Last timewe examined the training approaches and routines of great players like Pete Thorn. We learned the importance of going beyond the notes when learning a favorite piece of music and the importance of challenging yourself to play a new style.
Let’s get back to that in a moment!
I first heard Patrick Hay (fons.app/@patrickhay) play on singer/songwriter Matt Singer’s outstanding 2008 EP. the drought, and I was moved and inspired by his subtle creativity. More recently, Patrick has toured internationally and recorded with Brooklyn band Great Elk, and currently teaches virtual guitar.
Patrick recommends taking a lick you already know and learning it in as many different ways as you can find your neck, even if the results are unorthodox.
He explains, “This expands your knowledge of the fretboard and also helps with phrasing because you can play things in registers you wouldn’t normally play.”
item 6 illustrates how you can do this with a simple blues guitar phrase you probably already know. (Time codes in music notation refer to specific moments in the video.)
Notice how Patrick’s unconventional thinking leads to something unexpected and fun in the last bar. Also, be sure to check out his recommended fingerings for the tricky passages!
Oscar Bautista (opens in new tab) is one of the most versatile players I know. He is a session and Broadway guitarist who he is currently touring with Pretty Woman: The Musical.
Oscar told me he’s constantly working on his tone, timing and technique, both recording himself and critique of the playback, and he highly recommends this to anyone.
To the Ex7a, put yourself in Oscar’s shoes and sit in the pit band for a Broadway show. The phrase isn’t overly difficult technically, but would you be able to play it confidently and in time knowing that your guitar could take center stage on this part of the show?
On Broadway, it is also the guitarist’s responsibility to shape guitar tones for each part he or she plays. To facilitate this, Oscar uses the same method to critique his tone and choice of effects.
For the music in Item 7b, he went with a Leslie Effect. what would be your choice
Oscar shows that listening with the intent to objectively critique your own game can help you improve faster.
I have known Mark Marshall (opens in new tab) since the mid-2000s when we met after a show at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall.
Known for his creative play and tones, Mark has been performing as a sideman and in his own bands for years. He also now spends much of his time working on composing and recording projects that span a remarkable range of styles and draw on all manner of instruments and sounds.
Mark recommends improving your ability to play what you hear via a concept he learned called “HSP” – “listen, sing, play.”
First, choose a simple chord progression, like the one in Ex8a. Then record yourself singing short melodic phrases while strumming the chords. Finally, listen again to figure out those melodies on the guitar and experiment with adding bends, slides, vibrato, etc. to bring them to life. (Hmm, along with Pete Thorns, here’s another mention of that same kind of attention to “touch” detail!)
See Item 8b for one of Mark’s sample tunes, along with a way to play it on guitar. Now try to find one of your own!
Sure, this doesn’t feel like you’re using your practice time to play scales or learn your favorite guitar solo. But HSP gives you a concrete way to actually practice making your playing more musical.
Trust that this time is well spent as it will set you on the path to finding your own voice. Try it once!
Molly Miller (opens in new tab) has recorded and toured with major label artists such as Jason Mraz and the Black Eyed Peas. She is currently Chair of the Guitar Department at Los Angeles College of Music and also leads her Molly Miller Trio.
For Molly, a great way to improve your improvisational skills is to focus on chordal voicing – how each individual voice moves from chord to chord within a chord.
“You create a melody whether you compose [playing chords] or play solo,” she explains.
Molly emphasizes that melody is key to improvisation, so for our purposes she focuses on the top voice. The guitarist takes a simple chord progression, like the one in Ex. 9aand first keeps the same melody note above each chord (Item 9b).
Then she recommends trying other variations, such as moving the melody up, as in Ex 9c.
Finally, Molly demonstrates how this can directly improve your improvisational skills, using the same approach, only now you treat it more like a solo (Ex. 9d).
This is a fun and unique way to approach improvisation. But remember what Molly says: “Melody, melody, melody!”
Jeff Berner (opens in new tab) spent over a decade as a guitarist in the English experimental band Psychic TV and has done everything from running admissions clinics to designing presets for Eventide effects.
He is now a producer/engineer/mixer based in Brooklyn, NY.
Jeff sent this along: “I would try to learn vocal lines from records, paying close attention to phrasing, rhythm, spacing and note choice. There is a surprising amount to learn by focusing on all of these qualities.”
As we saw with Pete Thorn and Mark Marshall, here’s another great player who tells us that when you focus on the “small” things, you’re actually working on the big things that matter. As an example, Jeff recorded the first few bars of the melody of the traditional Celtic folk song “Molly Malone” (Item 10).
The most notable thing seen in both the tab and the audio is everything that Jeff hasn’t done here as he mainly just uses some subtle uses of vibrato and slides.
I asked him about that choice, to which he thoughtfully replied, “I think it’s worth trying to keep it simple and reflect the vocal phrasing. I imagined Bill Frizel to play!”
Finally I turned around Joel Hoekstra (opens in new tab), currently by Whitesnake and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I was lucky enough to meet Joel before he became a rock titan when he played on my self-titled first album in 2006.
His playing can be lyrical and subtle, but I also knew that Joel certainly wouldn’t disappoint if I wanted to end this lesson with some fun, offbeat rock guitar madness.
Nobody shreds like Joel, and he demonstrates how we can use our imaginations to make something ordinary new and exciting.
in the Ex. 11a, the guitarist shows us one of his red-hot legato licks. Here he combines two adjacent, overlapping positions of the Am pentatonic scale (A, C, D, E, G), with traditional two notes per string, into one that expands to three notes per string.
Then in Item 11bhe goes completely off the rails and extends it to four notes per string with a tapping lick that uses two fingers of his plucking hand.
Now some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, this is just not my thing.” But I would encourage you to take the leap of faith and just spend a few minutes having some fun with it. Remember that Bess Rogers and Gilber Gilmore both challenged themselves to play something new, each with surprising results.
Alongside the funny licks, Joel was also keen to convey these words: “I’m really glad I learned everything I learned. Keep an open mind and work on the music. Every moment you spend doing this improves your hands and your ears and consequently makes it easier to learn other things.
“Be productive every day! It’s a daily process.”
So it’s the same for Joel as it is for the rest of us.
Have a question or comment about this lesson? Don’t hesitate to reach out to Jeff on Twitter at @jjmusicmentor or at jeffjacobson.net (opens in new tab).