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You can't plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
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Ben Higgins
29 years old
Born Feb-26-1985
Guitar (surprise!), Karate, cars (American and European), reading, weightlifting (sometimes), horses.
Joined: 11-March 10
Profile Views: 27.014*
Last Seen: Yesterday, 03:20 PM
Local Time: Oct 25 2014, 03:49 AM
12.596 posts (7 per day)
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Ben Higgins

GMC Instructor

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23 Oct 2014
I believe that one thing that makes music work is when a player has conviction in what he's doing.


: a strong belief or opinion

: the feeling of being sure that what you believe or say is true

There are abundant examples in the world of music where people create something that is enjoyed and adored by many. It has the X factor, it grabs us, it captures our attention. Sometimes it's music we would never normally listen to but nevertheless we are enraptured by the delivery of the music. In many cases, somebody with rough or sloppy technique can deliver something that has so much potency that you can't help but be drawn into it, regardless of their musical proficiency.

It's this latter aspect I want to expand upon here. In the guitar world, there's a lot of competition still. Youtube and forum comments (although thankfully not this one) are full of people saying how X guitarist destroys Y guitarist.. Z guitarist sucks etc. That's the polite version of the type of stuff you read.

But the focus is nearly always on technical prowess. Because somebody's favourite guitar player is better at more techniques than another, in their eyes it makes the other player redundant somehow, is if they can't possibly enjoy the work of both. I've never understood that. Why do you have to choose one over the other ? Anyway, I digress as usual......

I'm going to use Kirk Hammett as an example here because people are always slagging him off, saying he's sloppy or he's this, that or the other. This always annoys me. Sure, if you compared Kirk to the creme de la creme of technical guitar wizards then, quite frankly, not many people can compare to that level of prowess but since when was that an entry requirement to make music ? There are plenty other famous guitarists out there who would struggle to play anything by Satch, Vai who would in turn struggle to play anything by Govan and Lane but to be fair, those guys didn't get into music to play other people's stuff, they're all musicians who create their own stuff. So, going back to Kirk.. regardless of the way he plays and whether it appeals to people's tastes or not, what makes Kirk's contributions so integral to the work of Metallica is his conviction.

Everything he plays is given 100%. I think Kirk's always had a great and distinctive tone as well, which helps. Every note has been chosen specifically. It's been thought about, played with and chosen to be part of the song. That's what conviction is. It's knowing what you want and going for it. Decisiveness. Many technical wizards do not have that discipline at all. When a Metallica song gets to the solo, everybody knows how it's supposed to sound. It's part of the song just as much as the vocals and riffs. If you got up and performed one of their songs and changed the solo it wouldn't sound right. Hell, if Kirk himself changed all his solos the fans wouldn't like it. Why ? Because it's part of that song's DNA. Every note is played with conviction, whether that note is "right or wrong". And it's conviction that all people can identify with.

Slash is another one who gets a hard time from all the shred fans too but I tell you what, the dude's written some of the greatest riffs and most memorable solos of all time. When I was a kid at primary school, me and my mates used to sing songs off Appetite for Destruction when we were hanging around outside. When it came to the solos we sang them as well. Because we could remember them. They were part of the song. And since when did kids remember anything ??

It just goes to show, technical prowess is not the ball breaker. It loses out to conviction every time. If you have conviction in your playing, everyone will stop focusing on what you're doing and how you're doing it and just listen. And that's what music is for.
22 Oct 2014
There's a lot of lessons on GMC of level or 7 or above. These more advanced lessons are usually chock full of fast passages and difficult techniques that can be intimidating to many students. Much of the time, I'm sure they are just watched, enjoyed and then forgotten about as they are deemed to too difficult to even bother learning.

But even if we don't learn the entire lesson all the way through, surely we can still pick up something of value ?

