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For the holidays, how about trying something new with your axe?

By Ben Long

 

Many guitarists fall into ruts, playing stale riffs for years on end. This can be detrimental both to them and to those listening to them! If you want to record something really great on your guitar, sometimes you have to “un-learn” the things you do all the time in order to make room for something new. This holiday season, I’d like to suggest nine ways to do just that.

The practice of “un-learning” the guitar is simply doing things differently by approaching the instrument in a new way. This breaking out of the old mold can breathe life into your playing. With that in mind, here are nine fun tips that can crush your boredom, get your “but I know how to do this stuff already and I don’t see the point” ego out of the way of your expanded creativity, improve the sound you’re getting from your instrument, and rapidly advance your playing. How’s that sound?

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1. Hold Me

Pick up the guitar! Simply holding a guitar in your hands increases familiarity. There’s something about just cradling the guitar and noodling with no goal whatsoever. This can even happen while laying on a couch. Jimi Hendrix practically slept with his guitar and was constantly playing while sit-ting and laying down. After you’ve been doing this for a while, the guitar will become part of you, and your hands will fall into place with greater ease.

 

2. TV Time

Get your eyes off the guitar and start playing without looking at your fingers. This shift in focus puts more emphasis on listening and the kinesthetic learning (by feel) than on tying your technique to what you can see. Turn the TV on and put it on mute. While playing, let yourself stare at the sports scores, etc., while getting the smoothest runs you can from the guitar under your fingers. It’s a great way to develop what I call a ‘sonic periphery’ and become more of a natural player, and it works great when combined with hint 1 above.

 

3. Get a Beater

Having a second guitar can be hugely helpful. Pawn shops can be a goldmine for the well-worn axe. Not sure what you want? Need a hint?My personal pawn shop prizes that I recommend you look for are 1980s-era Yamaha acoustic guitars. These instruments have been a well-kept secret for ages; they age well and tend to sound incredible. Whatever you end up with, try keeping this spare guitar set up in a different tuning. Which brings us to…

 

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4. Open Tunings

Maybe you’ve been playing in standard tuning for a decade now. It’s time to branch out and discover some open tunings. These are sure to open your ears to new possibilities as your old chord shapes will sound entirely different—in some cases awesome and in other cases not so much. This change forces you to listen and create chord shapes out of thin air.

 

5. All Ears

Tuning ‘by sight’ with a digital tuner is great in a loud bar, but at home try a tuning fork. This forces critical listening and has been proven to improve your natural sense of relative pitch. Don’t have one? Go to www.123guitar-tuner.com and try the free online tuner provided there to start tuning by ear. It will play a repeating guitar note that you can tune to, one for each string, in any of seven tunings: Standard, Drop D, DADGAD, Low C, and several open tunings as well. (See the screenshot.)

 

6. Jam With People

Practicing alone in an empty studio can get old and a bit weird. Playing with others takes your listening to new heights and can rapidly develop your skills. The more the merrier! Join a casual jam or find those who seem to be better than you; this is probably the fastest way to improve on guitar.

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7. Cover Songs

Let’s face it—most people’s musical tastes are very conservative these days. They want to hear song ABC, and they want it now! Give them what they want. If you hope to play live, you’d better have a great batch of covers and know them well. Put your own twist on a standard song and make it more fun to play. You can always write and play your own music and build up an audience, but being able to play other folks’ work convincingly is a great training tool.

 

8. Radio Ready

Another potent tactic for improving your guitar skills is simply playing along with the radio. Go ahead and pick a station. Chances are, that hip-hop song could use a nice guitar solo! This method of practice can really help improve your timing too, so go ahead and strum along.

 

9. Travel With It

That’s right! On your next trip, pack light but also bring your guitar. There is something about being in a new place that puts one in a different state of mind that can make new ideas flow; some of my best material was born while traveling. Not only do you meet people way more easily, but other guitarists will likely join in!

Here’s to a new year full of new inspiration and new ideas!

 

Ben Long (long@recordingmag.com) is a guitarist, recording engineer, and game and TV/film sound-track composer. Learn more at www.noisebuffet.com.

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