Supercharge your legato practice

WITH THESE TWO SIMPLE METHODS

When you are practicing your picking techniques your fretting hand is working to hit the right spots on the neck. It’s a simple motion. Your finger moves to find the right spot just behind the fret wire. But is that motion of your finger towards the fretboard really a hammer on? Or is it just a fretting of the note?

When you need to fret another note on the same string you first remove your finger in order to be able to fret that other note. But if you do nothing but remove your finger, the note below it will ring out.

It is almost not possible to remove your finger without playing another lower note or the open string, unless you mute the string or remove your finger as slow as a foot on the kitchen floor when you were stealing cookies in mom and dad’s kitchen as a child. (You were weren’t you?)

OUR CORE CHALLENGE

So to be fair, fretting the notes is really like doing weak hammer-ons and pull-offs. So going from fretting the notes to doing actual hammer-ons and pull-offs isn’t that much of a change. And that’s exactly our challenge. The two patterns of movement are so similar that your brain can have a really hard time knowing the exact difference.

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And since most of us practice legato with some amount of distortion it’s very hard for the brain to develop a clear and significant other powerful pattern that has nothing to do with fretting the notes, but everything to do with actually playing the notes with one hand only.

THE SIMPLE SOLUTION

The result is that our legato technique never develops fully because the brain “forgets” to run the right pattern of movement and is only sort of doing hammer-ons and pull-offs. The same result at we discussed in my previous article.

This is the second reason why so many people who say they master legato has no clue as to how useful this technique can really become.

The trick to fixing this dilemma is to make sure you teach your brain that doing hammer-ons and pull-offs is NOTHING like fretting the notes. That it is a completely different and unique pattern with its own special little details very unlike the details of merely fretting the notes.

“The mind is pretty powerful. In skating, you learn to click into that zone and focus not necessarily on what you’re doing but if you’re doing it well”
Dorothy Hamill

TWO STEPS TO A RADICAL IMPROVEMENT:

Separation by exclusion
1. The trick is to separate the two patterns of movement when you practice by first refraining from practicing or playing using any other technique than hammer-ons and pull-offs and the occasional string shifting pick stroke for an extended period of time.

So try that for a week: Don’t play a single note with anything but legato. This is not a radical idea, this is just what works. Make sure you allow your brain to get fully used to all the details of pulling off and hammering on so it builds a high degree of familiarity with the technique and how it feels.

2. Separation by inclusion
Practice playing one sequence with legato and then with picking afterwards. Go back and forth between the two techniques playing the same sequence of notes. So you might be playing six notes down on two strings first with legato and then six notes down with picking immediately after without stopping. A simple circular loop that goes on and on.

But then as you practice shifting from one playing technique to another you keep an intense focus on really hammering on and pulling off those notes when you do the legato part, and then really refraining from doing anything like that when you pick the notes. You basically practice separating the two techniques and that’s it. That’s where you have your focus constantly.

These two simple strategies when used frequently has the power to shift the quality of your legato technique radically in a very short period of time.

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Supercharge your legato practice

Why your legato technique isn’t that great

Is the legato technique hard? Or is doing hammer-ons and pull-offs easier than most other things? In my perspective it is definitely a great shortcut to playing fast, even on an acoustic nylon guitar. And if you dull down the pick strokes you use when going from string to string, it produces a fluent, liquid type of sound with no spaces in between each note that has given it its name: Legato (Tied together)

But this is not its greatest value. When you own an effective legato technique it will support all your other techniques and make you a faster, more fluent player, fast!

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THE HIDDEN CHALLENGE

But this technique has a hidden challenge that very few people notice. Because the action of performing hammer-ons and pull-offs reminds the brain so much of merely fretting the notes, and because fretting the notes is very often enough to have lots of sound come out on distorted guitar, we fail to run the right pattern of movement at the right time and end up sort of doing hammer-ons and pull-offs.

This is a crucial understanding that can change the effectiveness of this technique completely

We often ending up practicing hammer-ons and pull-offs for a very limited time compared to the energy spent on other techniques like alternate picking or sweep picking, because we seem to get rapid results. The outcome of all of this is a weak technique that feels a little like cheating when ever we use it.

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REVOLUTIONIZING YOUR PLAYING STYLE

An effective legato technique can literally revolutionize your playing style if you start taking it very seriously and the first step to doing that is to never practice it with distortion or compression on your instrument.

I mean this very literally: If you have distortion or another form of compression on your instrument as you are practicing you hammer-ons and pull-offs you are not practicing!

Am I being brutally tough here? No! The legato technique is by definition the discipline of both fretting and activating the note using your fretting hand only. And, since there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to develop a very effective technique that works perfectly on an electric guitar with a clean sound, why would you then remove the accurate feedback you get from practicing with a clean sound?

YOU MUST HAVE ACCURATE FEEDBACK

Compression makes a weak note louder and a loud note will weaker. This equalizes the notes you play so you can’t hear the difference between an effective hammer-on and a weak one and this is a total disaster to your results. Why? Because practicing is the process of performing an action, determining whether that action was up to standard or not and then doing it again.

If you remove your ability to determine whether what you are doing is working or not you are absolutely guaranteed to waste your time.

But it’s even worse than that: Because you are not only not learning, you are practicing doing the wrong thing and thereby building an ineffective technique that has to be unlearned at a later point. So is a massive waste of time. The kind that works against you primary objective and the very reason you are practicing.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”
Ken Blanchard

HERE IS MY CHALLENGE TO YOU:

1. Pick you favorite legato sequence. Something you can practice in a loop with no breaks. Connect your guitar and add nothing to the sound. No distortion or compression nothing.

2. Then practice it at a tempo where you can exaggerate the hammer-ons and the pull-offs and I mean to the point where they can’t be much louder. Make sure you are not overdoing the pull-offs in order to protect your finger tips, but make sure the hammer-ons are as loud as humanly possible. Do not compromise and take your time.

3. This will add up to a ridiculously slow tempo but decide to stay there and keep doing it, not aiming for speed at all.

