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You can't plough a field by turning it over in your mind.
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Ben Higgins
30 years old
Born Feb-26-1985
Guitar (surprise!), Karate, cars (American and European), reading, weightlifting (sometimes), horses.
Joined: 11-March 10
Profile Views: 32.133*
Last Seen: Today, 06:43 PM
Local Time: Oct 5 2015, 06:51 PM
13.255 posts (7 per day)
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Ben Higgins

GMC Instructor

Practice Agenda
My Content
1 Oct 2015
Whenever we take to develop a new ability, it requires us to learn skills that were hitherto unknown to us. One thing that we often do to try and make this easier on ourselves is to scour the net, or chat to others, for advice.

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Advice is both good and bad. You've got to realise that everybody's experience of life is personal to them and what works for them may be because their circumstances allowed it. Maybe they already had tons of experience under their belt, they were in the right head space, it appealed to their unique way of learning and so it worked for them. 'Them' being the key word. Anecdotal evidence is great and all but it isn't proof of anything and it most certainly isn't a magic bullet to set you on the road to success.

What it can do is make you aware of something you might not have realised. It could be something to do with technique or how to arrange your time spent on it. It could be to do with gear / equipment. It can make you look at your own approach and give you ideas of things to try out. 'Try' being the key word here.

It will always come back to trying stuff out. Physical action. The amount of words consumed can't make up for time spent doing something. At some point you'll have to put hand to fretboard, foot to tarmac, hand in pocket - whatever it may be.

Going back to the idea of having unique ways of learning, people definitely do have different ways in which they judge whether something is working for them or not. Some people have a very logical, methodical way of working. Others tend to be more about feeling it and going on intuition. This is important to remember when you take advice from people. You may read a cool sounding quote from your favourite guitar player but is this guy someone who is more of a methodical, logical type or someone who just 'feels it'?

For example, someone like John Petrucci or Guthrie Govan have immense knowledge, both technical and musical, to impart to anyone who wants it. Yet someone like Jimmy Page, EVH or Keith Richards may have more of a 'it's rock n roll - just play your guitar' approach. Depending on what guitarists you like or what genre you prefer, you may choose to embrace certain soundbites and ignore others - often due to the source. But I say give all advice its fair due. Be wary of all extremes and be aware that the answer is usually a combination of everything. These guys all had different ways of learning things. Some of them were more instinctive and accidental, some of them understand more of what they do while others are just thankful that whatever they do seems to work.

So, when taking advice, consider the source. But don't discount it out of hand either. There are loads of ways of doing things and the chances of one guy having the exact answers you need are very rare indeed. You could spend years on forums looking for the best ways of doing something or you can go and try them for yourselves now. Having some knowledge is good because you can often avoid mistakes such as over training injuries caused by too much, too soon or bad technique. But the rest of your knowledge will come from your own endeavours and will eventually become your own wisdom.

Trial and error - it's the story of life. When's the last time you put this into action? It could be guitar playing or anything else smile.gif
27 Sep 2015
I saw a tv programme the other night and it was about scientists exploring what happens in our brain during moments of inspiration. They used equipment to capture the neurons firing in the brain during different tasks. Sadly, I can't recall enough info or find any supporting text to fully explain the findings but my layman's understanding was that the pre frontal cortex, which is the part of our brain dealing with rational decision making and planning, has a decrease in activity whilst an increase in neuron activity occurs in the right side of the brain, the area associated with creativity.

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An increase in activity in the creative side of our brain is nothing surprising but what was interesting to me was the suggestion that our frontal lobe basically shuts itself off in order to allow the flashes of inspiration to occur.

It was while watching and hearing the data that it occurred to me that this is probably what is going on when we're "in the zone." I'm sure we all know what it feels like to be in the zone. You lose that annoying, restraining self consciousness and are able to let go and get on with the task, whether it's playing guitar or whatnot. Time ceases to be a factor and things just happen.

This is obviously a state that we're all able to access, although it's not always forthcoming by us trying to attain it. But what makes it possible?

