5 guitar tips that could have saved me years of practice
Updated: Mar 24
Today I'll share some tips to help you grow faster in your guitar playing. A bunch of stuff that I wish someone had told me a long time ago.
I would have developed quicker and with less suffering, unhealthy expectations, unhealthy body postures, and such.
Here's the first thing
First, I'm in the opposite state of practice every time I play guitar. The practicing mind in my world tries to know everything; for example, if I'm playing some notes, I want to know what the notes are and what the harmonic functions of numbers are. So if I'm playing a C major, I want someone to tell me: "okay, that's 9, 11, 13" and all kinds of stuff like that. But when I'm playing, I'm trying to do the precise opposite: remember everything when you're practicing, forget everything when you play. Just be present, just like actors. Daniel Day-Lewis practices being Lincoln for two years before he goes to the scene where he's already in character; Daniel knows how Lincoln talks, moves, knows everything, and basically, he doesn't have to think about it.
Remember your body. When I was a young person, I was kind of like the type that's like a brain in a fish tank, something that it's a complete denial of its physicality, which led me to bad posture, bad playing, pains, and so on. And what do I do these days? I try to stay fit and in shape. I play with a very short high strap. The guitar isn't on me, and it's not even on my knee; it just hangs on the belt. I'm playing on a very light guitar. I'm breathing freely, my hands are where they need to be, and I am very relaxed; I will deliberately play with as little tension as possible. At the same time, I'm super loose as I can be and very alert and present. I denote this by the fact that if I'm improvising a new idea, I'm listening for the next thing: trying to be as much like a radio station catching a wave as possible.
So that's very important. Practicing and playing can be two opposites of the same coin.
The next step is the formalization of musical ideas. Imagine a bubble of conversation when you have the first thought. That's like a little bubble, and then something that is said is connected to it. Sometimes there's a connection, but it's not a repetition of the same sentence. Let me talk about the musical material, not the rhythm. My idea is to formalize the relations between the concepts in terms of melodic material. For example, if I have C major notes A A C E, formalizing the connection would have the following elements: interval structure two-thirds a third from A to C third from C to E.
Formalizing the connection means that if the conversation goes forward, it connects to its path, which is the interval formula, but something else happens. For example, the whole idea moves by a step in C major, so the conversation moves forward by remembering something about its past and adding more melodic material.
Another form of formalization with the idea is to say: "I see a harmonic identity here; I recognize A minor." Once I formalize this, I know this harmonic guitar entity has intervals. So formalizing that would be my way of writing a song. It's like a bubble. The first person said: "A C E," and the second person said: "Oh, so that can become C E A, for example." So always knowing the intervallic formula is priceless because you could do a lot of stuff with it. That's the second thing - remember the harmonic identity so you can have inversions of your ideas.
The third formal relationship I love to know about is called a permutation. What is a permutation? It is playing the same notes but in different orders. And that's another formal relationship between ideas, which means I can shift around the order of the guitar notes to get more variation. Again it's all about keeping yes-ending or improvising while adding something to the conversation means taking something from what your partner said and moving it along. It's very analogous to holding talks and getting some intelligent real-time composition. The magic about that is that remember that in music, things are never purely one concept at a time because when we're playing, a lot of this stuff happens together. The reason it's harder to realize we're worried about so many things at once is that you should be terrified.
"Oh God, how will I ever think about all these things, the interval formula, the inversion, and the permutation."
Don't be scared! The beauty of the brain is that it is like an engineering project. I programmed myself to learn these things separately and to work well and formally, so I might say: "You must move one three-five diatonically on a scale." And then I'll learn: "Okay, you must move, and then versions of it."
I formalize every part of my practice with a particular intent, and then when I'm playing, I allow myself to forget.
It was a bunch of ideas that could have changed my life long ago. I sincerely hope this helped and inspired you.