4. If you haven’t been focusing very much on this technique lately your fingertips will start hurting pretty quickly. This is a sure sign you are not using this technique to it’s fully when you play on a daily basis and you need to be a little patient when the soreness sets a limit to how much you can practice in the beginning.

Do this for a week each night for at least thirty minutes. No rushing. Care for every single hammer-on and pull-off and don’t compromise. Go for quality only, not speed.

Then after a week of this, test to see what this did to your level of control. Crank up the distortion and feel the added power of your left hand. Then imagine what practicing like this will do to your legato technique one month from now.

Why your legato technique isn’t that great

How to develop your own unique playing style

You don’t have to try to sound different. You don’t even have to try to come up with your own playing style. All you have to do is obsess about your preferences, about what you like.

There is no mystery to the direct musical expression of who you are: It’s simply what you prefer. It’s your preferences. It’s a simple as that. So finding your own voice is not hard at all, you are doing it already.

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THE MIMICKING ACTIVITY

If all you do is trying to play like another person, then that’s your style right now. Your playing is a tribute to another artist and that’s your voice – right now. Then it might become something different in the future as your preferences change. You go on to other things, become interested in other artists and by allowing yourself to be absorbed by the mimicking activity, by the fascination of “what if I could play just like that?” you discover what you like and unveil your preferences.

As you move on you take your best findings with you and what you like the most about someone’s playing becomes part of your playing. This happens automatically with no mental effort on your part whatsoever, because the things you take with you are the things that brings you the most pleasure. Just like picking the best dishes from a buffet. Nothing could be easier.

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As time passes you pick the best pieces and naturally incorporate them into your own playing until they all come together into that sound that comes out when you play. Is it original? Is it special or significant? Yes it is. To you. If you’re honest. Because, it’s the best of the best. For you. It doesn’t get any better than that. You can’t artificially construct a playing style that other people find original, special and significant. It just doesn’t work that way.

But, you might find that, because a lot of other people are somewhat like you, they tend to like the same things you do and therefore they find your playing style special, unique and significant. But you might also find that this is not the case. There is no control because who is control of what they like? All there is, is your fascination with your instrument and your music.

Sequences represent a chance to be inspired, not by something in a finished form ready to be used as it is, but by the very building blocks of melodic creation.


HOW TO INSPIRE ORIGINALITY IN YOURSELF

What you can do in order to influence the direction of where you end up, is look at what you expose yourself to. The more different kinds of musical flavours you try, the more you realize what you like and what you don’t like. So the number of preferences you have grows in number allowing the style you build to become more refined and more specifically yours.

The same thing goes for licks. The more and the more diverse licks you analyze and learn the greater variety of ideas you have to choose from. But this of course leads us right back to my favorite soloing tool: Sequences.

INSPIRATION FROM NUMBERS NOT PEOPLE

Sequences represent a chance to be inspired, not by something in a finished form ready to be used as it is, but by the very building blocks of melodic creation. They are little predictable systems of notes that you then combine into unpredictable melodies that sound both well-known and new at the same time.

The more of them you discover and learn, the broader becomes the base from which you choose the ones you like the most. The lucky bunch of sequences that you take all the way to mastery will determine your choice of notes when you improvise and compose more than anything else.

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How to develop your own unique playing style

The true source of original soloing

“How do you just come up with stuff?”

People often ask me how I “just play stuff” or how I come up with new lines and licks on the spot. How do you practice doing that?

THE LICKS BASED APPROACH

For some people the answer is licks: They have been learning one lick after another for years and have been playing around with combining and changing them in different ways and then they gradually built the ability to “just play stuff”

But these are the same people who often run out of licks when they jam and improvise with others. I remember that feeling so well. Like having only so much stuff to play and when I had used up all my stuff I didn’t know what else to play.

I absolutely hated that feeling because it made me feel like an amateur. Mostly because I was stuck with the idea that a professional would be able to keep playing great lines indefinitely.

LEARN EVEN MORE LICKS!

I once thought that the solution to that problem was to learn even more licks and then to “stretch” those licks by playing them multiple times and changing them so I wouldn’t use them up too quickly in a solo.

But it didn’t really seem like improvising and that was definitely the skill I wanted. Everyone told me that improvising was like composing music in real-time, but what I heard most people do was using the same pre-composed little entities (licks) over and over again. Changing them a little and playing them in different ways, but it was still the same basic ideas being used over and over again.

Depending on how you treat the ingredients of your favorite curry dish, you will get different results when you cook but it’s all going to taste like curry!

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RE-ARRANGING VERSUS COMPOSING

Another problem I had with this approach was that licks are really bits and pieces of someone else’s solo. And since most people base their solo work on this approach, most of what we hear is the same old stuff processed in new ways. It’s the same curry we’re feeding ourselves over and over again.

It does develop from generation to generation because each player adds a little of his own to the mix, wich then again enters other people’s playing style through learning his licks and on it goes.

I couldn’t let go of the idea that there was a way of learning how to truly improvise. To truly be able to compose on the spot instead of merely rearranging pre-learned bits and pieces.

It turned out that the answer wasn’t in the re-arranging but in the bits and pieces. Your brain simply cannot “just come up with stuff on the spot”, it has to re-arrange learned entities. The only reason we are able to “improvise” our way to making sense when we speak, is that we have words.

Words that we have learned so we can form sentences that then eventually creates meaning. But the brain needs these basic building blocks before it can build something meaningful. No bricks, no building.

“Creativity is a continual surprise.”
Ray Bradbury

 

FIND THE SMALLEST BUILDING BLOCK

Imagine an author basing his or her stories on bits and pieces of other people’s stories. Even though most authors do this to some extend, their stories are not made up of tiny stories but words. Words are the smallest component. Those are our building blocks.

If we use the same insight in our world of improvising great solos, you could say that, as long as we base the majority of our musical vocabulary on licks, we are really trying to write stories by putting little bits and pieces of other stories together. To truly improvise, we need to focus on learning the equivalent of words in speaking and that is sequences.

