As I was learning to play guitar, once I got comfortable with soloing, I tried to cram every note, lick, and trick I could into every solo. I thought it was really cool to show off every single thing I knew is the space of eight or 16 bars—ya know, like Yngwie. (Oops—no disrepect meant!) My teacher, Mike DoCampo, would even yell at me. I was a 16-year-old girl at the time, so you can see how much I must have frustrated him. One day, I stumbled across the sheet music for some John Coltrane saxophone pieces, and, just for fun, I tried to learn some of his stuff on my guitar. That’s when I realized something weird. I noticed there were pauses between notes as he breathed, exhaled, inhaled, and sighed. Obviously, a saxophonist has to synchronize his or her breathing with their performance—it’s like the instrument becomes one with the player. I thought, “Why have I not realized I can do this on the guitar, as well?” Suddenly, I could see that some of my favorite guitar players—such as David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, and Brian May—“breathe” with their guitars. I was inspired to make sure I don’t just play notes for the sake of playing them—to ensure that each note has a very specific purpose. Reckless playing has its place, of course, but to deny the instrument an opportunity to pause and think about where it’s going next is doing it a disservice. —TARA SCHMITT
Schmitt and Les Paul.