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The Number One Rule In Music

A few of my students had this issue last week so it seemed appropriate to do a blog post on this.

There are a great number of guitarists out there who know the notes, know the scales, the chords, the riffs, the theory and have the technique but what they play never seems to sound right. There are also some who appear to know very little by comparrison but are able to inject their playing with such a level of feeling and emotion that even playing the simplest of things.

A great example is one of my favourite early electric blues guitarists, Albert King.

Albert King (sometimes known as 'The Velvet Bulldozer') was born in Indianola, Mississippi in 1923 where he worked on a cotton plantation and sang in a gospel choir. It always amazes me how Albert's generation of players became inspirational electric guitar heros when they grew up in towns that were largely devoid of electricity! You can hear the power in his playing even though it lacks the technical skill of today's cutting edge players. In one interview, I read that he could "Blow Eddie Van Halen off stage with his amp on standby".

One of the most important elements to his musical approach was that he was a singer first. Many electric guitar players started off a singers and used their guitar as an extension of this in their music. Fellow blues pioneer and friend B.B. King was introduced on stage as 'The World's Greatest Blues Singer' at the start of his landmark live album Live At The Regal and his guitar playing is in many ways similar to his voice.

However, many players who start out on guitar simply overlook this kind of approach and often go for volume, speed or effects to achieve their sound. The truely best players out there have a control over every aspect of the music and are able to utilise all the above aspects to create mind blowing music.

So, here's a quick exercise to see how musical you can make something.

The humble C major scale.

A scale in itself is not music. It's simply a collection of notes that give a harmonic framework for other things to happen. This is probably why scale practice has such a bad name; there is nothing musical about running up and down a scale!

So, think about how you can take something so lifeless into something that is interesting to listen to. Here are the rules;

  1. You can only play the scale in the order of the notes above.

  2. You can only play the notes with the rhythm laid out above (i.e. 8th notes; 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + etc)

However you can use any kind of articulation that you like such as hammer-ons, pull offs, slides, bends etc. Also you can use dynamics such as playing some notes louder or quieter or even staccato notes where the note finishes abruptly before the next one starts.

Listen to what other players do (in their own music, not when playing a C major scale!) and pay attention to how they phrase notes. Musicality is key!

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