Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Habitual Choice and Guitar Playing

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Habitual Choice and Guitar Playing

 So I'm listening to Jude Gold's _No Guitar Is Safe_ podcast last week, and he's interviewing Zakk Wylde.

 Takeaway #1:

I'm not a big Zakk fan.  I am, however, a big Randy Rhoads fan.  But that's not why I was listening.  I was listening because even at my advanced age I still try to absorb everything I can. I listen with the hopeful expectation of gleaning some little morsel of something I didn't know before, a bit of wisdom, anything. 

 One of the cool things about Gold's podcast is that you get to hear the interviewer au naturel, playing along with Gold.  What the guitarist he's interviewing has to play through varies, and that in itself is interesting, as well as how they've apparently decided to set their sound as recorded in a less than perfect, less than pristine-studio condition.

 I digress.  The takeaway is that I listen and read everything when I'm not playing.  You should, too.

 Takeaway #2:

 While listening to said podcast, you hear Zakk fiddling around with various songs in a casual context.  Whenever he plays a chord for more than a beat - he puts vibrato on it.  It's obviously a nervous habit, and the basis of his ultra-aggressive vibrato. 

 The takeaway is that his habits are what makes him "Zakk Wylde".  Habits can be a good thing, and a necessary thing in the case of style.  You only acquire habits through practice; and what you practice is unique to you, and should be unique to you. 

 There are bad habits relative to technique, but that's not the same thing as a habit in choice.  
 The percentage of habitual choice relative to the generic is style. 

 You have to play.  A lot.  You have to play something you really like, a lot.  You have to do this to the point that it's automatic, a reflex.  When you think you might be doing it too much - that's maybe enough.

 When you improvise it has to be deliberate in the moment.  Not well before, and by "deliberate" not the byproduct of a conscious thought that requires math.

 If you don't have your entire life to devote to music, you have a choice: make a study of it, make it academic.  A worthy pursuit, if you're going to continue to listen to music the rest of your life, you should at least know something about how it works, right?

 Another choice is to embrace the habits of the value of specific things you love in music.  As an example for some it might just be the classic "Chuck Berry double stop lick".  In which case you should wear it out.  Don't worry about anything else for "a while", weeks, maybe months.  Be able to do it in all permutations, double time, backwards, off beat, accellerandos, pulling back, alternate picked, strummed, all of it.

 To the point where no matter the situation you're in, you can take that musical phrase and really and truly use it.  

 You have to make it a habit.  Style is the result of habits.  You must play enough, long enough with intent, to form habits if you want the musical "food" to produce the semblance of style.  Reading this, watching a video, reading a book on technique, buying a new pick or guitar won't make style happen.  Concentrated effort on a very specific thing is required for a habit to form.  Even if you only have one stylistic habit, it's the building block for a style.  You may as well start now...


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