Guitar Lessons

DISCIPLINE - Part OneIt is necessary to understand and to appreciate physical memory in order to build the necessary discipline into your practice sessions. Think about when you first learned to ride a bike. At first you were unsure and lacked the skills needed to interpret the feedback you were receiving from the bike. The learning of that process was simply physical and
no amount of thinking, planning, surmising or intellectualising would help you to recognise the feelings you were getting from the bike and translate them into the necessary counter balance. Once the skill was acquired it became second nature.

Now playing the guitar requires you to learn and remember physical actions in the same way. If you pay attention a clean phrase will always "feel" better than a rushed or stumbled phrase, most musicians recognise this, but this is beside the point. Going back to the bike analogy for a second, when you were learning to ride did you do it slowly or
did you get on the bike and pedal hell for leather? Well most people start off slowly because there is an element of risk involved and so they learn in the proper way (in one respect). Unfortunately the same risks do not apply to playing the guitar. You can begin to learn at break neck speed so let's do that, what can it hurt? Well actually it hurts your
playing. By playing a phrase badly and repeating that phrase it becomes ingrained, part of your style. Anything we do repetitively becomes trapped in physical memory, common sense should tell us that if we were to take any lick, phrase, arpeggio or technique and practice it slowly and perfectly, that perfect version will become ingrained, part of our

When I am playing I am conscious of.....
The shopping? That leaky tap you need to fix? The shape of this scale on the fingerboard?

When you are practicing (it doesn't hurt to do this when you are playing also) be conscious of the following and go around checking in a roundrobin fashion, after the last go back to the first and check them again.

1. The left hand
Is it relaxed? The most important thing, if you do not learn to relax the hand, you play at reduced efficiency.
Is it spotting the notes? I.e. is it hitting the sweet spot of each note or are some fluffed, if they are then slow down.
Are the fingers cooperating independently? Each should work as a single member of the team. Don't let them "gang up", they should be working independently.
Am I using the most efficient fingering for this passage?


2. The right hand
Is it relaxed? The right hand is just as important as the left. When playing fast patterns there is a tendency to stiffen the arm and wrist, again this reduces efficiency considerably.
Am I stabbing the notes? There is a certain feeling in the right hand when it connects with the string at the precise moment, almost like a stick in a bicycle wheel. You will recognise this at slower speeds first, do not rush.
Are my strokes even? Check slurs, top / bottom notes of arpeggios, correct picking appropriate to the passage or section. Volume of pulloffs when compared to picked notes.
Is pick noise present? Check pick angle.

3. The body
Are you breathing? Sounds stupid I know but so many people hold their breath when they come to a tricky or passionate piece.
Are you calm? Aim for stillness where possible, adrenaline causes one to rush and hence increases the chance of a mistake.
Are you tense? Tension in the body will be reflected in the hands and arms. Pay close attention to shoulders and back.

Some notes:
Understand the difference between playing and practicing. Practicing implies learning, playing is simply the utilisation of the skills learned through practice. No amount of playing will significantly increase your technique, it will only give you experience of using a particular technique.
Do not chastise yourself for your mistakes but internally you should praise yourself for those things you learn well. A mistake is simply a result of insufficient practice. With more practice, and assuming that the piece falls within the domain of your technical ability, mistakes will become uncommon or even nonexistent (almost).
Always work with a metronome and increase the speed as slowly as you can. At the first sign of stuttering or imperfection drop the speed again. You are aiming here for perfection and even though the kind of perfection that would satisfy us is unattainable, we still aspire to it. The extent of our struggle decides our ability.

Think about this... every great guitarist had to sit down and learn each of the techniques and note combinations that they play. There is no secret formula, musical theory will help to make more sense at an intellectual level but only practice will allow one to acquire the necessary skills

There is a kind of urban myth among some novice guitarists that guitar greats are privy to secret information which, when applied will move one into the realms of greatness. This secret knowledge is nonexistent.
The only knowledge that they may have and which most do not is the understanding of how physical memory works and how it can be called into service when understood. Your practice sessions define you as a player. Playing is important but practice will make you grow (if it doesn't then you are not practicing you are playing) as a player.

Set regular times to practice, the more you practice the quicker you will grow. If you practice 4 hours a day then you will have achieved twice as much, at the end of a month or a year, than if you had only practiced 2 hours a day. I know this is very basic common sense but it is meant for the players, i.e. the people who never actually knuckle down to
hard work and are content to play at the same level.


Alternate Picking
Let us begin with an easy pattern thus

Pay attention to the pick strokes, it starts on a down pick and then strictly alternates. Learn the left hand slowly and then learn the right hand picking pattern S L O W L Y.

The BPM of 100 at the top of the score is just something to aim at. With practice you will surpass this. Begin with your metronome at 70 or less. Progress only when you are satisfied that every note has sounded in perfect time and duration and you can consistently repeat the pattern cleanly.

Do not increase the metronome speed by more than 5 at a time. As you reach faster speeds you will want to progress by 1 or 2 bpm at a time only.

Economy Picking
Let's try the same pattern as a whole major scale. This time a G Major scale.

The first and most obvious thing you will notice is that it is deliberately a 3 note per string pattern. This lends itself to a different picking technique as well as the now familiar alternate picking style. I would urge you not to get hung up on the idea of 3 note per string scales, it can seriously stunt your growth. Anyway back to the plot...

As well as playing this scale (up & down) with strictly alternate picking as shown above you can play it in the following manner...

After playing the first 2 notes in the normal way the 3rd and 4th notes are played within the same stroke i.e. in a downward motion as if you were almost sweep picking. The duration of these 2 notes (3 & 4) should be exactly the same as notes 1 and 2. Each time you move from a string to a higher one we try to utilise the mini sweep function in a
downward stroke. When we move from a string to a lower one we try to utilise the upward picking motion to play both notes.

This is a strange type of picking that can take time to master but is well worth the effort and lends itself well to fast playing. Unfortunately I developed this style of picking in the beginning of my playing at the expense of alternate picking or any other style. At the time I thought it was a pretty bold move and allowed me to play much faster than my true
ability. Unfortunately this was at the expense of much which I then had to go and relearn. As I have already said, try not to get too engrossed in this stuff since you will find yourself in plateaus where progress seems to slow down. Learn the technique solely with the view to using it in your playing. If you know you are not going to use a technique
why bother. If you only want to pull it out for fast passages why become embroiled in the details, learn it and move on.

Hybrid Picking
Going back to our first exercise, you will appreciate that it would be an easy matter to work out an economy picking pattern for this but a little study of the pattern will reveal different ways of playing it. Your results may be different but I found for the way that I play the following was useful...

You will see that my method is almost alternate picking but I am utilising the economy stroke in one or two places ascending. Descending I personally find alternate strokes flow much more naturally.

Experiment with different hybrids to see what works in different places. Remember the work you do on your technique will eventually become your style. It is impossible to give rules about when and where to use each technique. If you see or conceive a phrase with 3 notes per string you can have options but economy picking is also useful for shorter phrases and once the technique is in your hands you will find that your playing will utilise a hybrid of the two techniques when appropriate.


More coming soon....