THEY ARE COLD, PREDICTABLE AND BELONG TO NO ONE

Sequences belong to no one. They are neutral, predictable and the tiniest building blocks of melody. By practicing them we train our fingers to move in all directions and we teach our ear different pathways through scales and arpeggios.

When we then start combining these sequences and add rhythm to them, they disappear into thin air and become melodies based on your unique preferences in the moment, in real-time, as you play. Now.

The lines I play in this video are all created as I play. I don’t know what I am going to play before I play it, just as we most often don’t know what we are going to say before we say it. It’s not anymore special than the ability to form sentences and anyone can learn to do it:

STRUCTURE MIXED WITH CREATIVITY

The human ear likes predictability but is bored if it is not mixed with the unpredictable. Sequences are predictable systems and like the spices of your favorite curry they are of little value by themselves.

But when you mix them and stir them using your personal preferences you create something that is not only an original expression but your original expression. And this expression is not chaotic since it is created from a base of systematic little sequences. That’s why it sounds like music and not just random notes.

Then you go from having access to only 10 spices to having every flavor there is on the planet at your disposal. Now you can move outside having to cook different variations of the same curry and really create some magic.

In other words: There is no shortage of material, no running out of licks, you can tell the never-ending story, it’s a pleasurable flow of ideas created in the moment with no thoughts or considerations involved.

LICKS BECAME A STUDY OF STYLES

When I experienced the first results from practicing sequences, licks quickly became a way of studying someone elses playing and not a source of soloing material: “How does he get the great sound on the end note?” or “What is that cool combination of notes in the middle of that lick?” and what I gained from it were insights I could use in my own playing, but I never learned another lick ever again. Ever.

I practiced emulating someone else’s way of doing vibrato of sliding up or down to the notes, of putting emphasis on a certain note of a scale to get a certain sound, or using the pick and fingers to get a specific sound, and so on – but my motivation to learn what someone else had played note for note disappeared completely. Simply because learning sequences and rhythm and combining both over and over again was so rewarding and fun.

“The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.”

Arthur Koestler

HOW TO DO IT

1. Learn rhythm
Let me give you the simple method I used to turn sequences into music: The first thing is to realize that there is no interesting melody without rhythm so you must become a master of rhythm very quickly and you can.

The skill is really this: Being able to tap your foot at a steady beat while being able to clap, strum or pick any rhythm on top of it. If you lose the ability to keep that basic beat going with your foot, you don’t know what you are doing anymore.

2. Learn sequences
Secondly you must learn and practice a ton of sequences because it trains your fingers and hands to go in all directions at any point in your solo – and it trains your mind to construct unpredictable melodies by combining predictable sequences and rhythm, giving you just the right combination of both.

Anyone can play a bunch of random notes from a scale, but that’s not really going to be interesting to listen to. That’s like throwing random words together. Practicing sequences gives you the ability to make musical sense when you play.

3. Improvise VERY slowly
The third step is to practice using your sequences. Practice playing a sequence using a certain rhythm pattern. Practice playing a few notes from a sequence and then ending it on a great sound note, adding sliding bending, vibrato or what ever technique you master to spice things up. Practice combining two or more sequences in different ways.

But all this is play. It’s improvising but doing it very slowly with a lot of time to come up with and practice each little lick you create. Because that’s what you really do. You create lick after lick after lick. You quickly forget about each lick once you have created it and practiced it ten or twenty times because you move on to something else.

There is little structure to this kind of practicing. You slouch back in your couch have fun coming up with one little line based on the sequences you know. Then you refine it until it sounds right. Play it a couple of times and then you do it again.

YOU NATURALLY BECOME FASTER

This playful discipline of creating great sounding lines and runs by combining different sequences and rhythms becomes what you do when you play with the band. Only now you master it to the point where you do it in real-time, on the spot, with no hesitation. You simply and naturally become faster at it as you do it every day until the point of mastery.

Now the notion of “running out of licks” becomes ridiculous. There is nothing to run out of. There isn’t a library of precomposed stuff but instead a library of building blocks that forms more new and original licks than you can play in a lifetime.

PRACTICING WITH JAM TRACKS

At some point you have become so fast at creating little interesting lines that you can start practicing with music. When you do, pick slow ballads for jam tracks. This gives you a reasonable amount of time to find the right notes as the music plays in the background.

Then go for tracks that are faster until you master those as well. Focus on having fun all the way. You are either stressed or you are creative. You can’t push yourself and get good results at the same time.

Those are really the steps. Enjoy the process!

WARNING. STAY OUT OF THIS TRAP:

Human beings have a distinct tendency to search for what is objectively “right” and “wrong” even when it has no relevant function and therefore, if you like the point of this article, you might get an inclination to view a lick based approach as wrong or bad. It isn’t. It gives you results far faster than the sequences approach since you will be able to play great sounding solos much sooner in your development.

Instead of looking at licks as an inferior concept, use them until you don’t have to anymore. Go from one way of having fun to another. In my experience, truly improvising is far more fun and creates a whole new world of interesting solos, but that does not make a licks based approach a bad thing to pursue as it enables you to have more fun faster. You can do both and at the same time.

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The true source of original soloing

THE GAME OF PRACTICING

Human beings love games. This is as big a mystery as the fact that we love music. It doesn’t really seem connected directly to survival, but it is still a very ingrained part of the human psyche. Making practicing a game has the potential to change your results completely. It will fire up your passion, bring out the genius in you and speed up the learning process many times.

Game01.pngPracticing already is a game

No matter how far back you go in history, from ancient Greece to the modern-day eighty billion sports industry, games has been an integral part of the human experience. Not because games are inherently exciting but because humans find them exciting. It’s inside us. It’s inside you. You are made to take on challenges and you love watching other people take on challenges, for no apparent reason.

RECREATIONAL OR SERIOUSLY FUN?

The cool thing is that practicing already IS a game: You have a target or a goal to reach. You have rules for what you can and cannot do: If you do the ineffective hurtful thing like practice too fast while making  mistakes all the time, you will be penalized with a poor technique in the end.

