Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hal Galper - Damn these videos are great

I first came across these videos over a year ago... but a recent discussion over at my good friend Mark Wein's place reminded me of how valuable they truly are. Stuff this good MUST be shared!

Most all instrumentalists are always looking for those little 'tricks' or insights, that make certain players better improvisors than others. I believe Hal does a wonderful job giving us some insight into that process. The longer I play an instrument, the more I realize that playing well, is much more about how you approach it mentally than any physical aspect. Most players I know exercise our hands regularly ... yet much less time on our minds and ears? Doesn't that seem crazy? It does to me.

Hal Galper has many of these videos on YouTube, so after watching these, do yourself a favour and go through some of the others. These are game changers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Picking Technique - The day it ALL changed

For over 20 years, I listened to the conventional wisdom among the guitar 'shred' community. Play with a stiff, thick pick for speed. At first, I used a full size one. Then I switched (thanks to an Eric Johnson VHS tape) to the under-sized Dunlop Jazz III's, which I swore by for many, many, did I say many years? For the record, I was always considered by my peers to posess an above average picking technique. Not exactly Shawn Lane or anything, but certainly capable.

Then, for completely inexplicable reasons, it ALL changed. I went back to a full size pick and I turned it sideways, so that the pointy tip, points towards the bridge. Allowing me to play with the shoulder of the pick. The draw for me was I liked the scratchy tone. It seemed to give the notes more heft, more Sco! It also emulated that "cello sound" I heard Paul Gilbert speak of. Simultaneously, I also changed the weight to a medium gauge (pictured above for anyone curious). The interesting part is all this was done for tonal reasons. I thought it may actually slow me down, but I didn't care, if it sounds better - that's all I care.

Strange thing happened, my picking technique got MUCH better. I am WAY faster today. Breaking through MANY barriers I used to have when I followed conventional thinking. PLUS, it sounds a lot cooler tonally IMO.

It got me to thinking about Gilbert's "cello tone" comment. The 'scratch' comes from a sharp angle attack, so that a smaller part of the pick gets into the string wind. So he MUST be using a fairly steep picking angle.... I guess my technique was too 'flat' before, thereby slowing me down without my notice.

The point with all this is: Your technique is tied to how you hold, what weight and what angle your pick is to the string. There may be some subtle glitch holding you back. Try EVERYTHING because you NEVER know. I would have NEVER tried what I am doing presently ... I still don't really know why I did it... but it worked!

You are never too old or experienced to find something new. I strongly recommend switching things up once in a while as there truly is no 'way'. What works for someone, no matter how fast they are, may NOT work for your body and playing style.

Monday, July 4, 2011

From noodling to music - learning how to create a good solo.

Some rights reserved by pfly

A quote that changed the way I practice guitar soloing came from Joe Pass. It was from a long time ago, so this is complete paraphrasing. Forgive me Joe! The gist was:

"Every single thing you play, you should be able to play a second time EXACTLY the way it was the first. If you can't, then it is just random finger movements that happened to work out. If you can't repeat it, it didn't come from your heart and it is not music."

This is VERY true IMO. Try practicing like that. What happens is, it FORCES you to really listen to what you are doing, because you have to play it again. Also, repetition instantly sounds like music. Listen to most great soloists and they use repetition a TON. Even if the notes aren't the same, the rhythm is. Or if the rhythm isn't, then the notes are. Repetition is one of the core building blocks you need to construct meaningful solos.

Some other approaches
  • Record EVERYTHING and listen back with a critical ear. This is the only chance you have to hear you the way others do. Make this part of your regular routine. Slowly weed out the crap-isms we all have. You know, those annoying little phrases you ALWAYS play, that you CAN'T STAND! Weed them out.
  • Try ONLY playing an idea as it comes into your head. If you don't hear anything, don't play for a minute. Wait until you hear something and THEN play. Remember this is practice and nobody is watching so take your time. At first, there will be big holes of silence. Before long as you improve there will be more and more actual music happening. The best part is it is ALL organically based - NOT pattern based.
  • Sing AS you play a line on your guitar (a la George Benson). Make the connection between your ears, your voice and the guitar. This INSTANTLY affects your phrasing.
  • Simplify for a bit. Grab a small idea and really milk it. Save the shred for flourishes that tie your ideas together. Fast stuff really doesn't say much.. it really mostly creates intensity. Would you want to hear someone speaking or singing in an intense state all the time? Likely not, plus the melodic stuff makes the flourishes SEEM faster. Not ripping on shred at all or insinuating shred is bad, just saying in general - mix it up. The best shredders do this.
  • Learn other players solos - NOTE FOR NOTE using your ears - not TAB. Don't cheat or fudge, get in there are get every note. Then get the chord changes behind. Then analyze what is going on (if you dont know some basic theory, it is very helpful. Utilize sites like this to read, ask questions and generally help you understand some basics). Do this all the time and before long you will see patterns or approaches that just work. I can't understate this. You want to become a good soloist? Become a student of solos. Many genres - even ones you don't like. Learn your favs... then learn your favs favs. Jazz, Country, Blues, Rock solo and analyze. Spend a year doing this and you will be a different player on the other side no doubt about it. 
  • Focus on hitting chord tones as you solo. Look at the progression you are soloing over and practice nailing some of the tones as they pass by. I did a detailed post on this topic. Click here to read it. When I say "analyze" this is largely what I am referring to. What notes are being used and why do they work... likely a chord tone.
Changing how you solo isn't a miraculous process. It boils down to spending the time it takes to learn the art of spontaneous composition. When I say it that way it sounds pretty serious doesn't it? Well it is exactly that. Think more like a composer and less like a blues box guitar player and you are on your way.

P.S. Read the below comment section of this post. John King raised some valid discussions on this topic.