Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Blog Temporarily Closed

Due to the amount of time it's taking to undertake the full update of the CGPW course, this blog is not going to be updated for a short period of time, but it will be back soon.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The balance between assimilation and reinforcement (the 2 key components of practice).

I find that a lot of the blog entries I make here are born of the things I frequently find myself saying to my students on a number of topics. When they speak of their aspirations (which sometimes begin quite positive and optimistic, but often have limits imposed on them), I often find myself asking, “Why don’t you want to take the instrument past where you’ve found it?”

These are not students who are taking lessons to guide their first steps on the instrument; they are serious guitar students who have been playing for many years. At this point I often try to explore the honest balance between assimilation/development of new ideas, and reinforcement that has occurred within their practice over a long period of time.

If you’ve been playing for 10 years, it’s worth considering how many of those years were you developing ideas and concepts on the instrument and for how many years you were reinforcing them? Remaining conscious of a healthy balance between assimilation/ development and reinforcement within practice can be immensely beneficial here, although an initial exploration of what has really happened to some peoples guitar playing over a period of 10 years (or more) can be quite alarming. In some cases it can be a matter of 3 years development, followed by 7 years of reinforcement! Effectively, these students are playing the same things that they could play after they had been playing the guitar for only 3 years! They had actually just reinforced those ideas over the next 7 years! While reinforcement had a value in as much as it served very well to prevent the first 3 years of development being lost, without stopping to actually analyze this situation properly, they could easily find themselves doing exactly the same things for the next 7 years too!

I’m of the strong opinion that in 10 years playing, a healthy balance of development and reinforcement is (and needs to remain) at the core of progress with guitar playing skills and knowledge. Without it, it’s very easy to learn a little, and then reinforce a little in a totally disproportionate timescale to the way in which you would actually approach the instrument if you were more aware of the roles that assimilation and reinforcement actually play in the evolution of your knowledge and playing skills. In the end, success is born of the level on which you think, not the level on which you work, so how we look upon and consider these topics has a significant bearing on progress and development as a musician.

Friday, 18 March 2011

What’s the first thing you play when you pick a guitar up?

Is it different every time, or do you always pick a guitar up and play the same thing on it?

Either way, the very first thing you will play when you pick up a guitar is a good reflection of how you feel about your guitar playing, and you'll probably find that you picked up a guitar and the first thing you played on it was very different at different times.

Is this helping you to develop as a player and take you in the direction you want to go?

I would suggest that it most probably is, because if we are conscious of this, we have greater control over it. Whatever you would normally do as a "first thing" you play when you pick up a guitar, experiment and try different things and see where they take your playing.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Studio Noodling

This is a short bit of fun noodling on a Stormshadow DBS guitar which I played recently during the sessions for the latest 'This Devastated Fan' album "Plot and Debauchery". It's not as good as I could have played it, but it's good sometimes to just play and have fun. If we don't just play and have fun with the guitar, we're missing the point!:

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Stuck in a Rut (part 2)

This exercise for breaking out of a rut uses a the principle of "restriction as the basis of development". It's particularly useful because it uses (arguably) the most commonly used scale by rock, jazz, and blues guitarists. The trusted and time-tested pentatonic scale.

The notes which make up this scale appear across the fingerboard to provide five, easy to learn patterns which utilize comfortable 2 note per string patterns within comfortable reach. Despite how easy each of the five patterns are to learn and play with, frequently only one or two of these patterns are used, and moving these patterns into other positions is the most common means by which many players change key.

The following exercise serves to address this by expanding the familiar patterns and approaching pentatonic scales from a horizontal point of view rather than a position based (or vertical) point of view. This approach forces exploration which wouldn't normally be undertaken by sticking to familiar patterns.

I use this as a good 2 hour pentatonic exercise:

Part 1 (1st hour)

Spilt up an hour into 6 parts of 10 minutes. Pick a pentatonic scale (what a pentatonic scale is, and what notes constitute each pentatonic scale in any key can be found in a number of places). Play just on one string, on each string for 10 minutes, exploring all the notes available on that string in your chosen scale.

Part 2 (2nd hour)

Split an hour into 12 parts of 5 minutes. For 5 minutes each, play on each of the five pairs of adjacent strings (1&2, 2&3, 3&4, 4&5, 5&6). Then play for 5 minutes on each of the four groups of 3 adjacent strings, (1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6). For the remaining 15 minutes, play on all six strings.

