Sunday, 30 July 2017

Getting Your Nerd On - The Benefits Of A Completist Approach

Yes, I know, I promised Allan Holdsworth this month, but it's just proving too big a topic! For now, content yourself with this...

As I mentioned at the start of the year, I set myself a few challenges. So far it's going pretty well, but every now and again I find myself stumbling across patterns – be they scale ideas, arpeggios or chord voicings – that are just so out there that I find myself thinking “when would I ever use this?”

And it's true, I'm unlikely to spend much time using the Phrygian Dominant or hammering out minmaj13b5 chords. The direct impact of these patterns on my playing is minimal. But then again, it's bound to be – I've been playing guitar for 23 years. The only stuff left to learn is the crazy out there stuff. So what's the point?

Well, the point is the indirect impact. Learning new things keeps me in touch with how to learn – and if you forget how to learn, you're not going to be terribly effective as a teacher. But it also means I find the odd curious pattern that just works. For example, the riff to the classic Killers track “Mr. Brightside” is an evil-to-finger sod of an arpeggio – it's not the kind of thing you just stumble across. It's the kind of thing you find when you're experimenting with add9 chord voicings and you find something that just clicks – that just sounds right. And then you develop it by changing the bass note and hey presto – a song!

As some of you know, last year I spent quite some time wrapping my hounds around Andy McKee's masterpiece “Drifting”. It took me a fair old while, and while I was trying to come to grips with a totally alien way of playing the guitar, I found myself wondering just how the hell does something like this get written??

And then a little later, I found myself voicing a D minor chord with the F note on the 1st fret low E, open A and D note on the 7th fret G, tapped with the right hand. And then I slid the tapped note up to the E and down to the C (9th and 5th frets on the G), while plucking the A with the right hand thumb... And then I started to understand how you might develop an idea like that into a piece like “Drifting”

So there really is an incentive to going absolutely nuts and bolts guitar nerd crazy with this sort of stuff – set yourself a task like finding absolutely every possible way to play a Cmaj7, for example, and be prepared to be amazed by some of the beautiful, haunting sounds you can coax from your guitar. Yes, you'll find a lot of junk, but you might just find something that kick starts your creativity in ways you would never have expected.