I got a question recently from a subscriber that read…
I was wondering what your opinion was on practicing technique, learning scales, chord progressions, and theory in the context of a song versus on their own.
This is really a good – and complex question. Here goes…
Many guitar players are often turned off by the idea of practicing technique and learning theory in an abstract non-musical way. I don’t blame them – it feels like doo doo.
- It often brings up VERY un musical feelings when we detach and try something new and unfamiliar on guitar. We “run for cover” back to our feel-good zone.
- We maybe hear a very technical player who is “short on feel” and think the “lack of feel” is due to practicing technique.
- We then think we need to choose one or the other for ourselves – “technique OR feeling”
- And then, the cylcle of frustrations continue when trying to tackle pieces which require more technique. We want to get better, but it feels terrible to detach from “good feel”
Here’s What’s Worked for Me…
Think of Technique as “Good Form”
Just like driving a car and having a conversation can happen at the same time, you can “play with feeling” AND keep an eye on your form – at the same time.
By form I mean hand position, wrists, shoulders, and your touch.
It is VERY valuable and advisable to learn good form from a teacher. When you are learning this it may mean that you have to put music making aside – just a little bit.
When it’s time to make music for people, technique is #2 and music is #1.
Combine Theory Knowledge with You Ears & Voice
Think of theory knowledge as good grammar, running in the background of how you speak.
“Head” theory is meaningless. But if it’s in your ears, voice, eyes and gut – then you have digested the “sound” of the theory. Yes, it is a language – not just an idea.
Attaching a name or label to it is helpful, but the least important step.
I highly suggest taking a course at a community college or lessons for this. It’s like exercise – you may not feel like “keeping it up” on your own and a teacher will really help.
What did Bach do with his students?
Bach knew that working on music ran WAY deeper than technical exercises. All of his activity as a teacher extended beyond technique. My teacher Mike Longo did the same.
Bach wrote easy but musically satisfying preludes for his students, rather than drill them on endless scales.
In my experience, when I have practiced too much technique – it gives me a detached feeling, and I get kicked in the butt when it’s music making time.
Now I only practice “making music” even if I am playing a scale.
In other words, it has to be “spiritually correct” and not just “technically correct.”
What if you want to play a piece that is technically challenging?
Often, I will practice my songs “Rolling With the Ashes” and “Thumbpickers Delight”
with focus on the following
- practice slowly for flow, groove, bounce and ease in my hands
- listen for clarity in the parts (melody, bass, accompaniment)
- pay attention to see what fingerings work well, and what needs to change
- be in the music making zone, feel the groove in my gut while eyeballing my technique like a passenger in the backseat of my car/li>
Slow the technique down enough so that you can balance it with “feel” and “depth.”
- Learn as much as you can, knowledge is GOOD. Can never hurt you, only can help.
- Magazines and Videos probably won’t be enough for your to learn theory. They only offer “little” disconnected lessons. For this – you wil need to commit to a teacher or course.
- Remember though – audiences don’t hear knowledge…they hear MUSIC – melody and groove
- Learn correct FORM (hand position, tone you may need help from a teacher)
- Focus on MUSIC, let technique run in the background – but give it a once-in-a-while tune up.
With that in mind, GROOVE ON!