If you follow the rules of your brain and body and practice in the most effective way, you will eventually win through, score the goals and get the price. Some of us keep score when we practice whether it is in our head or on a piece of paper, we do keep some track of what we do and where we are. So all the elements of a good game is already there.

The sad thing is that most of us doesn’t recognize how much of a game practicing already is so we neglect making it a fun exciting one. We enter the playing field unprepared haphazardly throwing the ball around. We play around with the ball trying to bring it through the hoop but with no real engagement. When we succeed it feels nice. When we don’t it doesn’t really matter. This is what we usually refer to as a recreational activity.

That’s how most of us practice, most of the time.

Imagine if you were trying to win the world championship in this way: Both teams wandering around the court, throwing the ball around and losing it to the other team constantly. It would be the most boring match you had ever seen and none of the teams would ever live up to what they can really do. In order for the game to pull out the best in us, we must take it seriously. Not serious as in survival, but serious as in important.

When we enter the game like it was a very important matter, all of who and what we are is engaged and brought to the surface. This is where genius and “talent” is born. This is where you are using all of your capacity to win the game and get the price. You fight like it meant the world to you.

You even hurt yourself in the process and keep on going like nothing happened. The pain is meaningful. You had to tackle that guy so you paid the price and you did it willingly. The game remains just a game, but now it is turned into an engaging and exciting activity that you can’t seem to get enough of. Gone are all your worries. There is just the game. Just the results you want and the battle to get them.

This is how most of us rarely practice.

Most of us use practicing as a recreational activity, most of the time. And that’s when we engage very little to none of our capacity to learn and learn fast. If you want real results you must make it the game it already is. That’s when the magic happens.

So how do we do this? I don’t even have to answer this because it is so obvious already. We already said that a game has a goal or a target that let’s you know when you have won. It has rules that you must follow and you must keep and know the score at all times.

  1. A goal or target
  2. Rules of the game
  3. Keeping score


KEY NUMBER ONE: CREATE A SPECIFIC GOAL

Do you know when you have “won the game og practicing?” Or are you never really winning because you’re always behind? Is winning defined as reaching your ultimate skill level and so you are in a game that lasts years? What would that do to a football match? A game that lasts five years… how many people would find that exciting?

In order to know when you have won, you must have a specific short-term goal. No goal right in front of you means no game. If you don’t know what scoring really means because you don’t know what you are aiming at in the short-term, the game goes from serious to recreational in a heartbeat. There is no game left.

Game02.pngYou must know what scoring means in order to win

So get clear on a realistic but exciting goal for the next four weeks, decide what you have to do to get there and launch. Did you win the four-week match? Did you reach the level you wanted? Or did you lose? (More on creating a good short-term goal here)

If you won, great! Figure out why so you can do it again and again. If you lose, great! Use it to get better: Was your goal too big? Did you really set yourself up to fail because it was too much too soon? Or did you not practice enough or in the most effective way? Be your own coach.


KEY NUMBER TWO: DISCOVER THE RULES

It is not up to us to create the rules of the game. They are there already. All we need to do is to look for them. The rules of the practicing game are the rules of how your body and mind learns in the most effective way. This has been my obsession for a couple of decades now.

You constantly try to improve the way you practice. When you practice. How many practice sessions you have during the day. How many small and large breaks you take. Learning some things requires you to be very focused and aware of what you do. Learning other things allows you to watch TV as you do simple picking exercises.

Some things you can practice without your guitar on the road. Some things you can practice in your head or by doing almost invisible rhythmic exercise with your hand all day. Some things you can learn just by reading a book and taking notes.

You test and try out each way of getting better, constantly noticing what works and what doesn’t. Every time you find something that works you know that you have found a new rule to the game for you. Something you have to do in order to win the game and not get penalized with poor results or physical injury which will send you out of the game completely.


KEY NUMBER THREE: KEEP SCORE

The third thing you must do in order for practicing to be an exciting game is to keep score. If you fail to keep score you have no way of knowing whether you have won or not. When it comes to guitar practicing, keeping score is measuring two things:

  1. How much you do and
  2. What you get out of it.

Keeping score makes the game exciting. If you’re at a football match and you don’t know the score, it’s hard to get excited about it.

You measure what you are doing and to what extend that brings you to your goal. You measure activities and results. A pad of paper and a pencil is all you need and for some reason it tends to be much more effective than an electronic device. Write down the date, how much time you practiced or how many repetitions you did or both. And then measure the results you get from that activity once every week or month.

Measuring your results too often will lead to  frustration. It’s like asking “are we there yet?” every other second which will just frustrate you. But find some measurable entity that you can write down like speed for instance. I very often use this as a measure even when I am not practicing fast sequences. I might not ever want to play the sequence, the chords, the scale, the arpeggio very fast, but the faster I can play it the more control I tend to have over it at lower levels of speed.

“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
Vince Lombardi

You could measure the activities you engage in to get to your goal every day – and then measure how close you move to your goal once a week or month. Measuring activities gives you a feeling of having won the game every day. Seeing the actual results on paper will make it real in a more tangible way than having them in your head.

As the days go by your notes accumulate and each time you sit down to practice you see that growing list of things you did, exact minutes and hours you spend, the exact number of repetitions you made. The simple act of deciding how much, how many or for how long you want to practice and then measuring to what extend you do it is already game enough for most of us to get excited about it.

Game03.png

NO GAME LASTS FOREVER

Creating a serious and fun game inspires passion like nothing else. It turns a mundane practice regimen into an exciting project you can’t let go of. But don’t expect yourself to always be playing a practicing game as you wouldn’t like to be in a constant never-ending sports game.

Create a game of mastery and play it. Pick a tiny thing that you want to take all the way to mastery. That’s your goal. Then decide what you are going to do to get there and launch. Measure the time you put in, the repetitions you do and write it down. And at some point you will want to leave the game. Go back to recreational practicing for a while. Until you feel the urge to get serious about another game of yours.


