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Devolving Technique

ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
edited October 2023 in Technique Posts: 335

Anyone ever feel their technique was devolving, getting worse over time, not better?

There have been places along the way (now, for instance), when I approach things differently because of some ideas I’ve incorporated, only to find that I’m sounding worse, not better. Sort along the lines of “the more you learn, the more there is to learn.”

9 years in, of course I’m a better player. But, sometimes it feels like 1 step forward, 2 steps back.

Oh, and my fret hand finger cramps still rear their ugly head every now and then, Today, they showed up in the last song of a three hour 3 set afternoon show. Good thing it was the last song.

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Comments

  • crookedpinkycrookedpinky Glasgow✭✭✭✭ Alex Bishop D Hole, Altamira M & JWC D hole
    Posts: 921

    I couldn't agree more. When I listen to recordings of the early days of my playing this syle I think I sounded better, more fluid and definitely more melodic. These days I ened up playing the same lines over and over. I have not progressed and, after 15 years, still struggle. I also get cramps in my left, fretting, hand although it's not as commone as it has been.

    I suspect that my lack of progress is tied to my lack of practicing and also picking different teachers - by that I mean stuff on Youtube and various books. My advice to myself would be to set a goal, aim for one particular style and apply myself. Will I take my own advice ? Probably not.

    Twang
    always learning
  • djazzydjazzy New Riccardo Mordeglia, AJL
    Posts: 60

    I almost chimed in with Buco's "Getting your fingers..." thread but....

    Yes -- and from my own experience, I find that its important to keep up a steady practice routine, like daily, even if involves 15-20 minutes only. It begins mostly disciplined and repetitive, in the morning with coffee. That kinda provides a foundation of fundamentals from which to build & grow. At least that's how I try to think about it. And probably like most here, I am, (for all intents and purposes) self-taught on the guitar, i.e., lack a formal training that a steady teacher (over years!) would provide. So I accept my limits. Relatedly, I am not a purist. Different styles require different techniques so often they'll end up coming out unintentionally mixed up -- and that can be frustrating. I find all this kind of interesting (and probably think about it too much) but I'm still always groping in the dark about how to proceed. "What exercise should I work on now?" But ultimately I don't take those fundamentals (like triads, their inversions, and different ways to play them) for granted since lots of great music can come just from those simple forms. I never try to copy licks from a recording. Never worked for me. Its all a matter of developing a distinct voice, warts and all. Hope this helps.

    Buco
  • pdgpdg ✭✭
    Posts: 449

    Cramping -- maybe try a slightly lower action, and/or less neck relief, and/or light-gauge strings. Also, maybe play a bit more gently with the right hand.

    Some people, when they play harder with the right hand, unknowingly press harder with the left-hand fingers. You could watch for that.

    Also, are you drowning in trying to play complex prearranged licks note-for-note and reading tablature notes? Maybe some more time playing with less emotional pressure, and more enjoyment of creatively following where your ear takes you in a song, might bring you back to the joy of discovery in a song. (I know this sounds new-agey!)

    Buco
  • ScoredogScoredog Santa Barbara, Ca✭✭✭✭
    edited October 2023 Posts: 866

    I have quite a few thoughts on this...

    Most players when learning new stuff move on to the new stuff instead of adding on to what is already there. The old stuff gets forgotten and of course when the player listens back to his old self he goes hmm, what was I doing there?

    Depending on what new stuff is learned it may or may not sound better that what the player was previously comfortable with. Also inspiration plays a key, if the old stuff was played when the player was inspired it may very well sound better than the new cool ideas the player is now dealing with. I have heard many players move on and not sound as good as they did years earlier but think they are growing, and in ways they are but maybe the result is disappointing. I think a relearning of old stuff is not only important but often the best way of adding onto one's current playing. You have learned it once, the refinding of it should be easier than adding an idea gathered from the outside.

    Crooked Pinky states "My advice to myself would be to set a goal, aim for one particular style and apply myself. Will I take my own advice ? Probably not."

    I have had the pleasure now of studying with a fairly high end list of players. What most of these players have in common is they have focused on their style. Even gypsy players who have been playing since out of the womb are focused on their style, often one shared by the people living around them. When studying I often show them something I would play spawned off of what they showed me and so far most have struggled with things I thought they would easily grasp. I played something for a major dude and goes "what is that?". I showed him, he struggled and since he couldn't land it quickly he recognized it as a waste of time. Sometimes outside noise is just that even if it sounds good. It is especially tough to focus these days as the internet is filled with great ideas and players but often that becomes a distraction more than a help. That said I probably have learned more Gypsy Jazz from Youtube than anywhere else.

    DoubleWhiskyBucojonpowlTwangMichaelHorowitz
  • ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
    Posts: 335

    I seem to have touched the nerve here. I can tell you that what has changed in the last few months, in addition to putting some time into the Van Hemert methods books, is that our band has been getting booked a lot more. We once did four gigs in one week. That has fallen off a bit now to several times a month.

