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Blues Guitar Lessons: Principles of Practice

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Now, you've developed a couple of
different things that
you need to practice,
the physical act of playing the guitar,
you've got your dominant seventh cords and
moving around the neck.
You're learning how to play
bar chords accurately.
Let's take a minute and talk about
practicing in general because this is
something you're going to do for
the rest of your life as a musician.
You're going to do it no
matter what field you're in,
you have to practice any kind of
knowledge in order to master it.
And there's certain things that
apply pretty much across the board.
And when it comes to music in particular,
the first thing is to remember that
playing the guitar is a physical exercise.
It involves muscles and when you use
your muscles your engaging into kind
of a sport, if you will, and
your moving those muscles.
They're little, the ones in your fingers,
in your wrist and so forth.
But they need to be cared for properly.
Otherwise, you're just going
to kill the whole thing.
You won't be able to play.
So, as I said already more than once,
don't strain.
Don’t fall for the myth that says
play through the hurt, right?
If it hurts it hurts for
a reason, figure it out.
If necessary you want to go to a doctor,
but usually if you strain yourself
because you overdid it, it will be okay,
you know give it a little bit of rest.
But you don’t persist and injure yourself
longer term, be careful about that.
The other thing is you warm up.
You give yourself a chance to
kinda get your sound in gear,
and this is true both physically and
just in musical terms.
If you sit right down and say okay, I'm
going to rip through that scale first time
out, it's not going to sound very good.
So, you give yourself a chance
to kind of just build up to it.
Okay, it's a little
scale exercise that I'm going
to show you that later,
as a matter of fact.
It's kinda cool.
That's something that I do as
sort of a physical warm up.
It forces me to pick,
which blues guys don't pick a lot.
I'll explain that later.
I'm playing that at a tempo where
I feel like I can relax and
kind of hear the notes.
And I am also playing it properly,
I am not making mistakes.
One of the most common errors that
people make about practicing,
you're trying to go too fast too soon and
what you wind up doing is you're
training yourself to play inaccurately.
You are learning to play mistakes.
Every time you play something and
you play it wrong, you've implanted that
feeling and that sound in your brain,
and you have to then overcome it.
So, you don't want to go there.
Start slow.
The joke is a quarter note equals Tuesday,
it's at a tempo where you can master
whatever it is you're trying to do.
Whether it's those chords
that we're playing,
it takes you a minute to get
your fingers in position.
You want that chord to be perfect.
You don't want it to sound sloppy.
[SOUND] Okay, that's your tempo.
It's however long it takes
you to get to the next chord,
get set and [SOUND] hit it properly.
So, use your metronome,
don't chase the metronome.
Use the metronome to find the tempo,
which you can perform accurately.
If you do it accurately,
and you do it over and
over again, you will definitely speed up.
And there's a saying that I learned from
Howard Roberts who was a fabulous guitar
player and educator, all around
personality, who was the founder of GIT,
the Guitar Institute of Technology
where I went to school.
And he used to say speed is
the by product of accuracy.
So, you don't play fast, you play well.
Speed will come.
But if you don't play well,
speed ain't going to happen and
nobody is going to want to hear
it when it does, all right?
So, take your time.
And when you play with the metronome,
the way to tell that you're
nailing it is that it disappears.
It's going tick, tick, tick, and
you're playing the notes right on time.
And every time you hit that
note right with the metronome,
you hear the note instead
of the metronome.
If you hear a [SOUND] and it's the note
and the metronome a little separate,
that's not working.
So, you make the metronome disappear.
Now, in general,
[SOUND] whatever your schedule may be,
you've got other things
to do in your life.
Maybe you're in a position where you
can play the guitar all day long, or
maybe you just have a chance
to pick it up in odd moments.
It's better if you can practice
a little bit each day,
rather than saving it all for
the weekend, lets say.
Say I'm going to sit down and
play guitar all day on Saturday and
then, I'm not going to touch it again for
another week.
You'll have a hard time
making progress that way.
If you can practice even for 15 minutes
a day, it helps cement those ideas and
those physical motions and
your motor memory much more efficiently.
So, practice a little bit each
day rather than all at once.
But you practice when you can and
you do what you can.
And [COUGH] practicing, in a way, you can
have a negative connotation, which is man,
it's this grunt work, it's the stuff you
gotta do, and you're spinning your wheels.
No, practicing is really where it's at.
[LAUGH] Practicing,
all the people that you see and
hear as musicians that you admire,
they've all practiced a lot.
And when you see and hear them, you're
hearing the product of all that effort.
That's the reason that we do it.
It's very valuable and it's,
actually, it's its own reward.
Think of it as a meditation.
It just makes you kind of a more
well rounded person in general.
So, practice a little bit each day,
rather than all at once.
And then, here's another one.
This sounds kinda,
maybe a little bit touchy feely, but
you don't try to do something, you do it.
