Be Creative !
(30 Oct 02)
Now, LISTENING is very essential. Cuz the way you perceive music, the things you hear in your mind when you compose or improvise, will be based on whatever you have been listening to.
Meaning that, if you i.e. listened to blues records exclusively (and this is exaggerated, cuz we listen to way more music than we are aware of... in the radio, on TV... ), you'll most likely feel natural with the phrasing, progressions and melodies used in that style of music.
It's up to your imagination then to make something out of it. Either by sticking to what you have heard, kinda copying it, or by taking it a step further, adding other things to create something different.
You don't have to analyze what's going on in the music, you just are shaped by hearing it.
Now, the reason why I talk about this as much is not the good ol' "be open-minded, listen to different styles of music too" or whatever.
No, what I mean is:
If you listen to a song or just one solo or melody, and you like it, figure out WHY you like it. Take it apart. Or transcribe and learn it. Let that inspire you. Try to come up with something new, based on that. At first it might sound like a copy, but try to explore it further to come up with something which is loosely based on that element you liked... the texture, timbre or basic idea of it.
If you i.e. like the style of Zakk Wylde (I do!!!), and you like the way he sounds, you could analyze his playing and hear that he is using an aggressive sound, lots of wild bendings, hard pickings and pinch harmonics.
Now experiment with that and try to emulate the sound you hear when you listen to Zakk. The texture is wild, aggressive playing... I took some of that texture, it sure is a part of my style these days. I occasionally play something that to me has the "Zakk Wylde"-texture, and most of the time, people are not like "Dude, that's a riff by Zakk" or "Hey, you're ripping off Wylde!", because I am not copying a certain lick or his style, I try to emulate his approach, his attitude, the general idea, the texture...
Does this make sense? I sure hope it does. It's kinda tough to explain.
The second thing is:
Listen to other instruments
The guitar is such an expressive instrument, with so many options... you can create bunches of different sounds, either by the gear you use, or by the way you play. Jon Finn just gave us a great example... the "Damper Pedal Guitar".
Playing with dynamics, picking hard or soft could be compared to playing a piano, where you can alter the volume of a note by hitting the key rather hard or rather softly.
Or if you play chords by picking each string at the same time with your fingers. (Fret a chord with your left hand, and instead of strumming it, pick all the fretted strings with one finger per string ). It's the "piano texture".
You can play huge intervals, cause you have adjacent strings. You don't have to move the hand along the neck at all to do a 2 octave jump (i.e. by playing the e's at the 12th fret on the low and then on the high E-String). Therefore, you can play lines with huge interval leaps, which reminds me of a saxophone
You can play doublestops, bend them, fade them in with a volume knob, like Steve Morse does in "The Bash". That, to me, sounds a lot like a pedal steel.
You can slap the strings, knock on the body of the guitar etc. Like Preston Reed does, in a rather percussive context. The drum-texture.
And of course, with stuff like vibrato, bendings, slides and wide intervals (plus goodies such as a Wah-pedal), you can imitate a voice...
And using these "textures" can open up new doors for you on your guitar. You can take one simple melody and play it in bunches of different ways, using those kinda approaches.
Feel like you're caught in a rut, like your phrasing and note choice is just full of your own cliches?
Well, go and listen to a good singer. Listen to the intervals singers use (often way more than a minor or major third etc). Listen to how they use vibrato, i.e. singing a note, then holding it, then slowly applying an increasing vibrato.
Try to emulate those sounds on your guitar. Take one single vocal melody, plug in your guitar, maybe turn on your gain, and try to copy all the nuances of that voice.
Now, take one of your own melodies or exercises? Are ya bored of it? Well, then try to play it with a "vocal-timbre"... or try to play it piano-style?
Do you see? (Man, that phrase totally reminds me of "Red Dragon"... just saw the movie, and the dude keeps showing this reporter some horrible photos and keeps saying "Do you see"... sorry... back to our regular program)
There is a plethora of phrasing-details, nuances and textures to be discovered....
And listening to a lot of music really will help you to increase your vocabulary. Try focusing on certain instruments for a while...