The M3 guitar - Nobody on the road

Nobody on the road

It is extremely rare that you will have the M3 to yourself, and even when you do, there is always the nagging suspicion that your actions are monitored by a speed camera. You might be on your own but you still have to behave.

Practicing in private

Practicing is about making the most of the time you dedicate to your instrument. Below I have listed my ten commandments of practicing. Please keep in mind that I take the point of view of the enthusiastic amateur, not the uncompromising professional. Visit Guitar Principles for a comprehensive and truly profound approach to learning the guitar.

    1 Have fun

    You should never spend a thousand hours of your spare time on something you don't enjoy. There exists a widespread, misguided, belief that serious learning is intrinisically linked to some sort of personal sacrifice, or even personal suffering but what is really required is discipline. If you have decided, of your own free will, to learn more about a subject you find interesting then the odds are that you will consider most things related to that subject as meaningful and worthwhile. Not all of them, though; sometimes you have to push yourself a little, and for this you need discipline. Nevertheless, as long as you can see the point of what you are doing it is not difficult to overcome the occasional crisis. You should never think of practicing as a duty, you should practice because it is fun. It is sad to see when people are turned off a musical instrument at a young age because they have had lessons from patronising and narrow-minded teachers. Don't let it happen to you, or to your children.

    2 A little frequently is better than a lot occasionally

    You are much better off with twenty minutes every day than four hours Saturday afternoon. If you can do an hour every day you will start to see some serious progress, and if you can manage between two and three hours daily, then things will start moving for real. Beyond that... I am not in a position to say, I haven't managed to break the three-hour barrier.

    3 Don't do warm-up exercises

    I consider warm-up exercises a waste of precious practice time. They usually consist of trivial material designed to entertain your fingers, not your ears or your brain. Start off with something that is relatively gentle on the left hand, you should be able to feel when you are ready for the more demanding material.

    4 If it hurts, stop

    It is sometime suggested, even by the great Ted Greene, that it is necessary to endure some amount of physical pain in order to develop certain aspects of ones technique. For example, there are many exotic chords that require some fairly ridiculous stretching of the fingers on the left hand. These uncomfortable voicings will make your wrist hurt but some people insist that the pain will go away if you keep practicing them. Nevertheless, I practiced some Ted Greene voicings a long time ago, and my wrist never stopped hurting so I am not convinced. I have also had problems with my neck, shoulders, and back, in the past. Nowadays I only play things that feel comfortable physically. Ignore the warning signs from your body at your own risk.

    5 Don't go for perfection the first time

    When you want to learn something new, such as a solo arrangement of a tune, I suggest you work it up to an adequate level of, say, about 75% percent of what you consider to be a flawless performance. To me an adequate level means being able to play through the tune with only minor glitches, at speed, after having rehearsed it for no more than 15 minutes. Once you are able to do this, shift your main attention to something else, and come back to this tune only occasionally. This type of 'intensity-release' is very efficient, as any book on learning will tell you, and just as importantly it prevents you from getting bored with the material you are working on. Most music teachers tend to prefer the 100% approach -- you get one chance to get it right, and if you don't, you are sent home with the same lesson. It might be good for technique but it is not good for motivation.

    6 Exaggerate

    You should try to look for extremes when you are practicing. Try to get some variation into your style -- play soft and loud, slow and fast, sparse and busy. It stimulates your imagination, and in addition it is nice to be in possession of a bit of extra 'headroom'.

    7 Think OR memorize

    I always make an effort to learn to use the same runs and chords in different situations. If your memory is very good, however, then this might not be necessary. You just learn millions of runs and chords, and you will always have some to choose from in a given situtation. My memory is terrible, though, so I am forced to build up some sort of compact internal representation. Give the issue a bit of thought, and then go for the method that suits you the best.

    8 Use a metronome

    Even though the rythmic feel in jazz is very loose I must admit I cannot stand listening to musicians who can't keep time. Some people claim that practicing with a metronome makes your playing 'mechanical' but I disagree. I think guitarists are particularly guilty of sloppy playing. You don't need to use the metronome extensively, I consider it more a kind of 'performance check' that you apply in the final stages. If you want to find out just how good your time-keeping is, try to play along with a click track set up to mute every second bar (I did this for at least an hour every day for about three years when I was playing drums). Chances are you very often have to adjust as you come out of the empty bar.

    9 Record yourself

    You absolutely have to record yourself occasionally. Things just don't sound the same when you playing and when you are listening. It is partly physical, I think; some things are just more fun to play than others, and that biases your judgement. In addition, I also find that small details sometimes make a big difference. For example, whether you play a chord on the beat, or just before the beat, can change the feel of a passage completely.

    10 Look for personal sounds

    You should try to develop your own style. This ought to happen naturally because we are all different but it will happen even quicker if you are concious about it. Personally, I very much like the sound of close notes ringing together, and I try to sneak in this effect whenever I can get away with it. There is a limit, though. You can't repeat yourself too much. You need to get the balance between 'trademark licks' and 'wild ideas' right.

The recording for this section is an example of commandment 6, exaggeration. It is an exercise I made up for the purpose of learning to play a basic 2-5-1 pattern. A whole chorus of Joy Spring (mp3) is based on this pattern. Three guitars are played in unison, giving it a kind of Les Paul feel. Transposing the lines up one octave for the dubbing requires absolutely no extra work on the M3 since the fingerings are exactly the same.