Now, if I set the metronome at a fast rate
and I say I'm going to try to play that
thing as fast as the metronome's going,
I'm almost guaranteeing that I will fail.
If I set the metronome where I can play
it, then, I'm going to play it accurately.
So, you don't try it, you do it.
And that's a key difference,
Now, when you practice,
there's an overlapping quality to it.
In other words, you're learning
new skills, and at the same time,
you're reinforcing old skills.
So, I showed you the bar chords on
the sixth and the fifth strings,
the dominate chords.
The next thing I show you,
it doesn't mean that those go away.
It means that you add to the mix.
And so, you're going to continue to
practice those chords until you're
confident that you can nail them down and
wrap your fingers around them more or
less instantly.
And at the same time,
you're adding new skills.
So, you don't have to wait until you've
mastered skill number one before you
even begin skill number two,
they naturally overlap.
And as you learn more and more stuff,
you're overlapping a lot of information.
But the idea is that you keep
recycling that knowledge,
and that is what makes it sync in.
That's why I say,
practice a little bit every day and
over time,
it becomes part of your nature in effect.
They call it moving the information
from working memory to automatic memory.
Now working memory means
you're thinking about it.
I'm saying, play B-flat on
the six string dominant chord and
you're thinking about it.
Automatic memory means I say play B-flat,
and before I get done saying it,
you've already done it.
It's automatic.
You've learned it.
The skills, the knowledge,
the visual, the auditory,
they're all in sync with each other.
Now, how do you know when
you've mastered a skill?
Well, there's different levels.
One level, sort of spiritually,
you never master it.
You'll never be the best blues
player you can possibly be
because it's a moving target.
Your perception of what
good is keeps changing.
And you will set new goals for yourself.
So, you're always going to
be kinda moving forward and
feeling like I can always make
that a little bit better.
That's definitely a truth.
But on a technical level, you can
say that when you learn a new skill,
[COUGH] and this is something that
you can sort of monitor when you say
playing scales with a metronome or
It's what we call a 21 day rule, which is
if you reach a certain level of skill and
maintain it for 21 days, you own it.
That means you can put the guitar down,
go off on vacation and
come back a month later, pick it back up
and with just a little bit of warm up and
kind of getting your fingers
back in action, [SOUND] bang,
you'll be able to hit that thing again
at the same rate because you own it.
You have trained your
muscles to do that thing.
So, you learn it, you over practice.
In other words, once you've hit that
note or that point on the metronome,
you don't stop, you keep going.
It syncs in and then, after that period
of time, you own it and it's yours.
Then, you're moving on and you're
confident that you've got the foundation.
Now, set specific goals with time limits.
And I'll do that for you.
I'll tell you to practice this and
that, the other and then, come back and
I'll give you something new.
So, I'm here as your teacher, and
I'm also here to respond if you have
questions about what it is you're doing or
should you be doing it, or
what else should you be doing.
I can help you with that.
But if you say, for
example is man, some day,
I really want to be able
to play like Muddy Waters.
Then, that's when it's going to happen,
is some day.
It's like forget it, right?
But if you say, man, I want to figure out
how Muddy Waters does that thing that he
does on that song, and I bet I can
figure it out in two weeks, right?
Then yeah, you got a pretty good shot
at figuring it out in two weeks.
I'll help you set those goals,
so they're realistic.
But it's better to have a time limit,
specific goal,
than just this sort of open ended kinda
well, some day, and maybe attitude.
All right?
So, specific step by step.
[SOUND] Now, beyond the technique
of playing the guitar,
it's really important that you
remember you're a musician.
And I don't mean, whether you're
a professional musician or not.
When you play this instrument, you're
a musician and you're playing music,
you're expressing music.
And to really get the whole picture, you
can't just be focused on the fingers and
the frets, and the technique.
It's about the songs, its the music.
What inspired the guys that inspire you?
If you're into blues, you're going to know
about certain players, you've heard them.
Maybe it's Stevie Ray Vaughn, or
maybe it's Albert King who
inspired Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Now, what inspired Albert King?
Well, he was inspired by
other players as well, but
he also was listening to his inner voice.
He was listening to a lot of music and
figuring out how to express that.
He was about the music.
He knew songs, he sang.
He was a complete musician.
And that's what you want to be, is not
just a mechanical guitar player, but
a musician.
So, as we go along, I'm going to recommend
songs to listen to, artists to study,
things to play that are not strictly
technical, more feel oriented.
And I highly encourage you, no matter
what you think about your own voice,
is that you learn to sing or you just, you
don't have to learn it, you just do it.
And you start sitting down and
singing the songs that you're hearing, and
learn the words,
learn the attitude that's being conveyed,
and let that influence your playing.
And you'll be a much better musician.
So, practicing is not just a technical
thing, it's a music thing.
And with all those little points that I
put in there, there's a lot to remember.
But that's kinda the essence
of how to make progress and
feel like you're really mastering this
thing that we're setting out to do here.
All right?
I'll see you next time.