Inspiring Insights from A Top Guitarist: Steve Morse
I’ve had this following info on my hard drive for the longest time, and can’t even remember anymore where I got this from.
As many of you know, Steve Morse is one of my favorite guitar players.
He’s not only an incredibly guitar player, he’s also an air line pilot, engineers his albums, and is a really inspiring human being.
That is why I wanted to share some of his insights here on technique, on how to practice and on musicianship.
Steve Morse On Technique
… Everyone can improve their technique with some methods that traditional athletes use.
Warm up at least 10 minutes before hitting it hard, first of all. Next, do some scale or pattern practice at a tempo that results in near perfect results.
Then, progressively increase the tempo every 10 minutes until the mistakes start to become unavoidable.
Go a few minutes at a tempo slightly higher than that, even with mistakes.
Then, go back to the fastest tempo that is comfortably error-free.
Spend 10 minutes teaching your muscles that perfect synchronization.
Then, play some music that you like, and do something else for the rest of the day. Don’t overdo it. You should be able to give yourself a productive session of technique only in the space of an hour and a half, max.
The rest of your practice time can be spent on other specific problems of certain pieces, transcribing, jamming, writing, etc.
Schedule time to play with other musicians at least once a week. Have fun playing, too. I’m sure you can get to a new, higher plateau with this method.
By the way, everyone does reach a plateau of what is physically possible, so don’t base your self worth on what metronome marking that is.
Everyone’s technique is different, and the techniques that make very fast playing easy don’t always reward you with the most control in other areas.
So, be reasonable with your expectations.
Steve Morse On Memorizing Music and Performance
Stuff to focus on:
1) Fingering patterns
2) Theoretical constructs (modes, harmonic progressions)
3) Specific structurally important notes filled in with a particular rhythm pattern (like framing chord tones on rhythmically important beats and improvising the fast stuff on the de-emphasized beats)
4) Letting your ear guide your fingers.
Actually, at one point I really stressed about this topic.
I was about 20 years old and was preparing for my senior recital. It would involve music that I’ve written for classical guitar, then a set with what would become the Dregs.
I decided that I would involve two different forms of memory.
The reason for this was that I had already experienced a failure of the typical muscle, or rote, memory.
I was playing at one of the forums earlier that year and had a momentary lapse.
I kept playing, but it taught me that I tend to pay more attention to my fingers when I feel self conscious than when I’m comfortable playing through a piece by myself.
So, to guard against that sort of thing, I began to go through the music in my head during any possible moment of the day.
The idea is to visualize different fingerings in order to teach your mind that you’re recreating the music you hear in your head, rather than repeating the exact finger motions over and over.
In fact, one of the ways that shows me that I really know a piece is if I play it with different fingerings and positions each time.
That’s hard to do with some polyphonic things where every move of the left hand is scripted, but I still find places to change the fingerings, or something, so that I’m not playing on autopilot.
Oh yeah, in my senior recital, I did play one of my pieces drastically different than I wrote it, but at least I was hearing it go in that direction… too bad I didn’t try something like that new arrangement before the gig!
End result was that I got away with it, but it’s never fun to feel that momentary panic where you realize that you really have been making it up as you go for longer than you were supposed to.
So, practice with the instrument, but especially, practice the music slowly in your mind with different fingerings if you really want to know it.
It’s always inspiring to pick the brains or hear the insights of top players.
Keep me informed on your progress. You can hit me up in the comments section below.
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I believe everything can always be improved. I’d gladly implement your suggestions and ideas in this blog or the next.
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