Let's take a level 8 lesson like Tony MacAlpine Style. It whizzes by pretty quickly and there's load of flashness going on (cocky git !). But essentially all that is going on is a load of different sequences back to back that can be separated and broken down into smaller, manageable segments. And when you've isolated a little sequence that you want to learn, guess what ? You can choose to practise it to whatever level of speed you like and then use that lick at whatever speed you like. You're the boss. You don't have to match the speed of the lesson... you can take whatever you've learned and use it in your own solos in any way. smile.gif

The picking section that runs from 0:12-0:14 is a good example to look at. (You can also find it on video part 3) It's an alternate picked sequence that descends to the A string and returns to the E string before shifting to another position and assuming a similar sequence using the next scalar position. I've isolated the 1st sequence here. As you can see, I'm using groups of 3 but the tempo is being played as straight 16th notes, not 16th note triplets ok ?
Attached Image

You could isolate the descending sequence and practise that. This would work both string crossing mechanics : Inside and Outside picking. Attached Image

However, it can be quite a handful. So you could further chop this down as I've done here. This sequence allows you to practise the inside picking movement but stops on the G string, which would be played as an outside picking movement. So you get the feeling of crossing the strings using both methods but the lick is small enough for you to manage. The 7 notes also makes it easier for you to practise it as 16th notes by stopping on the 7th note, pausing and then resuming on the next suitable metronome click. However, you can also cycle this lick non stop by simply ascending back to the starting note giving you a 12 note sequence !
Attached Image

In this pic you can see that I've highlighted the point at which the lick turns around and ascends up the strings. This is a tricky spot because you've just descended and your brain is thinking that way. Now, all of a sudden you have to change direction ? Outrageous or what ?! Well, by isolating this turnaround we get to focus on the opening outside picking movement which takes us from the A string to the D string. To move from the D to the G we have to use the inside picking movement. When we reach the last note on the G string we can either stop, pause and resume from the A string again or we can cycle the lick by reversing direction and descending back to the A string again.
Attached Image

In this last pic I've isolated the movement from the G string to the E. Now I believe this particular combination of picking mechanics to be one of the hardest to master. Try it and tell me what you think. If you play it one way it's a 5 note sequence. But again, you can cycle it back and forth so it becomes an even 8 notes. Pick the down stroke on the 9th fret, G string and run up to the 7th fret, E string. You could start on the E and descend to the G if you prefer. Or cycle it like I said.
Attached Image

So, here I've given you a few suggestions as to how you can take a difficult sequence and break it up into manageable sections that not only give you great lick ideas but also help you isolate problematic string crossing movements.

With this in mind, maybe you should take another look at some of those higher level lessons that you always liked the sound of but never attempted ? Go on, you know you want to !
18 Oct 2014
I think this would be a good place to collate some of our knowledge and experiences regards practising and making improvements for REC takes.

I'll give some thoughts as an instructor and please feel free to add some input of what worked for you.

One thing I do see a lot is that students don't give themselves enough time to let improvements take place. For example, if you are working on a challenging piece which makes use of vibrato and your vibrato skills are in their early stages of development, then you have to be prepared to maybe give a few weeks to really see improvements that are effective enough to make a difference to a REC take.

A couple of days isn't really enough time for anyone, including us guys, to make any significant headway in a technique. That's why we sometimes seem like we're pushing the same piece of advice... it's not that you're not listening to it because you most certainly have listened and are trying really hard, but it's often just a case of you've come back with another take too early. Way too early for any improvement to take place.

So that's my first piece of advice: Be prepared to put more time in to see results.

The next piece of advice is one that we use a lot: Play along to the original lesson (including the guitar solo) so you can hear when you go out of time and phrase things differently to the intended lesson.

Hopefully this should help you hear when you haven't quite got the same groove goin' on. Try to emulate the instructor's timing as best as you can. In bluesy lessons where 'it's all about the feeeel, man' this is harder to do because the blues is all about laying back and dragging the phrases behind the beat or adding a sudden flurry out of nowhere. How can one teach this stuff ? To be honest, blues phrasing is hard to compute into exact note values. It really is a case of 'putting the time in' and letting it happen over many years. But that doesn't mean you can't learn them. Of course you can, and of course you should smile.gif But understand that developing feel is a journey that will take time and, as we do, mature and grow as we live our lives. It just sort of 'happens' after a while. So don't feel bad or be hard on yourself if you can't quite get the feel or groove right on one of those types of lessons. No one person will ever play it the same.

On a more straightforward lesson with defined note values, playing along to the backing track will definitely yield results. Another thing that might help is to have the backing louder than you might think. Often we drown out our accompaniment with our own guitar sound but being surrounded by percussion makes it easier for you to feel where you are in a track. So try not to let a backing track be just background noise and instead be part of the track yourself !

