Are you Experienced?

"We are the sum total of our experiences."

- Anonymous

This article is directed at the guitarist that has reached the point of
obsession. Do you break out into a cold sweat if you don't get at least three hours of practice? Do you get nervous about long weekends because that means that you probably wonít get much playing in? If any of this sounds familiar, read on. This is a therapy session, because I have been there, and return there from time to time.

Years ago I was at a music convention where Larry Carlton was performing. I was crowded in the front with all the other guitar geeks. Half way through the set Larry stopped playing and "had a talk" with the audience. His message was this: "There is more to life than your guitar. You need to put it down now and then, and experience life." I remember that moment like it was yesterday. Even though I did not take his advice until years later, it hit me on a deep level. Here was a man who has reached total mastery of his art, telling me that it is in my best interest to not revolve my life around the guitar. He spoke as a man of wisdom, as someone who knows, because he has been there.

"Be an interesting person and your music will be interesting."

- Anonymous

Music is a mode of expression. We create music to share and communicate with others. When people enjoy our music we feel validated. The guitar is a great choice for expressing our humanness because the sound is created directly from our body. Emotions and thoughts in our head translate directly to movement in our shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. Is this your life: sleep, job, guitar, and television. How interesting is this?

I have come to believe that in order for your music to be interesting you must first be an interesting person with a depth of character. This is necessary so that you have something to translate into music. If your whole world is the guitar and the room you practice in, your vocabulary of expression is very limited. I am not taking about how many scales or riffs or song you know, but the essence of "you" that comes out in your playing. The influences that shape your playing extend beyond the players that you listen to and try to emulate. Every thing that you are exposed to, and that happens to you, influences who you are, and in turn influences your playing.

"We are the sum total of our experiences".

- Anonymous

Jeff Beck is a perfect example. He displays great detachment from the guitar. He professes an obsession with cars not guitars, but in one note you know it is him. The uniqueness of Jeff Beck with all his quirks and life's experiences comes through that one note.

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."

- Einstein

Here are some suggestions on how to expand your world to become a more experienced and interesting person.

Get a girl friend or boy friend. Relationships are a great source of inspiration and a chance to learn about your self. Learning how to communicate with another person will provide insight on how to communicate musically. Interpersonal communication, like music, is one part speaking/playing and two parts listening.

Find a new hobby, something that you are a beginner at. You will again know the "beginners mind" (see the "Zen of Guitar"). You will feel the open freshness of possibilities and the unknown. When you return to your guitar bring this feeling with you. I learned to SCUBA dive a few years ago. This was a mind opening experience for me. I experience an altered reality when diving that influences the essence of who I am.

Take more breaks when practicing. If you reach a point where you are frustrated, put the instrument down and do something else. Return when you have calmed down. If you practice frustrated you will perform frustrated (see my article Play Practice Perform).

Realize that progress takes place over months and years, not days.

Take a walk in nature or in the city. Observe and absorb, with all your senses, what is around you. Tuck Andress has written that watching the motion of squirrels in his back yard influenced his staccato technique. Make analogies between what happens in the world around you to the music you create.

Read. This is a great way to expand your mind. It can open new doorways in your mind and inspire you to create. If you are looking for suggestions I recommend:

  • "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell
  • "The Lives of the Great Composers" by Harold C. Schonberg
  • "Miles: The Autobiography" by Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe
  • "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman

Travel. And yes you can bring your guitar.

Hi, my name is Curtis and I am a guitar-a-holic. (All together now: "Hiiii Curtis"). I have just emerged from a period of complete obsession in finishing my second CD called "Room 137". If you have any insights you would like to share please e-mail me.

Curtis, a guitarist and composer from Playa del Rey, California, has a long-term goal to write and record great music and share it with as many people as possible.

His eponymous debut CD features thirteen instrumental tracks and two vocal numbers.