    The important thing about gigging is that performing is a very different skill than rehearsing or practicing on one’s own. I get glimpses of being as relaxed as I am at home when I am performing, but it’s rare. I’m usually trying to figure out how to be more relaxed and to remember various tools like loosening my right hand grip, loosening my left hand grip, letting go of the tension in my right shoulder. (I just realized I don’t cramp up much at home even after hours of playing; could well be the extra tension while rehearsing and performing,) I’ve used an interesting trick when playing “J’attendrais“ and a few other tunes. I’ve taken up a Django posture by sitting back in my seat, crossing my leg, and resting in the guitar comfortably to begin the opening solo. By the time the violin comes in for the second half of the introduction, it’s flowing very nicely, and then I do the opening chords to begin the tune. When the band comes in and the violin states the theme. I can see smiles in the audience. That’s very gratifying.

    The other thing about gigging a lot is that practice time on one’s own is devoted to preparing for that gig. I am working on preparing myself to find improvisational cues for each tune when the time comes, for example. To answer PDG who wrote above, I don’t perform a lot of note by note solos from transcriptions (but sometimes I can’t resist trying to pull off all or most of the original solo from “I’ll See You in my Dreams.”) I do try to lift licks and put them in different places, and in between, it’s a matter of connecting them with my own rhythmic, in tune, in time in harmony, improvisation.

    Perhaps the devolving part has come as a result of performance now taking the larger portion of my attention. Trouble is, performance is a one-off experience. You have one chance to make that statement, find that inspiration, create a little magic on the spot for each tune. You don’t get to do it over to make it better.

    I know I’m covering a lot of ground here, but based on your thoughtful responses, I thought I’d give y’all a fuller picture.

    Buco
  • pdgpdg ✭✭
    Posts: 449

    Live performing -- with all the amplification of everyone in the band, monitors or no monitors, EQ of what sound comes to your ears, and relative volume of your guitar vs. all the rest of the instruments (not to mention background noise). Seems to me that many people play harder, and have less control and less feel for the connection between what their fingers tell them they're playing and what their ears hear, compared to playing at home.

    Also, there's the urge to put it all into the solo, including getting in that fast run, rather than just following where it leads that one time.

    You don't only have "one chance" -- rather, you have the whole gig to express yourself. I'd say start slow and easy, and give yourself time to adjust to the artificial world of amplification/monitors. Try to EQ the balance of what you hear of your own guitar to sound pleasant to you during the songs (not just testing only your own guitar).

    And most listeners would rather hear the player's personality and emotion come out, rather than a dazzling run that the player is communicating he wants to play in order to impress.

    billyshakesdjazzy
  • edited October 2023 Posts: 4,705

    What, did you find something better to do? Never too late to go back and help "beating the empty straw"*

    *proverb from the old country, as in participating in an activity that won't amount to much.

    As for taking a step forward and two backwards. Yes, even take a step backwards and then slip, maybe on a dog poop, and faceplant.

    For real now, what @pdg said about relaxed hands. I just recently had an epiphany. My right hand is still sometimes tighter than I want it to be. And for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. And then a few weeks back it dawned on me; what if the right hand simply mirrors the left hand. So to have a completely relaxed right hand, make sure left hand is also completely relaxed. I in no way use a death grip with my left but as I started thinking about this I realized some of my favorite players, when you look at their left hand, it looks like it's about to fall off the fretboard. Look at Fanou Torrancinta for example. I noticed that long ago but never really thought about it twice.

    And when I deliberately started barely putting pressure with the left, I very soon noticed a change in the right, more relaxed. Still not a second nature, I have to remind myself but it makes a difference.

    billyshakesTwang
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • djazzydjazzy New Riccardo Mordeglia, AJL
    Posts: 60

    Ha @Buco , I'll try posting in the "Fingers" thread just not sure it'll amount to beans.

    Buco
  • edited October 2023 Posts: 68

    I've found that my playing tends to go "in waves" with regards to technical fluidity, where the "peaks" are often stacked epiphanies of joy and the "valleys" stale pits of frustration. That said, it's been 6 years now since I started on the rest stroke journey and one thing I have noticed is that with time, the waves have somewhat evened into more spread out, less extreme peaks/valleys - kinda like Mercury's orbit vs. Pluto's, if that makes sense lol.

    But when I do enter a "valley" the first thing I do is examine all the fundamentals and if I'm tense, rather than try to force anything I'll instead wait 15-30 minutes to decompress before coming back, which is usually all it takes for me to feel relaxed again (e.g. especially after working all day). And then once relaxed I'll remind myself of the basics, play from your shoulder to wrist, let the wrist collapse without wasted movement and keep all motion compact yet fluid. Sometimes I'll even break out the good ol' mirror to make sure my form looks sound.

