Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions 2015

Happy New Year everyone! 2015 is upon us – as everyone who grewup with the “Back To The Future” franchise knows, this is the year we were promised flying cars and a hoverboard in every home. Instead we just have this rubbishy thing called the Internet, where we can read articles composed entirely of light that whine about how we don't have hoverboards and flying cars yet. And smartphones which allow us to access basically all of the combined knowledge of two thousand-odd years of human history in the palm of our hand, as well as letting us share really cute pictures of cats...
Anyway, new year means a chance to regroup and refocus on your musical goals for the year. Most people stumble and slow their progress because they get distracted and try and move in too many different, disparate directions at once. Result – they get nowhere, and they get frustrated. And with the frustration comes a decrease in motivation, and then we're into the vicious cycle of decreasing returns leading to decreasing effort.

So, let's take the opportunity afforded us by the new year to define three musical goals – no more, no less - to have fulfilled by the end of this year. For some of you, that will be grades – Rockschool's excellent syllabus has pivotal points at grades 3, 5 and 8, and preparing for these exams will improve your core skills no end.

For some, it could be mastering a new technique – slide guitar, hybrid picking, or those faithful shred standbys tapping and sweep picking. Perhaps your interests may lie more in the theoretical or compositional fields – understanding “jazz” extended chords, learning to read music, learning to work in odd time signatures. Frankly, after the exceptional level of compositional talent that everyone involved with the Winterwonderland2014 ( demonstrated, I'd like to see some of you writing your own solo albums this year!

One thing that I think everyone should include in this year's resolution list, though, is to simply sound better. To this end, try focusing in on the details of exactly how you play your regular chords, licks and phrases – fret and pick hand pressure, angles of grip (making sure you're not inadvertantly bending strings while playing chords, for example), muting from both hands to minimise string noise and of course focusing on an even, rhythmic and controlled vibrato. I've covered all of these aspects before in various blog posts, but these are the minutiae that often get overlooked in the quest for more speed, flashier licks and so on. Mastering these details – stripping your technique back to basics and really focusing on the fundamentals – can make you sound far smoother, cleaner and more fluid without having to spend anything at all!

To this end, let me give you an example of how I approach this in my own practice routine. Once a week I set an afternoon aside for band material, setting iTunes on Shuffle and seeing what comes up. I then make a point of playing the solo, or any “spotlight” guitar part, as slowly as possible. This challenges me to control each note for as long as possible, ekeing the maximum emotion and drama from each note and projecting it with as much passion as possible. It's a great way of getting back in touch with the musicality of the solo, rather than simply stringing together a bunch of licks and finger motions. Try it, you might surprise yourself!

Good luck, and happy 2015 to each one of you :-)