So you’ve learned lots of chords and scales, you’ve developed a decent sense of time, and you have a nice armoury of phrases to use in improvisation.
But how does all of this actually sound when you play?
Fret-buzz and guitar playing
Try recording yourself playing a familiar chord-based tune and listen back with a critical ear. Are the notes clean and pure or are you getting fret-buzz in places?
If you’re getting fret-buzz, identify when it happens and practise the specific changes on their own, ensuring that you place your fingers in the ideal position (just behind the fret wires).
Depending on the difficulty of the changes, this could take some serious work and even a change in technique. On the other hand sometimes just having our attention drawn to an imperfection is all that’s needed.
How about when you improvise or perform a solo; do all of the notes sound perfectly clean? Again, record yourself, listen back, identify where improvements can be made and get to work.
Keep in mind that fret buzz can be the result of very old strings that are so worn that they have dents in them from where they’re ben ground into the fret-wires. You can easily check this by running your finger under the guitar strings. If that’s part of the problem, buy some new guitar strings!
Fret buzz can also be due to worn down frets. Take a look at your most used frets and see if the wires have dents in them. If so, it’s time to take your guitar to a guitar technician and get a ‘fret-dress’ or a ‘re-fret’.
Smoothness and guitar playing
Do your notes or chord changes flow smoothly or do you cut them slightly short in your haste to get to the next one?
If you’re cutting notes short this may mean you need to play with your fretting-hand fingers more widely spread to minimise hand movement.
In the case of chord changes it may mean that you need to make chord changes more efficiently, ie: with more rapid movements and at the last instant before the next one is due.
Are your notes too smooth for the tune that you’re playing?
Should some notes or chords be cut shorter than they currently are? Listen, identify and improve.
Dynamics and guitar playing
Could the quality of your playing be improved with a little attention to how loudly and quietly you play? Appropriate dynamics are highly dependent on musical style.
A gentle ballad usually calls for soft notes and chords whereas rock and metal generally require more aggressive playing.
Inappropriate dynamics can make a potentially beautiful performance sound mechanical and insensitive, or an exciting performance sound weak. The right dynamics bring life and a human quality to music.
A demonstration of varying dynamics
The video below is part 5 of my Youtube series ‘How to Improvise on Guitar’.
In the video I demonstrate the effect that varying dynamics can make. Take a look and if you’d like more free guitar lesson video be sure to subscribe to my channel:
Here are those three areas again:
- Fret buzz
With so much to practise in the world of music, it’s easy to overlook these subtleties; even if you’ve been playing for a long time.
These aren’t the only areas you could examine for quality but start with these. I strongly recommend recording yourself to identify your areas of imperfection; videoing yourself is even better.
The bad news is really good news
It can be a little unpleasant to hear that your playing isn’t quite as good as you may have thought it was, but it’s better for us to know about our flaws than to be oblivious to them.
Once sensitive to these nuances though, we can then set about improving them.
Introduce appropriate exercises to your practice regime and soon enough you’ll have given your guitar skills yet another upgrade.
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photo credit: vl8189 via photopin cc
About the Author:Stuart Bahn is a professional guitarist and guitar educator in London, England.