#1
Hey there UG.

I've been playing guitar a good 3 years now. I don't in general practice all that much a day, although I've had quite a lot in my time. I consider my technique to be very good; as a general rule, most things I see I can learn after trying for ages. I've learned quite a few difficult songs in my time and play a little with a band.

My practice technique has been very bad. I basically find songs that I like and want to play (usually very difficult ones) and then try and learn them from the tab. After these years, I feel that I have learned songs but not learnt to be a guitarist if you will. I need to develop my ear and application of theory I think.

However, I think one of the major problems I have is THINKING while playing, I mean thinking about playing the guitar.

When I play guitar, I cannot concentrate on anything else. I can't talk to people or anything, unless its a very easy piece. I would never be able to play and sing. If its a song that is very difficult, its even goes as far as to make my timing go off since I feel I'll be trying to remember the song but not be able to listen to the beat, and I'll go off beat (my timing is probably the worst part of my playing and worries me the most because of the possibility of losing timing during a gig).

Its as if my mind has a load of numbers running through it, whereas what I want is for me to be able to listen to the overall sound of the band and my actually playing should just feel natural, like I don't have to think about it.

I think if I got over this problem, my timing would be a lot better and my ability to improvise would be better since I would be able to play but also listen to the music behind me at the same time (including the beat!).

So here are my questions:

1) Are there any others out there with similar problems?
2) Is everyone like this (I'm assuming not). Can most of you just play and it all feels very natural?
3) Will playing with my guitar for longer/learning scales make this go away?
4) If I created my own songs, so I've not had to learn other people's material, do you think I would have similar problems as they will have come more from the heart?

Sorry for all the detail, but its difficult to explain how I feel when playing guitar. I don't expect definitive answers for all of these but any (non-idiotic) input will be greatly appreciated!

(Just as another question I've just thought of; when improvising, do you hear what you want to play in your head, or do you just play notes in the scale you are using and hope for the best. I find it very hard to improvise with feeling since I don't have any idea of what I'm playing when I do it usually!!!)

Cheers
#2
I'm not the most awesome guitarist, but I know quite a bit of theory. I as well think while playing. I mean I don't have thoughts going through my head or anything, but I focus. I don't play in a band ,but I find that when playing along with backing tracks that if you focus more on the other instruments, and the beat of the song your timing will be much better. When I improvise I don't hear something in my head, because its very hard to find the note you are thinking of on the spot without having to stop and figure it out. Unless your a beast on the guitar, and have gone through some insane ear training. For theory I would learn the diatonic scale in all 5 positions, and practice with it a bit. I myself don't find theory all that helpful when making songs other than being able to put a name to something. I get an idea and play it, I don't think ,well lets see this note would sound better in sequence with this note because in theory it is better. It is nice to know some chord theory because you might have a powerful chord in your head and if you can find a basic one on the guitar , and know the notes that make up that chord you can create your own chord to fit the sound. If you don't yet know all of the notes on the guitar well then learn them. I wish you luck.
#3
I remember first trying to sing to a song whilst playing, and my singing would go off time and go in time with the strumming, lol. But after a while it came along.

My guess it to do a simple song and learn to sing that way. A song which you know by heart.

Though I don't know why you're heavily concentrating on playing after 3 years even if you're just playing about. See, I can just stand there playing along whilst talking to someone or even watching TV, in fact, I do it a lot especially when I'm sat on my PC chair. So that may be why I can.
Last edited by vacant_pistol at Aug 4, 2009,
#4
Yeah, but are you playing properly? Is it clean, and does it have a point or is it just wanking off. I find it very hard to believe that you can have a conversation with someone and play properly at the same time.
#5
Quote by Jamma


So here are my questions:

1) Are there any others out there with similar problems?
2) Is everyone like this (I'm assuming not). Can most of you just play and it all feels very natural?
3) Will playing with my guitar for longer/learning scales make this go away?
4) If I created my own songs, so I've not had to learn other people's material, do you think I would have similar problems as they will have come more from the heart?


1. Yes, I'm almost exactly in the same shoes as you. I have also been playing for 3 years, and everything I've learned how to play has been thru the use of tabs, which I very much regret now because my ears are weak. However I doing interval training to improve that and starting to slowly tab out some slow interludes/solos in bands that I like.

