Fixing a very basic problem…

Have you ever been the person that everyone knows ‘doesn’t get something’?  Everyone else knows the problem, but no one will tell you?  Or perhaps it’s not that they can’t tell you, but don’t know how to express it?

Well, that’s me with my guitar playing…

I’ve always been a good player, there has always been something ‘not right’ about the way I play guitar.  Technically, I know my scales, chords, arpeggios, notes, songs, etc… BUT… I’ve always been the guy who seems to make the song / band not work well.  Unfortunately, no one really ever told me what I was doing wrong, and even if they HAD, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.  Heck, even if I had BELIEVED what they told me, I would not have been able to fix it…

Ok, so what is IT, you ask?

I figured out that I play ahead of the beat in a song.  Plus, I never really FELT counting beats in measures.  I’ve always gotten lost when playing jazz changes, but I could usually ‘fake it’ playing rock, as the progressions rarely called for key changes, at least not without big flags to follow.  Unfortunately, this made my rhythm playing VERY challenging to work with…

And how did you find IT?

Here is where things get interesting… today’s two part lesson 🙂  First, the EASY part 🙂  I was able to find my problem by doing something INCREDIBLY basic.  So basic that I should have caught this YEARS ago.  Alas, I am stubborn… I was recording myself playing scales against a drum beat.  This should have been the easiest thing in the world.  In fact, when recording it, I thought I was spot on.  When I played it back… UGH…  something was definitely WRONG.  I couldn’t put my finger on the issue.  I thought, maybe the recording was out of sync with the drum track.  That used to happen in the olden days.  So, then I tried something even EASIER!!!  Quarter notes on the beat with the drum track at about 80 beats per minute (bpm).  Again, it seemed out of sync.  That’s when I zoomed into the audio on the guitar part and saw where the notes started at… EARLY!!! Every freakin’ note was EARLY!!!  I really couldn’t believe it.  To my ears, the moment I picked the string was EXACTLY the same time as the kick hit, and the snare hit.  My ears LIED TO ME!!!  So, time to try again.  This time with the knowledge that I was playing ‘ahead’ of the beat.  Same exercise… wow, what a difference.  The next recording showed that I was closer, even behind at times.  BUT, it sounded better!  I had read somewhere that it was better to be behind the beat than in front of it.  That seems to be very true.  So, this has now become my daily practice, to fix the muscle memory.  The main thing that I found was that I was finishing my strums when my foot landed when I was tapping with the beat.  What I SHOULD have been doing was starting my strum when the foot landed.  Very subtle, but it makes the difference between being ahead, and being ‘in time’.

The hard part… learning to listen to what you are doing.  I’ve been playing like this almost the entire time I’ve been playing guitar.  I don’t know where I picked the habit of playing ahead of the beat up, but it has cost me several bands, countless auditions, and tons of frustration.  What’s really sad, to me, is all the wasted time.  If I had done something simple, many years ago, I would be much farther ahead.  The simple thing is… record yourself.  If you don’t like the way you sound when you record, then you have a real problem.  It can be difficult.  I’ve always disliked the way I sounded on a record, but I never knew WHY.  Now that I know the WHY, and have started to take some steps to fix the issue, I find that I like the way I play. 🙂

This weekend’s band practice and then church recording prove that understanding the problem, and working on it will help.  Band practice went very well.  The bass player that I’ve been working with even commented.  When I explained to him what I had ‘figured out’, he said, ‘yeah, I was going to talk to you about that’.  Good thing I caught it, because he would NOT have talked to me, he would have just moved on… What’s funny is that almost the EXACT same thing happened with the worship team.  I was telling the pastor what I had figured out, and he said the exact same thing.  I wish I’d realized it 3 years ago, it probably would have made for some better worship services!!!

So, lessons learned.  Record your practice. Really work on feeling the beat by counting, foot tapping, and playing all at the same time.  Basic issues can cause big problems, so find and fix them quickly!

Enough rambling… 🙂