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- 8 Improvised Tips for Improvisation
The art of arranging anything without previous preparation. There will never be a more true instance of pure musical prowess than what you play (say) during an improvised solo. Everything you know, everything you've experienced, all comes to light right before your audience. Developing the skills, the vocabulary, requires practice of not only your technical facility, but also your emotional acuity. One must overcome the innate desire to leave personal feelings aside in front of others, because as artists, as musicians, it is our duty to inspire and help others understand what they may not be able to express. Learning how to improvise and break down your walls is one of, if not the, hardest things to do on your instrument. This brief guide will provide you with the tools and insight you may need to move your audience and elevate your own expression to new heights. 1. Overplaying It is important to realize that the term “overplaying” has a relative meaning. Some songs may require a slower solo, while others will call for a solo with a flurry of notes and quick execution. The musical adage of “speed kills” falls short, as not all shred guitarists are automatically guilty of overplaying. A shred solo naturally requires many notes, and if the song is well-composed and sets up the solo properly, then even the most fret-melting solo can’t be considered as overplaying. It is a matter of context and taste. That said, a 12 bar blues progression may not lend the proper context for the sickest shred solo you can muster. The solution here is ridiculously simple: just play fewer notes! Train yourself to improvise over a backing track using only 1-2 notes per bar. If the backing track is in 4/4, this means one note every 2-4 beats. It seems easy, but if you try it in practice, you will discover that you may have to resist the urge to speed up. Do not give up! Your top speed is a valuable benchmark, but the difference between the slowest and the fastest note you can play provides dynamics. Providing contrast between slow and fast passages can not only make the fast passages appear faster, but will make them an infinitely stronger musical statement. 2. Phrasing Now that you have an understanding of musical context in relation to overplaying, you may start to notice that slower notes may not actually sound that good as they are. If you feel the urge to play fast to hide this, resist it. The problem does not lie in the fact that you are playing slowly: the culprit is likely your lack of familiarity and training with longer notes. Yes, you heard me correctly. While many of us spend hours of practice time in order to play faster (an endeavor that I obviously applaud), how many of us actually practice to play a single good, long note? If you practice with only one note at your disposal, you will soon discover that the rules of the game are different. It's not just what you play, but also how you play it (i.e. your phrasing). The two most common problems that guitarists encounter in this respect are 1) out-of-tune bends & 2) bad vibrato (too fast, too narrow, irregular). If you are doing the exercise I suggested above, i.e. improvising just with a few long notes, you may start to notice these issues. If so, this is a good thing! Only if you can hear the problems in your playing can you fix them. Try setting aside some time in your daily practice routine to exclusively work on single notes with bends and vibrato. Accurate bending will make you a stronger player. Tasteful vibrato will make you a stronger individual. 3. Avoiding Chord Tones Of course, even though how you play is very important, what you play still retains a certain importance (your favourite melodies are not random selections of notes). Even when you are playing in the right key with lovely phrasing, sometimes your Improvisation may fail to “glue” to the chord progression in the backing track. This happens because at any given moment in music, some notes happen to be more “right” than others. The short story is: the “right”, or stronger, notes are the ones that are generally included in the chord that is playing in that moment (thus “chord tones”). In general, you are not restricted to play only the “right” notes. Realistically, you can play whatever you want, as everyone hears music differently and you may prefer more dissonance to consonance, for example. However, you should always consider your context when choosing the notes that would act the strongest in your Improvisation. This is the meaning of the often cited quote “there are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions”. 4. Solitary Playing I often tell my students that music is a team sport. While you can certainly accomplish a lot by yourself, solitary playing will likely not give you the experience needed for a wholesome career. That said, I do not mean that you have to play only with other guitarists, but also with bass players, drummers, singers, keyboard players, and any other instrument that peaks your interest. I know that some of you may be thinking: “But I am still not good enough to play with other people / have a band”. In short: if you do not go out and play with other people, you may never become gain the experience you need. You cannot learn how to swim if you never enter the water. If you want to learn how to play basketball, you can only get so far alone. Personal experience is vital for experimentation and the maturation of your techniques and preferences, however group experience is just as valid. You will very soon discover that when you are playing with other