As guitarists, we often feel that we need to find “new” ways of doing things in order to progress and become more fully developed, as there’s always going to be something we don’t understand or can’t do. This is normal, and in fact, I believe this attitude is true of most any discipline, especially those relating to “creative” areas such as the arts (personally, I feel that one can be “creative” while brushing their teeth, but this post isn’t about that, so we’ll leave it alone for now.)
While it’s true that our playing will become stagnant over time without fresh concepts and ways of integrating them within our own individual system, the real issue here isn’t one of “old” vs. “new”, but rather of the implementation and application of whatever we may be working with, wherever we may be in terms of experience and perceived ability.
I say “perceived ability”, because honestly, we are usually far more capable of doing things we don’t feel we’re able to do, and it’s ALL about our perception and how we choose to use it. I know, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that new = better, and that the proverbial grass is always greener wherever we aren’t, but this isn’t really true. Buddhism has made quite a name for itself by dispelling the idea of chasing after what we don’t have, and that the pursuit of the constant “better” leads to suffering. Hell, if you’ve been in business for a few thousand years, you must be doing something right, no?
Notions of enlightenment aside, we can learn a good lesson from our Buddhist friends, and we can apply it directly to our playing…with a twist.
We need to introduce different elements into our practice and playing regimen from time to time, and we should add to our overall knowledge base, but these different elements and other additions don’t necessarily have to come from something outside of what we already know and do. It’s my opinion that a big reason why many of us look for new techniques and ideas is because we’re not making the best use of what we already have, much less leveraging those assets to better incorporate anything new that comes our way.
So, how do we stop chasing what we think we need and start using more of what we have? Well, there’s a system that I call the “Triple A” method (no, not the folks who bail your ass out if you blow a tire going down the interstate, although they’re great too. I also didn’t get jacked up and add an extra “A” to a famous 12-step recovery program either, but admitting you have a problem can really help here.) A.A.A. is an acronym for Analysis, Application, and Adaptation, which are the 3 simple steps needed to make this work.
No, it’s not hard, and yes, it does work. We’ll cover each step, beginning with the first here and the other two in subsequent posts, and look at what we can actually do with them so that this doesn’t become just another idea that goes unnoticed and collects dust on our cerebral bookshelf.
STEP 1 – ANALYSIS: Before we can get to where we want to go, we have to know where we’re going, and knowing why we want to get there helps too. This is the foundation for our method, and it starts with having a clearly defined goal.
• Goals: What do we want to accomplish? What are we trying to do? Is it learning a new song, or understanding how chords work with scales? Do we want to increase our overall speed and accuracy, or improve our rhythmic sense? Are we working on finger vibrato, or developing our ear?
We should pinpoint what we’re after as specifically as possible, and ideally, we’ll understand the purpose behind the goal as well. In other words, why do we want to achieve it? What purpose does it serve? Are there practical reasons that are applicable to our present situation, or is it something that we just think we should learn or do for its own sake?
We’re going for practicality and tangible results here, so we don’t want to focus on amassing more theoretical knowledge or technical concepts that aren’t relevant to our immediate situation (for example, understanding modal harmony and jazz composition is a noble and worthy goal, but it isn’t really of much use if you don’t already have a working knowledge of basic chord construction and how progressions are built.)
Again, being as specific as possible is important, because it’s all too easy to get sidetracked with all sorts of other things that have no relevance to our individual playing or circumstances, which is one reason why many (most?) of the online guitar lesson packages with massive member’s areas, overflowing with a gazillion different videos of all different styles, levels, and techniques seem very appealing, but seldom work as well as advertised.
Why? Because while the information and instruction may be excellent, there’s just too damn much stuff going in too many different areas, and most programs of this kind lack focused direction regarding how material is presented (focused direction doesn’t have to be “linear”, or a “one-size-fits-all” system, but it needs to be at least somewhat cohesive. Different strokes for different folks and all that, but the approach should ultimately nail the designated goal.)
Besides, it’s far more tempting to check out the videos about using 3 octave sweep arpeggios together with 8 finger tapping techniques than the open position chord strumming studies you might actually need at the time…it’s kinda like telling a teenager to do their homework, but scattering pictures of scantily-clad supermodels and other more *cough* “appealing” things all around their study environment, then wondering why their history report about Henry Ford and vulcanized rubber was never finished. Well…….duh.
