I'm NOT Going To Tell You How To Play Your Own Instrument But...

After reading of a couple of treads here, apparently from the guys who want to increase speed and/or improve their overall technique, I figured that I should submit one of my comments as an article.

Ultimate Guitar


After reading of a couple of treads here, apparently from the guys who want to increase speed and/or improve their overall technique, acquire more of a natural yet comfortable feel when playing, learn how to relax the arm, get rid of the tension or whatever similar in kind and nature, I figured that I should submit one of my comments as an article since it turned out to be apparently a bit too lengthy for a comment within the means of a forum.

A Little About My Own Guitar-Related Experience

I have been playing guitar for some three decades, since before I went to school. There was music school for for kids, then music college, then my graduation etc., then some work for a couple of municipal institutions. But my first and my very best guitar teacher and consultant in a field of music at all times was my Dad. Because he actually taught me what the whole concept of playing and making music is about, where to get it from, how to tweak it up so as to make one of my own kind and how to apply it so that I would be able to figure out things on my own, teach myself and actually MAKE MUSIC, not just play an instrument.

What Is A Concept And Where Does It Come From?

During all this time until now, I've witnessed numerous debates and arguments over whatever is correct or incorrect and learned that there's really no such thing as correct or incorrect, or proper vs. improper. For starters, we need to bear in mind that every single human being is one and only of their own unique kind. That's why people have ways about doing things. Something that works for one may not essentially work for another. However, it takes quite a bit of homework in a way of researching of what's out there, did it work for anybody at all, how many did it work for and, most importantly, HOW. Not in the sense of HOW WELL, although it's also important, but actually HOW. What did the whole process was like? What kind of outcome was it producing at different stages of the progress? What factors caused this kind of outcome at each stage? Answers to these questions would give us a certain formula, pattern or algorithm for a sequence of actions which would, in turn, get us to the point where the result is finally achieved. But... Wait a minute... We're talking about THEM. What's up with us? In order to answer this question we need to raise a few other ones. What are the reasons why it worked for them? What do we want to achieve eventually? Is it really the same or is it just similar? How do we know that we got it when we get to that point? What is it that us and them got in common? Well, first of all, we need to know whether something that they initially had as a goal in the state of their perception is anything different, similar or the same as the one that we have. There well may be different routes to get to the same destination, but as sure as anything, the routes to the different destinations will be different as well. Say, we're trying to use a map. What good is it for us if we don't know where we're going? Or, we're trying to use some directions to get to the destination. What if our destination is similar, but still somehow different? In this case, we perhaps need to make some alterations to that route. What if the means that we have are different than the ones used by others? Now, back to the road map. It is likely to be drawn or drafted by somebody who already got to that particular point via this particular route and using these particular means. In order to use the same route, we need to have the same place as our destination and have the same means as the author of the map. Otherwise we need to figure out a different route. So, to answer one of the questions, as to why it (the route, or formula, pattern or algorithm if you will) worked for them is because they were going to that particular place and had these particular means (or limitations on their means) at their disposal. And, another reason why it worked for them is because they were apparently able to figure out something else here which is even more important than the route itself. They were able to get a hold of a part of their human nature, some kind of a natural sense of direction, that helped them set that PARTICULAR destination, examine the means and figure out a route accordingly. And that is something that answers another question. What is it that we have in common? The answer is OUR NATURE as humans. We all have that natural sense of direction in us, it's just the matter of waking it up in you and not allowing anything which seems to make sense at first sight, interfere with it. That's where we get our CONCEPT from. How do we do that? One of the first things to understand is that nobody will EVER be able to just give it to you. Especially if they're trying to sell you some kind of a "method", a "cure", a "solution" or the like which "is proven to work" usually in a series of some tapes, DVDs, books etc. These things may well turn out to be useful, but ONLY to a certain extent and with an implication that the buyer would have a certain understanding and common sense. Seriously, what if you don't understand what they're talking about in that DVD? It's a good thing to have if you can afford it, but only as a supplement to your OWN research and it is nothing but a mere expression of the author of that "package" of how THEY understand the subject. So, there goes the road map I was talking about just before. Now, back to our nature and how we use it. Get a big picture. Sounds familiar?

Getting More Specific

I have been teaching guitar for quite sometime by now, had some advanced students who's hands I had to correct. It is actually a great thing if someone apparently realizes that something must've been wrong. Who said a wrist and not the arm? I will explain in just a little bit. May turn out quite lenghty but I hope that helps, just trying to give you a bit of a shortcut which would be fairly clear in a way of the method and it's algorithm. Once you address, understand and start to feel this algorithm (YOUR OWN natural road map), it will start doing the work for you naturally (don't get me wrong, it's not going to play your guitar or make music for you).

