Howard Roberts

Guitar clichés, as Musicians Institute co-founder and GP columnist extraordinaire Howard Roberts put it, come from “habitual muscular responses triggered by familiar playing situations.”

One of Roberts’ signature cliché-killing teaching techniques was to get players of all skill levels to break out of the typical chord and scale patterns ingrained in their fingers—and the corresponding sounds imprinted in their ears—by experimenting with sonic shapes. Strum each shape (and its mirror image, as shown) as a chord, or arpeggiate it note-by-note. Mix, match, and make up your own. No matter how you play ’em, sonic shapes yield fresh, atonal, and unpredictable sounds.

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