THE GAME OF PRACTICING

The fire within

Firewithin.png

Passion cannot be constant. Passion is an exception from the
normal, not a state that can be held on to forever. Just like
falling in love.

Normal is balance, passion is not. It makes us obsess about
that one special thing, leaving other areas of our lives
to be dealt with later.

With passion you can storm the hill and take the castle. But
you cannot win the war without the normal, the balanced,
the consistent and the intelligent.

The rush of passion opens up new pathways, makes the impossible
possible and deflates your inner sceptic. But it will not
succumb to pressure and it will not appear in a climate of stress.

It appears when you allow yourself to be excited, childish and
playful. When necessity and making-a-living leaves room for
the unreasonable, the impractical and the unjustified.

Rely on the normal to take you to the ultimate level: Get
serious about your development. Be an adult about it. It’s not a
silly hobby, it’s your life.

And when passion does come, follow it in whatever direction it
takes you. Obey the inner drive and its aim. Forget what you
“should” be practicing. Demand no reason from this impulse,
just follow it until it leaves you.

Then go back to your very effective normal.


The fire within

The ultimate vibrato exercise

I used to be very frustrated about my vibrato because no one had told me how to practice it. I knew how to do it, I just couldn’t do it and remain in control at the same time. Then I came up with this simple exercise and the challenge literally disappeared over the following weeks.

Vibrato consists of two elements: Pith change and speed. So if you want to control your vibrato you must control how much the pitch changes and how fast or slow it oscillates.  You do this by using a metronome and practice it like any other thing. Watch me demonstrate the exercises in the video.

  1. Practice bending a semitone
  2. Use a metronome and increase tempo gradually
  3. Make sure you practice with each left hand finger
  4. Practice bending half a semitone
  5. Practice vibrating eighth notes, sixteenth notes and triplets.


The ultimate vibrato exercise

I still can’t play fast and it p***** me off!

Do you feel like this sometimes? Then this article is for you. The problem is that developing your technique is a very slow process in the beginning and all there is, is beginning! Nothing really delivers like you thought it would, until it suddenly does.

TWO THINGS YOU MUST KNOW TO MAKE IT

Please internalize and memorize the key points of this article. They are essential to developing your technique to the highest level. (If that is what you want) There are two distinct insights you must to have in order to stay clear of the worst kind of frustration: The kind that makes us give up forever. You might find the first point depressing and discouraging but once you are over that, there is a chance that you will recommit to your goals of mastering the techniques of your instrument at an alien like level. The point is this:

Key point one:
It takes as much time to master the technical aspect of playing guitar –  as everything else that enables you to play music.

So if you look at all the other skills you need in order to become a well rounded musician like mastering scales, arpeggios music theory, song writing, rhythm, chords and you put the time needed to learn all that into one group – then an equally large group consists only of right and left hand technique.

Whether this “techniques-group” is the same size as the “all the other things needed to play music” or even larger depends on what musical style you are trying to master. If you are a rock player, expect the techniques part to be twice as big as the other group. If you are a jazz or jazz fusion player and aim to become a master in this field, expect to spend as much practice time on technique as you do on all the other things.

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In jazz you need as much focus, time and energy for your techniques to be fully developed as you do on all other things that allows you to play great music.

ACCEPT AND RECOMMIT

Is this depressing news to you? It might be, depending on what your ideas were about this when you started reading this article. But once you have come to terms with this fact. Once it’s ok, then you might be ready to take on the challenge with a new and stronger resolve.

This does not mean that you have to spend ten years mastering the technique of alternate picking for instance. You can bury that challenge after one or two years. And learn a ton of related techniques in the same time period as well. You can learn to master legato or hammer-ons and pull-offs much faster than that. For me, the technical aspect of playing guitar took up at least 80% of my focus for 2-3 years. I was still getting better at everything else, but in a haphazard way with no special focus on it.

And yes, after this period of time I wasn’t really a very good guitar player because so many of my other skills were underdeveloped. But developing them to the same level as my technical abilities was a true walk in the park in comparison and it didn’t take me very long.

SELECTIVE HEARING IS KEY

But you must close your ears to the voices that tell you that there is something special about people who have the skills you want, because that is pure BS.  Feed your passion by committing completely to learning this at mastery level in your lifetime or die trying.  Losing hope and giving up takes your life away from you or at least diminishes it because there is something you think you cannot do anymore. Something that’s “a waste of time” for you. but it’s a flat out lie. Period. You can learn to do anything in this area.

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At the end of your life regret will not come so much from the things you did, but from the things you failed to do.

FREEDOM OR DEATH PLEASE

That’s what Braveheart spoke about in his speech to his peasant army facing the well equipped british war machine in the film of the same name: You can give up and run away from the challenge. Run away from that magical idea that you should be able to learn to play at an incredible level. Lay down your weapons and run. Because you can fight and you may fail. “And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell your enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom! *1”

We get tired of fighting ourselves in the battle for outstanding skills and we turn away. We surrender to frustration and hopelessness. Our enemy is the comfortable release in giving up. In not having to recommit and try again anymore. Come on… Just close that door forever and there will be peace and your world will be forever smaller. Please get this: At the end of your life you will perhaps regret a couple of things that you did, but those are nothing compared to the regret you can potentially feel about the things you failed to do.

“Energy and persistence conquer all things”
Benjamin Franklin


IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?

If you think I am exaggerating the importance of mastering your instrument you might be right. No kidding. Right for you. You might realize that reaching for this level of mastery is not for you at all. You might conclude that playing so darn fast isn’t really worth it and that focusing on all the other aspects of playing music is much more rewarding. And you might be so very right! There is no objective truth about this. And spending over fifty percent of your time focusing on this relatively small aspect of playing music isn’t necessarily an intelligent thing to do unless your favorite musical genre is Flamenco or “shredding” in general.

But if you feel excited thinking about the apparent magnitude of the challenge and you feel an urge to find the highest spot in town, stand there and scream “I WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT!” *2  Then perhaps you will be the happiest facing all the frustration and disappointment once more and recommit to this project of mastery. And if you do, and do it again and again, then you will arrive at your destination. You will win through.