2. Sometimes if I'm playing something that I've been practicing for a few weeks, and my fingers are on auto-pilot and know what to do, then I can talk for a very, very, little time. like answer quick questions that my sister is asking me. But yeah, if I'm playing something that I'm used to playing, then I've found myself wandering off in some thoughts....kinda like when you are reading a book and not concentrating on the meaning of the words anymore, but are still technically reading them.

3. Yes, practicing a particular song/exercise/riff/whatever will help you to be more comfortable playing and thinking different things. It seems like it's a matter of weather you're fingers are in "auto-pilot" or not.

4. hmm...this is an interesting question. I think it will help a tad bit if you are playing your own songs because after all, you know it inside and out. But it will not make a drastic difference. I'm sure there are other bands' songs you have been playing for a very long time now and you know these by heart. So really, you should be able to think freely while playing these as well.


(Just as another question I've just thought of; when improvising, do you hear what you want to play in your head, or do you just play notes in the scale you are using and hope for the best. I find it very hard to improvise with feeling since I don't have any idea of what I'm playing when I do it usually!!!)

Cheers


I do the latter-- just play the notes in the key that I'm in. To do the former, you have to REALLY know the guitar. like know exactly where the difference in intervals lie and you have to be able to think extremely fast to know where to find that next note you are hearing in your mind.
#6
Quote by Petrucciowns
Yeah, but are you playing properly? Is it clean, and does it have a point or is it just wanking off. I find it very hard to believe that you can have a conversation with someone and play properly at the same time.


If it's something simple, then yeah.
#7
Try playing and singing something like "Seven Nation Army". It's a really easy song to start with. It will really help with just playing and not having to think about it so much. Maybe after a while you will be able to play the bridge in "Tornado of Souls"
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#8
I'm not all that interested in singing whilst playing (I'm an aweful singer), but I feel that my inability to do this is linked with my ability to "go with the flow" whilst playing guitar because of not being able to separate my thoughts from going in to my actual playing and listening to the overall sound; hope you understand what I mean.

I reckon if I could in theory sing whilst playing, I would be immediately 10 times better at guitar because of that skill.
#9
Im on the same boat. Playin guitar, really into it, then someone says something to me and i just make a retarded face as i try to respond to them, and my playing goes out the window. just practice I assume, still working on it.
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#10
wow..my rhythym guitar player had this same problem, whenever I told him something(like turn down or turn up) while we were playin, he'd stop, and he'd say "OK". We eventually fired him, and we are much happier without a rhythym guitarist. You should try what they all said, so that doesn't happen to you.
#12
Yep, exactly the same.

Its that "second nature" and "getting into the flow" that I just really really want
#13
No, even when I'm playing top notch I'm not really thinking "Ok the notes in the Harmonic Minor are; lets do a trill there; etc." I'm just free.

And I can talk to people while I'm playing, but sometimes it throws me off.

I've been playing for 7 months if that helps anybody.
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#14
How to Free up Brain Space for Musical Thought.

The Foot Metronome

Advice from a 16 year guitar player, who practices a lot.

I view the use of a foot metronome as one of the best ways to free up the brain for other thought processes.

If you have some part of your body, (usually a foot tapping), moving in time with the piece you're playing, eventually the brain uses the muscle memory of that tapping (or body swaying, knee bouncing) to fill in what was previously extra brain space used for timing.

Because the foot will eventually keep going on its own by muscle memory, (probably kept going by the lower brain), the higher, thinking brain is freed up.

This is different from playing along with a real metronome (or along with a record).

Your foot will speed up and slow down with your guitar rhythm, which helps the brain to make timing calculations. That's why you should check your "foot" metronome from time to time against a real metronome.

(I do this by tapping my foot in time with a real metronome, then I simply step around the corner into the hallway where I can't hear the real metronome, still tapping my foot, then move back to the room and see if I'm still in time with the real metronome.)

I didn't get good until I started ALWAYS tapping my foot or moving some part of my body to the beat every time I played. (After a few months, you won't need to do it ALWAYS, and your brain will count start to count it on its own, but I still like to keep something moving always).

If you're new to foot tapping for extended periods of the time, expect some soreness in your knee and ankle ligaments the day after a several hour session of mastering foot tapping. I recall having to stretch the next day, the first time I figured it out.

