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Playbook for Beginners and Beyond -- Adding Musicianship

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#1 solidwalnut


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Posted 18 January 2008 - 01:07 AM

Playbook for Beginners and Beyond: Adding Musicianship


It's important that you look at the first lesson Playbook for Beginners and Beyond and read why this lesson on Adding Musicianship is here. You will see where this lesson fits within the scheme of the five distinct areas of learning the guitar.

Where do we begin with this? My first intention in writing this lesson is to express to you that no amount of theory or mechanical learning can make a musician. The injection of musicianship, or the style of a musician as he or she plays their instrument, is just as important as the other four areas. But the deal is that musicianship doesn't stand apart from them. Yet it is a separate skill. Huh?

I know. What in the world is musicianship, anyway? In a nutshell, musicianship is the collective expressions put forth by you when playing. You don't usually hear much about it unless you have had lesson on orchestral instruments, or had or are having 1:1 lessons. It's a part of teaching that's often ignored, but it will make you complete.

Talk of adding musicianship while learning the guitar is totally ignored on the internet. Am I one of the first??

What exactly is it? Why is it important? What's in it for me as a rock guitarist?? Well let me say right now that it does not matter WHAT style of guitarist you are, you'll want to know some of this stuff. This is especially important for those of you who are learning guitar without a 1:1 teacher.

Don't get me wrong, you can pick up some musicianship skills without it being taught directly to you as you're learning on your own. It can happen as you develop your ear and learn to hear how other musicians approach playing. It also happens when you spend some time observing and listening inwardly as you play. Check out the thread below where tonedeaf and I are talking about listening to your internal feedback loop. So, below are a set of ideas you can work on to develop both your ear and your musicianship.

What, Exactly, is Adding Musicianship?

Well, it's actually a set of a handful of musical ideas that will enhance the five distinct areas of learning. I'll be specific:

Area 1 -- The Mechanics of Making Chords Ultra-Clean Playing. Learning the art of ultra clean switching between chords and notes (the least string noise possible) is the sign of an advanced guitarist. This is signals that you are a serious musician who is concious of standing out amongst the crowd. This technique would be more rightly called 'control over string noise' as sometimes you wouldn't care or you might add string noise for effect. See the lesson Form Chords and Switch Between them Quickly.

Area 2 -- The Basic Chord Form Layout of the Neck Chord Shape Interchangeability. Knowing where the basic CAGED shapes are gives you the ability to play the same sequence of notes, double stops or chords in a minimum of 5 different areas on the neck within the first 12 frets. This gives you the option to apply different sounding voicings to passages. It's a tool for the toolbox as well as an impressive performance attribute to be able to play a passage in one area of the neck and then proceed to play the same passage in another area on the neck. It's not just impressive, it adds different tones, sounds and timbres to your toolbox. See the lessons Barre Chords for the Beginner and Beyond as well as The Anatomy of the C Major Chord -- The CAGED System. And don't forget: to finally see the fretboard for what it really is, in all it's simplicity, get the book and DVD from Kirk, Plane Talk. You will be very glad that you did.

Area 3 -- Learning Basic Rhythm Advancing Rhythm, Strumming (or fingerstyle techniques) and Timing. Each of these areas can be improved upon to the point of making a distinct statement when you play. Advancing rhythms can mean learning complex rhythms, or it could mean you are advanced because you play basic rhythms flawlessly. Advanced strumming (or fingerstyle techniques) include the ability to learn pick control techniques such as the reduction of pick noise as well as learning what it means to strum or pluck a quarter, eighth and sixteenth note rhythm as cleanly and as accurately as possible. Advanced timing is learning to be as reliable as a clock when playing. When playing with a good drummer, it means laying back on his or her beat; waiting for it and laying in to it. Some lessons here to consider are Fingerpicking Patterns Part 1 and Part 2, as well as Pick Control Challenge and Switch from Flatpick to Fingerstyle.

