Squeeze it out
(29 Aug 03)
OK, this article is kind of a combination between two different things. One is some kind of a rant, the other is actual instructional material, with some cool exercises. Before we get to those exercises, lemme tell you why I chose them, what they can do for you and what to do with them...
One thing that I notice a lot when I teach, when I conduct a workshop, when I check out some forums on the net, or read the email I get is that a lot of people have the wish to become better players, to overcome their problems and limits, to use their practicing time efficiently. Now, there are a few points that always seem to get in the way...
- WHAT to practice in WHAT order
- HOW to practice it
- What IS important and what IS NOT
- What do I NEED?
Seriously, a lot of people spend sooo much time on finding out what to practice and how, they waste a big amount of the limited time they have on choosing what to do.
It of course is important to have a plan in advance, most people work that way. Although one of my basic principles is "5 Minutes of practicing makes me a guitarist improved by 5 minutes" (I know you are reading this, M., stop grinning!), I do set aside some time to check out what I need to work on, what I WANT to work on, what I haven't been working on enough (usually, the latter always seems to become obvious in the worst possible moment... in the studio or on stage).
But at the same time... gee, people, stop printing out bunches of exercises, stop discussing every little detail of every lick, technique and solo, and GET TO WORK! Because... THE BEST MOMENT TO START PRACTICING IS NOW! (that's another one of my guidelines...)
Seriously, take a bunch of exercises that you wanna work on, sit down and actually work on them. Try to really "explore them", play them accurately, try to speed them up or apply them to other scales, keys, time signatures.
I guess what I am trying to say is: SQUEEZE EVERYTHING OUT OF EVERY EXERCISE YOU WORK ON. Because that way, you get a bunch of different exercises out of only one of them. Not only will that approach keep ya busy for a while, it also improves you as a player: if you can play i.e. runs in different ways, with different ways of picking or fingerings, you have a larger "vocabulary".
I have done this "squeeze it" thing ever since I first read about Steve Vai's "10 Hour Guitar Workout". (which mainly consisted of many permutations of a few exercises).
These days, I still get into situations where I want to play something, and I can't, because it i.e. requires a weird picking pattern, or some unusual fingerings. So when that happens, I sit down and work on it until I can nail it. Which is another thing that works well, and I am used to it because of the "Squeeze everything.." approach.
One thing that can happen if you don't try different variations of basic exercises is that you become a player who maybe knows a lot of techniques, licks, runs, exercises and scales... but you can only play them in a limited amount of ways. Fair enough. So ya need more licks, or you need to play less leads. But I think it's extremely important to be able to play stuff in several different ways. If you work on that, you won't run out of material for your practiCing sessions anytime soon, either.
Let's say you wanna work on alternate picking. Get used to the basic mechanics (upstroke, downstroke). Pick ONE scale, or rather, ONE scale PATTERN. Start with a simple exercise, i.e. playing on only one string. Whenever you are ready (feeling comfortable with that exercise), add another string. (like i.e. with the PG Lick)
If you wanna work on longer runs, make one up. And try different variations of that one... starting on an upstroke instead of a downstroke, or starting on a different note of the pattern etc.
Try using different fingers. Once you feel comfortable with that run in the pattern you chose, move the pattern to a different area of the neck (different key) or move the run to a different pattern altogether.
Try different tempos (that one's obvious, actually... if you wanna increase speed, you work with a metronome and steadily increase the tempo anyway).
Try stuff like playing the run with a shuffled rhythm. Or start on the "and" of 1, try syncopating.
If you started practicing the run at about 90 bpm and already brought it up to, like, 120 bpm, set your metronome to 60 and play it slowly, but evenly at that tempo.