|GUITAR CHURCH 2009
Calgary, Alberta Canada
Glenn Kaiser’s Notes
I would like to begin by accenting a couple things some may or may not in a guitar clinic situation.
No matter where are are in ability as a guitarist, as in other things in life, we best play to our strengths, not our weaknesses, we do best to accent what we know rather than what we do not.
I am not a technician. I neither read nor write music or tab. But I can play, write songs, record and do concerts, lead worship and such. Therefore, what I want to do is bring what I know I CAN bring that is good for you to consider on your own journey as a guitarist.
While I want to encourage and not discourage you, it frankly drives me a bit crazy that some of the following is too often left unsaid.
1. TECHNIQUE 2. SKILL 3. SONGS 4. PERFORMANCE 5. PASSION
1. excellent gear and excellent guitar playing technique, knowledge and memorization of scales, of the fretboard, chords, harmonics and the rest is important, even essential. Whether you learn to sight-read musical notation, tablature or not, etc., etc., none of this is an end unto itself though it can be quite helpful on a number of ways.
What am I trying to accent by saying this?
2. Excellent songwriting and passionate, soulful performance -that is, “execution”- are what you must somehow find, get, learn to DO with your
guitar skills whether they are modest or incredible.
The world has lost track, my math skills are too thin to number the wonderful guitarists who cannot write great songs, or who are not humble or wise enough to choose great songs to play. Excellent performance for all it’s difficulty is still easier to come by than are great, memorable songs.
The absolutely winning combination must total 3, not 2, and certainly not 1. Or using A, B and C, they are -in my personal view-:
A) Excellence in guitar skills, B) excellent songs C) performed excellently.
Technique alone will never beat passion and I have often heard brilliant technicians accomplish far less with a hundred notes than an old African-American man blasting a two (not even three) chord song with a piece of junk acoustic or electric guitar and/or a matching trash amp… who played with emotion and artistic integrity.
So these are my opening comments. Any questions so far?
After what I’ve said, tone is perhaps the most varied and either painful journey a guitarist might take… or one of the most interesting, considered, thought-about and even debated issues whether one plays acoustic, electric, with a pic, finger-style, slide (with glass, steel or other object as a slide) and whatever music style one might work with.
The core issue in tone- and this has often been said by many, is simply that tone begins in your own heart, soul, head and ears. Technically speaking, tone is in your own hands, especially when it comes to acoustic guitar. Of course the wood, sound hole and various pickups affects acoustic guitar tone along with your choice of pic, fingernails or fingers, etc.. From there, when one mics an acoustic other variables such as mic used, mic placement, pickup or pickups, in-guitar or outboard equalizers, p.a. desks -of course all these
affect tone. Other effects such as reverb, etc., added or left out of the signal also shape and affect tone.
When it comes to electric guitar work- be it straight or slide guitar playing, tone fans out somewhat as it does in an acoustic, but I would argue if one were to compare acoustic to electric, the actual kind of wood and body size makes more of a difference in an acoustic than in an electric guitar.
A jumbo Martin well-worn in over many years will likely have a more mellow, full tone than say a newer Taylor. But you’d best listen to both next to each other and have someone else play them so you can hear the tone by sitting in front of them, not above them as one would when one plays.
Electric guitars are largely affected tonally by the sort of wood, especially density and amount of it, next the pickup or pickups, and of course, the amp. Further, when the amp or amps are mic’ed, affects are either added by the guitarist, the p.a. or studio engineer or both, all of this affects tone.
I have found great guitarists always sound like themselves no matter what gear they use. That’s because the tone they seek is largely consistent because it’s in their own head- and one travels with the same head no matter what gear one is using 🙂
From time to time a guitarist will change gear and certainly a Strat isn’t a Les Paul which isn’t a Dobro which isn’t a three-string cigar box guitar! Yet that basic tonal focus continues.