FROM BEGINNER TO INTERMEDIATE TO TOTAL MASTERY

Key point two:
You must spend an inordinate amount of energy to produce very little results.

In his book “From good to great” Jim Collins explains a phenomenon of business growth that is very interesting to aspiring masters in any field: There seems to be a pattern of how most companies develop from being a good company to being a great company.

The term “great” means a sudden explosion in growth. This is the dream of any investor: To buy cheap stocks in what looks like a mediocre company and then to suddenly see it explode off the charts making several hundred times the investment.

What Jim collins found was that these companies basically spend years working away at it every day. Climbing the alleged ladder of success one turtle speed step at a time. They deliver a good solid product to happy customers and then, after a long period of minimal but consistent growth, the company explodes of the charts as momentum catches on.

This is exactly what that process looks like for you: You are a beginner for a short period of time but then you seem to be an intermediate player forever. When there is progress it is not revolutionary, it is small and seemingly insignificant. You seem to have to fight for every little piece of land you acquire. And apparently there is no end to it.

Note: If you have been hanging around on the intermediate level “forever” break out of it by using focus and concentration.

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Reaching for mastery is like spending a full day plucking fruit only to get a few drops of juice

But this is how it is. You spend an inordinate amount of energy producing very little results. Like spending a full day plucking fruit only to get a few drops of juice. And then at some point your development explodes. How soon this happens is dependent on how much you focus and concentrate your life and energy around this project but that is another discussion. Use every insight, method and strategy you find in my articles and keep pushing.

BELIEF IN YOURSELF ISN’T ENOUGH

But all this doesn’t mean that you should just “believe in yourself no matter what.” Believe in yourself yes, because anything else is not intelligent. There really is no actual and factual reason to give up because anyone can do this. But belief isn’t enough. You must be constantly improving your method a little bit. Constantly refining your practice schedule and your focus. And when you test new methods and approaches to practicing, give it time.

If you want to test my TV-practice method of getting everything right at every pick stroke, sometimes playing painstakingly slow, you have to give it your full commitment several hours a day for at least four weeks – preferably eight. Time is an essential part of every practice equation, so make sure you have plenty of it in there before you start evaluating whether it works or not.

“The big talent is persistence”
Octavia E. Butler

 

I know that none of this is easy. But once you have what you want, you are going to hit yourself on the head and go: “If it wasn’t for all the frustration this would have been so easy and pleasurable!!!” Because that’s the truth of it. Our greatest obstacle to anything we want is almost always ourselves. Knowing that does not mean that you can just stop being frustrated. And it certainly does not mean that you are stupid if you do. It just means that you are human. All you can do is to keep reminding yourself of this fact and keep seeking inspiration to overcome it.

See you on the other side of intermediate.

*1 Quote from the film Braveheart by Mel Gibson

*2 From the film Independence Day by Roland Emmerich


I still can’t play fast and it p***** me off!

How to stay focused & motivated over time

THIS CAN PULL YOU THROUGH EVERY BIG PROJECT

When I was building the majority of my skills I used the insight in this article every single day. I didn’t know how effective it really was at the time but I certainly do now. I specifically remember using it when I was building my alternate picking skills. Alternate picking mastery is one of those projects that can take a couple of years to complete. Without the simple strategy I am going to give you in this article, I would not have been able to sustain my enthusiasm long enough to win through.

Everyone has run into this obstacle: You get excited about a skill you want and start practicing it vigorously, but then as you work on your new skill it becomes increasingly obvious to you that your new exciting project is a big one: It’s going to take a long time and a lot of practicing to get what you want. At this point your excitement starts to wither away.

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Excitement leads to unrealistic expectations which eventually leads to frustration

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S YOUR BRAIN

I still stumble on this obstacle even after over 30 years of practicing experience, so don’t blame yourself, it’s built into your brain to make any challenge smaller than it really is. Certain emotions simply makes your brain more likely to have unrealistic expectations. Any emotion is really just the body’s way of preparing you for what you are about to do. The hormones of excitement and passion makes you very positive about what you want and also about the means of getting it so that you will launch and get started.

The not so great thing about being overly positive is that you increase the likelihood that you will be disappointed when you realize the truth about getting what you want. And, if you go through this process of being really excited and really disappointed enough times, your brain will eventually refuse to get really excited about anything out of the fear of getting disappointed!

UPGRADING YOUR CPU

But this is where you come in. You need to upgrade your brain in order to fix this issue and be able to charge at any challenge that comes your way. Because the reality is that you can handle any challenge, learn any technique, skill and absorb any amount of information you want. There are no limits. And when your brain tries to calculate the distance to the target you are aiming at, it makes a huge mistake of assuming that your development follows a straight line. It doesn’t. Progress is slowest in the beginning and then its speed increases exponentially.

There can be no passion, and by consequence no love, where there is not imagination.
William Godwin

Our core challenge is this: Big exciting results inspire lots of passion and action, but takes more time to realize which, in turn, decreases passion and action. People with big ambitious plans often end up impatient, frustrated and unmotivated. People with small unambitious plans never get motivated in the first place. This is the core of the motivational paradox: you can’t get motivated by something small and achievable and you can’t sustain your motivation for something big and long-term.

THE INEFFECTIVE MIDDLE GROUND

The most natural conclusion to this problem would be to find a working middle ground: Picking something to practice that isn’t too big or too small, just perfect in size to make you motivated and easily achievable to stay out of impatience. This is the advice we usually give each other when impatience kicks in “Pick something easier, get there faster” but this seldom works long-term since, as we decrease the size of the result we are striving for we are also decreasing our excitement about it. So we end up navigating in the world of mediocrity, not too high, not too low, and not too terribly excited about anything.

What you need in order to master your instrument is tons of excitement and passion. So we can’t afford to use any strategy that lowers those two emotions. But what if you could do what appears to be impossible?: Reduce the size and time needed to get what you want while increasing passion and enthusiasm. Now you have more power, more energy and you practice harder with more focus while attacking smaller, faster and more achievable goals. This is what you want: To be as motivated and excited as you would be when aiming for a huge amazing goal, but to have the actual goal in front of you be totally achievable in a short period of time.

