Recently a student of mine on StudyWithAdam.com asked me an question which showed his honesty and vulnerability, and it really resonated with me. It’s part of the mental game that many of us face when working on our music.
Adam, I have a teenage daughter who learns guitar songs off youtube, and I feel like she gets things way faster than I do. I’ll practice a simple piece and not ‘get it’ for weeks, whereas for her it takes hours, and she can play stuff back – perfectly.
Am I untalented, or just not getting it? What can I do? It’s getting me down and making me feel strange.
I am really proud of him for opening up to me. I gave a quick answer, but now I have more complete and accurate answer. Here goes…
A Technique to Access Your Musical Inner Genius
Often the most profound lessons are the simplest.
The technique I will describe to you here is insanely simple, but many players make
a huge mistake in their learning process, and sidestep their own genius.
Let’s look at the mistake first, and then what’s needed to correct it.
Have You Ever Been in a Guitar “Practice Funk?”
When you are “in a funk” nothing you play sounds or feels right…it’s like you are just not “getting it.” I’ve been there, so I know.
This is not a plateau that I am talking about. This FUNK feels like you are looking for something, but you are not even sure what you are looking for. I call this “Lostville.”
Just the other day I was examining my technique and it started a downward spiraling, negative thought process. This “thinking” brought my playing into a very un-musical and “disconnected” zone.
I thought myself into a a funk…and I was heading straight toward musical “Lostville.”
Because of my pro experience was able to snap myself out of the “funk”, but that’s because I have 40 years playing experience.
I’ll tell you how I got back on track – in a minute…
And What About those ‘Whiz Kid Guitar Geniuses’?
I’ve been at many guitar conventions where a little young whiz bang guitar player will walk in and his peers and maybe older musicians freak out because of his “talent.”
They just say “this kid gets it, he’s soooo talented!”
As a kid I got reactions like that too…so I know how both sides feel in that scenario.
As a kid, your ego gets inflated and as an onlooker your ego gets trampled…
So let’s go deeper than the ego trip and ask…what is the kid “getting” and what are the onlookers who feel less talented “not getting?”
The difference is really simple, when you know what it is. But first…
Here is The Typical Mistake Most Guitarists Make
Have you ever learned a piece in this manner?
- You print out some TABS (or notated guitar music.)
- You put it up on the music stand, and grab your guitar.
- You slowly plunk out the first few notes / chords – you are not sure what it is “supposed” to sound like.
- The sounds are pleasing and you are enjoying the process. There is a glimmer of hope, that maybe with this piece…you’ll “get it.”
- After a few bars you are just “not getting it.” Frustration creeps in. It is not hanging together, and it feels like an uphill battle in “Lostville.”
- You see someone who is getting it and feel despair. Oh NO!!!!
Sound familiar? If your answer is YES, here’s why you are not getting it…
How to Avoid this Mistake, and Access Your Inner Genius – in 3 Easy Steps:
Step 1: Sing the melody with the right groove before you put the guitar in your hands.
Ok, you are sitting there nodding and saying “I know”…but I am DEAD SERIOUS. If you can’t SING the melody to what you are about to play or learn, you will be forever lost in a labyrinth of tabs, notes, fingerings.
DO IT! Sing the melody and snap your fingers as you sing.
Philosophically speaking, your outer world reflects your inner world, so if you have no idea what the music is saying INSIDE you, the OUTSIDE world of your guitar playing, fingers and technique will never come together.
For example, if you were learning my version of Fly Me To The Moon, I’d make sure you could snap your fingers on 2 & 4 and sing the song in a flow BEFORE you even touch the guitar.
Sounds simple, but it is tricky if you have never done it.
Step 2: After singing the melody, play the single line melody with a groove.
Single line means this – play the melody with no bass notes, no chords, no extra fingerpicking and ZERO “fingerstyle guitar arrangement.” Just melody and groove.
Before you learn to juggle you have to be able to toss ONE ball in the air & catch it.
Many solo guitarists jump right into the “full texture” of a learning a finished arrangement with meldoy, bass and middle, because the plop tabs on their music stand and learn “shapes & moves.”
