Wednesday, 4 November 2009

One Note At A Time (part 1)

One of the most misunderstood, but simultaneously one of the most long term beneficial exercises that I give to my students is a series of perspectives on playing only one note, and then stopping to think about it. These perspectives are most often misunderstood because the process of engaging in a exercise which has very little in the way of immediate "rewarding guitar noise" can seem a long way removed from the kind of guitar playing that they would often like to be able to perform. The exercises can be boring, frustrating, irritating, and at worst, actually discouraging from practice. I would argue, however, that they are absolutely worthy of every serious guitar student's attention.

Based on the principle that essentially all guitar playing (in any style and to any standard) is born of perseverance, the first "perspective" is a very simple question to ask oneself before practice, and then once again after a note (or a few notes) have been played. Where we can chose and direct what we persevere with, it's worth offering considerable conscious effort to carefully identify what may be worthy of our perseverance rather than to "sub-contract" that responsibility out to teachers, books and magazine articles. In the interests of making the best, most effective and economical use of practice time, asking the very simple (but far reaching and highly potent question): "How do I really want to sound?" may seem simplicity itself, but how far can an answer to this question go? To what extent is the potential answer "I want to sound like player X/Y/Z etc..." appropriate or in any way helpful? Why ask it? "What are the benefits of such extensive consideration?"

I would suggest that the more detail you can go into in answering this question, the better. The more players as reference points or influences you can list, the more resources you may draw upon to structure a method by which you can achieve your goals. The more descriptive the sounds and the more you can be as specific as possible in every aspect of "how you really want to sound", the better chance you have of sounding as close as it may be possible to that sound you have in your head. Answering this question as fully, and as accurate as possible will guide almost every decision you will make that will offer a considerable contribution to your playing. Choice of exercises, teachers, instrument, amp, pedals and other equipment (where appropriate), in fact almost every part of the activities you engage in, in order to become the guitar player that you want to become is influenced and guided by the answer (in all it's comprehensive detail) to this one simple question.


  1. An interesting read. I find, at present, time is so scarce perhaps ten minutes here or there in a week - is all I have to give guitar.

    The only way I've found I can advance in such small increments is by being content with less progress and being more intimate with the studies I undertake.

    I would like to read more about motivation and study techniques working with a really finite time - do you see this as a direction your current line of thought will follow?

  2. Where a man's time is scarce, I can share nothing but sincere appreciation for the fact that they have read and considered what I have offered here to the extent that it has merited sharing a comment. Thank you.

    I can very much see study techniques and motivational ideas being explored which take into consideration the time people have to spend with the instrument. I'm sure some posts on this topic will find their way here soon.

    All the best,