Be Yourself And Become The Curve

Some Advice from Marty Friedman

Marty Friedman (ex-Cacophony, ex-Megadeth, current full time Guitar Hero) has a new album out (and a new signature PRS guitar) and so he’s making the promotional rounds with a number of interviews in American publications.  He had a great response to a question that really resonated with me.  When asked about advice he had for players who want to develop chops, he answered the question at a much deeper level

“The best piece of advice is this: Once you find something in your playing that sounds good to you, go head over heels in that direction.  Developing enough chops to play like me or Jeff Beck or anybody is not the goal.  The goal is to acquire chops to develop yourself to a point where you’re going in a direction that you like.  Once you do that, you’re halfway home because if you have your own unique direction than no one can touch you.  Ever since I started playing, I’ve gone completely in my own direction.  The flip side is, I could never be in a Led Zeppelin cover band or something because I would suck at copying Jimmy Page or anyone else.  The point is, if you really want to grow as a guitarist, find something that you dig about yourself, exploit the living hell out of it and continue developing that forever.”

– July 2014 Guitar Player interview


Don’t Follow The Curve – Adapt To The Curve

One mistake I see some businesses (this includes musicians and any other entrepreneurs so yes – this applies to you dear reader) make is to try to capitalize on a popular trend.  Here’s the cycle (and thus the dilemma) with this approach.

  • The trend creator starts off with a disadvantage.  They have to get people to buy into something new.  Even if it’s something familiar, getting it in the hands of people (and getting the money out of those people’s hands) is time consuming and/or expensive.
  • If the trend creator becomes the trend setter, then the trend creator has a potential slam dunk because they’re in the position to fully capitalize on it.  But what often happens is that a previous trend creator (who is now an established trend setter) sees a new trend and is in a better position to capitalize on it than the trend creator.  If you ever watch Shark Tank, you’ll see investors wrestle with this idea with entrepreneurs fairly consistently, “There’s nothing proprietary about this.  What would stop (insert major industry player here) from taking this idea, mass producing it and crushing you?  Nothing.”
  • Years ago I heard a great piece of advice that I took to heart, “By the time you read about a hot new trend in any print publication – it’s no longer a hot trend.”   That was true 20 years ago – and it’s even more true now.

Trying to capitalize on a trend is a dead end because you are rarely in the position to make  it work for you.  In the 1980’s, Yngwie Malmsteen was a trend setter for neo-classical guitar.  There were a bajillion guitarists who tried to ape that style.  The ones that just played that style recorded one or two records and were never heard from again.

The one’s who took those technical ideas and applied them to other areas are among those who kept making music and developed audiences for what they did.  They adapted to the curve instead of following it and in doing so, became their own curves.

(Incidentally, the one neo-classical player from the 80’s who’s still consistently recording and on tour as a solo artist is Yngwie Malmsteen and people are still copying him.)

Trend creation is hard but trying to capitalize on someone else’s trend and make a living from it on the ground level is infinitely harder.  You may want to remember that the next time your fellow band mate comes to rehearsal and says, “Maybe we should write a Black Keys (or whoever else comes to mind) type of song.” ; )

As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!


Working With Limitations

There is a Stravinsky story I find myself telling often.

Allegedly, when he went to compose, the first thing Stravinsky would do is put a time and key signature on a piece of manuscript paper to limit himself.  Without that he would look at the piano and, seeing an almost infinite number of possibilities, get overwhelmed and shut down.

A key part of the process to learning anything is overcoming limitations.  By expanding one’s knowledge and skill set things that were impossible become possible or even easy.  As a musician, when I find an obstacle to something that I need to be able to do, I often practice playing that thing to add it to my abilities.

But what about other strategies for dealing with limitations?

Instead of assuming that limitations needed to be eliminated, what if, limitations were embraced and worked with to reach your goals?

Kang Yana Mulyana

I know very little about this Indonesian guitarist other than the fact that he has some very real physical impediments that make playing the guitar in a “traditional” manner impossible.

Check out his workaround!

What’s technically amazing to me about this is that the fretting hand is only using the thumb and pinky (!?!) to get those notes out of the guitar!

How did he do this?

1. He had a why.

Again Victor Frankl, “He who has a why can bear almost any how”

2.  He worked with his limitations rather than try to overcome them.

If he had gone to a guitar store to take a lesson, he probably would have been told that his physical limitations would prevent him from playing and that he’d have to do something else.  But his numerous work arounds (putting the guitar on the floor, finding alternate ways to fret and pick notes), allowed him to get the same end result.

Do you.

Let’s not get this twisted, I’m not saying that you should be lazy.  Kang Yana Mulyana spent an unimaginable amount of time working on guitar to get the end results he wanted (and that’s some real physical and mental obstacles to overcome).

What I am saying is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving your goals.  What worked for one person will not necessarily work for you.  The important things are to have an end goal that you’re trying to achieve and to work with your attributes and limitations to achieve them.  Learning what works for you is a lifelong lesson and it’s definitely one worth taking on.

Here’s one more video to help keep you inspired.

As always, thanks for reading!