This week after watching many of my friends and colleagues attend The NAMM Show, I was amazed at the sheer amount of new music gear marketed to us at breakneck speed. Every new product selling you the consumer the idea that their magic box will revolutionize your guitar playing. It's a term often touted at the show, with few companies living up to the hype. NAMM- what started as a standardized merchandiser and marketing conference for national music retailers to get a look at new industry products before sale launch dates, has turned into one of the "guitar"-events of the year. NAMM was even trending on Twitter for a while throughout the show! The conference has done a complete morph over the years, going from a yearly product show to act as a showcase to potential dealers to a full out weekend style festival with guitars, bassists, and YouTubers showing up to document the event.
Many of my friends went to the show this week, including Berklee graduate and session drummer Vinnie Parma and Holly West- bassist for the female-led Zeppelin tribute band Zepparella. Yes, there's a feeling of selling snake oil going on at NAMM. We have to continually feel the need to feed the consumerism side of the music business. And while it can be fun and gratifying to regularly be in the pursuit of new tones, sounds, and instruments, don't buy all in on the idea that getting the latest toy of the moment will always improve how you are heard musically by audiences. Often what gets you're the YES you're looking for, whether it's on joining a band, playing with friends, or booking studio sessions is the attitude behind the notes you play. There's a famous Miles Davis quote that goes: "only 20% of the energy of a single note is the note itself. The other 80% is the "mutha****** who played it."
The point is musicians grab your attention with the intention, purpose, and confidence behind the notes they play, not with the use of the latest gadget. Below I'm going to give some examples of ways you can improve your attitude and confidence behind the fingerboard! I use these tips every day, whether I'm getting ready for a recording session, a lesson, or just playing for myself!
Conducting a Proper Warm-Up:
After playing for nearly 17 years, I never could quite get used to practicing any drills as warm-ups. Practicing music exercises always bored me and didn't naturally let me feel they were connecting to anything I played musically. So, instead of playing drills for a 10 to 15 min warm-up, I usually play improvised, musical lines around the entire fingerboard. I focus not on speed, but accuracy with feeling. Remember, if there is no feeling you aren't making music, you are merely playing an exercise. While things like playing chromatically up the neck, or working up alternate picking, can be a great way to check the intonation of your instrument, they don't get the blood flowing, in the same way, using all of your technique to make music does. Trying to simulate this will get you better-faster because you're always practicing musicality!
What is the purpose of a "warm-up"?
Sports like baseball, golf, and swimming, for example, train athletes to loosen up their bodies in specific ways for optimum performance. Learning to do a consistent warm-up can get the blood running to your hands so you can physically loosen up, they can help you dial in your tone faster with your ears, and help you with relaxing during performances. My warm-ups tend to be10-15 mins long musical jams in keys I like playing in. Sometimes I try to play music I hear in my head. It's all meant to be a fun way to begin to develop a sense of musical discipline. If you want to take your warm-up to the next level, try playing in perfect time while improvising a solo.
Work on Developing Your Character within Your Sound:
Style is all about personality. Every real guitarist's sound reflects who they are as a person in the same way any human fingerprint would be unique to any individual. Listen to any of your favorite guitarists. Chances are they all sound like their souls are connected to the instrument itself. My favorite guitarist, I like to use, for example, 's sake is Jimi Hendrix. You can hear Jimi Hendrix's very personal sounding anger on songs like "Machine Gun" or in his rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner. " You can listen to Hendrix show off his tranquility in "May This Be Love & "Rainy Day, Dream Away." You can hear Hendrix sound even hopeful on songs like "Little Wing"-yet no matter the song, he still sounds undeniably Jimi.
Embrace things when they don't quite sound identical to how other guitarists play them because they might be the blossoms of your unique, developing style. Your idea of the right combination of notes, phrases and phrasing, tone, musicality, and intention behind every note make all the difference!
Self-Confidence in Belief vs. Musical Ability:
As is the case in both auditions and live performances, the strength of belief in your level of confidence can overcome the performance of players with much better technique. While being able to play the most complex musical exercises can undoubtedly showcase the level of your talent, part of getting an excellent performance is the ability to give the audience the feeling that the music they are hearing is real and full of passion. If another musician has incredible technique but can't put emotion into a song, or comes across as timid, your convictions in your own note choice and tone will sound better. Primarily, your confidence in your playing can sell your talents to both band leaders, booking agents, and audiences! I also can't overstate the advantage of just being a nice person throughout the audition process. Shake hands, smile, and being a kind person will also go a long way!
Embracing the Flukes in Your Playing:
Many of the things in my musical vocabulary are the learned flukes and mistakes in my playing. Where I fail to become my heroes through my phrasing, but instead learned incorrectly and kept playing it "my way." I have a thing about not trying to duplicate anything in my playing from night to night accurately; this helps me land in different endings on the same starting phrases, etc. Edward Van Halen had a similar approach that he mused was "identical to falling down the stairs but still landing on your feet." It helps makes guitar playing stay fresh when you play daily.
Many students attempt learning the note for note approach, i.e., like David Gilmour's note for note soloing technique. While this can sound incredible, as evidenced in David Gilmour's approach to soloing, it is a more straightforward, safer approach to playing. Instead, try practicing a method to merely feeling something in musical key out over the set amount of measures set aside for a solo. You can use the same notes every time you solo, but try using them to tell a different version of the same story when you solo. A great way to work on this is to write an opening line for your solo, and then record several versions that branch out differently. It's a great way to achieve consistency with every performance.
Lastly, if you make any mistakes, do your best to incorporate them musically into your performance. Many of the most iconic solos of all time had errors in them. Eddie Van Halen famously made a mistake in the studio recording of his epic piece "Eruption," which still sits on the original record to this day. Every time he hears it, he can't stand it, but millions of fans painstakingly copied that mistake to the point where now the error itself has become a lick YOU MUST KNOW. Not only do these mistakes make your performances sound human, but they can also sometimes reflect the way you play. Please don't feel the need to edit them out!