As To The Hands In Particular

I found out several years ago from watching this one video, it may, in a long run, cause a bit of a health problem with the wrist if you're consciously trying to use only that for picking. The video is made by one of the prominent drummers though, just don't seem to remember who it was, but the point is, doing it the correct way from the prospective of natural physiology of a human body is applicable to ALL of the instruments. He was saying that because of him using his wrists for quite a while, he actually ended up in a hospital. I BS you not, that's what HE said. And he was already a working drummer by then. After that, as according to his statement, he had to eventually learn the correct way. And at the end of the day, it's not all that difficult. When I was at the college, my teacher really helped me understand of what the so-called proper way is about. And, that goes, like I said before, for just about any instrument. The proper way is to use the WEIGHT and not the muscles. And here's how it works. The weight has it's natural potential to produce power and energy. It's just a matter of giving it an impulse and setting it on it's way in a certain direction (like, for instance, casting a rock) and then keeping on steering it if need be (like skateboarding). May seem a bit too deep, some food for thought, but once you get the feel of it, it's going to become a part of your nature just like breathing. Just like we don't need to think of how we're holding the fork when we eat, or how we're taking steps when we walk because it's something we had learned at once upon a time, so it became natural to us. And quite for sure, it doesn't even cross our mind how we inhale air when we breath. Because that has ALWAYS been a part of our nature. The way our body works when we make all kinds of different moves ranging from really noticeable to the slightest ones, is directed by the electric impulses traveling through neurons which constitute our nervous system. They travel in a way of complex codes and yet so fast (a speed of an electric impulse equals a speed of light), so we're not even aware of it or don't realize it. But we can feel it if we pay a little closer attention. There's always an ongoing communication between our whole perception, our heart, our soul, our spirit, our mind and all of the parts of our entire body. Those impulses obviously use our muscles to coordinate our moves, in other words, to coordinate the amounts of the WEIGHT of our body applied in different directions in order to produce a move. Although some moves seem very slight and subtle, it takes participation of the entire body. Because, once again, it's part of our nature. You're probably about to ask me, why am I typing all this gribbish? How about we get to the point? I'm doing so, because, once we understand this part of our nature, we can apply it to a whole variety of tasks, not only making music. And, it is especially important for us, musicians, because we're obviously different from the majority of other folks out there. But, you may ask, what does that have to do with my playing guitar? Okay. I just thought of something. Whenever you get a chance, just pick any kind of a small thing around your house, say, a cell phone, a pen, a book, it doesn't matter. Then just pick it up by hand and then put it back. Did that feel natural? Then ask yourself: "Which parts of the body did I use to do that?" Then think of those same parts and do the same thing by using those parts ONLY. Why would you need to use any other parts of the body? Logically? What did it feel like the second time? So, there goes your tension. And, there goes an answer to all of the "logical" and "critical thinkers". Logic by itself does not produce anything, it can only work in reverse, in order to reverse engineer something that already exists (by the way, the same goes for the whole idea of music theory, first there was music and only did Pythagorus invent the theory to it based on mathematics afterwards). What I'm saying here is that it doesn't start with whether it's a wrist or an arm that we use when we play. It starts with an overall natural feel. Using of it's own weight to make moves is natural for the body whereas using muscles without weight calls for extra effort which not only feels uncomfortable but makes the body work against itself. Now, that we're through with the part that pertains to the nature, we can proceed to some homework if you don't mind.
  • Part 1. With all this being said, what do you think is the most natural move in the way of playing guitar? Most of us, when we first started learning how to play, probably started with just regular strumming if I am correct. That's when our body works in it's natural way as far as playing. Otherwise, just for giggles, try using only muscles without weight and see what it would feel like. The idea here is minimizing the use of the muscles. Pick a bar chord and give it some strums. Stop for a moment and try to capture that sensation. What did it feel like? Try repeating it several times until you'd realize that it feels comfortable and natural. You're probably strumming naturally somewhere fairly close to the fretboard or the neck pickup (that's going to give you the fuller and richer tone in the long run but we'll get to it at some other time if you would like to). Now pick any note somewhere in the middle of the fretboard, mute the rest of the strings with your left hand as you're holding the note and apply this same feel to that note and strum on it for a little bit. Do the same thing as you did with the chord. Few strums and stop. Again. And until it starts to feel natural. Now try any sequence of notes, maybe a part of a scale at a slow pace going downstrum to upstrum from one note to another. Keep your attention on what that feels like. Then you can try a whole scale, probably to the metronome. By the way, a slow and deep breathing would be very helpful if you get a chance, but it's not something to essentially sweat over at this point. Try to shut off the part of the mind that's trying to overanalyze things logically. The whole idea here is not about strumming per sei, but is about capturing, understanding and storing a sample of that natural feel and it's flow. Once it's there, all it takes is to recall it and apply it to the music.
  • Part 2. I'll give you a couple of great examples of the players who, I'm sure, you know. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. When you get a chance, watch either one of them play, let's say, on youtube and try to capture how they produce their sound on guitar.
  • Part 3. If you got any backing tracks such as midi files which there are dime and a dozen of them for free online (may sound somewhat cheezy, I know, but you can mute out everything else besides of just drums and bass), it would be awesome if you could find some kind of easy jam tracks for blues or funk and mess around with a regular penthatonic scale or a blues scale in the same way as you started with that chord, note, sequence at part 1, because those are likely to have similar fingering patterns (pretty much within a regular bar chord) on the fretboard. Try not to worry about hitting other strings, or you can just mute them out with your left hand. Because, the more you're concerned, the greater that tension. Music is about fun, isn't it? So just keep jamming. Believe me, it will start to get more and more precise once you start getting used to that natural pace.
  • Part 4. Try to do the same thing with all of your licks, scales, arpeggios etc. As you did with that chord, note and a sequence of notes at Part 1.