Jumping into the full arrangement, instead of the melody first will lead you to “Lostville”, 100% guaranteed.
Step 3: Lastly, add fun stuff UNDER the Melody (bass & harmony.)
Ok, let’s say you’ve followed my advice and you can play the melody all by itself with a groove.
Now you are ready to add bass notes and harmonies, always keeping the melody line your ears and awareness. If you are learning an arrangement, just add the extra material a little bit at a time.
Add the bass notes first, then fill the middle notes in.
Why does this process work?
Musical Instinct is Perfect
By accessing your melodic & rhythmic flow FIRST, you start with something “solid” and perfect within yourself.
Hooking bass notes and harmonies onto that perfect intuitive melodic “flow” makes it feel easy, and you’ll feel like you are “getting it.”
And that’s how you will access your “inner genius.”
Anything other than Musical instinct will lead you to “Lostville.”
If you start with your eyes, printed music, putting fingers on the guitar before you know the “musical message” you will feel insecure, confused and lost.
At no point will you ever feel the connection of your intended sound because you have no sound or song as a reference. You’ll be floating far away from your inner genius and musical instinct.
To get myself out of the “practice funk” I mentioned earlier – I set all the thinking aside, and started playing MUSIC (melody and groove) and not just “guitar.”
Simple yet profound.
What Should You Do Next?
Whatever piece you are working on, check to see if you can sing the melody & snap your fingers to the groove.
Starting here with this ordinary, un-sexy test may reveal “the problem” and get you on track so you don’t practice a piece on shaky ground for hours, weeks & months with the feeling of ‘not getting it.’
This is THE difference between ‘I’m so untalented 🙁 ‘ and ‘I GET IT!‘ 🙂 ”
Too simple for you? Check out what Albert Einstein said…
If you enjoyed this post, please comment below!
So simple even a child can do it! Great stuff Adam!
More Information says
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Az Samad says
Extremely well articulated Adam. I’ve been emphasizing the importance of connecting to the groove, melody and inner hearing before playing to my students too. So much of this is internal to create the external results!
This resonates with me a lot and I’m gonna make this a must-read article for my fingerstyle guitar students. Thank you so much for writing this!
Sal Recchi says
I’ve been playing guitar for 50 years or so. I learned technique from a great musician and I practiced scales till my fingers bled. But this blog is the richest mix of sound advice and empathy I’ve experienced since first picking up my Dad’s classical guitar when I was 12 years old. Thanks Adam. You’re a terrific player, and a great teacher.
Thomas J says
Excellent and insightful tips as always. I have been playing for more than 30 years but encounter lots of useful information and aha!-moments when reading your articles. Kudos and thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!
william stokes says
I think this is a very valid point which I will be trying out as I have been messing around with the guitar for years and am not getting anywhere as I do what you have mentioned and stick the music sheet on the stand and start to play it I think but get nowhere and give up then try the same thing with another piece of music although you think you know the song you can go wrong very quickly then think you will never be able to play guitar.
Wow Adam. What amazing advice. I am the guy with the suitcases full of tabs.
I am genuinely impressed and that does not happen often.
“You started the entire process with your eyes instead of your ears.”
Thanks Adam for the insight !! never given much thought about learning a tune that way
Thanks Adam for the insight !! never thought about leaning a tune before picking it out on guitar
Great article.Simple and profound.Your spirit shines through.You throw a light on truth.Grace,bro.
I can really relate to this article. I use to read standard notation and some tabs not knowing what it would sound like until I actually heard it on the guitar. I was relying on the visual and physical fingering aspect of the guitar rather than the sound and groove to the music. I was doing it backwards! Hearing and singing what I played really put my learning curve on the expressway. Music is about hearing melodies and harmonic content. It’s also about groove which the emotion in music.
Excellent advice as I was told years ago by a leading trumpet player…..a pro will give you more advice in a couple of minutes …that would probably take you a couple of years to work out for yourself.
I had this problem long ago. And what i did was to listen the song over and over again so that i could sing the melody and occasionally the bass notes of the song in groove. Then i started to do my own arrangement.
Especially that line ‘You started the entire process with your eyes in stead of ears’. Not doing that is definitely the takehome message.