That's just a couple of the most common pieces of advice we give to anyone working on REC takes. This can, of course, be applied to anything you guys are working on. But to make things interesting and increase the value of this thread, what things have helped you with working on a track ? Please share your experiences and advice here.
14 Oct 2014
What role does gear play in your guitar life ?

We all need a certain amount of gear to provide our sound. We start off with whatever equipment we can acquire when we first start learning the instrument. For most of us, it was probably a small practise amp. Pedals if you were lucky ! For many years, I relied on a tiny practise amp and a fuzzy distortion pedal that would probably make my ears bleed if I heard it now ! At that time in my life, gear just provided the ability to be able to get closer to replicating the distorted sounds that I was hearing from my favourite metal bands.

Distortion was quite intoxicating to a youngster... it would be interesting to hear if it was the same with you guys ? The only gear quest that I was on in those days was something that provided even more distortion. I used to look at the adverts in guitar magazines and drool over the stomp boxes on the pages, imagining what levels of sonic brutality I could achieve with them. To me, the level of sheer saturation was an indicator of heaviness. But it's understandable... when we're younger and naive we latch on to the things which are most tangible to us.. and the ferocity of the guitar sound was equatable to a badge of honour.. the more distorted the better I thought ! How times change rolleyes.gif

As I got older and progressed into playing in bands, I began to feel more dissatisfied with my tone. All the following years involved the quest to find the tone I wanted. A story which is probably familiar to us all. I'm sure you've all treaded that path or are doing so.

So... 2 roles that gear has played so far are:

Necessity in learning / playing

Providing our ideal tone.

So let's assume that we've found our ideal tone. What further possible benefits could we get from gear ?

Well, how about inspiration ? A new instrument or piece of gear can bring out something entirely new and different to anything we'd done before. A different piece of gear can have us thinking in entirely different ways.

Is this the case with you ? Are you quite happy with gear providing your tone and no more or do you like to hunt for new toys and get excited by new possibilities ? What roles do gear play in your guitar life and have I missed any ?
8 Oct 2014
How many times in our lives have we found the advice we needed, applied it for a short while and then forgot about it.. only to look for the next thing ?

I've talked before about how we secretly love to be distracted because it takes us away from the real hard work.. the stuff that, deep down, we know we should be doing. It's not just guitar this applies to, this is the essence of life itself. But we all go through it... the key is to realise what's going on and correct it.

But how does it affect guitar playing ?

There will be loads of times where people are too uncertain to commit to learning a new technique, or a new approach. I think the fundamental fear is:

What if I put in all that time, weeks, months, maybe years... and it doesn't work ?

The secondary fear that goes with it:

Imagine how much better I could have gotten at the other stuff I could have been practising, instead of THIS !?

Now, with those fears swirling around in our heads, is it any wonder that so many of us don't commit to doing what the guitar teacher told us ? How many of us won't adjust our hand position or practise those legato shapes because of those two fears above ?

The hard thing about it is.. there is never any guarantee of anything. Clint Eastwood had a great line in "The Rookie". When asked to guarantee somebody's safety he said "If you want a guarantee buy a toaster" 0:19

He's exactly right. Guarantees are something you get when you buy an appliance.

The only way to know for sure is if you just do it. The chances are, if you practise anything for long enough on the guitar, you will become better at doing it. That's why people have managed to become great players using all sorts of weird hand positions and pick grips. Who would have thought it was possible to do what Allan Holdsworth does before Allan Holdsworth did it ? But he tried it and because he tried it he did it.

I'm not saying we have to commit to being a technical master, I'm just saying we should commit to that thing that we know we should be doing. You know, that advice you were given that you haven't bothered to stick with or the exercises that you've forgotten about. I'm saying this to me as well. Avoidance - we ALL do it. But some do it more than others. And if you want to truly improve on the guitar and I mean TRULY... then be one of the ones who does it less.
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Todd Simpson
Welcome! :) Great to have ya!
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Ben Higgins
Thank you man !! :-)
5 Jun 2010 - 15:24
Welcome to GMC!!!!!!! I hope you enjoy your stay and I look forward to cool lessons! :)
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