Several years ago – after about a three-year period of plateauing on guitar – I decided that if I was going to keep playing I wanted to get really, really good (good enough to answer “Yes.” without any ellipses or question marks when people ask if I’m any good). So I started to push myself beyond mere everyday picking around and playing the same old songs (mostly covers of stuff I dug, which is why I started playing in the first place – cause I’m a fan).
My guitar skills were (and continue to be) entirely self-taught. But the student caught up with the teacher. I took about 5 years of cello as a kid and had messed around on drums, but otherwise began with no relevant musical training. The main impetus behind me plowing forward on guitar was mostly the encouragement of other dudes in the dorm who wanted another guy to jam with, backed by a lifetime of loving music.
I got pretty decent really fast by studying the blues, and therefore the basic structure of rock ‘n’ roll; also by studying the minor (and then extended blues) pentatonic scale (which plays to anything). Having mastered all this, I stopped getting appreciably better after maybe six years.
My cello career was cut short partly because of lack of interest (I liked drums better) but mostly because I had one really bad teacher who put little love into actually teaching music. She picked her favorite students who had already “gotten it,” and made no attempt to teach the others anything, instead pushing them to the back rows. With no direction I lost the love.
But guitar I became obsessed with. The same songs every day sounded great. The love stayed (L. calls a certain guitar my “other girlfriend”).
When it came to guitar, I got to the point of assuming that if I simply played it every day for my entire life, I would eventually rule and get invited to jam in smoky, urban blues clubs (because who doesn’t love a granddaddy who can jam?).
But I’ve been driving, typing and thumb-wrestling children in line at the grocery store for a long time now and don’t feel any more skilled at those than I did ten years ago. Things don’t always work like that.
There is a next level, though – a LUCID level.
A couple weeks ago I wrote an installment musing one of these types of epiphanies – that the best musicians are athletes: the drills, the muscle memory, becoming comfortable moving at increasingly higher levels and expanding into explosive solos.
So I’m going to write a series about a few of the things that I (and the rest of the Annual Jam band) have been doing to improve our skills.
I’ve often said (it may be a borrowed phrase) – guitar is easy to play, hard to get good at.
But it sure is fun to practice.
To the video…
So I found this video series (mostly because I wanted to learn how to play “Beast of Burden”) that shows you how to (try to) do what Keith Richards does (stoned): Keith Richards Riff Cousins. The host moves a little fast, but – thank YouTube vid in all its glory – you can pause it, see where his fingers are and sound your way through. This dude is a wealth of Stones information and tab.
I’ve been jamming “Beast..” all night now. What this video shows isn’t terribly hard. It’s just a neat way of hammering-on a first to fourth chord – a new take (or old, ripped one, considering that it’s Richards’).
Getting better isn’t always about learning bizarre new chords or jamming in 9/4 (I’ll get to that later, though), but finding little twists you can work into your playing to add more flavor.
I watched an interview with David Gilmour talking about his signature Pink Floyd sound. He said that his tendency was simply to put bends in places you wouldn’t expect them. Lots and lots of bends.
Astonishing! And very simple. It’s mind boggling how a tiny wrinkle can add a whole new depth to your music.
Yet make complete sense in a way that had just never occurred to you.
That’s enough to think about for today. Good luck.
And rock on. Hard.