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The Road to Effortless Expression – Part 2

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There have been times when I've wanted to throw my guitar out of the window and start a new instrument. (Or quit) It usually stems from some lick or song I'm trying to play, and I'm just unable to play it. Not only that, my mind starts telling me that I probably will never be able to play it. Accompanied by a very long list of reasons supporting the pretty convincing argument that I should move on.

In times like those, I had to think back to the situations when I persisted and kept coming back to what I was trying to do, and now it is a part of my playing. But what do you do if you don't have many of those successes to point back to and encourage you to keep going? When I was young and just starting, I had the advantage of being in grade 7 and not necessarily knowing my limitations, and the voice in my head telling me I couldn’t do something was not as strong. Not to mention I didn't know how bad I sounded. I was just happy to be playing music I loved that sometimes sounded like the music I was trying to play.

As we get older, we expect more from ourselves, and that voice is louder and has more to say. So, if you are in that place where you don't have a lot of successes to draw from, I'm here to tell you not to listen to that voice that tells you it's too hard, or maybe I'm just not cut out to be a guitar player and keep going. Don't believe the lie that tells you that you are not musically gifted and let that slow you down, or worse yet, quit. Every musician that sounds great has put a ton of work in and has learned how to bridge that gap from starting to expression and not entertaining those misleading beliefs.

In this post, I want to explore a process that will help you answer the why. Why should you deeply learn theory and your fretboard and struggle to find how you understand music?

The Path
Looking back on the times I've wanted to play something, whether, for enjoyment or a gig, I progressed through a path similar to the one below. My main goal is to effortlessly express the music to the listener, and these steps help me to get there faster.

Simplify / Understand - One of the major roadblocks for guitar players to keep progressing is the perception that becoming a great guitar player is complicated. It is challenging at times but not complicated. One of the first things you have to do when tackling a new skill or song that is challenging is to first find a way to simplify and understand it.

A great example is major scales. A lot of people know how to figure out each major scale, but few people know every scale inside out and backward. In a way that they can use them in their playing and not have to think about it. Like breathing or walking. In order to do this, it is important to put it in perspective.

There are only 12 major scales. Not 200. Anyone can learn 12 things very deeply in a very short time. There are 12 months in a year. Learning a scale a month is very attainable.

The pattern is the same with every scale. R-2-3v4-5-6-7vR - If you understand this first, it simplifies.

99% of the music you have heard is derived from the major scale, so knowing them provides a solid foundation to build on.

How to learn the scales very quickly is beyond the scope of this article, but I use this as an example of how you can take a skill and simplify it into manageable tasks to learn.

Having a great guitar coach or teacher can greatly help simplify the skills you need to learn and put them in an order that benefits you the most. What sets aside a guitar teacher, and a guitar coach is that the coach would give you a proven strategy to take you from where you are to where you want to go that will involve more than just learning songs.

Master - Once you have simplified what you are trying to learn you it is time to increase how familiar you are with that skill. There are two things that you can start to do to master a skill.

Build Your Environment - Set up your surroundings and schedule to make what you are trying to learn a part of your routine and surroundings. For the example above, you could set up a bunch of cards that have the A Major scale on them, written in different ways that you can refer to throughout the day. If you consistently take moments in the day to become familiar with that scale, you will know it deeply in no time.

Context - When you become more familiar with a skill or song, you will more easily be able to put whatever you are playing into context. Into a framework. Using the example of the A Major scale, the more familiar you are with it, the easier it is to put the song you are learning into the context of the song you may be learning in the key of A. How do the licks, chords, and ideas you are learning fit into the A Major scale? Putting things into context allows you to take what you learned in a song and make it a part of your playing, enabling you to play what you are learning in other situations.

Visualize – Use your inner ear and eye to visualize and hear what you are learning without your guitar. This is a powerful way to practice anywhere you are.

Consistency – Life often gets in the way and we fall short of the plans we have. The important thing is to keep going, start again, and always come back to what you are trying to accomplish.

Effortless Expression – As you continually simplify and work on mastering a skill, song, or parts of your guitar, you will find that you become so familiar that you will not have to think about it as you make music. In the example of A Major, you will know A Major so well that you will never have to “figure out” where you are in the key and you will know without any effort how what you are playing fits into the key of A.

There is no magic bullet for you to become a great guitarist, but there is a faster path to get you there. Learning songs is the key to getting better, but most guitarists will need a framework, an understanding of their fretboard, and music theory to get the most out of learning songs.

I'd love to hear what you think.

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