Steal From Those You Love
by Drew Medlin
One thing that comes up in lessons all the time is, “how do I get better?” This question is a loaded, but the only answer is: PRACTICE. But, I’ve realized there’s something that can help make your practice easier while also helping your growth as a musician and that is, every practice session, STEAL!
I’m joking, but serious, when I say that anything I’ve ever done well on my instrument or used in a solo, etc., is because I stole it. One thing a practicing musician seems to forget sometimes is that it’s not enough to practice your scales, arpeggios, and phrasing, but also to see why you would use these type of things.
Sometimes, listening to a person who is great at the one thing you want to do is better than any scale practice or jam session could ever be.
I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve always listened to a lot of guitar solos. I can tell what second, measure number, and what album all my favorites are on. I’ve stolen something from each one of those solos and used it. Something else I’ve noticed is that some students will try to learn a solo without even listening to the song it’s from! This seems impossible, but I see it all the time. My point is that if you truly listen to and learn the things that inspire you, you’ll sound the way you want to sound.
One thing I do every practice session is speed, sight reading, chords, etc., but the most important thing I do is learn something that is interesting me at the time. In 2007, it was going faster…lots of Umphrey’s Mcgee, and Iron Maiden. In 2008/9, it was more feel like John Mayer, George Benson, and the blues. Right now, it’s rhythm and comping. But at each one of these points in my life, I actively sought out the sounds that I thought were cool. This will not only improve my ear, but it’s truly the fastest way to learn anything.
After teaching students how to improve over the years, I’ve noticed that the people who progress the fastest are the ones who truly emulate what they love. If you sit every practice session and actively try to sound like what you love, you’ll improve faster than with any finger exercise. I quit tabbing solos for students because if you truly love the solo you’re learning, you don’t need tab; you just keep adding to the solo until it’s done. It’s a lot easier to learn a solo when you’re not looking at numbers on a page but actually focusing on playing it like it sounds.
HEAR IT, PLAY IT
Any person who was ever the best at what they do on an instrument has done what I’m suggesting on a very high level. My point to this blog is that music is all about playing what you hear, so the more things you hear, the closer you’ll be to sounding like the musicians you love.