Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Four States Of Guitar Playing

I've found there are four states in which we guitarists find ourselves when holding a guitar in our hands.  These modes of existence in which we spend our time with our instruments compliment each other - and are each necessary for the others to progress.

State #1 - Practicing

Practicing is the time we spend focused on learning new material, engrafting good technique into our muscle memory, working on tone, exploring improvisation, etc.  Practice is most efficient when done focused on perfection rather than on speed.

State #2 - Writing/Arranging

All guitar players compose music.  Granted it may be as simple as "composing" how you are going to strum a G chord, but you decide that, you create that feel.

Its good practice (no pun intended) to document your musical creations.   If you're starting with very simple ideas, that fine.  But document them somehow.  You don't have to read/write standard music notation to do this.  Scribble it down in whatever code works for you, record it (you don't need a full blown studio - I've used voice mail to record ideas), and KEEP it where you can go back and give it the "day after" test to see how it sounds awhile after (sometimes your opinions of your creation change when hearing it the next day).

State #3 - Test Pilot

OK, hopefully by now you know I'm a big proponent of practicing in slow motion.  However, there are times when you have to be a test pilot on the guitar.  See how fast you can go before you crash!  Sometimes after practicing an hour at 80 BPM, I'll crank the metronome up to 132 or 152 BPM and just go for it.  Nothing better than breaking the sound barrier and living to tell about it!

State #4 - Performing

Performing is the END which justifies the MEANS.  You didn't pick up the guitar with the hopes of sitting in your room practicing scales for hours upon hours.  You're a guitarist because you want to lay down some great music before you check out of planet Earth.  When I'm playing a gig, I'm riding on the time I've spent practicing, writing/arranging, and being a test pilot.  BUT, my mind is relaxed and free.  I'm keeping my playing in a zone that is easy.  Saxophonist Kirk Whalum explains it this way.  If you have a '74 Chevy Vega and a 2011 Ferrari both going 70 m.p.h., one of them has more HEADROOM, is less strained, can jump up to 90 m.p.h. easily if needed.  Don't play at the top end of your capability - leave some head room so your engine doesn't red line and blow up. 

I tend to turn off my brain and play from feeling and emotion when performing.  Whatever has made its way into my arsenal of guitar tools from practicing, writing/arranging, and flying the X-15 will come out easy and will be riding on the winds of musical creation vs. mere guitar exercises. 


  1. These are especially true, David. That is indeed the cycle that most of us go through. We don’t really know why, but most guitarists are really inspired to create their own music. Maybe it’s our way to channel our inner emotions artistically. As they say, music is a form of poetry. This is a great post. Thanks!
    Cherie Seldon

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  3. The main thing I want you to understand here is the critical distinction between working on scales specifically to improve in one of the elements above as opposed to robotically moving your fingers through dull sets of fingering patterns that most guitar players do. guitar warehouse