Getting some form of backing track like a 12 bar blues, or a simple chord progression is also helpful because this will give a tempo reference for exploring phrasing.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

New Standards

A lot of the time, guitarists seem to have curious targets. They define quality playing and aspirations as “I want to be as good as player X”, “I want to be able to play solo X”, “I want to be able to play jazz” etc…

While these aspirations are in no way bad things, and could serve guitarists well as short-term goals, they could often be taken much further. Why can’t you have the desire to be better than any player you’ve heard? Sound impossible? It isn’t impossible for a number of reasons. Here are only some of them:

Natural Ability on Guitar? (April 2009):

“I frequently hear people speak of some guitarists as being ‘naturals’. Where guitar playing is a skill, the guitar itself (in it's current form) is an instrument which has had its basic shape and form invented, and then it has gone through a process of evolution. A guitar is not a natural instrument like the voice. As such, how can you attribute anything regarding the skills people need to play a guitar to be in any way natural?

The nature of a skill is that it is learned. Where there are people who have an aptitude for learning certain things at different speeds from others, that isn’t the acquisition of the skill itself, that’s the speed at which the skill is acquired. The skills required to play the guitar are obtainable by anyone (of ‘normal’ physical and mental capability) because of the nature of what a skill is.

If anyone has concerns about whether or not it’s possible to obtain the skill of guitar playing, they are unfounded. If anyone has concerns about how fast these skills may be developed, this is simply a question of how much effort you need to make. After that it’s just a matter of discipline, determination and perseverance. How much of each of these three things that you will need is relative to how good you want to be.”

Taking all this into consideration, it shouldn’t be too difficult to conclude that pretty much anything that can be done, can be done by you. This is something I find myself saying to my students all the time. Furthermore, a direction that the guitar can be taken in the future can come from you.

Raising standards is important to guitar playing because without higher standards and more challenging targets, the guitar doesn’t get to move forwards. If guitar playing fails to move forwards, it’s at risk of becoming stagnant and tiresome. At it’s very worst, if any serious and committed guitarist doesn’t aspiring to take the guitar further than they found it, their aspirations “to be as good as” rather than “better” could actually be considered a contribution to the instruments stagnation! This brings me to what I’m going to be focusing on this year: Taking the guitar past the point at which we found it, raising standards and as we move into the future. As we are growing, changing, evolving, and improving our lives, so we need to ensure that we don’t leave the guitar behind, and take care to bring the guitar with us.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

New Updates


In response to the feedback I've had about this blog, I'm now going to be updating it in a more structured way.

Posts will now be on the first and third Sunday of each month (starting February 6th 2011).

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Enemy of Text

I’ve spoken to a number of people (with opinions and ideas that I value) and canvassed opinion within online music forums about the CGPW project and one of the issues which frequently came up was the quantity of text that I seem to use. It seemed to matter far more that people actually had less! The quantity of it seemed far more of an issue than the quality or what was to my mind, the ‘value’ which I could offer within the core CGPW manual!

I’ve started a new paragraph here, and started using different fonts and other such formatting changes in direct response to some of the suggestions that have been made about this. I'm not going to get this right first time, but if I experiment, I'll find something that works...

I have always written a lot, and within the core manual for the CGPW I wanted to offer a lot. I didn’t want to short-change anyone and offer as much as I could possibly get out with the latest revision of the project. It has been ongoing for so long and I’ve become so close to it that I’ve gone through phases of wanting it to be the greatest guitar publication ever, and yet I’ve learned that with every new revision that’s an impossible task.

I guess sizes and colours matter…

Content is one thing. Presentation is quite another, and for a long time, I've disproportionately looked at only one of these things thinking (naively) that the content can carry it... Not true.

In a broader sense, and in directly relating this experience to the ideas and suggestions within the CGPW project, I’ve taken all of this on board and looked at radically changing everything I’m presenting to the world!

I’m looking at style, fonts, formatting, colours, the lot, because ultimately, if more than one person is telling me the same thing, then there is an issue to be addressed. Ironically wordy as this blog post may be, this brings me to my key point, which is the flexibility and willingness to adapt and evolve. It follows the principle that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. There are only actually ‘results’ of our actions. Failure and success are labels which we place on our results afterwards but ultimately they are ‘results’.

If the results I’m getting is actually “less people are going to read what I’m trying to get across purely because of the way in which it’s presented”, then I can’t help feeling that a measure of ‘failure’ has to be attributed to my results.

Is this a bad thing? I would have once thought so, but not any more. Now I look upon it as a new starting point and an opportunity to improve, evolve, adapt, update, progress, and ultimately succeed.

Ironically wordy as this post may be! Expect some more colours, diagrams, pictures and videos from now on rather than my usual pages of words!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

New Year, New Horizons

Back in January 2010, my first post of last year was entitled “New Year, New Ideas” and it introduced a module on phrasing. The following posts (interspersed with some more general posts on guitar playing) remained focused on this one topic for the next few months. This year, I’m going to looking at broader perspective, and look at long-term goal setting and the value that it has. While it’s sometimes important to focus on one topic and immerse your playing into a program for developing that one aspect of your playing to a high standard, it’s also important not to lose focus on longer term goals and to this end, I’m going to be making some posts on more general aspects of guitar playing in terms of long term goals and target setting (along with some other thoughts and ideas) for the foreseeable months ahead.