Guitar Counseling


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07-15-2007, 09:43 PM
I needed to reexamine my musical motivation. There was a time when I could get by on awe and dreams, but perspective reared its ugly head and brought reality with it. Guitar and I have had great times together: the first time I played a G chord, the first song I wrote, and the first time I shredded across the fretboard, ending resoundingly with a piercing, vibrato-drenched pinch harmonic. The honeymoonís long over, though and my instrument and I have moved into seven-year itch territory. It seemed that there was nothing new in the guitar and there were no more hidden secrets in my fingers. I ignored the feeling until that fateful moment I noticed myself lusting over the luscious features of the latest edition of Cubase, contemplating the grooves I could make if I only had it and a simple MIDI keyboard. Revelation hit me like sneaker through a speaker cabinet. The time I never thought would come had arrived: I needed to take action and rejuvenate my relationship with the guitar.

Embrace Romance

When I listen to a rip-roaring, face-melting guitar solo, I want to emulate it. Even if that solo is, instead, a mindblowing jazz-fusion excursion, an impressive chord melody, or even just a toe-tapping funky groove, I reach for my guitar. There are songs that motivate me without fail. For example, Voodoo Chile, in any of its incarnations, electrifies my guitar-drive, and Comfortably Numb makes my fingers tingle. Sometimes it will be an amazing shred-fest video Iíve stumbled upon or a novel new album. Great guitar rarely ceases to ignite my guitar enthusiasm. Even if their skills are dwarfed by your own, others can provide motivation. Taking up teaching or spending time with an eager musician of any skill level or instrument will inject some guitar juice into your veins. There are guitarists and guitar music everywhere, and thereís usually more than enough surplus enthusiasm dripping off for one to supplement themselves in those times when their own is waning.

- Try watching extraordinary guitar videos online. Youíll quickly learn whether youíre the type that rushes to try to emulate what theyíve seen or despairs at how much they have to learn.
- Buy a new album or revisit an older one and notice the guitar playing.
- Determine what instantly inspires you and donít hesitate to turn to it.


Part of the initial enjoyment in playing the guitar comes from the constant learning and improvement. Eventually, however, it becomes painfully difficult to progress at that same speed. Guitarists have an uncanny number of possible paths to follow to become better, but itís terribly easy to stick to a few familiar ones and ignore the rest. Those licks and riffs you can play without thinking? Theyíre mindlessly dull. Learn something fresh, maybe even something you think youíll despise. Regardless of the size, accomplishments drive more accomplishments, and the feeling of even slight progress is addictive.

- Venture into completely different sonic zones. Familiar with jazz? Learn your pinch harmonics and try playing some heavy metal. Fed up with rock and blues? Maybe foreign or classical music may turn your fancy.
- Play songs by ear. Thereís pride in mastering a song via tablature, but it can be significantly more so when you transcribe it yourself.
- Purposefully avoid what is comfortable for awhile.
- Manipulate the settings on your amplifier, or craft radical tones with an effects box or pedal. It may be hit and miss at times, but youíll often find yourself carried away into the new sound.

Be a Polygamist

Contrary to what you may believe (and what my introduction may have alluded), you donít have to be limited to guitar. If you find that another instrument is more fitting, take consolation that your guitar ability will only aid in your endeavor. Perhaps youíll merely dabble in the new musical avenue, but when you return to the guitar you may find your mind expanded. It may be as simple as imitating other instruments with your guitar: the pianoís left and right hand interaction, the funk of drums or a bass guitar; the twang of a banjo.

- If you have access to other instruments, take advantage of that. Many require far less work to get into than you might expect.
- Listen to music that doesnít emphasize guitar, or take note of other instruments in the music you normally listen to.

Boldly Throw Aside Your Inhibitions

Afraid of classical or jazz for fear of appearing pretentious? Terrified of hip-hop or dance music? Worried your shredding chops will melt the instant you leave them on the shelf for awhile? Music is not an identity, even though album covers often suggest differently.. One does not have to be a gangster to appreciate hip-hop or a redneck to listen to country. Granted, there is a lot of bad music and it may not always be worth it to wade through it until you find gold. Nonetheless, donít restrict your exploration out of fear of the unknown. When a sound strikes you as good, listen some more. If the song proves to be the product of a teen pop-idol, identify what aspect grabbed your attention and internalize it. You may instantly transform into a screaming prepubescent girl, but that will only make other guitarists more humiliated when you put them to shame.

- Listen to any music you can. Friends will generally be all to generous in sharing, libraries often have a reasonable selection, and many artists distribute samples through the internet, especially those less well-known.
- Critically evaluate what you hear. Notice what you like and dislike, especially when you begin to notice a trend in your observations.

Put Yourself under the Microscope

The guitarís incredible versatility ensures that, even though every guy and his dog is a guitarist, one can excel without being an irritating repeat of other accomplished players. Nonetheless, many guitarists are indistinguishable from each other. Whether you dream of musical stardom or merely pursue the instrument as a hobby, youíll benefit from personalizing your playing. An expansive knowledge of guitar and music will help, as will an experienced ear. Steer your sound in the direction that will allow you to pursue those aspects of the guitar and music that you enjoy the most. If your musical drive is fueled by a desire for shredding in front of an ecstatic crowd, refine your chops and take steps to move towards that. If songwriting is what you go for, write songs and work on improving your musical craftsmanship. One can learn nearly endlessly as a guitarist, and no one can hope to learn everything. Once youíre aware of what you most enjoy, thereís simply no reason why you should not spend the majority of your time on it.

- Identify the aspects of guitar you get the most out of, and decide how best to improve on it or experience it more often.
- Donít neglect scales, musical calisthenics, ear training, or anything else that will make you better as a player and help you to enjoy guitar in the future, but remember to have a grand time playing guitar now.
- Fully test everything you can. However, donít feel obligated to painstakingly improve your jazz comping or your harmonic minor scale runs if they are chores to you and offer little or nothing to assisting you in your ultimate guitar goal.

Virtually all guitarists eventually play themselves into a lull and lose their motivation. This musical ailment is relatively easily cured by taking a realistic inspection of the situation. Part of the attractiveness of playing an instrument is that musicians are never finished. As a guitarist, you will never run out of new things to play, and as a musician and listener, you will never explore all the sounds or angles available to you. If your tenure as a guitarist was an album, those times you feel youíve reached a plateau are merely pauses between songs. Oh, and no one said the album couldnít be mind-bogglingly long and genius throughout.

Copyright 2008

Thanks in advance for any suggestions, comments, or criticism.