Most of the guitar instruction you receive will dictate what notes to play and how to play them. These aspects are very important tools-of-the-trade and necessary to mastering your craft. However, it is also important to, at times, let your mind (and fingers) wander. After all, we do not want to perpetuate an army of clones that play the exact same chops and use the exact same techniques, do we? To break the cloning cycle I have employed a number of mind/music stimulation activities. I'd like to share some of these ideas with you. Hopefully these activities will take you to new and different places with your playing abilities.
You got your guitar and amp all set up. You plug in and run through some warm-up exercises. Now What? Are you going to re-hash all of your familiar phrases, ideas and methods? No. Today we are going to turn on the radio and play, Radio Roulette. The idea is to play solos to whatever music comes through your speakers. Start at the low end of the dial. Flip slowly up to the first station playing music. Try to catch the vibe, beat and feel of what is playing. Now jump in there and play some solos that blend in and compliment the music. When the song ends, flip forward to the next station playing music and repeat the process. Keep doing this until you reach the end of the dial and are back to square one. Sounds easy, right? Sure, it is easy to play to an old crusty rock song but can you play something meaningful to the latest from Christina Aguillera or The Pussycat Dolls? (* I know, who would want to?) What about an old Carpenters song or an Italian Opera? Can you hang with Count Basey and Louie Armstrong? How did you do? The first time I did this it took me way out of my comfort zone. At the end I thought, "I play like crap!" After a few times I started picking up things and feeling more comfortable in many styles. Do this often and you will see new ideas seep into your playing.
This could work with a globe, a map or the world atlas. Close your eyes. Spin the globe and stick out your pointer finger, or, wave your finger above the map, or, flip through the pages of the atlas. Bring your finger down on the globe or map, or, stop flipping pages of the atlas at random. O.K. Where are you? Cambodia? Brazil? The Sahara Desert? Now, compose or play something that emulates what you know about that area. Mirror, in your music - the culture and people, the geography and terrain, or the world events that have unfolded there. When you are done with this task spin again and start the process all over. Test your success by asking friends or family, where am I? Then play what you had created for the specific areas.
Got yer' guitar in hand? Good. Today we are going to turn the TV on and mute the volume. We are going to create spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff, soundtrack music to a TV program. My favorite channel for this is The Cartoon Network. And now, the Big Secret: I am often asked where I come up with all the strange sound effects I play on guitar. The answer my friends is Roadrunner and Wyle E. Coyote (so much for my "evil" persona). On my latest recording, "Electric Horrorland", I have emulation of Coyote getting hit in the head with an anvil, trying to walk while being electrocuted, and trying to hang on for dear life while being strapped to a runaway, out-of-control rocket (courtesy of A.C.M.E. Corporation). If you don't want to sound so loony, try Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, History Channel or ESPN. Storms, arctic tundra, lions fighting hyenas, NASCAR, downhill skiing, ancient battle scenes... all are great fodder for the musical imagination.
Well, that's it for now folks. Good luck with your assignments.
Michael Knight is a composer and guitar player from Floral Park, NY, who has released several independent CDs on his own label, Knight Music Productions.
His latest CD is entitled "Electric Horrorland", another musical descent into the darkest depths of the abyss.