Is it the relaxing of the frontal cortex that controls decisions, rationale, planning? That's the part of our mind that would normally tell us what can or

cannot be done, what is appropriate or not. You could say that perhaps this limits us when trying to think outside of the box. But if this part of the brain is temporarily out of the way then we're suddenly allowed to accept incoming thoughts and ideas that normally the frontal cortex wouldn't allow through, like some gatekeeper of rationality.

I find it fascinating how science is slowly identifying real world phenomena that can begin to explain what is going on in certain situations. Before, we only had feelings and beliefs to go on. Such inspiration would normally be attributed to something approaching the supernatural. It still has a way to go in understanding the whole "inspiration" thing but the state of being "in the zone" is something that may soon be demystified and understood as just another state, rather than something that just happens every now and then.

What do you think?
24 Sep 2015
During the process of our guitar learning, we may be unaware of certain elements that may be making us sound like ass.

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Ideally, we don't really want to sound like ass. That's a deep statement, I know. Take some time with it, if you like, before moving on with the rest of the post.

So, what are some of the common things that can make us sound like gorilla butt?

Bad Tone: The ultimate in making you sound like A.S.S. The difficult thing is that good or bad tone is subjective - it is a matter of personal perception.

However, some common things to avoid are:

-Tone that is too muddy and indistinct. Having too much bass frequency below 100hz and/or excess boominess between 200-400hz can give the guitar too much space in the mix and drown out other instruments, not too mention not cutting through.

-Tone that is too shrill. On the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, people can often have too much high end. The more gain you use, the more of a noticeable issue this will be.

-Inappropriate tone for the context. People often use way too much gain, coupled with too much high frequency, on tracks that don't call for that type of sound. Try to avoid an overly metal tone if you're playing a laid back ballad or a blues track.

Another thing that shouts "ASS!" is:

Poor hand coordination:

Many a time people can be adept at shifting chords but when there's a riff that uses a few single notes back to back they often lose track of which finger is doing what and the pick doesn't match up with the finger movement. What we want to aim for is the pick striking the string at the same time the finger frets the desired note. Having both your picking and fretting hand work together will massively improve your overall sound.

One thing that is related to hand coordination is....

Poor finger independence:

You know that feeling when you want to move your 3rd finger and your 4th finger moves along with it? Yeah, we've all been there. Freeing up the fingers so that you can use each of them confidently is an absolute must for any guitarist in any genre. We all need it.

Good finger independence along with good hand coordination is the foundation of being able to play guitar.

Along with..

Timing gets talked about a lot in the REC board and for good reason. It is so integral to music and we've got to be able to confidently handle our timing.

Often we can be playing way in front of the beat or lagging behind. Sometimes, in phrasing, you may consciously desire these effects but before employing them as a musical tool you've got to be able to play on the beat. In time. Not before, not after. Playing along to backing tracks is one of the best ways of doing it - unless you have the ability to jam with a real drummer. Even if the drummer isn't the best timekeeper you can still hone your skills by keeping in time to whatever it is that he or she is doing.

Failing that, backing tracks and playing along with recorded artists is the best way.

So, all together we have:

Bad tone
Poor hand coordination
Poor finger independence
Bad timing

We all started out with those ass-like attributes. After a while, we shake them off and we start sounding less and less like ass. If you devote just a little bit of your practise time to improving each of those aspects (maybe pick one of those to add to your practise a day and choose a different one each time) then soon you will be removing the 'ass' part from your playing!
19 Sep 2015
We've all heard or seen critics, journalists and fans remark about how many actors get better as they age and it's something we can probably all agree on that definitely does happen. Many actors don't really start getting recognition until middle age and beyond and many still start getting awards in later life.

Musicians, on the other hand, seem to be more hit and miss. They don't seem to have the mid or late career moments of excellence that occurs in the film world. Sure, Iron Maiden have just put out an album that many concur is their best since the late 80's but nearly every band's fan base maintains that the best stuff is in the earlier years.

So, is it about ability?

Both actors and musicians continue to learn and grow as they get older. That means both groups have a wealth of experience to put into their art. The more you see of life, the more you can give to expressing it. Who can deny that Mickey Rourke or Robert Downey Jr are better now than they've ever been? What about musicians? The old songs get so ingrained in their DNA that their fingers go to the notes like an old friend, their stage performances are as natural as breathing. The art of recording and stagecraft is a lifetime's journey of experience.