So, we should have a clearly defined goal, and also a sense of why we want it. What’s next? Well, it’s a good idea to know where you are right now, so that you can determine the best way to land the end results we’re looking for. The only way to do this is by examining our…
• Current Situation: Where are you now? What is your current playing situation in relation to the desired result? What do you like and dislike about what you’re doing now, and what can be done to improve things?
This part is crucial, because without it, we’re basically just wandering along aimlessly throughout Guitar Land, hoping to somehow reach our destination. This does happen sometimes, but having a map usually leads to better and faster results than relying on chance or sheer luck.
The single most important part of this analysis, that I can’t stress enough is this: BE HONEST!!! Be honest with yourself. Be honest about your playing, be honest about your practice methods, be honest about your knowledge base, be honest about what you’re currently able to do. We all have certain things we don’t like about our playing, but one of the points of this system is fixing those areas and leveraging what we do like and is working for us into other, more expansive areas. If you lie to yourself here, you’re cheating yourself, and it won’t work.
Most of us seem to think that this honesty means thinking and/or saying that we suck, but this isn’t what I mean. Yes, we have to look at what we’re doing objectively, and without overestimating our current guitar powers, but as I said at the beginning of this post, most of us are able to do far more than we recognize. Having a degree of modesty and not being a pompous dick is one thing, but diminishing our capabilities out of a sense of being humble or whatever is something altogether different and dumb.
So much of what this site is about deals with not giving two fucks about what most other people think, so don’t feel you need to downplay yourself because of other people’s opinions. Besides, nobody else will really be involved with this process anyway, so don’t worry about any of that mess. That said, if you have a qualified teacher, they can help you with this step too, but it’s really best if you’re able to do an accurate and self-reliant assessment at some point.
Spend some time objectively analyzing where you are and try to estimate how close you are to your chosen goal. You might find that you’re much closer than you thought, and if so, congratulations! You might also find that you’re pretty far off, but that doesn’t matter. Either way, you’re gonna have to do some work.
• Inventory: Inventory? Huh? Yes, inventory. We have to take inventory of what tools and methods we’re already using, and also of those tools and methods otherwise readily available to us. This is pretty damn easy and simple, provided that you were honest with yourself regarding your current situation.
What can you do? What do you know? How can you use it to gain access to what you don’t do and don’t know? Seriously, this is easy, but it will probably take some thought on your part. Again, be honest with yourself, and see what tool you can use for the job. Also, look for what you don’t have as it relates to our end goal, and take inventory of what resources you’ve got that you can access quickly and incorporate into your toolbox.
Here are a couple examples of possible ways this can play out: 1) You’ve been playing in bands as a lead guitarist for years, and you’ve got some good chord and rhythm chops too. You have a decent to good level of ability (which is relative, by the way) in using scales and arpeggios for soloing, and can play different chords, but you haven’t the slightest idea about how any of it works together.
So…you’ve already been building, and now you just want to understand the blueprints behind what you’ve built. Do you have any books on theory that you can research? Can you ask someone to explain it to you? Do you have the internet? I bet you do if you’re reading this. Do an internet search for how chords, scales, and arpeggios work together, and fill in the blanks regarding what you don’t know. Use this new found knowledge to solidify what you’re already doing.
2) You can play some basic, open position chords, and your strumming is okay, but you’ve started to learn more scale-based single note playing, and your timing sucks. Well, research what you need to know about scale construction and their relationships to the chords you already know (don’t take forever in doing this), and then apply your good sense of rhythm to single notes rather than chord playing.
Again, this is very simple and doable, and while the specific situations will be different, the process is the same. It does take some work on your part, but it isn’t hard work, and it all takes work if you want to improve. There are probably countless other examples of this basic process, but these should give you some ideas of what you can start working with right now, and then you can expand on things as you go.
This wraps it up for the basic overview of the Analysis step in our A.A.A. Method, and we’ll deal with step 2 next time. Dive in, do the work, be honest, and you may be surprised at what you find.