We all hit walls. Some of us shouldn't. Like the major league pitcher who broke his hand in a fit of anger by hitting a door. But many of us also hit creative walls. A lot of my students ask about ways to get past a rut in their playing. As usual, I have more than a few answers. Someday, I might even have a good one! Let's take a look at a few ways to climb out of that cesspool of creative stagnation, and blaze fourth with....OK, already, here's the lesson!
Borrowing With Taste
If your playing lacks variety, try this: Quit playing guitar music! Put the AC/DC tab down, and try playing some music outside of your field. Let's take a look at a killer saxophone piece called Freedom Jazz Dance by the great saxophonist Eddie Harris. I'm always intrigued by the idea of playing music written by musicians who play a different instrument than I do. Each instrument has it's own comfort zone and hence, signature licks, and approaches unique to it. When applied to our own instrument, unusual and interesting sounds can result. The next time you pick up your guitar, try noticing how many licks are dictated by what's comfortable to your hand - and not the sound. Interesting, to be sure.
Set over a Eb7 chord, with frequent alterations, this particular piece uses the interval of a fourth quite a bit. (The interval of the fourth is the distance from C to F, for example.) Fourths present an interesting challenge on the guitar, as they can be played at the same fret on adjacent strings (right next to each other.) I know that sounds confusing - but check it out: From the 5th fret on the 6th string to the 5th fret on the 5th string is a fourth. Think Smoke on the Water. They sound easy - hey, they're right next door, right? However, I think you'll see, that's just the problem. Remember, though, discomfort can mean new sounds. Jumping outside our safe place of typical patterns, we find a new universe of ideas, concepts, and sounds. If you want less subtle, I'll paraphrase the Marines and say Pain is weakness leaving the fingers!
Best of luck, and as the great guitarist Frank Gambale would say...May the Fourths Be With You!
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Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.