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Make your guitar an extension of your ear

December 13, 2012

Do you speak Spanish or for that matter, or any language other than English?  Do you speak that language as fluently as you do your primary language of English?  Do you know a few phrases in Spanish?  If you do, you know in your heart that you really can’t honestly say that you “speak Spanish.”

Ok, you already know where I’m going with this.  Do you speak “fluent” guitar?  Now what in the world could that possibly mean?  Wouldn’t one person’s definition of “fluent guitar” be totally different than another’s?  Probably so, but I’m going to give you my definition of “fluent guitar,” and by being so bold, I’m going to help you to become a really great instrumentalist.

A person does not have mastery over the language spoken on the guitar unless his guitar can carry on a “musical conversation” as well as he can carry on an “English conversation.”   If you can play a dozen fiddle tunes on the guitar, you are not a guitarist and you do not speak guitar fluently.  I am going to be so bold to say that you might know a thousand fiddle tunes on your guitar and still not be able to “speak the musical language of guitar” fluently.   I have the right to say this because it is entirely possible to have one-thousand Spanish sentences (or even paragraphs) memorized, but not be able to converse successfully in Spanish.  After all, it wouldn’t be practical to start a conversation on a street corner in Mexico, and be confined only to the one thousand sentences that you have so painfully memorized.

So a “fluent guitarist” is one who can instantly play anything that he can instantly hum.  A “fluent guitarist” (by my definition), has as much instant ability to produce a melody on his guitar, as he does humming with his vocal chords.  I’m sure you can hum any melody you’ve ever heard, but I bet you cannot play any  melody you’ve ever heard on your guitar.  I’m here to tell you that if you are guilty of this crime, that it will haunt you till you formally sit down and address this challenge.

The way you address this project is by trying to peck out every song you have ever heard, and write its name down on a tally sheet after you can play it through adequately.  Perfecting it is unnecessary and will somewhat defeat the purpose.  When I first started learning to sing as a child, I remember the teacher spending time with each phrase of the song and slowly building till we eventually learned to sing the whole song.  Why?  Because our vocal chords hadn’t really learned exactly how much to tighten or loosen to produce just the right high or low note.  We had not (at that stage) mastered the musical instrument called the human voice.  By the time we were older we all could control this process of tightening and loosening our vocal chords and we didn’t really need to learn to sing a simple melody by slowly being introduced to it one painful note at a time.  By this time we had mastered the language of melody using the musical instrument that we call the human voice.

So in other words, most of you have the musical voice mastered, the English language mastered, but you are like an American with a Spanish/English dictionary when it comes to your guitar.

Now you simply need to try to pick out: American the beautiful, Star Spangled Banner, Jingle Bells, Leave it to Beaver theme-song, Bonanza, Oh Where oh Where has my little dog gone, Easter Parade, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Happy Days are Here Again, Hungarian Rhapsody, Beethoven’s 5th, Yesterday, Etc.  It just doesn’t matter where you get these melodies or what style of music they are.  They could all be the background music for car commercials.  All that matters is that you do so many that you get better and better at picking them out.  The more you try, the more your intuition will develop.  The more you try, the closer you will be to mastering the guitar.  Your hands will eventually go to the right note just as your vocal chords do now.  You don’t have to search around for words to put together a sentence, but when you were a baby, you spoke in one-word sentences.  So, are you a baby guitarist?  You’ve mastered the English language and you can master Spanish or Guitar if you work on them diligently enough.  By the time you’ve logged 100 silly tunes to your tally sheet, you will already see that the hundredth song is falling into place quicker than the first.  Why?  Experience!  I’d venture to say that by the time you’ve logged a thousand songs that you will be speaking totally “Fluent Guitar.”  Can you imagine a better prerequisite for learning the licks of your heros?








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