John McLaughlin

Spontaneous Instruction

My new instructional DVD package, This is the Way I Do It: The Ultimate Guitar Workshop on Improvisation [abstractlogix .com] has been a true labor of love and the most difficult project I’ve ever done. However, the feedback I’ve received so far has given me tremendous satisfaction. I developed this DVD course to address an almost universal problem confronting learning guitarists—the common struggle of, "How can I most effectively work and practice well alone at home and continue my evolution as a guitarist?"

The excerpts below introduce two of the dozens—if not hundreds—of topics I touch on in this three-disc set to address that monumental question. Ex. 1, played over a simple Dm7-G7 vamp, demonstrates how I play swinging sixteenth-note triplets. To me, it is essential that musicians can play rhythmic subdivisions accurately—from eighth-notes on up through thirty-second notes—and these four measures are great to practice, because, as a guitarist, I know how tricky articulating triplets can be.

Speaking of articulation, Ex. 2, brings up the issue of speed. Speed and fluency are a combination of two things. First and foremost, in your imagination, you must hear yourself playing in this way, or it won’t happen for you on the fretboard. Secondly, be willing to attack the problem of inarticulation through work and application of exercises. Players must achieve a balance between tension and relaxation when improvising at fast tempos. Too tense, and the phrasing will suffer. Too relaxed, and the passion will disappear. Achieving improvisational freedom is not easy, but perseverance pays off, and I can testify to the wonderful sense of fulfillment and happiness that comes from improvising and playing music spontaneously. And in the end, that is the goal. —As told to Jude Gold