Also, sometimes you may find it easier to make rhythm calculations when you double time your foot to twice the speed you were previously tapping. By this I mean, play guitar the same speed, only double your foot speed (twice as many stomps per measure).

I also sometimes use an imaginary ticking sound of my tongue making a cymbal noise to keep time if, say, my foot gets tired, or to help me start a song.

To answer your questions:

1) Are there any others out there with similar problems?

Yes. I solved it by foot tapping.

2) Is everyone like this (I'm assuming not). Can most of you just play and it all feels very natural?

The natural ones I've noticed over the years were the ones who just sort of grew up moving their bodies -- either their feet, dancing, bouncing. I wasn't one of these people, but I have rhythm in me, nonetheless, as do you.

3) Will playing with my guitar for longer/learning scales make this go away?

Longer will make this go away. But better rhythm timing will make it go away sooner.

4) If I created my own songs, so I've not had to learn other people's material, do you think I would have similar problems as they will have come more from the heart?

I don't think it matters. If you learn another person's material, make sure to stomp your foot to their beat. Don't just stand still and play to their beat. Move.

LASTLY, ALWAYS PRACTICE STANDING. Different muscles are used when standing, the same muscles that will be used when you gig (unless you gig sitting down). If you practice sitting down, and then gig standing up, you're using different muscles sets.

Why practice using one set of muscles, and then gig and use another?

If you don't notice any improvement in freed up brain space after foot tapping (while standing) every beat for a week of guitar practice, let me know and I'll direct you to a previous thread in which I wrote a bit about strap length, and the neck strap button location with regard to the guitar's center of gravity, and how adjusting the two to fit your body can improve your rhythm speed and accuracy.
Last edited by jdmguitar at Aug 7, 2009,
#15
Take heed to the last post it is the truth.When I sit I bounce the knee up and down often,when standing=foot tapping.You're probably doing it unconsciously often as well.
#16
Just to throw it out there, maybe its the music you are picking. You Say you like to pick challenging pieces.

Well pick something that is just strumming. Something with maybe only 3-4 cords in it. Then move on to something else, maybe something harder.
#17
jdmguitar's advice is good, in my opinion.

Also, in my opinion, "play notes in the scale you are using and hope for the best" is not the way to be a great improviser.

I can only speak for myself, though I suspect most great improvisers would agree (not that I include myself in that group!), but my best improvisations have always been right out of my head. I think the phrase in my musical imagination, then I play it, leaving me thinking "WOW! I don't know where that came from, but that was awesome!".

Not a short, easy road to get there, however, but I think one well worth it. When you're jamming with people, and musical ideas come to mind and just flow right out the guitar with no effort, it makes all that work soooo worth it.

I'd suggest starting by just trying to play things by ear. Pick a simple melody and just try and pick it out. Start very simple. Think of the first part of the melody, then just hunt it out on the fretboard. Try singing the melody then playing it. Try singing it *while* playing it.

Put on some music and try and pick parts out. I find it's easiest to figure out the vocal lines at first, since they tend to be simpler. It's also nice to be able to articulate notes somewhat like a vocalist.

Only by having some melody in your head, and trying to play it, and doing this over and over, will you achieve the ability to play "what's in your head", in my opinion. At first, it takes a while, and you make tons of mistakes. Eventually, it just starts to flow naturally.

Practicing scales (and listening and really getting to know them), practicing intervals, etc, will all help give you the foundation to be able to find the notes you're looking for without missing all the time. Ear training won't hurt either. If you can't hear it properly, odds are you won't play it properly.

Anyways, I'm really tired, but I hope I'm clear enough so you get what I'm trying to say. Hope it helps!
#18
I can't sing worth ****, so Ive basically given up on singing and playing, although I can talk when playing pretty much anything I know.
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#19
i'm not a the world's best guitarist but i'm able to carry a conversation while playing, and ususally am thinking bout other songs while i'm playing..the only tip i can give is if you're thinking try thinkning bout what would sound good over what you're playing...worked for me
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#20
Thanks for all the great tips guys, this is why I love this site
#21
Quote by Jamma
When I play guitar, I cannot concentrate on anything else. I can't talk to people or anything, unless its a very easy piece. I would never be able to play and sing. If its a song that is very difficult, its even goes as far as to make my timing go off since I feel I'll be trying to remember the song but not be able to listen to the beat, and I'll go off beat (my timing is probably the worst part of my playing and worries me the most because of the possibility of losing timing during a gig).


