Rigidity or Versatility?
A guitarist is always forced to make one decision when practising. Do I practise one specific style or many? Do I study one specific genre or listen to a whole range? Both options have their advantages but also their pitfalls. The phrase, Jack of all trades, master of none' comes to mind. So how can you apply the best of rigidity and versatility to when you practise guitar?
Some guitarists believe that if you study one piece long enough you will eventually get it. When I was studying for my Grade 8 in guitar, I would often sit down for an hour and practise only a couple of passages. Eventually, I would get fed up and stop playing I would only be a few steps closer to learning the passages. This can be seen as the hardcore rigid approach if you are stubborn enough then sure, you will ultimately achieve your target but only after hours and hours of practising.
I found that if I left those passages alone and studied something else entirely different, when I did go back to the Grade 8 work, I found it easier. Was this because I had simply had a break maybe my fingers needed to recover! In fact, I think the reason was entirely psychological. If I gave myself the chance to process the Grade 8 passages in the context of other music, I would learn it far more effectively. Rather than develop an understanding of the music on one basic level, I chose to appreciate it in a wider context. I passed my Grade 8 with a merit.
I find the best example is to learn music theory modes in particular are a great way of expanding your playing repertoire. When composing for my A-Level music, I found that if I used modal melodies, such as Lydian and Phrygian, it would flesh out my piece and add extra flavour. Simply using the pentatonic made the piece bland and repetitive. Learning these in between practising your pieces is a good way to understand what you're practising and therefore learn it more effectively.
But does this versatile approach work in all situations? I found out the hard way. One summer, I was invited to a band audition and, needless to say, I was quite excited. When learning their pieces, I found a lot of space for me to develop my own ideas there were options to add Phrygian sequences and modal harmonies. However, when I met the band it was clear versatility was off limits they were really looking for a guitarist that stuck to the rules. My audition was unsuccessful and I wasted a day travelling.
This proves that if you are aiming to break into a particular market, rigidity is extremely important. If you want to be a successful indie band, than pay attention to what is selling at the moment and translate it to your playing and band practice. There is little point in learning flamenco guitar when you want to become a best-selling metal band.
However, this could still restrict your playing trying to jam with another guitarist who can only play one style of music is painful, boring and a waste of time. Every Sunday, I go to an open-mic night at a local pub and the guitarists that really stand out are versatile and can perform all flavours of music. Those who merely play the pentatonic scale look awkward and basic. Sure, the pentatonic works in some cases such as Oasis and Kirk Hammett, but what's stopping you having a range of flavours to use. Indeed, when opportunities arise for you to play, rigidity can hold you back.
So, when approaching your guitar, should you only practice one genre and style or attempt a whole range of pieces. Yes, you can go for only one style it will dramatically improve your chances of succeeding in a particular field. However, if you want to stand out from other guitarists, diversity is your closest ally it will make your sound unique and open doors to other styles. But most importantly, when you understand things through context and diversity, you learn them faster and can improve yourself technically as a guitarist.