musicians, the dynamics of your playing are entirely different. You must adapt to what other people are doing, react to their music, and provide your own interpretation. Many excellent players have honed their skills by playing in bands, specifically skills that can only be acquired through direct responses with other musicians. This is also one (but not the only) reason to have a good teacher: you will be regularly playing with someone better than you. 5. Not Listening One corollary of “music is a team sport” is that when you are playing with other musicians, you have to listen (and in general pay attention) to what they are playing and the context that their playing resides in. How can you tell if you are paying attention to the other musician (or the backing track)? You find yourself looking at other musicians, rather than your fretboard. Waiting to improvise after the backing track/band starts. Experienced players often let a few bars pass before improvising to absorb the feel, the tempo and the chord changes of the song. Listening to the vibe and dynamics of the music, rather than just waiting “for your turn to play”. A good way to learn how to listen is called “trading fours”. You need another player to do this. While playing together, for 4 bars you will be playing the rhythm and he will be soloing, for the next 4 bars you will invert the roles and so on. Your task is to play something in context with what he just played, ideally making it seems like there is only one soloist and not two. 6. Not Training with Backing Tracks Even if you wanted to, you can't play with other musicians all the time. Every good athlete trains with his team, but also on his own. Musicians aren't any different. Backing tracks offer a non-interactive simulation of a band that can help you train a multitude of different things,from dynamics and phrasing, to genres and progressions. Training with backing tracks should be part of your daily routine, but you should not just blindly improvise over the backing track. You should have in mind a technique or a concept that you want to implement in your playing, such as: “Just few notes with a good vibrato” or “let's try to implement this lick I just learned”. 7. Not Playing Live As strange as it may seem, this is one of the most powerful factors in making your improvisations sound like music. If you are just playing for yourself with nobody to communicate with, your improvisations may lack the range of emotions that only appear on a stage. If you are playing to impress other musicians, as often appears in a jam session, your solos may sound artificial. However, if you are playing in front of an audience, you are playing to tell them something, to establish a connection. You can gauge your improvisation by observing the reaction of the audience, so the communication is two-way. Some improvisations can be dull when played for oneself (for instance, when the improvisation occurs alone with a backing track). Though when in front of an audience, the improvisation can become fluid, strong, and expressive. This is occurs when the focus is on communicating with the public, rather than being concerned with technical ability. Play to express, not to impress. Now, before you think “I will never be able to step on a stage”, let me specify that “audience” does not necessarily mean 10,000 paying people in a stadium. Two or three of your friends are enough of an audience to get this started: ask them and they will likely be happy to listen to you. It is important to practice performing, just as it is to practice technique. 8. Not Playing to Express This is probably the most “esoteric” point here, but it is the definitive factor that makes your improvisation jump from “sick lick” to “wow, I really felt that”. This is, if you think about it, the whole reason why we are playing an instrument. Just stop for a moment now and think back to the last song you listened to before reading this (or the song you are listening to right now). Does this song have a meaning or an underlying emotion? Of course it has one. What is the meaning of that song? Regardless of lyrics being present or not, you'll be able to associate your own experiences and emotions with it and thus derive meaning. It is essential that your playing should reflect a statement or have an underlying feeling or emotion to it. However, very few people actually practice this. Like in our native language, we practice emotions and the words associated with them. Music is just a different medium to communicate the same ideas. Take your guitar, and using only three notes, try to express the deepest sadness you can. What notes are you using? How are you playing them? Three notes may not seem like enough to evoke a specific emotion or feeling, though that is part of the challenge. Do it well in the simplest format and then you'll begin to recognise how adding complexity can either support or detract from your core emotion. Now, do the same trying to express a calm serenity. Then try to express anger. Then express regret. Joy. Trepidation. Impatience. Ennui. Wittiness. Exhaustion. Humor. Amusement. All of them, using only three notes. Make a list of other emotions you want to express. If you can’t find a word for that emotion, describe a situation that gives you this emotion (“Summer afternoon reading a book under the shadow of a tree”, “driving a fast car”, “running the last mile of a marathon”, etc), then try to express it using only 3 notes. Notice that there is not one right answer, rather there are many. With all the answers you collect from a single emotion, you can compose a solo that means something to you and your listener.