Perhaps you simply have "high standards" as to what is easy and what is hard. I mean, it's pretty normal for co-ordination to be difficult when playing difficult songs, so maybe you just need to start from the basics and practise simple chord strumming with singing first. If you're trying to think about random stuff while playing a tough lead guitar part, that could be why. Really, though, you just have to practise more. It could even be nerves or something, causing you to become flustered and easily distracted. I can't really think of any "real", "quick fix" - it's not like you can hypnotise yourself, although I've heard from Mythbusters that that increases your memory by 20% - so it's all about practice. You have to accept the cards that life has dealt you, so if you think you have a harder time than everyone else in concentrating while playing the guitar, do something about it! Practise! It's ironic that I say that, because I seriously need to practise more...actually, I need to start practising again!

Quote by Jamma
Its as if my mind has a load of numbers running through it


Your parents aren' t computers, are they?

To questions 1 and 2, I would think that co-ordination is a difficult thing for most people. It depends on the difficulty of the piece and natural talent though, but I wouldn't be too paranoid about it. After all, there are tone-deaf people out there, as well as ones who can never manage to learn anything more than the intro to Time Of Your Life, so think of how far you've actually come.

As for question 3, I would hope so! Practise really is the solution to most things, unless your technique is faulty, although in this case I would assume not, since it's not a specific technique being involved.

4 is an interesting question you pose. I'm not sure learning your own songs would help if you force yourself to as a chore, but if you're one of those people who prefer playing their own compositions to other people's, then go for it! Anyway, it's good to create music for the sake of it being fun, so you might as well try and see how it goes. What works for everyone else might not work for you, and vice versa.

Your own songs could help erase your problems not because they're yours, but because they're easier to play. For example, if you're just improvising, you'll obviously be playing stuff that you can play, instead of working on some tough Joe Satriani piece or something. From that perspective, it could help. However, I would still recommend sticking with whatever covers you're learning, as simply ignoring a problem isn't akin to making it go away. My perspective on this is that you simply need to practise more, and perhaps use a metronome more often to work on your rhythm. If you have the time and resources, multi-track recording yourself could also be a real eye-opener to the flaws in your playing. It sure showed me how much I sucked!
#22
I think it's mostly down to how thoroughly you learn the material. When you really, really get it down there's a sense of it playing itself, freeing you up to, in my case, tell my kids to shut up, quit choking each other, quit playing with matches, etc, etc, all without missing a beat (well, usually). I'm sure some of it's also down to experience - separate from how well you know the material, the technical aspects become easier to execute over time.

I agree with jdm 100% about the foot tapping thing. When you just listen to the metronome, it's external. When you tap your foot, nod your head, etc, it internalizes it.

One thing you can do to help immediately is when practicing material (either your own or covers), always spend a good amount of time practicing the transitions between parts. Oftentimes there is a tendency to spend to lots of time working on improving each section, but very little time practicing joining those sections together. For example, suppose you have part of a broken down into two 4 bar sections that you are working on. When working on the first section, instead of practicing it completely by itself, you could include the 1st bar of the second section. Working on this will really cut down on that "where do I go next?" feeling when approaching the end of a section, and really help you execute those transitions with confidence.
#23
IMO aside from very difficult techniques, playing and signing at the same time is one of the hardest things to do. It's very easy to loose the beat and to mess up your part. That is why most singers play rhythm guitar, playing chords and singing is difficult but doable while playing a melody and signing is very very difficult. For me I have to get it together for every song that I learn.

As far as multi tasking while playing, it's all muscle memory. Once it becomes muscle memory you can do it without thinking about it, and it is actually easier if you don't. once you have that for any particular song then it isn't a big deal.
#24
Bah... I have the opposite problem. I used to be jamming with my band and suddenly find myself thinking about anything but my guitar. I remember thinking about food, girlfriend, school... It was bad sometimes, because I couldn't really get into the music.

I remember about two or three times when I simply forgot what we were playing, and messed up everything. Embarassing
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