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4 Ideas for Putting a Spark Into Your Guitar Playing

Published: Wed February 11, 2009  News Feed

Haven’t felt the urge to play guitar lately? Practice schedule in disarray or even non-existent?

Tips for guitarists

Let's talk about some simple things you can do to energize your musical life.

Aligning Your Self Toward a Master Plan

Regardless of what styles you explore, if you want better skills you'll need to spend time conditioning muscle memory. Play something wrong 40 times and you've trained yourself to make mistakes. On the contrary, play it right 40 times and suddenly you've got a foundation to build upon. Doing it right means you've made an investment in a pattern that has rewards.

One thing many of you may not do is purposely arrange your practice routine around your larger musical goals, but it's helpful to pay attention to what kind of artist you are now and to make the most of your strengths while designing challenges to overcome your weaknesses. Ask your bandmates what your strengths are. Compare what they say to what you think of yourself so that you can get some perspective. Compare yourself to people you respect. What do they have that you want? Do research to find out what they did to reach certain goals. If you aim blindly, you can't expect to hit much, so the main thing is to go for it armed with a plan.

You may often find yourself noodling around on a guitar and end up with a fragment of music that you can imagine becoming – with a bit of work – a fully realized composition. The time you spend running scales, memorizing shapes and riffing while tweaking a tone on your amp is actually a type of preparation. The problem is, unless you've already prepared your studio for those moments, you'll often forget the great idea before you get a chance to record it. There's a way out if you are willing to admit you have formed a bad habit.

If you've been creating cool riffs during each of your private practice sessions, but not taking the time to set up templates in your digital audio workstation (DAW), you often forfeit the opportunity to grab those ideas in a form that you can bring to your band on practice nights. Or if you don't have a mic already set up in front of the amp you love so much, this leaves you scrambling around on a mixer, setting levels and attempting to find a sweet spot for that SM57 – all while trying not to drop or ding your guitar. Not cool. You desperately want progress, and you can sense the possibility for progress, but your weakness in planning and execution that prevents you from being able to document it consistently.

Prep Your Studio to Capture Ideas Quickly

One solution: Realize it's the 21st century! The technology is there for you and it's affordable. Force yourself to create at least one template in your DAW that has a favorite drum kit, a bass instrument, and perhaps a synth patch that works for comping chords. Electric piano and guitar can work great together for this without leaning too far toward any particular style, but the main thing is to keep it simple. You don't want to be overthinking things or taxing your CPU while capturing an idea. Once you have it recorded, you can get more serious about instrumentation.

Create some patches in a virtual guitar processor (there are many free ones as well as commercial ones like Guitar Rig) that cover the typical bases of your style (the average dude will need a clean sound, a lead tone, and a rhythm sound). Save those patches in such a way that you can get to them instantly, or make sure you've figured out optimal levels on your mic and cabinet. You'll need to have worked out the mic placement in advance, and if you have the luxury, leave it set up all the time.

Create or buy some excellent drum patterns that work in many different tempos. Maybe you're good at programming beats or perhaps you need drum loops. It doesn't matter as long as you've done the legwork which makes it easy to capture basic ideas. Then, when inspiration strikes, you're ready to record. Sometimes just capturing a riff is enough to spark an entire verse and chorus. Hours will go by and it'll feel like minutes. That's what you're after, the ability to turn those hours into something you can share exponentially.

Dream Up Specific Goals for Your Personal Practice Sessions

If you desire a lead guitar role, but find yourself in a rut in terms of composing memorable melodies, then take control of the situation. Don't be the guy whittling away at rote tapped triplets that just outline chords. Get serious about learning what makes your favorite melodies evocative. Immerse yourself in the music of melodic masters so that you begin to subconsciously absorb it.

One solution: Spend your next practice session composing and recording a chord progression that's outside your normal style. Make it something special that builds toward a climax and then create a two-chord chorus part to cap it off. Perhaps you can build that chorus vamp around a mode that you haven't spent much time exploring. If you don't know what a mode is and how it might apply to a vamp, find out!

Work on the drum part, too, and write some exciting supporting parts that give it more of a full band sound without becoming cluttered. You want simplicity and space. Then, the next time you practice, begin to put your chops to work in the service of a melody that rides that progression into history. Don't allow yourself the luxury of speed if speed is your strength. Instead, devise phrases that are slower and vocalesque in nature. Maybe in the time between these two practice sessions you can treat your ears to players who are known more for phrasing and tone than for raw speed. Jeff Beck and David Gilmour spring to mind. The gist of what I'm saying is to begin to prepare a larger campaign for what you want your music to become. You'll get there if you do the prep work.

Enlist Musical Friends into Your Routine

You may find that your strengths are in arrangement and engineering. You find yourself more drawn toward combining ideas and building up larger musical units out of smaller ones. Music is more about imagination anyway – a good looping pedal can help you cultivate this kind of thinking. If this describes you, seize the opportunity to bring your bandmates over to record or recruit some people via forums or your local music store. Block out a series of Saturday nights where you have only one member of your band come over to interpret some of your ideas through their chosen instrument. Capture their best moments and get feedback from them on what they want to achieve as musicians. Let them try things out and do your best to get the stuff recorded well. Ask for multiple takes so that you can have a varied collection of parts to experiment with once you're back on your own again.

If you are smart about it, you'll find that giving each of your bandmates an opportunity to be the focus of a session leads to camaraderie that translates not only into confident music but lasting friendships. It's prep work for those times when you're all in a room arguing over which idea is best for a given song. The time you've spent cultivating respect for one another will pay off in those times, giving you the chance to mediate the band dynamic. Mutual respect is a lost art, and it's one of the most useful solutions you can bring to many band situations.

In a nutshell: Prep for capturing ideas, look outside of yourself for guidance and inspiration, and figure out ways to bring all of this work into thoughtful focus.

Original article from Gibson.com

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