I’m a pretty good guitar player.
I would like to be a great guitar player….
I know several great guitar players, so I know that it’s an obtainable goal.
I was thinking about what’s been keeping me at the pretty good level for so long, since I’ve been here for a good long time…. that made me start thinking about what I consider the traits of a great guitar player…
- Fretboard Mastery
Most of us here at the intermediate level have some grasp of all of these things. Some are intuitive and granted by way of natural talent, some are the result of years of playing and discovery, and some are won with the sheer determination and hard work that goes along with practice.
I highlight my strong points, which I consider to be feeling and dynamics, and downplay the weaker ones, like timing and fretboard mastery. I know that my timing sucks, so I intuitively alter it in a way that accents dynamics. I don’t know the fretboard well, so I tend to play using the same handful of scale patterns and familiar chords. I’ve done this for long enough that it is second nature. Given enough time we will eventually compensate for our shortcomings intuitively. It just happens.
I am able to pass these things off fairly well, because the result comes across as passion. In my experience, an audience will forgive a plethora of transgressions provided the performance comes across passionately.
The problem with this is that at some point, it becomes limiting. Some songs call for more precision, especially fingerstyle ones. There are several songs that I would like to play fingerstyle, but I almost always resort to using a flatpick – chunking the rhythm with palm muting and randomly picking out root notes to create some sort of half-ass out of time bass line which is then sold to the audience masquerading as style. Doing this has become ‘safe’ even though it’s doesn’t always produce the result I would like. Audiences are very forgiving provided we portray confidence.
What I believe to be the single most important factor in being great… what I believe separates the men from the boys, is a concept I picked up from vocal coach Mark Baxter:
Every single thing we do during practice and performance should be intentional. Even if the intention is to be spontaneous.
In response to Ronda Mattson’s challenge for this year…. Make New Music – I propose a similar challenge, to myself and all of you – practice and play something with focus on your intention.
Here are some examples in case that doesn’t make sense. This is what my internal dialog sounds like when I’m reviewing my performance (which I do, and highly suggest if you don’t).
- Did you intend to change that ‘aaahh’ to an ‘unnggg’ when you got near the vocal area where your register changes?
- Did you intend to drop all those notes in your alternating bass line while your unsure mind scrambled for the next melody note?
- Did you really intend to play that so fast, or were you actually just nervous?
- Is that the volume you intended that word / note to be, or were you afraid you wouldn’t hit that note without raising the volume?
- Do you wish there was more variation? Are you boring yourself and the audience with that 2 chord song that lasts 4 minutes…. did you intend to have a bass line, melody, chord inversion, lead, suspension, etc. but you’re too lazy to work it out the way you want?
- Did you intend to play that song again, or was it just a safe choice? Playing out of your comfort zone is necessary for any kind of growth.
Pick one thing that you know you suck at and nail it down. The result is going to be a wider palet of sounds to chose from in both composition and performance.