Alright. Let’s talk about a big problem that I’ve see in the greater guitar playing community: the issue of not doing anything until we find something else to do.
If you’re wondering what the hell that means, I’ll explain…
I’m talking about the notion of needing to know or do more things before we can start working on what we want to do. This isn’t just something beginners struggle with, but it plagues more experienced players, too.
No matter how long you’ve been playing or what kind of player you are, you’re always starting somewhere whenever you do something new.
Even if you’ve never played before, you’re still “somewhere” in the scheme of things.
Now after reading that last bit, I’m sure you might be saying ”No shit, thanks for revealing the obvious”, or whatever. But, there’s often a disconnect between what we know to be obvious, and what we actually do with our guitar playing.
How often have you heard other players talk about how they need to learn more “X” before they can do “Y”, or how they’ll start playing something they’d like after more practice, etc?
How many times have you said (or at least thought) something similar? If you’re like most players (and myself at times), you’ve done that a lot.
Much like Darth Vader, our beloved Sith Lord, we’re in the empire-building business. And just like Lord Vader, none of us achieve galactic levels of power, proficiency, and skills of intimidation that make lesser guitarists die of fright without adequate preparation and training.
We all have to start somewhere by necessity.
The thing is, there’s never a “best” time to do anything. There’s always something more to learn, something more to do, and something to improve before we move on to the next phase of our guitar playing journey.
If you keep thinking you’re not good enough or don’t know enough to begin playing what you want, you’re making excuses and holding yourself back.
Stop doing that. Start where you are and start right now.
If you want to play lead guitar, but only know one scale pattern, use it. Sticking to one thing will force you to be more creative with that particular thing, provided you don’t want all your ideas to sound the same.
Work with different rhythmic patterns, vary your picking attack and dynamic shading, change of the order of the scale’s notes, etc.
You’ll flex your creative muscles and generate ideas that you can use down the road with “bigger things” when your knowledge base expands. Take what you’ve done with the single scale pattern and apply it to other scales and patterns when you learn them.
At first, this can be frustrating, but the idea of doing things this way is usually more difficult than the actual doing. It’s not hard if you just do it and commit to keep doing it.
Want to play lead guitar but don’t know any scale patterns?
Pick a single note and experiment, then add other notes within a few frets on the same string of what you’ve picked, and see what combinations you come up with.
What can you do with these note combinations? Add rhythmic variations, dynamic shading, different articulation techniques like vibrato, etc. to these combinations as well.
Keep track of your ideas (write them down if you need to), then find those same note combinations on adjacent strings. Follow the same process of twisting and tweaking what you’ve played as with the single string, and record your results.
Examine the half and whole step intervals (1 and 2 fret distances) between each note, as you can determine what scale you’re playing and/or where it’s derived by looking at its intervallic structure. *HINT* (You can find resources telling you what’s what along these lines for free online, too.)
Once you figure out what scale your pattern is based on, you know a scale, so not knowing any scales or patterns is no longer an issue.
From there, adjust the arrangement of whole and half steps to generate other scales, and continue working this process as your scale vocabulary increases.
Several years ago, I sat around drinking beer and playing some guitar (mostly drinking beer, but whatever) with a guy who was pretty good at soloing with the 5 “common” pentatonic scale shapes.
He’d never seen them or bothered looking them up, but had figured out the sequence by ear, then moved it around the neck with different fingerings until they made sense. And yes, what he was playing was the same group as what’s outlined in most books and other sources.
You can use the same process for things besides scales, too. Think you need to have a working understanding of music theory in order to put chord progressions together? Nope. Again, start where you are.
Even if you only know a couple chords, you can still put them together in a meaningful way.
You can always go back and figure out the ”why” behind what you’re doing after you’ve done it, and as your knowledge and understanding of chord theory improves.
Obviously, you need to know something before you can do something else based on that thing. But, how much do you really need to know? If you’ve been following along and getting what I’m saying, probably not as much as you think.
Assess your situation. Take inventory of where you are and what you already have (this is also a key component of developing a solid battle plan.) Be honest with yourself when doing this! Otherwise, you’ll circumvent your own efforts and unnecessarily prolong this process.
Take an honest look at what you already know and what you can already do, then see what you already have that’s working for you. If you’re doing anything at all, you’re already doing something that works.
How do you know what works? Simple: ask yourself the right question or questions, relative to your immediate goal.
How is what I’m doing related to what I want to do?
What are some obvious similarities between the two areas? What are some obvious differences between them? What not-so-obvious relationships would I find between them if I approached what I know and do differently?
Asking yourself questions like these will not only move you closer to your goal, but can also be one of the best things you can do in terms of making the most out what you’re already playing.
We’re creatures of habit, and it’s easy to get complacent (and bored) with things we’ve been playing or studying for a while. Digging in here can shed a new and completely different light on the same tired, old stuff.
Once you’ve found some relevant weapons in your arsenal, it’s time to figure out how to leverage them for new conquests. Ask a similar round of questions as before, but this time, gear your questions towards the immediate application of your new playing goal.
Questions are all well and good, but you still have to actually do something. Take your answers from the previous round of questions and apply them by playing around with the guitar, and see what results you get. We’re not necessarily looking for instant results here, and some of the best movement forward can and will come over a period of time.
You should start seeing some progress and results pretty quickly.
Even if your results are crappy, at least you’re finding out what works and what doesn’t. If not, go back to your last set of questions and pull something else from there to try out.
Repeat this process as needed. Chances are, you’re bound to come up with other solutions as you go along, and you’ll learn more about your goal, too. Yes, this means that you’ll likely learn more about “X” before you can fully do “Y”, but you’ll be proactive about it instead of sitting on your ass, lamenting your lack of knowledge or skill.
Take responsibility for your guitar playing, and take pride in what you do.
A popular idiom reminds us that the Roman Empire wasn’t built in a day, and your guitar playing empire is no different. In the end, it’s all on you anyway, so why not step up and own it? Develop a battle plan, start where you are, and keep pushing forward.
Trade the do-gooder attitude of the Jedi for the relentless, determined ferocity of a Sith warrior, and even Lord Vader might tremble before what you’ve created.
*P.S. – If you’re really serious about taking responsibility and creating something worth building, check out the Training Course Directory at the Antihero Academy site here.