Music is a tricky thing to criticize. Criticism can be good – in terms of listening “critically”. We all like different things in music, and hear things according to our tastes.
Of course, I need music to ultimately make me “feel good” when i hear it, but here’s a very objective list to help you “picture” the elements of music.
When I started “apprenticing” with my most important teacher, Mike Longo – former pianist and musical director for Dizzy Gillespie, he told me to take out a piece of paper and make the following list. We did this at lesson #1.
I’d like you to do this with me. get a piece of paper out yourself and make this list. If you only read it, it will be a “nice idea”. I want you to have the list in front of you on your music stand!
Make a heading at the top of the page that says “Guitar“.
This can actually be any instrument, or any style. If you play “Fingerstyle Guitar” put that at the top of the list. This list, when finished will be your main areas of study.
Next, write a line down the middle of the page and make 2 subheadings under the top heading.
“How To Play” and “What To Play“.
Next, under “How To Play” write:
Under “What to Play” write
“What to Play” can generally be written on paper in a book form – it’s “information” much like a cookbook.
“How To Play” is a bit more elusive….some chalk it up to “feeling” but it’s much more than emotion. It’s intuition and experience. More on that in another post.
These 10 areas of study pretty much cover all of it! So, if you are working on one area, be content with that and just work on the one area.
As you listen to yourself and others, or any music at all, try to think critically – have all of these 10 areas been covered?
I often hear fingerstyle guitar music lacking in the “melody” area. Or if there’s a full evening of rubato improvisation, maybe “form and rhythm” are weak or missing.
Personally I had to deal with “touch” and “taste” when doing the I REMEMBER MICHAEL cd…those were the weak spots during my creation process.
Or, when I practice the Bach E Major Prelude, it’s still in need of better “technique” and fingerings.
I’m telling you this so that you can see I try to stand back from what I do, listen, think, and improve my own music.
So there’s always room to improve and grow for all of us!
Remember – when you listen critically you are not attacking a “person” , whether it’s yourself or another guitarist.
You are just simply verbalizing which area of the “music” (not the person) could stand improvement.
Now….git to work!
Thanks Adam — valuable stuff. For me, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of assuming I’ve done all the work needed when really I’ve only covered two or maybe three of the “how to play” items. Can’t thank you enough for the musical inspiration and for sharing your process. Best, TD
Single Malt Monkey says
Listening to you always inspires me to play. Watching this video says to me “Quit blogging Al and get your guitar out”. Nice work.
James Moore says
Adam, It’s Brother James and my wife, Bobbie, formerly from Nashville. Yes, formerly. We moved to Shelby, NC for a new job. Hated missing CAAS this year. Just thought we would say hello. Bobbie bought it me a Bourgeois Orchstra Model guitar for our Fortieth Wedding Anniversity. Next time we meet I would like to hear you play it. Your arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” sounds great on it! Hope the music is fresh, life is all smiles, and love anchors each moment. Live long, play often, strum loud, and God bless, Brother James and Bobbie
excellent article helped me a lot to focus on priorities to improve my sound. obfigado by Adam corpartilhar their experiences!
Luciano – glad you liked it!
Joël Badie says
Thanks Adams. Your references/examples are a valuable template for success through technique & patience. Your previous mentions of Mike Longo inspired me to look for material on his harmonic approach to jazz. I have “The Technique Of Creating Harmonic Melody For The Jazz Improviser’. Love it!
Charles Harrison says
Hello, Would you possibly consider selling me your copy? I have been unable to find a copy anywhere on the internet and although I appreciate that this comment is out of the blue your comment was one of the top search results on google which hopefully highlights how tough it is to find!! Please let me know if you would be able to and email me at email@example.com
Thanks very much,
Really enjoy your news letters and you have expanded my playing with your sense of rhythm and now guidance to what I need to put into my music
David Keary says
Great info….thanks for posting!
Phillip Woodson says
Awesome information to consider. Thank you!
Glad you liked this.
Nick Owen says
Thanks for sharing Adam
Nick – Thanks for the comment!
