk into the room, at any time you are practicing and feel the groove and hear music" - this single statement did almost NOTHING for me when I first heard it. But now, when I read it it speaks to my core. If I had have understood this - really understood this - I think I would be further ahead. His advice sounded so simple ... too simple. It was almost a throw away. I was so busy listening for him to say mode this and scale/chord that.

This 'epiphany' is right at the core of my mindset these days. I am not saying I am right or this is for everyone, but it is worthy of discussion before you blindly blast through them or teach others to do so I think. I am of the opinion that people should never forget we are playing a musical instrument. So keeping everything musical is of the highest importance.

I guess my core message with this post is to question everything. Especially, question pattern-type thinking. On a guitar, it is so easy to learn by memorizing patterns. Quite easily that mind-set can become entrenched in your routine - and it's a killer to undo.

You want to practice these abominations? You HAVE to do them? Fine, write a song that uses them! Then practice that song. Stop memorizing shapes and start truly playing using notes. I believe you will be a much better player for doing so.

Should this be my last post prior to Christmas, let me take this chance to wish you all the happiest holiday season! Take the time to enjoy the things that ultimately matter most - your family and loved ones. The guitar will be right there waiting for us all ... unlike the turkey!

Maybe, just maybe, if i was a good boy. Santa will have tucked that Moog Ring Mod pedal, or the Wampler Pinnacle Distortion snugly under my tree this year. .... Santa are you listening .... Santa?

1 comment:

  1. Such exercises are only mindless if you aproach them mindlesly.

    The idea is to remove other distractions so you can focus on fretting and picking technique. If you are merely going through the motions then they are indeed a waste of time.

    Correct focus is essential to progress.