|GUITAR START BY JOE
when I used to teach guitar, one thing that came up a lot during lessons
was that guitar players wanted to "get stronger." And in their frustration
to get stronger, they would try all sorts of things--like playing with
rubber bands around their fingers, all sorts of stuff. When you watch a
beginner play, they press 10 times harder than someone who's been playing
for 10 years; they waste a lot of their strength and hinder themselves and
their ability to play by using too much force. But when you're
hammering-on and pulling-off, it's actually all about accuracy, not
strength. Find out where the perfect spot is to hammer-on and to pull-off,
and then expend energy only to do that, and get rid of everything else.
Ask yourself: "When I put my finger down on a string, do I feel that it's
the most efficient spot? Should the string be a little bit more in the
center, or off to the side of my fingertip? Am I feeling the finger bone
below that?" And that needs to be addressed on a personal basis because my
flesh, my bone, and my calluses change from day to day. Yet they're
unique--everybody's hand is different; everyone's fingers are different.
That approach suddenly relaxed my muscles and tendons and freed me up to
be more musically responsive. In other words, you could really start
whipping your fingers around in real musical rhythm, instead of thinking
about brute force.
I'd have my students do a simple sort of nonmusical exercise (Fig. 1),
being very careful to hammer-on absolutely perfectly--getting the best
possible finger placement--then picking as little as possible on the
initial attack, trying to eliminate the sound of the pick entirely. Don't
worry about strength. Concentrate on sound and placement. If you feel any
pain, stop. Make sure you're always totally relaxed, and that there's no
pain, tension, or stiffness whatsoever.
version of that would be to hammer-on/pull-off between the first two
fingers, and then hammer-on/pull-off between the first and fourth finger,
continuing across the strings (Fig. 2). You can also align your fingers
one per fret--first finger first fret, second finger second fret, and so
on--and do trills. I used to do that a lot, fluttering between first and
second, first and third, first and fourth (Fig. 3A), then doing first and
second, second and third, third and fourth (Fig. 3B). You can spend all
day coming up with alternate versions of this exercise. Don't worry about
the notes. This will allow you to turn off certain anxieties like, "What
key am I in?" Just blindly come up with every finger shape you can and
vary the amount of stretching.
taught these methods, I had to make sure that they didn't take up too much
of a student's time, so I would also go through two- and three-octave
major scales. I would have them do the scales on one string, and then I
would have them play the scales without any set fingering--as high and as
low as you can go on the guitar. And the easiest way to introduce the idea
seemed to be doing a three-octave-plus scale, four-notes-per-string (Fig.
4). But I was always afraid of doing that because practicing that way
sometimes reinforces the exercise pattern so much that it creeps into
their actual music.
experience taking some lessons with Lennie Tristano, the great bebop piano
player, really made an impression on me. He couldn't stand it when he
heard people playing anything that sounded like it came from an exercise
book. He thought that was the most ridiculous thing ever; it was just
horrible to him. So his style of teaching was to not have a set fingering
or a set picking pattern, but to play everything everywhere on your
instrument--as high and as low as you can go, in every possible place,
harmonized in every possible way, with absolutely no mistakes [laughs].
He'd say, "If you wanna pause for 15 seconds before you play the next
note, that's okay with me. But don't play a wrong note. Wrong notes don't
work." If you made a mistake, the lesson was over, and that was it. And I
remember having a couple of six-note lessons, I swear.