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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: 27.285*
Last Seen: Yesterday, 06:21 PM
Local Time: Nov 26 2014, 05:08 AM
12.658 posts (7 per day)
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Ben Higgins

GMC Instructor

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My Content
23 Nov 2014
I thought my latest lesson would be a great starter to talk about stamina and how we can increase it.

Stamina is an essential ingredient to guitar playing if we want to be able to play for more than a few minutes at a time. It also comes into play during fast licks. Fingers can lose gas right in the middle of something and cramp up, leaving you frustrated at not only the lick not working but now your hand is too tired to do anything else. Damn you, lack of stamina ! mad.gif

I've recently taken up running, which is something I've never done before. I haven't run around for any length of time since my football days and we're talking the latter years of primary school ! So naturally, a lack of stamina was going to be a key issue here.

I started off doing a bit of mid paced jogging but only for about a minute or so. The next time, I pushed it a bit further. Next time, I did a longer distance but broke it up into mostly walking with a couple of bits of jogging thrown in.

Slowly I got used to doing a bit of jogging non stop. My pace is quite pedestrian. I can't keep up anything quick for any length of time. If I keep doing the distance I'm doing I'll get better and better at jogging that distance but if I want to seriously improve my pace I've got to push it. So I've got to do what I would call speed bursts in the guitar world. You athletic types will know it as interval training. Basically you mix up your slow and average pace with bursts of sprinting. That's a simplified explanation but it applies to guitar playing.

In order to increase our stamina we can play at a certain pace and increase the length of time ever other day. For example, in this Zakk Wylde style lesson, one might be able to keep up with that pace for a few bars. A few days later they might be able to do half the lesson. Then eventually they can play it all.

But what about increasing our pace in order to increase our stamina at higher levels ?

We can do speed bursts - our guitar equivalent to the runner's interval training.

So you could set up a click and take a particular lick. You could cycle that lick at 8th notes and after every 2 reps chuck in 2 bursts at 16th notes. Or 3 reps of 8th notes and 1 rep of 16th notes to keep it an equal 4 which you can cycle again and again until you get tired or you decide to increase the tempo.

You can also choose to rest completely in between reps.

Or do both. Try cycling slow and fast reps without stopping and then later try an increased number of fast reps but with pauses in between.

The whole idea is that we make ourselves work at a higher rate to slowly become accustomed to it. The rests in between where we either keep an easier pace or stop, allow you to 'take stock' and prepare for the next burst. If you just go at it hell for leather, you'll lose synch and tire yourself out.

That's probably the most logical and poular way of increasing stamina. Feel free to add your experiences with stamina building and share stories of breakthroughs that you had.
20 Nov 2014
I was inspired to write this post due to a good question I was asked by Chris S. In my lesson Ben's Vibrato Odyssey 5 I break down the act of performing vibrato by setting a sequence of bends together. As you can see and hear, I use whole tone and semi tone bends and you may notice that the note I bend to is the next note that would occur in the scale.

The only reason I did this was to make it sound harmonically comfortable whilst doing these slow versions of vibrato. If one were just using vibrato naturally in a song, you wouldn't pay attention to the exact pitch that the note was being pushed to.. not necessarily anyway. It may depend on the speed of the vibrato. If it's quick then it doesn't matter so much, it's all about the effect. If you were making a deliberate back and forth oscillation of a note at a slow tempo then the pitch would be much more noticeable and therefore if you bent to a note that was not harmonious with the context of the track then it might not sound right.

So, in the context of that lesson, that was one reason why I did that. The other reason was that it was to get people practising smaller vibrato (the semitones) and wider vibrato (the whole tones).

Thinking in terms of bending to a particular interval is a very handy training tool to help us control vibrato and increase the effect of it. Once we've learned how to do this we can kind of forget about bending to particular intervals and just let the vibrato happen. Most of the time we don't have to worry about the width of our vibrato, we can just concern ourselves only with how much of the effect we're feeling at the time.