So no, I don't think it's a question of ability. Generally, if one keeps up their interest in their art then they only get more experienced and natural at it.

So, why can actors get hit after hit well into old age and musicians are stuck with "play the old songs"?

It suggests it's about the material. Actors work with the movies they get. Actors generally don't gave to write their own masterpieces. (unless they choose to; Mel Gibson with Braveheart etc) Actors don't have to write an album every so often. The inspiration and creativity side of the movies can come from anywhere. As long as there's a great script, a middle or old aged actor can have a hit on their hands.

For musicians, they can still have the chops but if the creative side of things isn't as happening as it once was then typically it's not going to have the same sort of effect. Exploring and changing styles and sounds over the years may also have a negative impact on their overall reception. So, both actors and musicians can get better over the years and are both reliant on having material that resonates with an audience. For the actor, that's usually someone else's job but for the musician, it's normally theirs unless they work with outside songwriters.

Working with songwriters and producers who are "in" is a way that musicians can have a similar late renaissance (see Cher) if they get the right track.

But for musicians who are not in popular selling genres, it's all about using their own creative energy. What do you think?
16 Sep 2015
We all pick don't we? Unless you're Jeff Beck in which case you, err...... finger? So we all use the humble piece of plastic (or metal, tortoise shell, wood etc) in order to make our notes leap out from the vibrating lengths of string and produce a note or three.

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Many people stop at that. As soon as they get the hang of this down / up / down picking thingy they don't really look much further than that. Maybe they learn how to perform pinch harmonics but that's pretty much it in the way of using the pick for added expression rather than just basic 'make notes happen' mode.

But there is more, I tell thee. More. Beyond the green pastures, blue streams and distant mountains lie the more subtle nuances of pick use. Call them the dark arts. Only the most experienced of wizards seem to wield their powers but how does an angel eyed guitar apprentice unlock their secrets.

Well, look no further, young one. I present to you 5 approaches you can use to add spice to your tasteless dish.

1. Move your whole hand.

Sometimes, you've just gotta rock. The more energetic riffs and licks out there often require you to whip your wrist around and let the whole hand swing that pick into the strings with force and attitude. Not only is the extra movement giving you force but the more of yourself you move, the easier it is to get into the groove and feel that rhythm.

2. Move along the string.

Don't just stick to keeping your hand rooted in one place, as if it were stuck to the body with superglue. I understand that to many players, finding and developing their picking technique is something that is very precious to them and so they can be a bit over protective of it, scared to move their hand around in case they forget how to pick. Don't worry, you won't. Moving the pick along the length of the string will yeild different tones. If you combine this with pinch harmonics it will also bestow different squealy tones to you.

3. Mix up muted and non muted notes.

By 'muted', I'm talking about palm muting. Added a few palm muted notes to a lick can add extra fatness and attitude to the sound. As you hear in the video, I start the lick off without muting the notes and then add palm muting as it descends to lower tones which gives it an aggressive sound. The notes pop out with belligerence and purpose. Lovely.

4. Raking adds attitude.

Raking isn't just for sweeping up leaves. It's also something you can do to add a nice scraping sound just before you hit a note. It's essentially sweep picking. You sweep the pick through the strings but the key is that the strings are muted by your picking hand. In other words, when you sweep through the strings, it won't produce any discernible notes. It will just produce a popping, scraping sound. You have to un-mute the strings by the time you get to the desired note, however.

5. Learn how to make things sound staccato.

Yngwie, Richie, Uli, Marty, Paul, Michael.... they all know how to utilise the sound of staccato notes to great effect. Instead of having every note ringing for its full duration, you can use your picking hand to deaden the string and cut the note off. Making notes 'pop' out in this way is another interesting variation you can add to your licks. You could also combine staccato notes with palm muting as well.

All of this you can do with your pick. It's not just for going up & down with!
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Todd Simpson
Welcome! :) Great to have ya!
9 Jun 2010 - 2:11
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! :)
5 Jun 2010 - 0:14


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