    That said, what I've found to be even more problematic during the "valleys" than technique is when my ears aren't hearing anything; put differently, how do you expect to sound good when you're not even listening to what you're playing in the first place?? I've found that the easiest way to get the ears open again is simply by listening to music. Doesn't even have to be jazz, just needs to be anything that awakens both mind and soul so one can reclaim the joy that should always permeate when playing an instrument. And let's face it, you'll never get good at playing something you can't hear; one of my favorite anecdotes from Miles was from when he was young and getting super frustrated that he couldn't hit the upper register while improvising so he turned to Dizzy for advice -- what did Dizzy tell him?? Something to the effect of "you aren't hearing what you're trying to do" and that always stood out to me as important advice. And then when you start to notice how every great musician is hearing and emoting through each and every note they play, Dizzy's advice becomes even more resounding. As for Miles, he of course not only learned to hear in the upper register but featured it prominently, certainly so in his later playing - just listen to some his 60s recordings with the 2nd great quintet before he went complete fusion.

    Last, a piece of advice I received from Antoine Boyer - practice for 30 minutes 1-3 times per day (at most), not 2-3+ hours once per day. This is actually how I practiced already but I thought it was important to note because I've seen so many friends/acquaintances put themselves through marathon practice sessions where you can clearly tell at a certain point it's just a total case of diminishing returns in terms of improving technique and retaining knowledge.

    Anyway, sorry for the wall of text and maybe it's because I taught for many years but the subject of practice/practicing is imo one of the most important (if not THE most important) we all face as musicians.

    Bucobillyshakes
  • ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
    edited October 2023 Posts: 335

    Lots of great observations here.

    Regarding live performing, PDG, for my last gig, I was experimenting on the fly with a new Krivo pickup. Hadn’t had a chance to set it up exactly the way I wanted, so I was experimenting with some tone settings on the fly. That’s certainly enough to distract anyone, but I also used it as an exercise to attempt to play as best I could despite distractions, because there will always be distractions in a live performance.

    Also, I was using a term that was a little limited and saying that each performance is a “one-off.“ Within that long three hour show, I pulled off a number of nice solos and played well with the band in general. It’s just that performing is going to, in general, be a more tense situation, and that can manifest itself in lack of fluid and relaxed motion, especially regarding the picking hand. I really like your grip tension epiphany observation, Buco, and that is something I’m going to try to incorporate it.

    In that vein, I’ll give you an example how a technical change in my mechanics completely cured me of a bad habit. I took an online lesson with Christiaan van Hemert who examined my playing from a video recording I sent him. He observed that my wrist was in the classic arc as recommended by so many players of this genre, but that I was still doing weird motions with my index finger and thumb. He recommended that I flatten the angle quite a bit and concentrate on using the twist of my wrist to execute the motion. He also recommended a much lighter and quieter pick (I had been using a rather heavy and loud blue chip which I no longer use). I didn’t opt for 1.5 or 2 mm gator pics that he and so many are now using. (I still now use a 2.5 large triangle pick either from Wegen, Jocko or Tommy Davey). The change to my picking was almost immediate and cured me of the moving finger habit. My rest stroke improved immensely in a very short amount of time.

    It’s funny how an observation like that can make such a change, and I think I may try method of the light hand and grip you mentioned, Buco. Christiaan also mentioned that Stochelo has a very light touch and has been known to have the pic fly out of his hand leading to hilarious search on stage while others continue the song.

    As for soloing, except for the prescribed waltzes, I do try to truly improvise when my solo comes up. Of course, I have an idea of where I’m going to begin and end, but the expression and movement and ideas and inspiration of the moment is something I’ve tried to use. It’s often flying without a net, and it would probably sound better to the audience (and me when I hear it later) if I played something more set and memorized. But I think it’s important to cultivate improvisation. That said, I do want my solo to have a beginning middle and end . It should be a melodic statement that’s clear to the listener, no matter whether it is energetic or languid.

    I appreciate your suggestions, Voutoreeni, especially as to how to open myself to hearing where I want to go in my improvisation. I do, however, want to play something creative but within the constraints of the form so as to be recognizable in this genre. And, although my practice sessions tend to be longer than 30 minutes at a time, within my session, I vary my concentration of effort, take breaks, etc. I’ve incorporated some of the guidance of Noa Kageyama to make my practice productive.

    Tonight’s session, for example, will include 10 minutes of metronomed picking exercises, memorizing some more new material from CVH Book 2 improv skills book, memorizing the “C” section the the tune “Juliana” that my band is working up and practicing the lines from the other two sections, continuing to improve my lead and solo lines to the slow samba version of “Tears” that the band is working up, working on and modifying a tricky solo passage of licks I’ve picked up from a Duved video of “Stomping at Decca.” I’ll allow myself some “just for fun” playing at the end of the session, soloing over “Made For Wesley,” for example, that we just started performing. It’s still an exercise in that I’m allowing my warmed up hands and mind wander and see where they take me.

    i complained to Christiaan about how much work there is to do, even though I’m retired and have no kids. He suggested divorce and more practicing.

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