I am once again, sitting on a German train, heading east to a town called Magdeburg…only thank goodness this time there is no volcano, and my commute will be 5 hours instead of 15.
“Thanks for the memories…”
But I digress…
I just had the first of 2 train rides and got 2 nice hours of warmup and practice in on the first train. Acoustic guitar is luxurious in that it is quiet enough to practice on a train, and no one else hears it due to all the ambient noise. Not many instruments can be practiced just about anywhere!
Last night’s show was a hit, and I am feeling the repertoire deepen, become more natural, less forced and more groovy. There is a maturing process that repertoire goes through, and the maturing can’t be rushed.
Learning an arrangement is a lot like chopping up veggies for soup. You can throw all the ingredients in, but as the saying goes, “it ain’t soup yet”. Living with your songs and arrangemest is like letting the soup simmer and letting the flavors mix. Night after night you get to investigate new angles, moods, ideas – and fingerings.
As I pracitced today I thought back to a brief but critical music lesson that I’d like to share with you. Not only does it have musical meaning, but philosophical meaning as well, which just tickles me.
Last year I had the honor of playing with jazz master drummer Alvin Queen. He’s the best there is in my opinion. He was Oscar Peterson’s last drummer and there are many good drummers – but I and all the musicians will tell you, “theres only one Queen”.
Alvin and I were having coffee and he started telling me about how he teaches drums to students. Mind you, he is “old school”. Nope you won’t find him on a “school faculty” – you’ll find him schooling you and everybody who plays with him.
“I tell students to play 3/4 time with their feet. I let them play for a while and then tell them to add their hands. 99.999% of the time, the moment the hands come in, the feet sound weak and fall apart. That’s our starting point. Get the feet solid and never ever leave the groove. The rest is icing on the cake.”
This made me think “how does this apply to guitar?”.
Duh. It didn’t take long for me to realize that in many of my arrangements the “notes” sound great and I have enough technique to play it, but something felt like it was missing. Hmm.
The THUMB!!! If I could treat the thumb like a drummer would treat the feet, allowing that to be the heartbeat, and never, ever, ever, EVER leave or lighten up on the pulse when the fingers enter…well let’s just say a whole new world opened up to me. Easier said than done!
I must emphasize I am not talking about having good “time” – I mean “groove”. Most guitarists can simply alternate their thumb, but to put that right hand thimb – deep, deep in the pocket, and not lose that – is art. Any musician can count…but not every musician can make other people feel a groove, and that – for me, is the goal.
Sure enough, the first time I got to play with Tommy Emmanuel we were backstage and it was 2 minutes before his show was happening. He was in the dressing room with me firing up his version of “Locomotivation” and said “I just gotta get this down in the pocket, that’s all that counts”. Off he ran to open his show and I then hears the same thing blasting from the stage.
So, today I practiced my tunes but made sure that heartbeat was there, not just in my imagination but in that thumb. Practicing very slowly also helps this.
This requires honesty with oneself. Can you sing the drum part to what you are playing? Do you know exactly what the groove should be?
Put your arrangements in the pocket, play a ferocious groove and you will be a happy camper! Get that thumb solid and groovy! By paying attention to this your music can deepen greatly.
Now…git to work! 🙂
Misha Sakharoff says
Now that soup parallel is brilliant! In Russia the term “second-day soup” is applied when something is gotten more concentrated, more – yes ferocius! If you have something like this in your fridge you’re lucky 😉 Back to fingerstyle.. I’m rehearsing listening to the bass part and letting the chords and melody play by themselves, a bit inspired by Kenny Werners Effortless Mastery book. I feel that that concept of listening frees me from caring about the complexity of chords and melody part.. which results in much more flow and steadier groove 😉
Have a nice travel!
PS: Alvin Queen + NHØP, Eddie Gomez or Christian McBride = worlds finest rhythm section!!!! Lucky you 😉
Thank you for this big free lesson. 🙂 Georg
Walt Holokai aka naniho on youtube says
It wasn’t until I saw your “4-levels of boom chick” video that I realized how deficient I was at this vital aspect of fingerstyle. I have since started to focus on it and managed to learn Jerry Reed’s “Baby’s Coming Home”. It is now my favorite piece. I am still in the infancy stage of my boom chick studies but I thank you for bringing it to my attention. My new focus on boom chick has advanced my playing quality more than I ever imagined it would. Be careful over there B-Bopping around Europe and thanks for all your great tips and music. 🙂
Philip Quintas says
Adam, I love your vibe and your lesson are greatly relevant. The trouble is I can’t seem to get any of your youtube links to play and I’m losing out on some great value there. I tried copying and pasting them into my address bar (with and without the the  brackets) but, no dice. Any thoughts on how I can get access to what I assume is brilliant content?
Thanks for all that you do, brother.
Bryan Fan says
I haven’t got your mail for a long time.
Can you add me in your mail loop?
thank Adam, how would you assess the role of thumb pick?
Bob Ginn says
Adam, I have given this a try and will not give up with this , but the foot just will not stop. I told it to stop but it won’t listen (-:
Have you given any more thought to another price option i.e. no video instructor feedback. Just an option to learn the songs you create?
Thanks for all your sharing…just genius stuff which hopefully with work/practice will make us all a little bit better at communicating beautiful music.
John Folkes says
Another wonderful lesson Adam. I really find that your content is so much more relevant than so many other sites out there. Am currently on vacation and miss my guitar greatly. Home in a few days and very eager to try out all your tips.
I have only been playing guitar for a year and find that I focus so much on my chords and hitting the right strings that I often miss the essence and groove of the song. Your tips and inspiration keep me going.
Thanks and safe travels my friend.
Steve Childs says
Thanks Adam, my thumb groove is a weakness my teacher and I are working on with slow and deliberate practice of a strong and steady bass line so the groove can be heard when it eventually comes
Interesting that Tommy started as a drummer.
Martin Ziegert says
Where is the lesson here? It’s a consideration, actually a good one, but would I read it, when I would have know before, there are no notes / drum pattern to practice or anything like that? Try to be more focused to keep us reading Adam.
Martin Hello!!! … the lesson is to follow the thump and think about what he siad, as it is different from what guitarists usually say. If you want my full on “Improve Your Groove” lesson it’s on https://studywithadam.com for members 🙂
Thanks for that. Liked the analogy of making soup. That’s exactly how I feel about it but after reading I realise it doesn’t always turn to soup. We shall keep at it haha.