Usually I stress the importance of a good musical education. Often I teach hands-on guitar techniques.
Without my teachers & mentors I would not be the person and musician I am today.
However, there is a fundamental but “advanced” step in making music. What I am about to say may sound contradictory.
After you’ve been a good student, go ahead and throw away everything you’ve learned.
Yes, throw it all away. Forget it on purpose when you make real music.
The other day I HAD to do this, to make real music….
I decided to make a YouTube video for “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
In polishing this tune, I felt like an idiot, as if I had 2 left thumbs.
I wondered “am I getting stupider as a musician and guitarist? I used to nail this stuff! Why does it feel this way?”
In the past I’ve
- nailed alternate picking at fast tempos
- nailed arpeggios
- executed passages “perfectly” (or at least so I thought)
- had it all under “control” fingering wise and brain wise
What the heck “was going on?” – I used to understand this instrument 🙂
Really “making music” was forcing me to throw away ideas I had about “proper” technique. I had not realized that “musical instinct” had become the boss – which explains the fingers being disoriented.
The means of “measuring” good from bad changed.
Does this make sense? Maybe it’s cryptic.
Yes you have to learn and practice, and always will. But, to “communicate musically” you then have convey the meaning of the music, not the words.
And, when you enter this magical “space”…you throw away everything you’ve learned and feel as if you are a beginner again.
Maybe tomorrow you’ll work on technique again.
Just remember to throw it away when it’s time to play.
Michael Fix says
Hey Adam, I think you nailed it…you are really good at explaining this stuff! I call it ‘getting inside the song’ – when you’ve mastered all the technical stuff, & you start to immerse yourself in the feeling of the song…its a very difficult thing to explain, but you did it!
Fidenciara Orb says
Sometimes, trashing gets one to refresh aesthetically, cognitively intertwined with all other aspects of living life and the wonders of music.
Oscar Méndez says
Yeah, i totally agree…. i don´t like to follow the rules….
i like to feel free when i play!
We all do Oscar! Funny the balance between discipline and free….
humble guitar teacher says
Well, I’m not sure about throwing away EVERYTHING, Adam; but you make a good point. The most creative guitar players are known for trademark innovations — to produce new and interesting sounds. But in order to get to that level, it’s a good idea to master the established basic and advanced techniques first. THEN you can throw away the ones you don’t like 🙂
It’s more the mindset of throwing stuff away so you focus on music….thanks for commenting and sorry for the late reply! – AR
Road Glide says
Uncontious competence of the basics and advanced techniques. Imbedded int your synapse through deep understanding and hours/ years of good practice.
Adam Rafferty says
Yes, exactly. Knowing the 4 stages of learning is critical. Unconscious competence is stage 4. Thanks for the comment!
John Judd says
Wonderful cover Adam – I love it; So mellow and fluid. I tell my Hapkido students the same thing. You have to spend the time learning technique, but then you live in the moment and invent technique on the fly.
“What’s going on?” sounds fantastic. Please add it to your studywithadam.com website! I love learning your songs there. But we need more variety.
Also, great advice on forgetting technique. 🙂
Fingerstyle guitar should be in concert with the lyrics of the song as they were presented. Soooo, that brings me to my point. Why is it that ONE stinking chord in an arrangement can keep the ENTIRE song from being fluidly presented? The first chord in Tommy’s Over the Rainbow arrangement is UNPLAYABLE. Also, in several John Knowles arrangements, here comes this chord that can’t be played even with your hand askew. I have enough trouble remembering the arrangements, much less remembering an UNNATURAL chord shape.
As I write this I’m listening to your Marvin Gaye song. I remember listening to the whole album at a party and thoroughly getting it with the rest of the people there. There was a sense of internal connection with both the mind and body.
You nailed this also first with your words and your rendition of this timeless song…if it doesn’t groove…it doesn’t move. Always enjoy reading your words of wisdom! Mahalo!
Vin Daly says
Hi Adam, I really enjoy your playing and the teaching videos you have . I use them all the time. I don’t know if what I am going to say is a criticism or just an observation or whatever. I notice when I listen to you play that I hear a lot of string noise when you change positions. Perhaps this is your guitar pickup that kind of brings this out? I just feel that if it were me I was listening to, I would wonder why I am hearing so much string noise when I play. Do you notice this? I hope I’m not being too critical or nitpicking or anything because the music you play is great and string noise is going to be there no matter what. Hope you understand what I’m saying. Thanks.
Adam! Thanks a lot!!!
It’s just magic when you get far enough into the piece that you’re no longer paying attention to the notes, the chords, key, theory and all the rest, and just feel the song, and channel the author and recording artist. It’s good to remember that the magic is what we loved in the song in the first place. We’re not record players or pale imitators, we’re artists. It’s not music until we feel it, and show that we feel it. When you’d like the original artist to hear your version and connect with you (or ultimate nirvana, if the author hears yours and wants to play it with you! Doesn’t happen in real life, of course, but if you’re musically alive, the dream is alive)
Great timing Adam. Just this past week, as I start to get a handle on the arrangement I’m working on right now, I chucked all of the notes and tablature, and just played it from the heart, continuously for several days Don’t think I ever played a verse the same way twice. It was magical, and the end result will show all of the creativity and artistry I pulled together this week. I can’t wait to start writing it down, but first I’m going to enjoy it for another couple of days, until I’m sure I’ve wrung out every musical idea I’ve had. Tablature can wait a bit longer, and when I go back to it, it will flow on to the paper of its own accord. I’ll forget 90% of what I did this week, of course, but it’s only the 10% that’s worth writing down.
Keep on grooving;, man. You’re the best.