On the face of it, the answer to this question seems obvious: guitar practise is simply playing and learning.
The trouble is, there can be a big difference between playing and learning. For instance, if you're playing something you already know well, are you learning anything? probably not.
Ok, you might say, in that case, practise is learning something new!
This is a better answer, but whether it's the whole answer will depend on why you're learning to play in the first place. If you want to learn a few songs to sing along to with your friends or just for your own amusement at home, then great, once you've mastered the basics then all you need to do is learn a new song and you're happy.
But what if you want to learn to play like your favourite guitarist, or even learn to be the best guitarist you can be?
In that case, just learning something new may not be enough.You have to ask yourself if what you're learning is actually going to get you closer to where you want to be. Is learning that new song progressing you, or is it just a variation on what you already know? If it's the latter, then it's not a useful element of your practise. Don't get me wrong, learning new songs of any kind is great, especially if you enjoy them: it broadens versatility and makes playing fun. All I'm saying is (if you really want to progress) it should be in addition to your practise routine, not part of it, or instead of it.
So what should Ilearn?
The quick answer is, 'anything you can't do'!
As I've hinted above, playing things which you already know how to play well may be reassuring, confidence boosting and more fun, but it won't make you any better!
This may seem blindingly obvious, but I think we've all had times when we begin practising something difficult, but get bored or disillusioned with the effort required and soon resort to playing something 'fun' instead. Then the important stuff never gets done! Often students tell me that they've practised for half an hour or an hour every day, but when we look at what they've actually practised, we might find that a lot of that time was spent simply playing other things they like.
Remember that's not practise, that's just playing!
Practising what we need to practise can be tedious and challenging, but remember why you're doing it and imagine how good you'll be if you keep on trying!
So, learn something that you find technically demanding and (more importantly) that will take you in the direction that you want to go.Don't waste a lot of time learning lots of styles which you aren't aiming to use. For instance, if you want to play death metal, don't spend a lot of time playing classical guitar; or if you want to be a folk guitarist, don't spend time learning to play fusion scales. The idea of being well rounded is good when you're learning the basics, but once you get to a certain level, learning too many unnecessary things only slows down your progress.
Focus on your Goals!
What if I don't have enough time to practise?
Finding enough time is a problem for most people. School, work, social life, family all takes priority, but again, remember why you want to play. Even if you only have five minutes it is better to use that for concentrated practise than to stare at the clock for five minutes thinking 'it's not long enough, so I won't bother'.
Obviously 5 minutes isn't long and more would be better, but if you use those five minutes every day you'll most likely progress further and faster than someone who practised for 1 hour on Sunday because 'there wasn't time the rest of the week'. Regular practise makes playing a habit and hones your skills; playing once or twice a week means you forget what you practised and have to start again every time!
Remember, a teacher can show you what to do, they can show you how to do it, but they can't do it for you!
Self motivation isthe key!
Technique Versus Feel: which is better?
That's a bit like saying, 'which is better, simple music, or complex music?'. To answer either question isn't easy.
Some musicians will insist that the pursuit of technical and theoretical excellence is the ultimate goal; that the more you can command your instrument - the more closely you are able to play absolutely anything you can imagine - then the more freely you are able to express yourself. And in at least one sense, this is absolutely true: a musician who is able to play anything he can imagine, regardless of how difficult it is to perform, is truly free of any limitations.
But here's the rub: the ability to imagine a song or piece of music does not in any way guarantee that it will be good, or that it will please anyone else. Or to put it another way, just because one musician has concocted the most fiendishly complex piece of music ever heard, doesn't mean that it has any artistic merit (and holding the title for world's most complicated or difficult music does not, in itself, justify artistic merit, no matter what anyone tells you!)
So, guitarists, tearing up and down a scale as fast as you possibly can in your solo is not artistic, honestly (and believe me, I've done it myself and will probably do it again!): It's wonderfully cathartic and can be impressive to some people, but unless it has some taste applied and some purpose it's just self indulgence.
So what, you might ask, does give your playing artistic merit? The obvious answer is that it depends on taste, and this is true; oneman's meat etc... But one general yardstick we can use is this: how does it make you feel, or more specifically, does it make you feel at all?
If the ONLY thing it makes you feel is, 'wow, that's fast!' then we might be tempted to say that it's not a valid artistic statement, but if it creates a mood or a particular feeling then we really might be onto something. it's really important to say at this point that complex, fast or difficult music really can do this, but I think there's a law of diminishing returns: the faster or more complex a piece/song becomes, the more difficult it becomes (or the more thought needs to be put in) in order for it to really move the listener. And that's another crucial point. As guitarists/musicians, we have to think about what benefits the song and not just our ego. The song or piece is the artistic object and the guitar solo (or whatever) is just an ornamentation of that (We might even ask if we need a guitar solo for this particular song!).But if we play just the right notes, at just the right time, with just the right feel, that solo can lift a song, and it can really fly.
So think of guitar work that is an integral part of a song,a solo that you've heard that so fits the song that it would be impossible to imagine it not being there. Try George Harrison's guitar break on Something:simple but perfect. Or Gary Moore's guitar on Parisienne Walkways (an example of a technically gifted guitarist keeping it really simple except for a fewchoice moments), Or Jeff Beck on Nadia; perfect restraint and taste, yet astonishing technique.
Remember, there are a hell of a lot of fast guitarists out there and some of them have taste, style and feeling in abundance, but for the rest, you have to ask, what are they really saying, what are they really making you feel?
When you're learning as a guitarist the study of good technique is important, but If you're a serious guitarist, interested in making original music, there are two overriding considerations:
Mood and feel .
Technique is great, but we have to remember, it's only a means to an end: we learn good technique not because it's an end in itself but ONLY because it enables us to create mood and feel. Lose that and you're just showing off.
And ask yourself, are you playing to an audience of guitarists only, the sort of people who might be impressed by fretboard pyrotechnics, or, are you playing to a real audience? A real audience wants to FEELthe music ; a real audience wants to be MOVED!
This is Tom Waits talking about (amongst other things) Keith Richards:
"You know, in the old days they said that the sound of the guitar could cure gout and epilepsy, sciatica and migranes. I think that nowadays there seems to be a deficit of wonder. And Keith seems to still wonder about this stuff. He will stop and hold his guitar up and just stare at it for a while. Just be rather mystified by it. Like all the great things in the world, women and religion and the sky ... you wonder about it, and you don't stop wondering about it."
"A deficit of wonder"? I like that - and I think it may be true. I aim to up my "wonder" quotient!
This is the first blog on the first day of the new website. I expect it'll be the first of many!
When I began teaching, I knew that it would be important to build a good relationship with students. Obviously, a good relationship means that the student is happier and more motivated, but it was a while before I realised that the teacher could get as much from that relationship as the student does. Gradually you realise that you form friendships and bonds and that you become part of a community of people with shared goals and experiences (not always guitar related!). If only for that reason, this is a wonderful job.
Long may it continue!