How to make your playing more expressive
Once you reach the stage in your guitar playing where you are ready to perform in front of an audience, be that a single person or a concert hall, you are going to need to develop a serious ability to play expressively. Why is this? Because expression is the soul of music, the reason why human guitar players will always sound far better than computer generated music. Below we will take a look at a few ways in which an expressive playing style can be developed, by incorporating some of the concepts and ideas below into your stage technique; you will be on the road to becoming an excellent live performer. Most of the ideas outlined below can be thought to make up a person stage presence, the alter ego who stands on the stage, entertaining the audience to the best of their ability. Combining these techniques will allow you to develop a stage presence of your own, which is entirely unique.
Expression through Focus
There is a very old saying, dating back to the 60s, get behind the groove. This may sound a little corny in modern times, but the concept behind it is entirely relevant. Some guitar players find this easier than others, in many ways this is the Nirvana that guitar players seek, when they are one with the music, playing naturally with very little effort. Once you find this sweet spot you will usually find yourself playing extremely expressively, as the extra room you have made for yourself inside the music gives you space to experiment confidently. If you want to hear a perfect example of somebody who has found this special place, listen to the track named Ashes in the Fall from the album entitled Battle for Los Angeles by Rage Against the Machine. About half way through Tom Morello just takes off with some crazy playing, definitely making the most of being behind the groove.
Expression through Heart
Play it form the heart, one of the oldest sayings ever invented by musicians, and totally relevant. Nothing makes a performance more personal than playing from the heart. Expression becomes easy when you are enjoying yourself, and showing your audience just how you feel about your music. Play with heart and the expression will come naturally.
Expression through Improvisation
Improvisation pretty much follows on from the above two concepts, we are not speaking about purely improvised solos here, we are talking about those little embellishments that can be added to the music, once a player is focused and comfortable. Again this comes directly from the fact that you will find extra space n the music once you are comfortable and relaxed. This gives you the opportunity to express yourself by adding slight improvisations to the music you are playing. Improvisation is the vehicle of innovation, allowing you to develop new ways in which to play old songs, keeping them fresh and entertaining.
Expression through Volume
Have you ever watched a band where all the members start out playing at full volume and never change this throughout their set? Yes it’s loud, yes it’s in your face, but it is hardly expressive. Volume is the single easiest thing to use as a vehicle for making your playing more expressive. We are not simply talking about the volume pot on the guitar here, we are speaking about the volume of the tone you produce when you pick or strum. By varying the aggressiveness of your playing you can easily portray expression, playing gentler, quieter phrases with less volume, holding back the power for those crescendos. Everyone can use volume as a tool without too much practice, this is where you start to develop your expression techniques, master it and use it frequently to improve your live playing.
Expression through Imperfection
Have you ever noticed that live music seems to sound so much more vibrant than pre-recorded music? The reason why so many bands sound incredible live, and lacklustre on CD, is the fact that all of the imperfections in their performance will have been produced out of the completed album. Let us consider that every musician has a certain quantity of resources available to them when they play, the amount of concentration they have if you like. If all of this concentration is focused on perfect playing, then two things will happen. The guitar player will be unable to relax and get into the music, and they will have little in the way of resources left to apply to playing expressively. For this reason, keep a little back, use it to add dynamics to your music, at the expense of a little accuracy, nobody will notice the odd mistake.
Expression through Technique
Applying alternative techniques, both left hand techniques and right hand techniques, to your playing whilst performing, will enable you to play more expressively. Live performances allow the musician the room to experiment. By throng in techniques such as pinch harmonics, strong dampening and tapping, a song can be transformed, and present a whole new sound. Never be afraid to experiment, even when playing live, experimentation is at the very heart of expression.
Expression through Technology
Nobody can dispute that Jimi Hendrix was one of the most expressive guitar players in history. Take a look at a Hendrix video, watch him stomping on that wah-wah peddle, his effects were not an external loop that he applied to his sound, they were an integral part of his playing style. Don’t be afraid if incorporating technology into your paying, as a vehicle for bringing a new sound to your music. Try to imagine that every effect you master, adds a different voice to your guitar, these voices can be used to express yourself whilst playing. Don’t go over the top with this (although some may point out that Hendrix himself was often guilty of this), instead use your effects to augment your playing and extend your tonal repertoire.