Technique

Good technique, being able to execute my ideas clearly and cleanly at slow, medium, and fast speeds has always been a major stumbling block for me. Sometimes I think part of it is physical and beyond my control, because my hands have always had a tendency to be a little shaky, and I've never been very naturally talented (or whatever) at sports or things that require physical agility and control over one's movements. I figured out early on that this quality carried over into my guitar playing. Two of my biggest initial influences in music were The Beatles and Bob Dylan, both of whom have (to some degree) a rough edge and not a big emphasis on technical brilliance.

My first experience with admiring technical expertise was listening to and copying Eddie Van Halen's playing. Even he is a player who kind of tends to use unorthodox ways to make things sound more technically challenging than they actually may be (e.g.- his two handed tapping, and extensive use of left had hammer ons and pull offs in traditionally all alternate-picked passages).

The first jazz recording that I really can remember turning my head was Miles' live "My Funny Valentine" (w/Herbie Hancock, George Coleman, Ron Carter and Tony Williams). I remember thinking Miles sounded like the Bob Dylan on the trumpet -- really sloppy, but in his sloppiness sounding devastatingly poignant. After my introduction to bebop and hard bop, post bop, and all that stuff, I was listening mainly to Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery on guitar.

Then I heard Miles' album called Decoy, with John Scofield on guitar. At the time, I had also listened to a lot of John McLaughlin, and Sco's playing sounded like a really Bob Dylan-ized ultra modern version of McLaughlin to me. Here was a modern, really cool, fresh sounding guitar player that I actually had some hope of being able to copy because he sounded kind of sloppy, like me.

So anyway, a few years later when I made a conscious effort to de-program myself from my Sco-itis, I realized that one of the things that made me sound like him was my natural tendency toward sloppy technique, and so I set about to change that. It was also around that same time that I first started getting into Pat Metheny's playing. I was attracted to Metheny's distinctly non-Scofield-esque elegance and technical precision (though, oddly enough that quality in his playing seems to be a relatively recent development; like early to mid eighties). In some ways my interest in the study of Metheny's style is mainly based on his technique.

So here's my question: Is there any merit to my "physically challenged" theory? I feel like I practice technique oriented stuff a lot and, while I've come a long way in the last 7 or 8 years, I feel like the results are rather disappointingly disproportionate to the amount of effort I've put into it. I feel like I should be a technical master by now, yet it seems I'm always hearing guitar players that have far better technique than me, and I rarely execute an idea exactly the way I intend to. Are my "intentions" simply not clear enough? Have I been concentrating too much on what my hands won't do and ignoring the fact that if my brain isn't giving concise, complete and clear information, my hands don't have much to work with? Or, is it that I haven't been practicing the right way? Not doing the right exercises or whatever. My guess is it's probably a combination of all of these things to one degree or another.

I guess then, my question is what are some suggestions for improving on each of these three areas:

  1. physical limitations
  2. unclear mental ideas, or "hearing" the lines/chords as I play them
  3. different ideas for exercises to improve hand/finger dexterity on the fingerboard

OR is it all just physical limitations and should I just be satisfied with being a Bob Dylan-Scofield clone with no chops? After all, if that's truly who I am, than I need to be that to find my own voice. But I think rather, that though there is that aspect of me, there is also the part of me that passionately wants to better my technique and be able to play anything I can conceive of as clear as a bell.

A Voice / Technique / Feel / Spreading Myself Too Thin
Sounds / Getting Nervous / Guitar / Introduction



As I mentioned in the introduction, the essay was written several years ago (during the summer of 1996). Since that time I feel like a lot of my questions and frustrations have begun to resolve themselves, almost without any conscious effort on my part. I don't know if it was the influence of Mick Goodrick, what he had to say, or simply the fact that I wrote out all these thoughts and was able to discuss them with someone who had been more or less down the same road already, but soon after my lesson with him I felt like I began to see things a lot more clearly, and really DID stop worrying so much about "when will I find my own voice" or "am I talented/good enough to even be trying to do this music/jazz thing?" When I go back and read the things I wrote I find that the answers to most of the questions I was asking fall somewhere in the middle of the possibilities I speculated about, and that again, time and patience seem to have a way of making everything fall imperceptibly into focus.