Playing a guitar part that truly resonates with an audience is one of the hardest things that a musician is faced with having to do. The part must be memorable, catchy and (ulp!) evoke an emotional response. Some players are naturally gifted with this creative ideal. Nevertheless, it’s a skill that can be acquired.
A Personal Story
A defining musical experience for me was found during a session. During the recording of a certain artist’s album, it became clear that she knew what she wanted to hear. She sang a lot of the leads that she heard in her head and I played them back. Many times I would think, “Is that it? But it’s so easy.”
I think that the lesson is obvious. Let’s break down what was learned that day and sharpen our playing by including more memorable and emotional content in the process.
Lesson #1 – Emulate Vocalists
This is the obvious first lesson from the story above. Great vocalists are superb at creating memorable lines. Pay close attention to phrasing and note choice, leaving natural spaces to simulate breaths. A lead that can be sung will communicate to a vast audience and also ensures that most people will find your playing tasteful.
Lesson #2 – Play Less
This goes hand in hand with Lesson #1. It’s pretty hard to sing a lead that contains a lot of notes. Some music is designed to accommodate that sort of thing but for our purposes in developing memorable parts, less notes will ensure singability. Playing less notes also allows time in the music to utilize the next lesson, which is where the soul of guitar playing resides…
Lesson #3 – Master Articulations
To get the most out of a guitar part, slides, bends, vibrato and the like are an absolute necessity. These are the techniques which bring the notes to life and cannot be understated. Once again, emulating vocal lines is a great place to start and will guarantee optimal placement of these techniques within the part.
Lesson #4 – Remain Inspired, Not Cerebral
With so many elements involved, it’s easy to remain stuck in your own head. The goal is to always practice something enough that it becomes second nature. Until such a time that fluency is acquired though, it will be necessary to catch yourself when becoming too intellectual and remember to just listen. Anyone can compose great music when they just listen.
Lesson #5 – Listen
This is the logical conclusion. It doesn’t have to be hard. In the end, all theory and overthinking can be tossed aside as you remember, “If it sounds right, it is right.”
“MASTER YOUR INSTRUMENT. MASTER YOUR MUSIC. THEN FORGET ALL THAT STUFF AND JUST PLAY.”
– Charlie Parker
Out of the 5 lessons discussed, which one makes you want to pick up your guitar and play? Leave a comment below.