Practice Badly | Hub Guitar

Practice Badly

Why Practice Sounding Bad?

Note: this lesson is for intermediate or (better yet) advanced improvisers. The novice learning to improvise is better off focusing on mastering scales and arpeggios than on abstract exercises.

Improvisation is an unusual area of practice because the preparation we do to learn how to improvise is not only totally different to the experience of improvisation, but also in some ways contradictory to that experience.

Imagine that improvisation is total freedom of expression. We pick up the instrument and use it to communicate, to relate, to pour ideas, and maybe to say something that has never been said before.

But in order to learn how to express, we have to practice all of the things we will say. That includes practicing words (notes), phrases (licks), sentences (whole scales) and maybe even reciting a passage that someone else has spoken before (transcribing another player's solo). We think critically of our technique, we iron out mistakes, we practice scales, arpeggios and patterns. We work on our time. We criticize ourselves over and over again, trying to sound better.

And then what can happen is we can lose sight of what improvisation is. In the seclusion of building the arsenal needed to fight our battle, we lost the war itself.

In the practice of our improvisation, we can easily become disconnected from improvisation.

How to Practice Bad

Using No Background Track

At the start, pick up your guitar and promise to yourself you will play poorly. Put your hands on the instrument and squeeze notes or sounds from it with no particular rhyme or reason. Make it as bad as you can.

How does your “bad” improvisation sound? Is there anything good about it? Maybe despite playing awful sounding notes, the rhythm was coherent—good, even. And what does that say about you as a player and improviser? When you expose your subconscious mind to plain view, what parts of your playing sound autonomically good? What does “bad” improvisation mean to you? Wrong notes? Wrong rhythm? Or is it a wrong attitude?

Play With The Wrong Hands

If you play righty, flip the guitar over and play it as if you're a lefty. Lefties, attempt to play the guitar as a righty.

Try to play some familiar patterns, chords or scales.

Now flip the guitar back over and see how far you've come since the first day you touched the instrument.

Getting control of intonation, pitch, and rhythm are important goals. But once we've mastered these fundamentals, we need to relax and allow ourselves to play at our best, and with our highest level of enjoyment and sincerity.

Play All Wrong Notes

Put a backing track up and deliberately play all of the wrong notes. An easy way to do this is to figure out what the correct scale is, and then go up or down a half-step. Now many of the notes will be off.

What happens to your rhythm and expression when you force yourself to get comfortable with the sour notes you are now playing? Are you able to somehow play in an interesting way despite the fact that the notes are so sour?

Now return to the correct scale. Can you play wrong notes, deliberately, and return to correct notes—with total confidence?

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