When this is your path, you constantly get what you want. Your goals are small and achievable but you are super passionate about each one of them. Practicing becomes a string of exciting victories constantly affirming that you really can become as fantastic a guitar player as you want.

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.
The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus”
Alexander Graham Bell

So now we have two simple steps that we can use to upgrade our trusted biological CPU:

Step one:
CREATE A SMALL ACHIEVABLE GOAL

The first part of our strategy is to create a small achievable target to aim at. Instead of aiming at total alternate picking mastery, you pick a “sub-skill” that will lead you to that greater goal. If you want to master all modes of the diatonic scale you might want to pick just one mode in just a couple of positions on the neck and really take that first part to the extreme (As you always do when your focus is mastery)

Now you are focused on a smaller, much less exciting result than “mastering all modes across the fretboard” but this is where the next step comes in:

Step two:
CONSCIOUSLY CHANGE THE WAY YOUR BRAIN ANALYSES YOUR REWARDS

Let me explain: When you get really excited about learning something your brain just went through a split second analysis of the pleasure involved in learning what it is you want to learn. In other words, your brain quickly figures out the positive consequences of learning that new thing, but it does this faster than the speed of perception and without us giving it much attention.

Because this analysis is so fast it doesn’t touch on a fraction of the potential positive and pleasurable consequences but only takes the most obvious into consideration.

An example: Let’s say you suddenly feel a strong urge to learn sweep picking. You saw something, heard something or had a thought in your head that inspired you. Now we know what just happened: Your brain performed a split second analysis of the positive consequences of learning sweep picking and the positive emotions of enthusiasm and passion emerge as a result of that analysis. That’s why it “inspired you.” But if clarifying 1% of the possible positive consequences makes you excited, just imagine what the other 99% will do for you.

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The two steps boosts your brain and makes it ultra focused on an achievable result

YOUR DAILY BOOST

Once you have downsized your goal from “Mastering all modes across the neck” to “Mastering the Aeolian mode absolutely and totally completely in two positions” you are ready to amp up your emotions. You do this by creating a conscious analysis of the rewards you get when you achieve this smaller goal. You ask your self the following:

“How great is it going to be when I master this?”

The cool thing is that your brain has to answer that question. The second it hears you asking the question, it starts searching your database for answers. If I ask you “What’s the color of your hair” your brain will start searching for it right away. Right?… It’s involuntary. So all you really have to do is ask the question often enough for your brain to constantly give you new answer and expand you excitement and passion.

THE TIME / REWARD RATIO

Another question could be: “How would it feel to solo using my new skills in just this area of the neck?” and then really see if you can imagine how it would feel to have that level of control. It’s important that you don’t stop at the logical analytical level but that you really try to imagine how great it would feel. If a little smile appears on your face as you imagine it you know you’ve got it right.

What really happens when you do this? Well, the time versus reward ratio changes. When you started out you had a huge result in front of you which generated a great deal of excitement and passion. Now, you have a smaller much more achievable goal in front of you which is not so likely to motivate you. But as you get clear on the actual and very real reward of mastering it, passion and excitement grows – and you can turn it up almost as high as you want.

HOW TO GO EVEN DEEPER

In order to increase your excitement you can use different questions that trigger different parts of your brain. You can use different positive emotions and ask:

  • How proud would I feel if I mastered just this little thing?
  • How excited would I be about learning even more?
  • How great would it feel to use this skill when I practice with the band?
  • How would my band react if I mastered this perfectly and how would that feel?
  • How certain would I feel about mastering other skills?
  • What would it do to my confidence as a guitar player?
  • How much easier is it going to be to master the rest of this mode?
  • How much fun will I have using my new skill?
  • What would mastering this skill say about my future as a guitar player?

As you already know from reading my articles on mastery, mastering a little is the key to mastering a lot. The all-pervasive and constant focus on mastery means that you will move much faster towards your ultimate goal as a guitar player. It is the key to developing incredible skills as a musician. So this is not a way of hyping yourself up about learning a little insignificant part of the whole, it is the fastest and most effective way to get to your ultimate skill level!

You need to constantly remind yourself of doing this until it’s automatic. Put up post-it notes everywhere and make sure you can’t forget to do this several times a day. You don’t need to bring a huge list of questions with you everywhere, all you need to do is to ask yourself how great it will be when you master this one thing. I used to do that when ever there was an empty space in my stream of thoughts. “How great will it be when I master this?” and then I would imagine myself using this new skill and I would imagine how great it would feel. Just this tiny four note lick at mastery level. Over and over and over again. No wonder I was constantly out of my mind with excitement about practicing…

RECAP AND ACTION

Let us convert all these words into a quick formula you can use right now. Here are the simple steps:

1. Decrease the size of your goal

  • Go from “Mastering alternate picking” to “Total mastery of triplets on just one string”
  • Go from “Mastering the major scale across the neck” to “Mastering two positions at an insane level”

2. Get real about the actual rewards of mastery

  • Ask yourself what mastering a part of the whole will really mean to you
  • Keep reminding yourself of this on a continuing basis

As with everything the actual improvements you get in your playing from reading this article is completely dependent on the actions you take right now. Will you make sure that you can’t forget to do this every day – right now? Will you take a look at what you are practicing now, how you feel about it and whether it would benefit you to use the above steps – right now? Will you set up a reminder so you won’t forget to read this article again one week from now? And then the next week and the next? Will you take actions to ensure that the time you just spent reading this article turns into actual improvements in your playing and development as a musician – right now?

“All speech is vain and empty unless it be accompanied by action”
Demosthenes

The five percent of people who take action right away, now, in this instant,  are the ones who will eventually build extraordinary skills. The other ninety-five percent will talk about it, read about it, have a good time dreaming about it, but not change their playing in any real way. Be part of the five percent. It’s easy. You just have to actually DO something and right NOW.