- The Performer’s Mindset
We all know the moment. The lights, the stage, the audience cheering on our hyper-developed pyrotechnics. We all know the feeling. The adrenaline from the intensity, the euphoria from the view, the passion from the 45 minutes you have to melt the faces of everyone in the room. We all remember the time we got it right, just as we all remember the time we got it wrong. We all desire each performance to be perfect, yet these performances only so rarely present themselves. A solo that has been practiced ad nauseum, though falls apart when needed. The iconic riff of your teenage angst, performed as mildly as a first-timer holds a plectrum. Your intensely dedicated focus, strewn across the venue by lingering thoughts of primal self-infatuation. What is it that separates the men from the boys, the rockstars from the bar heros, and the decorated tour gods from the unnamed guy you fired for superimposing “Eruption” over a 12-bar blues? The answer is anything but simple, yet is still surprisingly so. Indulgence. The concept of doing something for one’s own gratification. This is a word that holds mighty value, though is so little recognised in the music industry. One could think of it as anytime you pick up your instrument, since we generally do it out of the love for the instrument. However, indulgence descends to much deeper, darker depths than just our surface enjoyment of music. It is a toxic notion, a concept that can derail even the most professional of players. It is the true enemy of the stage and all that you have worked towards. It is also entirely human. It is you. Being a professional musician is a multitude of things. It is the business, the playing, the communication, and everything else that a career-minded, dysfunctional family emits. However, it is also an innately introspective experience. It is recognising the true nature of who you are not only as a musician, but also as a human. Your playing will subconsciously manifest itself as the human that you are, even outside of the decades of training you’ve put your physical self through. This is what makes your favourite players sound unique, as well as perhaps what lends you to dislike others’ playing. In thinking of our voice on the instrument as something unequivocally human, we can extrapolate other human personalities from the same context of music. A pension for dishonesty may make one’s playing feel inauthentic, just as compassion may bring warmth to another’s. Such complex personalities, and yet so easily read through the lines of a staff. However, indulgence affects all of us, regardless of our base personality traits. To enjoy your playing is one of the best gifts you can be given from your time woodshedding the instrument. However, if left unchecked, it will leave you as empty as the guy who lied his way to the inner circle. Often, our first negative experience with indulgence is one of the most common. It is the moment we are in the light of the solo, nailing every note and dynamic, and then of the realisation that we are doing just that. And as quickly as that thought entered your mind, that thought just as quickly cost you your musicianship. There is a vast difference between indulgence and confidence, just as there is a difference between confidence and ego. However, the difference between ego and indulgence is little more than a hairline fracture. The thought that we’re killing it, that we’re nailing the line and everyone loves it, is what knocks us down all the notches that we tried to elevate ourselves from. These thoughts are incredibly difficult to predict, and even more difficult to prevent, until we experience them for the first time. Though, even many experiences can be difficult to detect when we give the blame to anything but ourselves. Like a trumpetist who begrudgingly glances at the bell of his horn when a wrong note comes out, we are inclined to toss our lesser performances towards our bassist, our floor wedges, or our personal instruments. The road to recovery begins with a dedicated foot towards the direction of ourselves. Controlling a moment that has no desire to be controlled is an innately difficult situation. With so many things working against us in the context of a performance, our mental bridge to introspection is anything but a priority. That bridge must have a foundation, solid pillars, and a path that we can cross for decades to come. This bridge will encompass all that there is to bring your performance forth to a place of musical maturity, as well as understanding your own musical identity. The foundation of our bridge comes from recognising what it is to be human. In short, it is recognising our mentality through a performance. A performance drives a multitude of emotions outside of the music itself. While all of these emotions are entirely useful, we still must learn to gauge ourselves and control what we think throughout a performance. Every performer will be different, as they will bring with them their own life experiences, thoughts of the day, and stresses from home. Many of these thoughts and ideas are important for a performance, though some of them can detract from your focus. However, all of these can be played upon and centered to your musical goals, provided they are funneled through your music, rather than your ego. The pillars that support the path above act as this funnel. The pillars to our bridge are perhaps the most crucial component of our bridge. They are the neural pathways that connect from one hemisphere of our brain to the other. They are born, they develop, and sometimes they disconnect to forge new pathways to new ideas. Taking our emotions and guiding them through these pillars is the hardest step to performance mastery. You’ll need to recognise an emotion, determine its worth and relevance, and either cast it aside or engage it for your music. You’ll also have to recognise when a detrimental thought arises, a thought that has no place amongst the performer. These thoughts or feelings encompass all that drives the ego. The notions that inadvertently separate us from our audience, rather than blending in with them. These thoughts and feelings will again be different for every performer, though the result is always more or less the same - failure. Allowing your indulgence to take hold and forego your measure limit, your stylistic genre, your authenticity, and your instrumental role will instantaneously bring you back to square one. Building the pillars for our bridge requires total and complete musical authenticity; the requirement to leave behind all that keeps us within ourselves so that we can become one with our band, the audience, and our music. Now that we are truly thinking introspectively, we can finally begin placing the stones to the path that we can walk across. This path is more of a reward, rather than a phase, within our bridge construction. It is the ability to think and feel within a unit, rather than independently. It is recognising that indulgence has morphed into a collective concept, rather than a personal one. Indulgence in and of itself is not something to shame or scoff, as it is one of the first catalysts we encounter when learning to play. It is incredibly important to hold on to the passion and release of playing, provided we’re doing it for a unified goal, rather than selfish elation. Our path is what it means to at last come home to the original reasons we started playing in the first place. Pieces of your bridge will falter every so often. Some pillars may crumble as your outside life experiences change in unforeseeable ways. The cement of our foundation may become brittle and our path may lose footing. Structural integrity is something that requires maintenance and dedication. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA receives a new coat of paint every year. Because of how large the bridge is, it takes the engineers the entire year to paint the bridge, only to begin from the beginning the very next year. This level of maintenance requires extreme dedication and observancy, as failure to preserve the bridge could bring forth terrible consequences. Learn your weaknesses, strengthen them every day, and cultivate your indulgence in a positive way. Extend the same level of care to your bridge and the results will be as golden as the bay bridge itself.
- Is Rock & Metal a Healthy Genre?
Taken f rom the June ‘15 interview of Korea Guitar with Alex Campbell Q. There have been a lot of comments recently about the state of RnR. Is it still a healthy genre? I think rock is as healthy as it has ever been. I think the main cause for such speculation comes from the state of album sales. Music isn’t being distributed in the same fashion as before, when it was more of the genre’s “heyday”. With the age of digital distribution, piracy is easy. Besides that fact, various economic complications for the average concert goer impedes the growth of artists. I don’t think that affects the genre, but more of the individual artist. There will always be a fan base for the genre. Q. Is it possible to earn a living the way that the industry is going? I absolutely believe it is possible to earn a living. It may not be as simple as before, but it is certainly possible. I find a lot of people crying foul because their music is not bringing in millions when it just simply isn’t possible anymore. Instead, they should be focusing on other avenues for financial stability within the industry, such as teaching, licensing, scoring, producing, session work, etc. Limiting yourself to just your band isn’t realistic. One must open themselves up to a broader revenue stream than solely laying hope on the label.
- Guitarist | Alex Campbell Music
Guitarist | Composer | Teacher Transcriptions | Guest Solos | Music Production SUBSCRIBE FOR A FREE DOWNLOAD & UPDATES Subscribe Click here to download >> About Take Me There Services Take Me There Music Take Me There Lessons Take Me There Shop Take Me There MT Studios Take Me There ABOUT ALEX Alex Campbell is a 7-time Grammy nominated Music Educator and Progressive Rock Hall of Fame inductee. He has performed with notable acts like Three 6 Mafia, Oran "Juice" Jones, Kreator, Anthrax, and Lady Gaga. He has been featured in Guitar World, Revolver Magazine, Pure Grain Audio, and Relics Magazine. Alex has been a panelist for SXSW '12, '13, and '14. Alex is an alumnus from the Berklee College of Music, and is currently a film scorer at Warner Bros. Records and the guitarist for international touring band Seek Irony, from Tel Aviv, Israel. Alex proudly endorses Kiesel Guitars, Ernie Ball, Mesa Boogie, Dunlop, Positive Grid, ToneRite, Orion Guitar Gear, Lugville, and Mogami Cables. LESSONS It is my passion and goal to help as many aspiring musicians as I can. Each guitarist's evolutionary path is unique, and deserves an approach that is equally as unique, and extremely efficient and effective in helping you become the best you can be. Lessons are super relaxed, information packed, and done through Skype at your pace. I will provide supplemental material such as PDF & GP files, showing you how and what to practice. (or in person) A huge part of my approach to teaching, and guitar in general, is based very much on a zen perspective - focusing on the why just as much as the how. Lessons SERVICES Transcriptions Transcribing music is one of my favourite things to do. Be it an artist's song you want to learn, a tab-less live version, or even your own music, I want to put down the dots for you! From something as simple as a chord chart to a full band with every instrument notated, I ensure 100% note and rhythmic accuracy with a quick return. 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- Tab Books | Alex Campbell Music
TAB BOOKS Shred Atoms | The Triple Threat Collection $30.00 Regular Price $25.00 Sale Price Add to Cart ON SALE! Quick View Shred Atoms | Sweep Picking Price $10.00 Add to Cart Quick View Shred Atoms | Legato Price $10.00 Add to Cart Quick View Shred Atoms | Alternate Picking Price $10.00 Add to Cart
- Music | Alex Campbell
- SUBSCRIBE FOR A FREE DOWNLOAD & UPDATES - Subscribe Click here to download >> MUSIC QuaranToned | The EP $5.00 Price BUY NOW