As guitarists and musicians we all strive to develop, to go further, learn more, play faster, better etc. Throughout my years as a teacher I’ve come to see many very talented (and some not so talented) kids pass me by. Most follow the same curve of development, starting with the wish to be able to play the songs of their idols, be it Iron Maiden or Wilson Picket.
Once they’ve started to learn a few riffs and songs of their favorite bands, most turn to improving their technique within that field of music. This is where things get interesting and where many factors play part.
One thing that play part is of course inherit musicality. We are all born with different gifts be it musical, mental or physical. Some might have the makings of remarkable musicians, but being brought up in a non-musical environment they will never be subjected to the igniting factors and thus never develop those gifts.
But such things aside everyone can and should strive to make the best they can with the tools they’ve been given. Only focusing on technical development (regardless of musical style) will in most cases lead to a steep curve of development, where the guitarist is proficient in playing the songs of their idols, or even things in that genre, in some cases like a robot. In this case they give out only what’s been put in, not being able to utilize their technique to much more than playing the music of others as it was written (with various degrees of proficiency).
What I strive to provide my students with, more so than technical excellence, is depth and the conceptual understanding of how to utilize their technical proves in a wide range of musical contexts. The idea is to sound professional and experienced regardless of where on the technical curve of development you might be. Instead of having an audience go “man, ‘he’s fast and technical”, go “Jeeez, that guy sound SOO good!” Conceptual thinking and application is a key here, to be able to “milk” every idea and technical quirk you might have in storage. By focusing as much on learning timing and note value variation, you can alter any of their ideas to sound more proficient over the tune their playing. Just using technically comfortable speeds will just sound like you’re not really listening to what you’re doing.
Once you got a good sense of the concept of timing and note value alteration, it’s time for application! A big part of this is having every little thing you’ve learned immediately accessible “at your finger tips” so to say. Many times guitar players spend literally hundreds of hours learning techniques and licks, which may sound great when played over the context they we’re learned in. The problem is however, that more often than not, they can’t use them outside that context, thus having what I call the “ice-berg syndrome”. That is, having a huge load of material you’ve learned, but 80% of it is hidden under the surface, and only the tip of the iceberg is at your disposal.
A very simple, yet incredibly effective tool to remedy this is to simply learn a favorite solo from any song you like, for sake of argument let’s say the solo to “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. It’s a pretty straightforward rock solo in the key of G, with a straight 16-note beat feel to it. Then take the song “Strange Kind of Woman” by Deep Purple. This is in the key of B, and has a triplet shuffle feel to it.
Now transpose the AC/DC solo to the key of B and play it over the Purple tune. Sounds fairly simple right? Well, the trick is to adapt it rhythmically to fit the song, that is play the solo not as Angus would have, but make it sound like Blackmore would have done it. You need to be able to add rests, change note values within the lines of the solo, and be able to improvise rhythmically, while using the licks from the Shook Me-solo. You should be able to take it to the point where anyone listening should not think that you’re playing the AC/DC-solo even if they know the song.
If you keep applying this concept of timing, note value variation and “Superimposing solos”, eventually your curve of development will “fill up” below the line. This way, regardless of where on the curve of technical development, you will sound proficient, experienced and hopefully the “Jeeez, that guy sound SOO good!” will come at you left and right =)
Related lesson at Infinite Guitar:
Timing and Note Value Alteration Tutorial
Expand Your Improvisation with Line Alterations Tutorial