Thursday 22 April 2010

How do you know if you are getting any better?

Well it's pretty easy to tell in the early days, you'll start fretting notes without a buzzing noise, it won't take you 30 seconds to fret a chord before you can strum it, and so forth. But what about when you are past all that, you can play a riff or a song, and it felt good. Was it good? Was it in fact fantastic, or was it in fact pretty poor?

First up, especially for my mate Oliver, I've got to say "it doesn't matter, as long as it felt good to you." That's the personal triumph, the win over the challenge. You gave yourself some joy and goodness knows we all need some joy.

But I believe part of getting better is throwing yourself to the wolves, and seeing if they eat you up, or you eat them up. Josh (thanks for the tip Rom, he's an excellent read) would say "Why are guitarists such haters?" and I echo the sentiment. So if you do throw yourself to wolves, be prepared for unconstructive criticism.

And it's hard to take criticism for something that is an outpouring of *you*, it is your emotion, your feelings coming out on the guitar. You are digging deep when you play the guitar to others, you've got your heart on your criticism will equally dig deep. Look, I'll just say it: you're gonna have to get over it. Within that criticism may be positive stuff you can take away with you and learn from, the rest, you are going to have to just let it go. Ignore the negative destructiveness - or stick to the comfort and security of playing purely for your own personal joy.

For me, I was already thick skinned before I started putting stuff out there, thanks to the internet. I had run various site messageboards and often got a "You are an idiot and your stuff is stupid". At first it would ruin my day, and regardless of how many people would rush to my rescue "don't listen to that guy JAW" it was always that knife that stuck, the 99 other positive comments didn't pull it out. Several years before it ceased to have an effect on me.

With youtube I had to get even thicker skinned, there is even more "you" being put up for potential ridicule. I think as you get older you get less sensitive. Thank goodness!

So jump in, put something out there, be upset by haters, then let it go, and in between get some potentially useful feedback. For example, on youtube you might get "Your playing was out of tune" - relisten to it; hey yeah, I never really noticed. I must take more care to correctly tune up. "Your tempo sucks" - relisten to it; I *was* playing fast, and speeding up as I went! I must get over that performance anxiety, and must practice playing against a metronome. "Ha, your face looks funny" - yeah okay, I have guitar face, and you know what - I don't care :)


Monday 19 April 2010

Half song playing guitarists & the control freak

A couple of emails I've had recently with fellow guitarists inspired me to spiel up a blog entry, but I fear it is not going to go anywhere. Let's see!

Half-song playing guitarists; if I were to estimate a percentage, I'm guessing that 90% of people who can form an E chord on a guitar are half song playing guitarists. It makes sense, when you first start out on the guitar, you want, nay, *need* something that is going to inspire you. If you took up playing the guitar out of your own free will (wasn't forced on you by well-meaning parents) then you probably did so because of some riff that you fell in love with. So you learn that riff. And a few others.

The problem is that a riff is not a whole song; and probably, that song contains a whole lot of stuff that _isn't_ a riff, so you don't really have a chance of being able to play the whole thing as a complete song. It's a guitarist half-song.

That might be enough for you; pick up a guitar and noodle your favourite snippets. But don't expect any audience to appreciate it. A listener wants to hear a song from start to finish, it's just the way it is.

(I'm in the land of cover music by the way, the rules change for originals and improvisations.)

So what are your choices, when you are one bloke/blokette with a guitar, and have finally/thankfully become sick of playing half-songs? I see three excellent choices, in reverse order of recommendation: 3 - learn fingerstyle, that's where I went; 2 - learn to sing and play guitar, either just strumming or strumming with some picking either finger or plectrum; 1 - don't be one guy playing a guitar, play with other musicians.

Singing and playing guitar is great. Someone who can hold a tune while playing the guitar will engage an audience easily.

I rarely play with other musicians, but of late when I do I've realised that I'm missing something special. The style that I play isn't designed to fit in with other instruments, it's solo fingerstyle, trying to be a one-man-band. So I'd have to drop that style and go for lead, rhythm or bass. None of them really appeal, so I don't think I'd fit in a band.

And there shows the control freak. When you are solo-fingerstyling, you are completely in control, you rely on no-one except yourself, you're doing everyone's job. The situation then self-fulfills, the more you solo-fingerstyle the more control freak you become, the more control freak you become the more you solo-fingerstyle.

Is there a way to break out, and "let go"? I dunno. Do we want to "let go"? I dunno.

My advice then is, if you have played half-songs for long enough then (1) join a band and enjoy being part of a team (2) learn to sing, the guitar is "backing" for your singing and (100) go down the control-freak solo instrumental fingerstyle path.

(I love solo instrumental fingerstyle)