Dear Adam. I am very grateful for the tips you have sent me.
I play guitar for some time, I am self-taught. I love music, and there are things that had never heard. I will try to follow most of the advice.
Thanks for everything.
baden clarke says
Hey Adam, love your music style.Just wanted to see some more christian music (christian as in the religion and not as the name) on your you-tube channel. thanks and keep up the good work!
Enjoyed the article above. I was wondering if you could recommend any books that are easy to understand regarding playing fingerstyle and the melody at the same time. Thanks.
Matt take a few easy classical lessons, that’s a good start to wring the brain for that!
Thanks a lot for valuable information!
Thomas Bregatta says
If you had asked me what I was going to play tonight on the job I would have pointed at my set list and if you had asked me how I was going to play, I I would have said,” the best I can.”.
The list will be enormously helpful . Thanks . If I find myself an automatic pilot this evening I will call this to mind.
Adam, thanks for putting up with tech problems to get us some great information! Since you are seeing this, it was a browser issue, first try was with Internet Explorer, this time with Chrome.
Bridget, you asked about “taste” so here is my answer (which I also emailed you…)
Example – if you have many ways you can play a D minor chord for example, you can choose, maybe even spontaneously which one is best.
Or, just today I was practicing a ballad with all sorts of different fingerings, and with a pick vs only fingers, listening intently for the “tastiest” sound I could get.
So taste means you have a few ways to do something, and can decide by feel.
Hope that answers it 🙂
Malcolm Wilkinson says
I really appreciate your blog and the teaching videos you post. It is really making me think about what I am trying to achieve with my playing. Your arrangement of Silent Night was beautiful. The family are asking me how long I am going to keep playing it now that Xmas is over!
I will be in New York 30 March to 5 April 2016. Do you have any gigs planned?
Thanks Adam. This is one of your senior students. I love getting your emails. Since I’m learning at the age of 79….almost 80 (I waited a little late to start)…lol, some of this is going over my head. However, I’m keeping it all for the near future. Many thanks for these encouraging emails.
I’m curious where I can find the definitions of the term you’ve outlined so that I know exactly what they mean. For example, I don’t know the difference between touch, technique and form.
“What to music” is to analyze the music ?
So I think that is “Analyze” is to approach the first image of the composer of that song.
Hi, i am new to your blog and starting on guitar at 69, i was just thinking how do you know what fingerpicking pattern to use for different songs.
Chris that’s a huge question, but a good one. It all depends on the underlying rhythm of the song. A great place to start would be some easy “thumb picking” – a song like Freight Train. It’s actually not easy at all! But a good place to start so you can play songs. Enjoy!
Sen. Leslie says
Nice day Adam!
I do not write many times because I do not understand the English language.
I am a 70 year old and I started playing guitar for 10 years. By chance I heard Chet atkinst play and that’s it.
I don’t teach a teacher, I learn myself and thank you for your advice. Help a lot.
Tom J says
Thank you for your postings and sharing Mike Longo’s list. In many ways, Longo’s list embraces the body and soul of music. However, I do not quite understand “form” but presume it refers to “genre”. One usually doesn’t play a classical piece (e.g. Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de Alhambra”) with the style and flair of the blues. Perhaps you can clarify briefly.
Peppino D’Agostino once gave me another perspective about playing music: pay attention to pitch, meter, and rhythm. Rhythm poses the final challenge to get the feel for any song.
Adam Rafferty says
Tom – form is the structure, Recuerdos has a seriously effective form : AABB. 2 times theme in minor, then 2 times in major.
Peppino is 100% right. Groove is almost everything.
God bless! – AR
Thank you so much for Longo’s List! Perfect timing for where I am at and more importantly what I need to do! It gives me a lot to work on and a plan for how to approach it.
Constructive criticism implies a balance. Yes, I can see your point about fingering, technique and some transitions but hey you have lovely touch, tone and taste. So, “chapeaux” to you for the feeling and emotion you convey with your music. Thank you.