Sound


I alluded to this in the "nerves" section, but a huge and often frustrating and nerve wracking thing for many guitar players is dealing with their sound, and how it changes in different situations. Most of us who've ever played a gig or even at a jam session have had that experience where we get our guitar tone just right at home, tweaked to perfection. We show up at the gig, confident that our sound is going to be GREAT. Then the gig starts, and all of a sudden - HOLD IT! This sounds like s#$%!!! What happened? Suddenly our happy, good sounding world disintegrates before our eyes, and we tense up and our playing seems to magically regress to somewhere around the level of the 2nd week we were playing guitar. At the end of the gig, as the other musicians pack up and half heartedly say "yeah, nice playing" we feel like yelling "NO, wait, that's not really the way I play. You should have heard me last night in my living room; I sounded WAY better than that....really!" Of course, it's just this self obsessed type of thinking that keeps us from really getting to the "zone."

What I've finally started to figure out, after years and years of banging my head against a wall because I wasn't happy with my sound, was that I just have to accept that it's just not possible on every gig to get a sound I'm totally happy with; in fact, it's probably more common than not that I'm not going to feel my sound is at it's best. The sound of a guitar, particularly the clean, warm, dark sound most jazz guitarists like, is VERY fragile, and very easily can be adversely affected by the environment. Cymbals and drums, horns, basses, pianos, and especially, the drone of a room full of people talking, can all mask those pleasing frequencies we love to hear coming out of our instrument and/or amp. Add to this the fact that most clubs and other performance spaces have often less than perfect acoustics, and we're almost doomed to failure if we depend on having a nice tone in order to be happy with our playing.

What I began to realize is that when I'm unhappy with my sound, I start to tense up, and this tension causes my playing to get worse and worse. The solution I came up with was to let go of the need to have a good sound, to paraphrase Kenny Werner, and concentrate instead on trying to recreate what it FELT like when I was comfortable in my practice room the night before. If I can get that feeling of relaxed comfort programmed into my body, and call it up even when everything else is going haywire, I can usually play pretty well even when I hate my sound. Practicing this technique has made a dramatic improvement in my performing experience. You can probably see that all of this stuff is interrelated; being relaxed, entering "the zone," dealing with nervousness. They're all all related to the same thing; breaking down the illusory barriers that separate us from each other and the rest of the universe in general, and even, if you will, from God, whatever that word may mean to you.

Dealing with Getting Nervous / Introduction / Technique
Meditation / Ground Zero Revelation / Sound