Do you tend to lean towards low-end, high-end or midrange? You will choose instruments and/or amps and such that lean toward what you find appealing tonally. If you love electric guitars and very bright treble you’ll likely end up enjoying Fender Telecasters and often use that single-coil bridge pickup. If you use a Marshall amp you’ll crank up the treble AND the presence controls.
If you lean towards midrange you may gravitate to a Gibson SG and an amp or at least tone settings that move away from the classic Marshall sound- perhaps to an Orange amp and definitely not a Hi Watt which is quite bright.
If you love a full bodied tone with more warmth you’ll end up with a Les Paul or something close to it. You may even move toward a custom amp, or use two amps to warm things up and bring the full lows, mids and yet good high-end to your sound. You’ll choose effects pedals very carefully because they can often really mess up great basic tone.
There is simply no substitute for practice. I frankly hate rehearsing and love songwriting, creative and spontaneous live playing. These are where I thrive. But in fact as a songwriter and a guy who is comfortable jamming with others, I often learn something new as I search for chords or notes or a way to assemble a musical phrase on the guitar -as- I write. When we as a band arrange a song, when we record rehearsals and play the songs we’re working on back and listen carefully and critique, we consider a different arrangement of a part or two or three. This forces me to learn fresh approaches to my guitar
abilities. But it’s all part of practice because when it’s really good, in my case, you have to memorize -how- you did it. Practice.
Nothing will ever substitute for that.
The beauty of practicing guitar fundamentals and more advanced techniques is that in time, you don’t have to stare at the neck, you don’t have to think so much as execute. You learn enough that you can simply move, create, emote, listen and compliment and interact with the rest of the band. This is when a guitarist begins to fly. This is where the sweat and technique of art brings the pay-off of true artistry. There is a point when you can move beyond thinking so much and simply play (at least sometimes) great guitar! But the boredom of practice and indeed, repetition must take place before you can get there. First learn to swim, then eventually move into the triple-flip off the high-dive!
Unless you never record or never play with other musicians, unless you only do solo gigs, you will need to learn the art of listening. In blues circles we say a person has “big ears”. By that we mean they are really listening, focused, in tune with what the others in the band are playing, when they are or are not playing it. It’s very much like being on a team. In blues and doing a lot of in-the-moment spontaneous playing one must learn to choose the place to play a lot, little, intensely, gently or totally stop playing entirely though the song is still going on.
The worst thing in the world is a space hog- filling up all the space, using all the notes and tricks ad nauseum. It’s frankly, boring for most everyone but the guitarist whose entire world is now all about him or herself. There is no team chemistry possible when there is no team. The magic of a song that moves us (beyond the basic song composition itself) is in the interplay between instruments (and if used, vocalists). It’s about the interplay between the musicians in the group, not about a brilliant guitarist alone no matter how
accomplished they may be.
By the way- this should bring you- if you’re like me- not all that accomplished- HOPE! It really is a group effort, not simply a matter of you, the guitarist, holding everyone’s rapt attention moment-by-moment.
A quick side-track here: songwriting must include taking great care with the arrangement. Arranging the parts of a song often includes leaving holes, starts and stops, bringing an instrument out here and there, or bringing one in at a specific moment for dynamic change. In other words, you may have to arrange a song for the powerful affect of creating space. As you become more aware and thoughtful as a musician you’ll hopefully become more self-controlled and disciplined to leave space where it works best. As is often said, it’s what you don’t play as much as what you do play that counts.
FINDING YOUR “VOICE”
How many styles of guitar-playing are there? How many styles of music are appropriate for guitar? There is nearly no end to it is there?
Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your skills, your ability to listen and focus. It may take a short time but it often takes years… yes years… many twists and turns in various music styles and using various guitars and guitar styles to find your own best and most heart-felt musical voice as a guitarist. Hey- what if you end up being a bass player or a brilliant drummer? So what? Enjoy the journey. The journey and discoveries you’ll make is a huge part of the joy of living. Try different styles, see what fits.
Be patient with yourself and have fun! -Glenn