How to stay focused & motivated over time

How guitar mastery becomes easy

When we fail to see the world accurately, it affects our emotions and actions in a very real way. When we see guitar mastery as a near-impossible challenge, when it’s really not, we tend to believe that we’re on a much bigger journey than we really are  – and are, therefore, too easily discouraged.

We come to believe it’s  very hard to build the skills we want and see our current lack of progress as proof of that – this creates the emotions of frustration and hopelesness which in turn makes us practice less or give up. In other words: We believe something that makes us feel in a certain way and the feeling makes us act in a specific way.

CLIMBING THE HILL

We often believe guitar mastery to be something extraordinary and special mainly because it takes quite a bit of practicing to achieve it. The bigger the hill we must climb to get the thing we want, the more valuable we tend to believe the thing is. So without the hill, the obstacle, the practicing – everyone would be a guitar master and guitar mastery wouldn’t be such a big deal:

  1. The belief that it is hard to build great guitar skills,
  2. Makes guitar skills more desirable,
  3. Which then motivates you to practice.

But this belief backfires on us when the going gets tough: When we are not making the progress we expected. When we practice a lot, but experience no immediate results our emotions turn into frustration and disappointment which leads you out of practicing:

  1. The belief that it is hard to build great guitar skills,
  2. Makes the job of attaining them daunting,
  3. Which then de-motivates you

Whatever happens it will all come from the basic assumption that guitar mastery is really, really hard to attain. This belief will make you feel very special about the skills you have already but also possibly very de-motivated to learn something new. I prefer getting better over feeling special (Because by learning I get to feel even more special in the future, so I get both!)

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Are you climbing a huge mountain in your mind?

GUITAR MASTERY IS AVAILABLE FOR THE TAKING

So let’s take a close look at the challenge of guitar mastery. Maybe our internal image of what it takes isn’t accurate at all… If you compare guitar mastery to every other part of life, it really doesn’t look like such a big challenge. (But don’t tell anyone because then everyone will want it)

If guitar mastery is your highest goal you are one lucky person. Other people dream of starting a business or getting rich. Others about raising children and being great parents. Some people dream of making it in the music industry. But building a business, creating a great relationship, creating a successful career – all those things are very very complex matters because there is a vast number of unknown factors influencing what results you get.

But with guitar mastery it’s just you, a guitar and time. Compared to most other areas of life you have 100% control over your guitar skills destiny. Totally. Guitar mastery is available for the taking. You have the power to own incredible guitar skills by choice.


“The belief that one’s own view of reality is the only reality
is the most dangerous of all delusions”

Paul Watzlawick


It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, talented or not talented. Everyone can do it. The only outside things really able to get in your way are death and permanent physical injury. But that’s it. It doesn’t get more controllable than this.

If you look at most other areas of life you will find it’s a very different game. Tons of things can go wrong and trip you up. So, in fact, guitar mastery is easy compared to most other things. But it doesn’t end there: Guitar mastery also takes very little time!

GUITAR MASTERY IS QUICK

Just think about how many years, months, weeks and days you’ve spent in school just to function normally and hold a job – and yet, most of us don’t see that as special. But imagine if you had spent those hours practicing instead. What kind of a guitar player would you be today, if you had practiced five to six hours five days a week for ten years?

Is high school hard? You spend about eight hours a day for four years listening to teachers and doing your homework. Just imagine if those hours and years had been spent practicing. If you had done this, you would be considered the greatest guitar talent of all time! And yet, no one calls you “great” or “talented” for being able to read and write because most people can do that quite easily.

I am, in no way, saying that you can just go practice instead of going to work or school. I am merely painting an image we don’t see very often: Compared to most other things you have already learned to do, guitar mastery isn’t that huge a project.

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THEN WHAT MAKES IT SEEM HARD AND TIME-CONSUMING?

So what is the hard part about building extraordinary guitar skills? Why does it seem difficult when it really isn’t compared to most other things in life? What is it that makes amazing guitar skills rare even though they don’t have to be? The problem is that:


You don’t need great guitar skills to survive. That’s why most people go to work and why most people don’t master the guitar.


What’s necessary always gets done. Working gets done because that’s how we get money to survive. Whatever is directly connected to survival and reproduction naturally assumes the highest priority in our lives. That’s why going to school, making money, finding a mate and taking care of our offspring gets done: It becomes a clear “must” in our lives.

Every day you wake up with an inbuilt motivation to survive. You were born with this. So everything that’s connected to survival you feel somewhat motivated to do, even though you may say you are not. Survival is the most basic but also the most powerful and consistent driver of our actions.

HOW TO GUARANTEE GUITAR MASTERY

The ultimate point is that in order to become the best guitar player you can be, you must go from considering guitar mastery to be a possible luxury, to seeing it as an absolute “MUST” in your life. You don’t have to do that with the survival part, it’s already a must. As we all know: if we are not careful making a living takes over everything and leaves us with “no time to practice.” Mastery however, needs a conscious decision.

It’s not that hard to make guitar mastery a necessity. All you need to do is rediscover and remember how important it really is to you. Survival is of course mandatory for everything else to be, but if this is the only thing going on, our life doesn’t seem to be worth living. For every single organism on this planet survival and reproduction is the only agenda, except for humans. We have a capacity for more. Not using this capacity every day is like owning a brand new Ferrari that we never drive.

Quit subscribing to the voices that tell you that amazing guitar skills are really hard to develop because they are not. Instead, say “Creating this magic in my life is much easier than most of the things I have already accomplished – am I going to have a life where there isn’t ample room for something as supremely magical as guitar mastery even though it requires no risk, is totally controllable and requires less effort than most other endeavours?” Who would say yes to that and feel good about it?


If you think mastery is hard, try living without it. Most people do and have no idea what they are missing out on.

WHEN YOU BELIEVE THAT A LIFE WITHOUT MASTERY IS A LIFE LOST TO NECESSITY, THEN MASTERY BECOMES A MUST.

When it’s a must it becomes real, just like survival. We always find a way when we have to.



How guitar mastery becomes easy