Monday, 20 February 2017

The Historical Perspective

So you're making progress. Got power chords and barre chords down, cracking on with major and minor pentatonic scales and starting to pick up speed and accuracy with sequencing ideas, maybe a few string bends here and there and nailing the legato approach through hammer ons and pull offs.

But here's the problem. All that stuff sounds brilliant in your bedroom and it's great fun watching your fingers wiggle around like crazy, but when it's time to get up and strut your stuff it just.. doesn't happen. There's a disconnect there.

This is where the incredible wealth of guitar music and guitar education can actually work against you. With so much... stuff.. on offer, it's really hard to work out what you should be learning, where you should go first. For example, I had a student a few years ago who had decided he was going to learn the classic Van Halen solo “Eruption” for a talent show.

In two months time.

Never having played guitar before.


What could possibly go wrong...

So, in this instance, unfortunately I had to talk him down. Short of downloading the skills straight into his brain, a la Matrix, there was no way that was going to happen. So, let's follow the path back through history.

Eddie Van Halen has stated many times in interviews that one of his biggest influences is Eric Clapton. In many ways, he sees himself as having taken Clapton's legacy and built on it, evolving the techniques employed by him and his contemporaries (in fact, EVH once said he first got inspired to develop his iconic tapping technique when he learnt the solo to Led Zeppelin's “Heartbreaker” and wanted to find a way to make Jimmy Page's cascading pentatonic licks move around the fretboard). Now, in turn, Clapton drew his influences from the first generation of blues guitar heroes – chief amongst them, one B.B. King.

Now, as regular readers of this blog will know, B.B is also one of my heroes, but his style is very much minimalist as far as technique goes. There are very few notes, but each one is perfect. Elegant, deft phrasing, with that instantly recognisable vibrato, but there are plenty of his solos that a rookie could get down with a couple of month's (disciplined and intensive) practice. And in doing so, learn an awful lot about taste, phrasing, timing and feel. And once you've got the King down, try out his brothers – Albert and Freddie. And then through to the 60's – Clapton, Page, Beck and Hendrix...each generation building on the shoulders of the last.

There's a parallel to be found here with martial arts. As the student works his way up by levels, he learns discipline to partner the techniques. So by the time he's learned how to punch through a man's chest, pull out his heart and show it to him before he dies (that is a real thing, right?), he'll have the discipline not to do it unless he really has no alternative. In the same way, a student who has followed the chronological development of guitar playing won't simply throw in sweep picking or tapped licks arbitrarily, they will evolve those techniques into their style organically, pulling them out when and only when the musical situation demands it.

So – the moral of the story? You want to play like Avenged Sevenfold (or whoever) – go find out who they listened to. Then find out who those guys listened to. Then – well, you get the gist. With all that you learn along the way, not only will you be better able to emulate your heroes - you'll be better able to create something of your own too.