Going back to the lesson, when I go to the B string you'll notice that I'm directing my vibrato upwards. I'm also not sticking with the strict scalar bending that I was doing on the G string.

One reason is that I wanted to demonstrate how to use upwards vibrato in a subtle way and not just pushing it up a whole tone. Another reason is that it is quite tough to use upwards vibrato and keep a particular tempo, especially if it's a quick one. It's much easier to do this with downwards vibrato I find. Try it yourself.

This particular lesson concerns itself with what I call 'regular' vibrato or 'downward' vibrato. When I use regular upwards vibrato on the higher strings I tend to only use it for more aggressive wide vibrato. Why ? Because it doesn't quite give the control and subtlety that you can get with downward vibrato. So how do I get the control I want ? I'll use sideways vibrato which is first explored in Ben's Vibrato Odyssey 1. This is really effective on the higher strings, especially above the 12th fret. If you've struggled with performing vibrato on the really high notes then try it.

I may also use downwards vibrato or even circular vibrato on the B string if the tempo allows the time for that level of control and restraint. But mainly, on the B and top E strings I'll use sideways vibrato for restraint and if I want more of the effect I'll use upwards 'regular' vibrato.

So, what about you guys ? How do you solve the vibrato issue on the higher strings ?
20 Nov 2014
I'll let the article do the talking... but it made me physically uncomfortable going through it. In the same way that you would if you looked over the edge of a tall building. That weird feeling that you're just on the edge of something. It's hard to explain.. if anybody else gets that same weird feeling let me know ! laugh.gif


Btw, I don't know why I put an extra 's' on universe. One is surely enough wink.gif
20 Nov 2014
Love this ! The biker who got caught doing a wheelie uploaded this to show how polite and fair he thought the police were. And the bonus is, the copper was on a horse biggrin.gif

16 Nov 2014
As guitar players our hands are very important to us. If they get injured, we can't play until they're recovered. If they're feeling cold and stiff, we can't play properly or we risk pulling a tendon. So, practically speaking, we need to look after our hands and why wouldn't we ? They're essential to everyday life, not just guitar playing.

But guitar playing requires that our hands be supple.. slender fingers instead of big sausage fingers are 'more ideal'.. battered, weathered, hard worker's hands may not be as suited to dancing around the neck as some young Berklee graduate's dainty little digits. Or is that really the case ?

Attached Image

People need to work to put food on the table. Sometimes it's hard, physical labour that's not particularly 'musician's hands friendly' but that's life. It's not just a case of necessity either. Sometimes we just want to do things that are very different and more physical than playing a musical instrument. Perhaps we want to go rock climbing ? Sailing ? Learn to be a blacksmith ? Be a mechanic ?

So many times in my life I've been told 'Watch out for your hands'. I understand the sentiment but where do you draw the line ? You've got to live and living requires using what we've got, right ? Who wants to wrap themselves up in cotton wool and never do anything else for fear that they may hurt their hands ? As long as we apply common sense and are not self destructive then there's no reason why we can't do other things that require much more rugged use of our hands. Avoiding doing anything else for fear of your hands is surely paranoia ?

I'm genuinely interested in how you guys approach this so please share your thoughts.

Have you guys ever come across the concept that our hands adapt and shape themselves according to the activities we ask of it ?

If you ever look at the hands of a farmer or fisherman they won't look like anything like the hands of Steve Vai. Our hands really do adapt to what we ask of them. Yet with this in mind, we can be drawn into duality thinking. We can end up thinking that if we want to be a musician then our hands must be reserved only for the soft not the hard. Yet I believe we can shape them to do both. I think there is a practical limit to the levels of physical hardship that you put your hands through and the level of musical dexterity you may achieve as a result but I'll leave that to you guys to add your thoughts as to why that could be.

I think this could be a really interesting discussion, given your different hobbies and work backgrounds. What do we think about all this ?
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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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