Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Q: I just went over your minor pentatonic lesson, and never have I seen anyone explain chord/scale theory in such a straight forward no BS manner. I am an advanced intermediate level guitarist, with big expectations. I have a day gig and a family and want to know how to get the most out of the little time I have to practice everyday. Can you give me some pointers?

A: Expectations should be big my friend. Good for you. I talk a bunch about practice routines in this lesson on my site and in THE INFINITE GUITAR. It's hard to give specific advice without listening to you play and getting a handle on who you want to become, in other words, your vision. I can tell you though, this vision is almost everything. 

You have to be able to see yourself as the guitarist you want to become. This image changes over time, but it is important to always have this image imprinted into your brain. It shouldn't be a general image, like: "great technique and great tone" it should be more like: “Tone and conviction like Jimi Hendrix, harmony like Alan Holdsworth, knowledge of scale/chord theory like Scott Henderson, Blues sense and power like Otis Rush, and the three Kings, composition skills like Lennon and McCartney.” This is more or less my personal vision but you get the point. You have to make a dedicated effort to learn from who you want to be like. The biggest mistake you can make is to believe that you can become great in a vacuum. Many young guitarists seem to think that you can develop your own style by purposely avoiding copying the “greats.” But with all due respect, I've never met a great musician who became so without the influence of many other musicians. There are plenty of guitarists who practice hours and hours a day and become nothing. It is simply because they are practicing scales to a metronome which is a sure way to be a big bore. Jimi Hendrix learned from the best of all different genres and had the vision to combine everything into his own unique brand of music, that is where his true genius was.

Sometimes the tiny things make all the difference - I can tell you that the most breakthroughs I've had on the guitar are do to tiny discoveries. It may have been one phrase that I picked up from Hendrix, Beck, Henderson, Stern or Scofield, but the two or three second lick I may have picked up, changed my playing forever. You won't get those hints from locking yourself into a practice routine regurgitating scales and sequences (not to say that these things aren’t necessary, they just aren’t the only things you need to work on) . It doesn't even have to be the “greats” that you borrow from, I learned a lick or two from various players I’ve never heard of on youtube that changed a lot for me. If your ears aren’t quick enough to transcribe certain things, there is software available to slow phrases down without changing pitch.

Theory - Theory is like rocket fuel for what you practice. Theory allows you to use one tiny piece of information into thousands of applications. It will allow you to categorize everything you learn so you can use everything anytime, anyplace. It will help you see that harmony and melody work hand in hand, that a C major pentatonic scale looks like a like a C69 chord turned on its side or a G altered chord is a Db9 chord with a different root.

Your own personal evolution - The more you learn, the more your image changes. I wanted to play Black Sabbath tunes when I was 13 but by the time I was 23, I wanted to play Giant Steps and was coping my lines from Miles Davis rather than Ace Frehley. But that is how the plan works.

Locking the emergency exit - Getting yourself in a compromising position will do wonders for your playing. See if you can't land yourself a gig where you have to learn 2 dozen tunes. It is the best way to get your playing and ears in shape. Those who wait till they are ready, never get ready, those who wait to get perfect technique, never get it.

Teaching - A student can also be the best teacher. I suggest you find yourself a student. Even if you don't get paid, having a student makes you organize everything you know. That is how my book that you were so kind to have purchased came about, it is basically twenty years of teaching people stuff.

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