A sub branch of the Area 3 tree is learning dynamics in conjuction with the main branches. Dynamics in music mean the application of attack, volume level, sustain and release on any note or given section of notes. It also means to Crescendo and to Decrescendo, or ramp up and down in volume. Applying dynamics to each branch signals that you are an advanced guitarist.

A further sub-branch of Area 3 is learning these arts as it applies to the guitar. Learning the where and when to play a note or chord with straight attack, varying vibratos or sliding to them is an art in itself. Check out the lesson called Straight, Vibrato and Slide.

Area 4 -- Learning Basic Theory Getting a Grip on the Major Scale. Mastering the understanding of the major scale and it's intervals is the basic building block in the advancing guitarist. From there, you begin to see the individual components of a chord, how it harmonizes and how each of those components connect within the chord shape on the neck. From here you can begin to see and hear the melody and harmony of a song and why you're playing the chord. As a well-known internet site owner has said many times, melody is king and melody loves chord tones. This is where individual note playing is found. Check out the lesson The Major Scale Chart: Part 1 through Part 4.

Area 5 -- Adding Musicianship Adding Musicianship to Your Musicianship. Huh? Knowing and applying musicianship techniques to your playing can be broken down a bit further. The main message here is that you not only apply these advanced musicianship techniques to the guitar, you internalize them so they come from within you. Your applied musicianship is your unique expression and interpretation of the guitar. It's also about internalizing the rhythm and timing so that comes from the core of your being. The next time you play, think of timing your breathing to the rhythm and you'll see what I mean.


Here's a thread where I was talking with tonedeaf about the musicianship he was seeing when watching a symphony orchestra. Get the point about using your internal feedback loop.

...What comes into focus now for me is when I watch symphony orchestras play, maybe 100 musicians at a time, there really is no drummer just a percussion section that intermittantly keeps a beat. The beat can come from any section especially the string sections. They all follow the conduction's lead and all your responses about how if your are out of time with the band it can sound horrible and can ruin a set makes sense now. The symphonies can't afford to have a section out of time. I'm sure they do now and then but they know how to recover very quickly.


When you mentioned this it reminded me of one of the most important items in learning timing: learn to follow your internal time clock. Internalize the beat and rhythm you're trying to play. Let it come from within.

I know, I know, it all sounds like Zen or something, but what I mean is that timing and rhythm comes just as much from your heart and gut as they do your brain and hand coordination. Coordinate your breathing. Sharply inhale before the downbeat and then exhale on the downbeat every few measures (often a 'phrase' or every four bars, depending on the song).

Orchestral players follow the conductor and take his or her cues so they can all be together on the down beat of the measure. The conductor regulates volume levels and cuttoffs. If a player is a little off, they can take the cue from the conductor and get right back with the program and 'catch up' so they can play the correct note on the next downbeat.

But as for note duration and time between beats, that is something that is internalized by the player. They rely on their musicianship. While they're playing, they are humming or singing or otherwise reproducing the song and timing and tempo in their head.

When they play, they are playing a replica of what they feel is the best representation of their part as they continue listening to their interpretation in their brain along with the constant feedback of listening to what they're actually playing. This is how they develop their ear!

All of the above applies to you and me when we play the guitar. The metronome can help you keep time and tell you when the next downbeat will be. But other than that, it's not a very good conductor. But YOU are! Use the combination of the metronome and your interpretation as you learn the feedback loop.

Timing is not just a matter of learning to be steady. It's a combination of consistency and your personal expression!


Smile, and have a great time learning this wonderful instrument. All the best,

Steve Cass
Solid Walnut Music/ASCAP

Becoming a great guitarist has less to do with fancy moves than it does becoming a master of the basics and learning musicianship.
It's not what you can't do. It's how you play what you already know.

View my lessons here at GfB&B

"Rhythm guitar is a trip that alot of people miss" -- Tom Petty


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