Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Lead guitar and jamming

I AM NOT a lead guitar player. I never have been. I never will be. But I can try until my fingers can't bend and press down on the strings.

Great lead guitar players, and there aren't that many, make it look effortless. It's not. It takes years of practice and dedication, like anything else. If you think Eddie Van Halen picked up the guitar and started playing Eruption right away, well, it didn't happen. 

Great guitar players in general are wired differently from other human beings. Sure, you have to have technique and good equipment and training, but the great ones have something intrinsic in their playing. As soon as you hear Jimmy Page or Mark Knopfler or Pete Townshend or The Edge, you know it's them playing. You can just tell. That alone makes them great.

There is emotion in great guitar playing. Stevie Ray Vaughn poured his soul into his playing, as all great blues players do. Eric Johnson has been offering free guitar lessons via Facebook since the pandemic hit (he asks you donate to a local food bank in exchange for watching) and sure, he flies around the fretboard like a maniac. But more often he's bending notes and explaining technique that seems to come from inside, not just by ripping off notes.

Playing fast does not make a great lead guitar player. The thing I've been stressing in lessons lately is that less is more. It's a great metaphor for life, too. It's how and when you play the notes, not how fast.

During my Covid quarantine, I started listening to songs I haven't heard in years, and I jammed along for the first time in years. It's how I learned to play. We are taking a break from lessons during Christmas and I'm giving many of my students a list of great jam songs, with suggested ways to play lead guitar with the song.

Again, I'll never be very good at lead guitar, but it's sure fun trying to get better. Last summer when Adam Yates and I recorded our 1/5 and Maine CD at 505 Studios, I had to put some lead on a few of the songs. I missed the mark more than I made it sing, but the solos didn't turn out that badly.

Rock on and keep playing, with whatever you aspire to get better at and master.

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