Guitar Playing is Littered With Assumptions
Many players assume that if they play the same thing over an over again (regardless of focus, analysis / assessment of what is being played and/or increases in difficulty) that somehow the sheer act of repetition will make them better.
My big rant about the 1-2-3-4 exercise is that:
- Practiced the way it’s typically taught (straight 16th notes with no phrasing or variation) it’s largely useless as a musical device. If you play this:
on a club date for more than a bar or two you’re going to get an eye roll. Throw it into every solo and regardless of how fast or clean you play it people will be pulling your name off their iPhone.
- As a technical development tool most people practice it with terrible fret hand technique and/or poor picking synchronization. This merely ingrains bad habits that become harder to fix later.
- AND (THIS IS THE BIG ONE): There is an unwritten assumption that practicing this will somehow make you “better” as a guitar player.
Having said that, there are skills that you CAN gleen from working on this, if you’re doing it in the right manner. (I even wrote a 254 page book with examples for how to actually use this idea to really get into the technical and melodic elements of DEEP positional work.)
If you’re practicing it verbatim above with a metronome and really paying attention to left and right hand technique it can, if nothing else, reinforce a 1/16th note tempo and give you some technical basis for playing 4-note per string scales. It may even provide some small amount of ear training for hearing semi-chromatic passages.
So while you can, indirectly, get some hidden benefit from working on this there are simply much more direct and efficient ways to develop each of those areas.
It’s not classical piano
Guitar doesn’t have the benefit of a pedagogical history of something like classical piano which has a very rich history of technical development wed to ever challenging repertoire. Outside of classical guitar, the history of guitar pedagogy in the 20th century is largely word of mouth. It’s players who learned licks or ideas through their playing and taught those to other players – often without a real understanding of what’s going on.
We live in a world that’s obsessed with hacks, but you’re maximizing the efficiency of something erroneous you’re just getting someplace bad faster.
From Assumption to Adaptation
Recently, I had to track some solos. “No problem”, I thought. It’s a simple harmonic setup so it should be no issue.
However, the solo was based on a pentatonic raga idea using only the notes E, G#, A, B, D. (E7 add 4).
Trying to create something interesting with a limited note choice really put me on my toes and the first thing that I found out was that some of the intervallic ideas I was going for were not things I was going to be able to improvise cleanly.
This idea was one that was immediately destined for the shed.
While I was initially frustrated, I realized I had a series of assumptions that I was working from. Namely,
- I’ve practiced sextuplets
- I’ve practiced string skipping
- I’ve practiced wide interval playing
Therefore I “should” somehow be able to roll out of bed and play this lick using all three (and a pentatonic scale I’m not used to) at tempo (about 130 bpm).
The fact is that having worked on all of those things will allow me to get the lick down much faster than otherwise possible now, but without practicing these things together specifically and in this particular context, I’m not prepared to record them at tempo.
Guitarists in particular seem to work on these kinds of assumptions all of the time (and most of our assumptions are wrong).
If you come up against an obstacle in your playing, I recommend you take a pause and a deep breath or two and really assess what you’re trying to do and what you’ve really done to prepare for it.
This leaves you with 3 options.
- Adapt what you can already do
- Put the work in to get it under your fingers
- Play something else
I’ve used every one of these approaches to get through various road blocks that have come up in my playing and every one of them has been the right answer in one context or another. The key concept here is to be aware of assumptions when you’re making them and then either discard them when they’re not true or making them part of your (experience based) knowledge if they are true.
Depending on where you are in your learning process a good teacher can really help you get past those obstacles. If you don’t have one in your area I know one who is available via skype here.
Alright. Back to the recording!
As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading.