How to be More Musical?

Technical problems usually have technical solutions…I always post technical things because they can be addressed and/or aided by technical means – like if you want to get better at chords…Practice Chords! or if you need to improve your bending or vibrato…Practice bends and vibrato! It’s easy to give suggestions and examples of technical stuff, and most of the time progress can be made.

One question I don’t think anyone EVER asked me when I was teaching guitar lessons was… “How can I be more musical?” Hmmm…after all, the guitar is just a medium, right? a means to an end…a blank canvas, waiting for input. John Lennon once said, “I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba I’ll bring you something out of it.”

So once you have the bag of tricks, transcending the technical and making music is not so easy. In fact, there is no answer to that one. No solution, no way to pinpoint it. Sure, you can emulate emotion, play with more dynamics, feign some sort of tortured soul act, jump up and down, roll around on the ground…whatever passes for passion. But really, how direct is the conduit from your heart to your hands? Do you stop by the head on the way to the hands? Does is take years of heartache to forge a ‘real’ musician or can the neophites play too?

See, none of these questions really have answers…I sure don’t know. I do know that for me, the only way to feel like I’m feeling the music is to STOP thinking about music and just think about LIFE. Whatever that might entail. Thinking about music or guitars or amps or some new chord shape or scale or tricky lick does nothing but feed my technical side…it’s not going to help me dig in to a song and really add anything to it. That’s the goal I think – adding something by giving a part of yourself, imparting something to the music that could only come from you. That’s why the really great players have a strong signature sound – they are putting their whole being into it, transcending the details of technique and gear, making music that could only be theirs.

So I guess the place to start when trying to be more musical is right in your own life experience, your ‘wheelhouse’…figure out what means something to you beyond fingers and frets and speakers…how does what you’re playing relate to YOU? Where does the sound you are making cross paths with the human that you’ve become?

One thing I did learn from teaching guitar is that not everyone is a deep, poetic, artsy-fartsy mysterious musical madman that parties like a rock star, dates supermodels and sacrifices something for their art. The fact is, most people are far from that, and that’s just fine. Most people just want to play an instrument for fun, or the technical challenge, or just to hear themselves play the opening riff to every rock song they grew up listening to. It’s funny how mentioning that you play guitar immediately conjures up (in other people’s minds) the image of some crazy musician type with no responsibilities, no worries…just SEX DRUGS AND ROCK & ROLL, BABY!!!

Ok, sorry if this rant took a strange turn, but I thought it would be a good way to inject a little reality into the topic, which is my whole point – your reality is what is going to shape the way you play. Embrace it – anger, happiness, frustration, loss, fun, jealousy, rage, love, hope, fear…all are necessary to make the world go ’round. Let them all be your motivation, throw ‘em all in the pot and stir!