Friday, April 11, 2008

The book I should be writing

I was at a book store with a friend today. A book store with music section.

"You know", I said, "There's lots of books called How to Play the Guitar. There are two right there. What I need is How to Play Better."

"How to Not Suck", he helpfully suggested.


There are certain things you must do to condition yourself, to not suck. The first thing you must do, I believe, is to play with other people in front of other people. I suppose the 'with other people' part might not be necessary. I don't know that folkie fingerstyle singers really need to weave tapestries of DADGAD notes with other people, but 'in front of other people' is necessary. This is necessary because, when you perform, you must get it right the first time. When you practice and you blow a note, you can always start over. When you're one of a band, and especially when you're in front of an audience, you have to keep going once you've blown it. A necessary but not sufficient requirement of Not Sucking is playing through your errors, of disguising them and certainly not stopping. (See the Closer To Fine lesson for a great example.)

What are other ways to not suck? What else can I do so I, too, can not suck?


Pribek said...

Here's something I've heard old Lou Whitney say many times: "This music was never meant for close inspection. It was never meant to be held up to a microscope."
If you are practicing alone, that's exactly the tendency, to inspect every note and nuance, instead of an overall picture.
All music is meant for community, even solo performance of woven tapestry. If you are doing that and the audience isn't part of the show-you're doing it wrong.
I tell people,"the best thing you can do is play live, every chance you get" and, 99 times out of a hundred, they head back to the shed to practice more.
Playing live is the best way to train the ear, learn time, learn phrasing, dynamics and find your voice as opposed to analyzing another's. There is no substitute. No substitute but, playing gigs is a shortcut. You learn more in one gig than you do in 10 rehearsals.
Part of it too, is having other players to lean on. When your not carrying all the weight, like you do when practicing alone, progress is rapid.
It's really all about communication.

Ken Skinner said...

You just hit my current philosophy on the head. My challenge now is finding that forum for live performance or playing with others.

I have a feeling the open mic thing is my best option. In my limited experience, even just the knowledge that a 'live' performance is coming up is enough to make you focus on making something sound musical as opposed to getting it right. I mean, you can practice to the point that your scales sound perfect in every way... but nobody's gonna get up and start dancing to them, are they?

It's interesting to me that you're a fan of the Indigo Girls. I've loved their stuff for a long time. It's amazing to me, the variety they can get in their songs even though many of them are based on the same 3 chords. It goes to show that rhythm the vocal harmony are critical elements.

I know I won't win many friends on most guitar forums, but when you take technical excellence to the extreme (as some players aspire to in terms of bpm, sweeping arpeggios etc), you often lose soul. I prefer the Neil Young philosophy, that a performance should be 'honest', even if that means it contains mistakes. At least you know you're listening to a person and not a computer.

Right now my performances are a little TOO honest for most people's tastes...