Wednesday, 11 March 2015

What Batman Taught Me About Playing Guitar

      Yes, I admit this does seem like the kind of title that suggests I'm writing this at 4am having downed three pints of coffee, but bear with me.
      So “The Dark Knight” was on over Christmas and after having “been meaning to watch that” since 2008, I finally saw it. I actually had the good fortune to visit Chicago in 2008 not long after they'd filmed the movie there, so it was extra fun picking out the bits of the city I recognised. Anyway, a bad habit of mine is IMDb'ing or Wikipedia-ing movies as I'm watching them, and I came across an interesting article on the martial arts training that Batman himself, played by Christian Bale, went through.
       Director Christopher Nolan specified that he wanted Batman to have a realistic and brutal fighting style, no showboating martial arts moves, so he settled on a technique called the Keysi Fighting Method. This is a simple but brutally effective method derived from streetfights amongst Spanish gypsys and has a great deal in common with the Israeli Krav Maga fighting method which is used by many special forces and law enforcement units. These methods eschew flourishes and showy martial arts sequences in favour of simple, quick, and brutal movements that come out of the body's natural reflexive movements. Bruce Lee took a similar approach, stating that it was better to have one or two moves that you could perfect and rely on than a whole host of techniques which clogged the mind and stop you reacting quickly.
        I think you can see where this is going.
      As a guitar teacher, I've had many students ask me to teach them complex techniques like multi finger tapping or sweep picking. My initial reaction always used to be no problem, let's get stuck into a raft of technical exercises – filling the fingers and mind with technical information. However, just learning technique like this, in a vacuum, is not effective in terms of making you a better guitar player.
      My reaction now is to ask the student why he or she wants to learn these techniques, what they are hoping to achieve musically with them. Many times, it's a better approach to look at the licks and phrases you already play naturally – following the body's natural reflexive moves – and look to see how you can develop these phrases, perhaps by adding new ideas like tapped or swept notes to pentatonic phrases that you already use instinctively rather than trying to shoehorn unwieldy arpeggio ideas into a playing style that doesn't suit it. This way, your style will grow organically to incorporate these ideas in a musical, rather than contrived way.

        It seemed to work for Bruce Wayne.