My experience as an instructor
has taught me that lots of the elements of
guitar playing I take for granted are missing
from the techniques of many of my students.
And, I think that a lot of times when
someone says, “He has good technique, but
there’s something missing,” what’s missing
actually is part of the technique. Here
are three things that beginners and remedial
players should watch for when developing
their skill sets.
One Great Note
Having good technique involves mastering
many elements, including intonation,
vibrato, and dynamics, along with an awareness
of things like time and key—which provide
musical context and allow you to make
good note choices. If you ignore these elements, it inevitably
leads to disaster. As a teacher, it is my job to focus on all of
these things over time without overwhelming the student,
so that eventually they can play one note that sounds great.
If you can get one note to sound great, you can get all of your
notes to sound great.
Start with a Slow Shuffle
My students generally want to learn to play fast, and, for me,
the most important step in learning to play fast is being able
to play a slow shuffle really well. For starters, the bass line
in “Rocky Mountain Way” is just a single repeating note, but
the volume and the dynamics vary, and it is that quiet/loud,
quiet/loud that creates the sound of the shuffle. Many good
things come from learning to control note volume with your
pick, and that’s impossible to do at quick tempos when starting
out. So, while playing a shuffle at a slow tempo, first try
using just upstrokes, or just downstrokes. Then, try alternate
picking, with the upstroke being a little louder than the
downstroke, and vice versa. When playing slowly, you can
really pay attention to your strokes to make sure they are
right, slowly building that technique into a habit. Once a technique
becomes habit, it will be a powerful tool at any tempo.
Be the Metronome
Although sometimes people get good results with a metronome,
most of the time they don’t, and that’s because the
metronome can’t yell, “Hey, you’re drifting” when you go off
tempo. So, I always recommend stomping your foot, which
makes you the metronome. That way, you develop the ability
to generate your own rhythm and tempo, and you’ll have to
have that inner metronome going if you want to play with a
band, or to play anything in a musical context.
Mr. Big and Racer X guitarist, solo artist, and educator Paul Gilbert
shares much knowledge through his Online Rock Guitar School
[artistworks.com/guitar-lessons-paul-gilbert]. —Barry Cleveland
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