Random guitar thoughts
and ideas

Random guitar thoughts and ideas:

By Alfredo Herz

First of all, I would like to thank Scott for inviting me as a guest columnist. Thank you very much Scott. I love this site.

When asked, I was not sure what to write about. There are so many topics when it comes to playing the guitar, and a lot of them have been covered extensively by other players in here, so I decided to write about what people ask me the most.

There is no absolute when it comes to playing an instrument, so this are just some opinions about certain situations. Hope you can find some of them useful.

The most important part of playing:

That's a good one. Everybody is different. The main problem I find with that topic is that for some reason the human mind seeks only one satisfactory answer, and by doing so, most the time it overlooks the importance of the rest (not only when it comes to music, but also when it comes to everything else).

You hear a lot that the most important part of playing is: expression, some others say feeling, others say technique, live performance, studio performance and so on. Although I agree completely with all of them (yes, I believe that "the most important part" is not only one, but many), I also believe that not hurting yourself is as important part as any, and amazingly enough, it is the most overlooked.

Believe or not, people can hurt themselves just by playing an instrument. Sometimes to the point in which they have to stop playing for years. What good is it to be able to express yourself with the guitar to the point of touching someone's soul if you cannot play it?

The best way to avoid hurting yourself is by doing stretches before playing, and warming up. By warming up I mean: take your time when you first pick up a guitar, make your fastest speed 16th notes at 60 BPM for about 15 minutes or more. Yes, it is boring, but it will pay off in the long run. You might not even notice that it is helping you, but that is the point. It is better to not notice that warming up helps, that finding out that not warming up hurt you. I am not making that up. 11 years ago my "warm ups" were playing Steve Vai songs. I hurt myself and I still feel the effects up until this day. John Petrucci's "Rock discipline" instructional video has an excellent warm-up section. If you follow it every day before you play (but I mean every day, not just a few), you have a better chance to not cause any damage to your hands and arms than if you didn't (I am sure you can find some stretching and warm-up exercises on line if you don't want to take the video route).

Another way to avoid injury is to take 10 minute breaks every 50 minutes of practice or so. It takes discipline to stop when you are working on a cool phrase, but once again, the goal is to be able to play that phrase when you want without any injuries.

Also make sure there is not an angle between the palm of your left hand and your forearm. A lot of players bend their wrists almost to a 90 degree angle between the palm and arm. That causes friction between the tendons and the carpal tunnel when the fingers move, which can lead to "carpal tunnel syndrome". long story short: not good at all.

Practice smart. If you start feeling pain when you play, it's time to take a break and stretch. The guitar is not going anywhere, but your physical ability to play it might. You see athletes stretch and warm up before any physical activity (and they do it for a reason). Playing the guitar is no different. However, when it comes to playing the guitar, if there is pain, there is no gain.

Technique vs feeling:

In my opinion it's incredible that there is still such debate amongst players all over the world. I don't see where they oppose each other, and I can only see where they go hand in hand. I rather think in terms of "technique & feeling" than "technique vs feeling". Imagine that you go to a different country and need to say something, but you don't have the skills to do it. If you want to say something with your playing, and don't have a certain amount of technique, it will probably come out wrong.

Now try to remember that annoying person that just talked and talked. At some point you just want to walk away from their conversation, or slap them so that they will shut up. You become that person if all you focus on are technique & speed based licks.

I believe that there is another misconception in which some players think that feeling is just "the blues". Have you ever heard an up-tempo song that makes you feel happier?, or angry?. I think those are expressions of an emotion as valid as any other. How many times have you liked a song just based on the circumstances when you first heard it?, (like meeting a special person, going on vacation, you name it). It is all subject to conditions, and that is a very normal thing.

Obviously extreme shredders reach a certain amount of people as do grunge players, country music players, and so on. That is the reason why there is a market for every style. If there was an absolute for music, everybody would like the same songs and there would be no use for variety.

When I was going to music school there were many different players: There were some incredible blues players, who would keep their playing so interesting that I could listen to them play for long periods of time, but there were also a bunch of hackers who used "the blues" and "the feeling" as an easy cop-out to play nothing more than a minor pentatonic scale from 6th string root position, and learn nothing else. Same thing with shredders. Some kept their playing interesting, and some just abused their skills (unfortunately, at the time I was one of them).

I believe that as long as you stay truthful to what you are trying to accomplish by playing the guitar, you will find that you need technique to express what you are feeling, and that you won't feel much at all if all you express is technique.

I could go on and on, but I am afraid I might put you to sleep (if I haven't already) like the guy I mentioned earlier that just talks and talks. So, in recap (as far as my opinion goes):

1- A very important part of playing the guitar is not hurting yourself.

2- There is no need to separate technique and feeling.

Please feel free to visit my Reverbnation Page. Thank you for your time.

Alfredo Herz.

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