    One more thing

    The overall concept of practicing is the one of a creative research rather then just drilling scales and licks or even parts of the tunes. Thanks for reading. Any questions are more than welcome at anytime.
  • 13 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Ray Man X
      Hey guys Thanks for taking out of your valuable time to check out my humble article.Originally it was a post,was trying to help a fellow player to get rid of the tension in his right hand which is not uncommon amongst shredders,unfortunately,before it would develop into more of a serious issue.Took a bit of labor,i got to say,fellas.Like i stated in there,this comes from my own experience and understanding.This is the map that i used and it worked and is still working for me.I posted it without prejudice,not for the sake of getting into any debates or arguments,but merely in the hopes that someone else would be use it to their advantage. Metalloy,believe it or not,i only got on this site a day or two ago.On and for the record,i've never even see your article,but i sure am interested in reading it.I'm always open to learn how others understand the same subject.Any link you could give me? Seriously,i'm very interested.Logical reasoning,i'm going to leave that one open for now.Like i said,i'm not here to debate,argue or try to have the last word at all costs.I'm just not THAT kind of guy. James,you sound like you hear where i'm coming from and where i'm going with that.Here's something else that crossed my mind.The movie "Matrix"."....What good is a phone call if you can't speak?...."Speaking of....speaking.Something else i came about to realize several years back.One can teach a parrot how to speak.Would you think the parrot would be able to understand what it's talking about?Although,some birds can sing because that's part of their nature.That's what i mean by a natural feel.Apparently we are not born natural guitar players,but i am a firm believer that if we understand how our nature works,we will be able to get there. Once again,many thanks for reading.Keep on rocking!
      OK, long article but nevertheless VERY interesting. I quote: "The overall concept of practicing is a creative research rather than just drilling scales, licks or even parts of a tune". There's an extra angle: I happened to be backstage with Muddy Waters a zillion years ago. He boldy stated "hey you white boy! The SPACE between notes is what counts".
      hello Ray Man, that was a long article, I salut you for the effort But I must say you seem to be referring to the article I posted earlier, about losing tension, and I just want to point out 2 points: 1) when I talked about picking using the wrist, arm and combination of both, I specified when to use each so there will be no tension, and ultimately your wrist wont be hurt, and the drummer example is not really related for drummers can easily abuse their wrists. 2) Natural movement comes from repetitive pratice of logically done movement, and that is in guitar practice or anything else really; when you first started playing guitar I'm sure you spent quite some time slowly practicing changing chords or going through a simple scale, and after awhile it feels natural. Now I agree that one shouldnt overthink it, but logical reasoning and practicing with a little mind effort that might cause some tension itself is necessery at first to lay the foundation, playing naturally comes second. Thanks again for your contribution.
      James Scott
      As for the first part, it chimes with what a lot of teachers (and contributors here) are getting at when they talk about setting goals. A road map is no use when you don't know where you're going. A lot of people set out to "learn guitar" (or any instrument) with no idea what they want to achieve from it musically, or what part they want their music to play in their lives. Someone who is learning guitar to pick up chicks at parties is going to need to learn completely different things in a completely different order for someone who wants to be the world's fastest sweep picker and tour the world. A good teacher will talk to you about your aims, both in terms of the music you want to play, but also about what you want your guitar playing to do for you - a bad teacher will just teach the same to all their students because it's easier and because they don't care about them as musicians or people. Get the right teacher and you can avoid years of boredom and frustration.
      Ray Man X
      Metalloy,my bad,i just realized that you're referring to your post in the same thread.Yes,i did read it and absolutely agree about moving the shoulder.That's how the body participates in a move naturally,but it sounds odd,because we don't quite get to realize it due to subtlety of that part of the move.What threw me off is a couple of things.When you said "article" i thought of an article as a column or a blog.And you used a different name,if i'm correct.
      what thread? now I'm confused XD I'm talking about the "comfortable playing". I thought you were reffering to it, apperently it was a coincidence anyway I'm looking forward to read more from you, I like your way of thinking
      Good Ol' Ramos
      Holy goodness. Glad to see that a post on a forum inspired a rant of intelligent proportions rather than angry ones. Thanks. It validates how I feel about teaching myself to play. There's no order to it. There's no rigidity. You just have to... play. It's hard to explain, but those who do it know just what I'm saying. It'll come naturally if you just loosen up.
      just before I looked at the check ov $4263, I didnt believe ...that...my brothers friend was like actualey earning money part time at their laptop.. there moms best frend had bean doing this less than nine months and resantly cleard the morgage on there appartment and purchased a gorgeous Alfa Romeo. I went here, http://www.yahoo.com.qr.net/ka35
      I reall liked this article, it appealed to all senses with hands on examples and explanations. Very intelligent and helpful.