Add Some Feeling To Your Playing | Hub Guitar

Add Some Feeling To Your Playing

There comes a time for every improviser when techniques and patterns just aren’t doing it anymore. When the reserve of guitar chops is high but the reserve of motivation is low, your playing can suffer, and become boring.

The most important part of improvisation is not to play fast or with great technique, or even to play the right notes. The main goal of improvisation is to pull the leviathan from your soul and pour it out through your instrument. You are sharing about your own despair and your own triumph using musical words. In this moment you may have experiences that you can never expect anybody to understand. And this is why people play guitar.

If you are willing to practice scales, licks and patterns for so many hours in order to become a good improviser, it seems logical to save time to practice expressing yourself.

The following exercises may seem strange, but commit yourself to judging their usefulness only after you’ve tried them. What comes next may surprise you.

Exercise 1: Emote

Can you play music that communicates? Try to create the following states of mind with your guitar:

  • anger
  • dreaminess
  • peacefulness
  • sorrow
  • humor
  • bizarreness
  • contempt for society

You can create these states with your note choices, your rhythm choices, or your intonation. Once you’ve succeeded, see if you can recreate this mood with a backing track.

Exercise 2: Believe

Put on a backing track, and play just one note that sounds better than anything ever has before. Really focus on the note and how it sounds with the track. Really focus on how good that note sounds. If you can’t appreciate one single note, how can you care for 10 of them?

Could it be that you’re playing so many notes because you don’t really like any of them?

Exercise 3: Shapes

With a backing track, create a solo lasting for several minutes that begins slowly heightening in energy and interest, and then returning to its calm state. You can experiment with a number of different shapes here, but the “curve” is probably the simplest one.

Exercise 4: Suspend

With a backing track, close your eyes and play scale notes, focusing only on the sound of the notes you play. Listen very intently to them. If you get distracted for even a moment, patiently return yourself to listening to the sound of your notes. Similar to meditation, this practice teaches you to focus intensely on the music you play.

When you play, are you really listening?

Exercise 5: Faces

Return to the backing track and improvise a new solo, this time making an enthusiastic “guitar face”. In psychology, there is evidence supporting something called the “facial feedback hypothesis”—the theory that making a facial expression actually influences mood. Note any changes in your playing when you make faces. You can also try this in front of a mirror.

Exercise 6: Change Position

Do you improvise sitting in a chair? Are people sitting in chairs typically interesting or boring?

Why don’t you put on a guitar strap? Stand up? Walk around? Kneel on the ground? In the privacy of your own practice, nobody has to know what strange and dramatic gestures you’re making. Sometimes these kinds of changes can make a surprising difference in your playing.

Key Points

  • Improvisation is not just about playing a bunch of fast, correct notes; although this is 99% of the focus for learners, that is not what someone is thinking when playing a great solo.
  • If your technique is alright, and you’re playing the right notes, maybe you need to add more soul to your playing.
  • When you’re in the privacy of your own practice room, have the confidence and freedom to try some weird stuff. If you’re not safe there, where are you safe?
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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