Frank Gambale on Getting Beyond Technique

People spend a lot of time practicing technique and not enough practicing musical things—a sad state of affairs. Like the old adage “you are what you eat,” musically speaking “you are what you practice.” If you spend your time practicing scales, when you get on the bandstand, you’ll probably play a bunch of scales, which is not music. May I offer up some useful solutions?
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1. Get Inspired by Your Favorite Recordings
Go to one of your favorite songs and learn it note-for-note by ear. The benefits are far-reaching. You must try to understand why you prefer that song to thousands of others. What is it about it that catches your ear? Why does this player use these notes over these chords? Studying the chord sequence and analyzing the soloist’s choice of notes over those chords is also a great way to learn about harmony. Doing this will also train your ear. You’ll improve your phrasing—when to play notes, not just which notes to play. Along the way you’ll get a better sense of all the subtleties of guitar, such as string bending, vibrato, slides, and all the other beautiful colors that make the guitar such a wonderfully expressive instrument.

2. Combine Musical Ideas and Technique
In their desperate desire to play fast, guitarists often play anything, so long as it’s fast. Suggestion: Try composing interesting lines on paper and then practicing them at a faster and faster tempo. The result is something both musical and technical, a much more desirable outcome. Good luck.

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