Mike Philippov is a guitarist in progressive rock and neoclassical styles and an expert in guitar technique and guitar practice training.
Posted Jan 29, 2013 11:38 AM
One problem that a lot of guitarists share is inability to come up with more creative music on their instrument. What makes this problem even worse is feeling that you are helpless to improve this area of your guitar playing, even after spending much time to achieve this goal.
If you can relate to this, then you certainly know how frustrating it is when you try to recreate the musical vision in your mind only to fall back on the collection of mindless licks that your hands can play. It may seem that this problem doesn't have a solution, especially if you are used to hearing that one's amount of creative potential as a musician is limited by natural talent. I certainly remember how depressing it felt to think such thoughts in the process of building my own musical skills.
Although the above situation is very common, there DOES exist a real tangible method for developing musical creativity on guitar. If you cannot dismiss the conventional wisdom about the "need" to be talented in order to become musically creative, realize that 'only' those who are not high level musicians make such ignorant statements, and you will be hard-pressed to find a world-class musician to support this myth.
Nonetheless, there are a number of explanations as to why only a small number of guitar players become creative musicians. Here are some of them:
1. Most guitar players aren't aware of 'what' they need to do/practice to achieve higher levels of creativity.
2. A lot of guitarists consider creativity in music to be an isolated practice item that is meant to be learned as a single skill, similar to learning a song on guitar or memorizing a new scale. Because of this, these guitar players look for an isolated item to play/practice on guitar to reach this goal. The truth is however, that creativity in guitar playing and music is not an individual "thing/item" that you practice, but rather a result that appears from being able to use 'several' guitar playing skills (that on the surface seem disconnected). Think about the process of learning to be fluent in a foreign language. To speak fluently, it isn't enough to ONLY learn 'a lot of words' or to 'only' master the rules of syntax or 'only' work on your pronunciation. You must do all of these tasks simultaneously in order to develop the same command of a language that native speakers possess.
3. A big number of musicians mix up the concepts of being 'original' in your guitar playing with being a 'creative' musician. Originality refers to doing something radically new in music in attempt to stand out from all other guitar players. In contrast, 'musical creativity' is about making music that sounds inspiring, creative and fulfilling 'to you', no matter what the others think. It is very important to be clear on the definitions of terms because the more you understand about what your true goals are, the more accurately (and faster) you will be able to reach them.
The full inventory of items you need to practice to develop creativity in music is too big to be fully addressed in a few pages of text. In this article I want to talk in more detail about one of the contributing elements to musical creativity, which involves visualization of the guitar neck. There are 2 reasons why I want to talk about this skill here: First, this particular musical skill will help you right away to see substantial progress in your creative abilities. Second, this component of guitar playing creativity often isn't practiced nearly as much as it should be. Developing total control over the guitar in this way will give you the keys to unlocking other elements of musical creativity.
It is possible to train the mastery of the guitar neck in multiple ways that all combine to help you develop this skill and I will list a few of them below. As you read the rest of this article, observe the fact that the practice approaches I discuss all overlap with each other in different ways to allow your visualization of the guitar neck to develop more fully.
To practice your guitar fretboard visualization, you must:
1. Learn To Recall The Notes On Guitar
The most obvious skill you must develop to make yourself a better songwriter or improviser is the ability to recall EVERY note on the guitar neck. In addition, you need to be able to do this instantaneously, without having to think about the note names any more than you think about the names of the months in a year. Many guitar players stop after they develop the skill to merely 'find' the name of any note on guitar after several seconds of thought. This is not enough for you to truly benefit from this knowledge in your guitar playing and you must work towards a much more intuitive command of the note names on your instrument. To help you to do this, watch the free video lesson learning the neck of the guitar (link at the bottom of the article).
2. Master Scales All Across The Guitar Neck
This is a skill that you need to work on separately from learning individual note names on guitar. There are some guitar players who have memorized the note names for every fret of the guitar, but have never worked on playing scales in more than one area of the guitar neck. As a result, their superior knowledge of individual notes is of limited value to them because it is not connected with a more tangible musical element of scale playing.
If practicing scales in this way is new to you, then you can expect to see quite dramatic improvements in your creativity on guitar once you learn to play scales all over the fretboard instead of only in 1-2 areas of the guitar neck.
3. Learn What Chord And Interval Shapes Look Like On The Guitar Fretboard
One rarely mentioned skill that is nonetheless critically important for complete mastery of the guitar fretboard is the ability to visualize the patterns (shapes) of frets that form intervals, scales, chords and general licks you play on guitar. This will enable you to play a note on your instrument and immediately know where to find a chord, interval or scale pattern based on that note. This skill will greatly speed up (and make easier) the process of expressing yourself creatively on guitar.
4. Play Guitar In Different Keys
As guitar players, we often get used to playing in certain keys that are easier due to taking advantage of the natural properties of this instrument (such as open strings). That being said, in order to expand your total control of the guitar neck and your creativity along with it, you need to test your ability to quickly transpose all of your comfortable guitar parts into totally random and obscure keys. Note that even though it is quite simple to understand in theory what it means to slide a certain scale fingering from the key of A major to the key of Eb major (for instance), doing so will still make it more difficult for you to play guitar until you become comfortable with visualizing the guitar neck in this unusual key. If you get yourself to spend time working on this task while practicing, you will find it much easier for yourself to feeling confident with playing creative music on guitar.
After reading the points above, it should be easy to see that building musical creativity on guitar does not revolve around tricks or secrets that only the "naturally talented few" are born with. Although there is a lot more to the general topic of creative guitar playing than what I have time to explore in this article, the practicing steps for developing visualization of guitar fretboard can be done by anyone and the result will be a much higher level of freedom and control over expressing yourself on guitar.
To get more advice and help about developing both your mastery of the guitar neck and musical creativity, study this free guitar lesson video:
Video about learning the neck of the guitarAbout The Author:
Mike Philippov is a recording artist, guitar teacher and author. His articles on practicing guitar are read worldwide. On his website you can find more free resources and lessons on improving your guitar playing.