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Friday, April 15, 2011

Feeling-Based Training

Current mood: relaxed

My training eagerness has been relatively low lately and the reason is clear. Whenever I get even a hint of a sense that I'm not progressing I don't want to practice anymore. Progress is the greatest motivator on earth and the lack of it is the greatest turnoff.

I don't really follow my progress by any charts (like the ones where you mark your BPM each day) and those might help if they weren't such a huge project to work with. I feel that they are locking me down. Besides, just following your BPM can be even counterproductive.

In this case being a teacher is great because that forces you to pick up your guitar and start playing it. When you just start to fondle those strings the passion that has always been there starts to fire up again. This job gets me practicing regularly.

Recently I discovered a new method to approach my feeling-based training.

DISCLAIMER: I say MY feeling-based training because this is the way I approach training with guitar. I haven't heard anyone talking about this anywhere and quite frankly am too lazy to do any actual research. If someone talks about a similar technique somewhere please note that I'm not in any way trying to steal their fame and fortune. I'm just talking about something I came up with myself while practicing in my own bedroom without anyone helping directly.

Also, I don't claim that this is the best way to approach training with guitar. I'm just talking about my experiences and what I've found helpful with training. If you want to try it out then please do. If you don't, then don't. I don't care. Just remember that this isn't a post trying to sell you anything.

Feeling-based training is generally about concentrating on how it FEELS to play the guitar. No, I'm not talking about your emotions or your passion for playing guitar. I'm talking about the motions you do with your fingers and hands, the pressure, the strength, the distances and all that stuff.

To me playing some lick or riff fast requires three things: laxity, accuracy and the right motion. Sure you also gotta have some core strength, stamina and stretch in your fingers but if you've played actively for (let's say) six months then you possess the core qualities for playing fast.

The guitarist's hand should always be as lax as possible. Always relax, relax and relax. If you start to think that what you're about to play is hard then you will tense up. When the mind feels threatened even in the most basic way it will tense up the body. So I'll say fake it. Tell yourself that the lick you're about to play is as easy as having a glass of water.

You also need to build some real accuracy. If you keep your fingers as relaxed as you can you won't be able to guide them when they are falling on the neck. It's gonna feel a little bit like throwing darts. You keep your finger nice and loose (like a Slinky) and throw it at the fretboard. I like to practice some licks with hammer-ons both up and down. And when you're using a hammer (your finger in this analogy) you don't try to press the nail down with it as hard as you can. You use an ACCURATE and loose swing. The power of the strike comes from the fast motion of the swing. This is quite challenging but the feeling-based training eases it up a bit.

Lastly you need to realize that you need the right motion for playing fast. You can't have the required motion for playing fast if you practice picking the notes one by one. If you want to go fast you gotta stop walking and start running (i.e. change the motion). Don't move independent fingers separately that much but rather try to spin them in place by rotating the hand. The more fingers you can get in place with one motion (rotating the hand) the faster you can play those notes. The right motion also means cutting the fat off i.e. economy of motion. Be tidy and only move the hand and fingers as little as possible. Bigger distance means longer travel time.

Now, I described those qualities with the fretting hand but the same goes for picking hand too. Be lax, tidy and accurate. The right motion is always wave-like. Chunky on/off moves tend to be quite awkward. When playing fast try to keep the hands always in motion.

That's what you need in order to play fast. Nowhere have I mentioned actually practicing fast. That's the other thing I don't care about marking down your BPM for the day. You don't have to practice stuff fast. Practicing fast if anything is counterproductive. Now, I can hear you screaming: "But I've always practiced fast and got great results!" Yes, I understand. I'm not saying you can't get great results with that. I'm just saying that you can get the same results more easily.

If you practice fast there's no time to pay attention to those three key elements: laxity, accuracy and right motion. In worst case scenario you start playing the lick wrong and before you know it you've played it like that 300 times and then your brain already thinks that's the way the lick should be played.

Also if you've played the lick 300 times and still don't get the results you want it's gonna be depressing. At least that's how I feel.

The feeling-based training concentrates on how playing a certain progression of notes with certain techniques feels inside the hand. When you concentrate on the feeling and teach the right feeling to yourself then you'll automatically play the lick right. You see, if you change a motion even just a little bit IT WILL FEEL DIFFERENT.

On the other hand when you discover what it feels to play the lick with your hands and fingers relaxed and with a motion that you can apply when playing fast then there's no stopping you. Just replay the feeling and the fingers will find their places on the neck automatically.

If you think you're inputting the right feeling for the lick (or riff or a chord etc.) and get the wrong result then you didn't get the feeling clearly enough. It's a bit blurry. The way to work around this is to execute the lick right and then the way you previously did it and compare those two to each other. How do they feel different?

This was giving me results but not quite quickly enough. So I ditched my training routine for a month or so. That's depressing, let me tell you. Each week we decided with the band to practice two new cover songs and I barely got around learning their base structures. Then after another day of guitar lessons I again found the willingness to get myself training all those songs in more detail.

I'll talk about my routines later but let me just mention this. I decided to train all of the stuff that required practice with 50 BPM in metronome. I forbid myself to play more than one note for each click. After six hours of practicing my attention about the feelings started to change.

Before I had focused more on the results i.e. how the lick felt when I played it. After all that playing I noticed that I had started to focus more on with what feeling to try and execute the lick.

This seemingly minor shift in focus made all the difference. I actually learned the feelings A LOT faster. Now I was teaching the feelings to myself in oppose of just reacting to my practice results. I didn't really need the metronome anymore. In fact it was getting in the way.

I took the first note of the lick and started to feel and see in my mind how the next note would feel. I already had the feeling I had played with before in there and that's what came in mind first. I scratched it and started to create the feeling from nothing. I noticed how my hand rotated and how my finger moved in slow motion and mark the feeling. I noticed how the picking hand moved and where it stopped and how much pressure I should apply for it to make the move perfect. This took me about five to ten seconds. Then I executed the moves.

This procedure made all the difference. The right feelings started to dwarf the previously forged false feelings and everything cleared up much faster. Of course some repetition of the right execution was still required to really burn the lick into the nervous system but no more trying to master two seconds of a song for 24 months. It's easy to like playing guitar again!

NOTE: I reposted this from my official blog: The Musician Experience

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