Category Archives: Teaching

Feeling-Based Training

I’ve been busy. That’s my excuse! There are a ton of things I want to talk about. My album project isn’t on hiatus — it’s definitely ON. I’m just producing it in phases. What I’ve been busy with, you might ask. That’s what I want to talk about today.

I’ve been training.

My training eagerness has been relatively low lately and the reason is clear. Whenever I get even a hint of a sense that I’m not progressing I don’t want to practice anymore. Progress is the greatest motivator on earth and the lack of it is the greatest turnoff.

I don’t really follow my progress by any charts (like the ones where you mark your BPM each day) and those might help if they weren’t such a huge project to work with. I feel that they are locking me down. Besides, just following your BPM can be even counterproductive.

In this case being a teacher is great because that forces you to pick up your guitar and start playing it. When you just start to fondle those strings the passion that has always been there starts to fire up again. This job gets me practicing regularly.

Recently I discovered a new method to approach my feeling-based training.

DISCLAIMER: I say MY feeling-based training because this is the way I approach training with guitar. I haven’t heard anyone talking about this anywhere and quite frankly am too lazy to do any actual research. If someone talks about a similar technique somewhere please note that I’m not in any way trying to steal their fame and fortune. I’m just talking about something I came up with myself while practicing in my own bedroom without anyone helping directly.

Also, I don’t claim that this is the best way to approach training with guitar. I’m just talking about my experiences and what I’ve found helpful with training. If you want to try it out then please do. If you don’t, then don’t. I don’t care. Just remember that this isn’t a post trying to sell you anything.

Feeling-based training is generally about concentrating on how it FEELS to play the guitar. No, I’m not talking about your emotions or your passion for playing guitar. I’m talking about the motions you do with your fingers and hands, the pressure, the strength, the distances and all that stuff.

To me playing some lick or riff fast requires three things: laxity, accuracy and the right motion. Sure you also gotta have some core strength, stamina and stretch in your fingers but if you’ve played actively for (let’s say) six months then you possess the core qualities for playing fast.

The guitarist’s hand should always be as lax as possible. Always relax, relax and relax. If you start to think that what you’re about to play is hard then you will tense up. When the mind feels threatened even in the most basic way it will tense up the body. So I’ll say fake it. Tell yourself that the lick you’re about to play is as easy as having a glass of water.

You also need to build some real accuracy. If you keep your fingers as relaxed as you can you won’t be able to guide them when they are falling on the neck. It’s gonna feel a little bit like throwing darts. You keep your finger nice and loose (like a Slinky) and throw it at the fretboard. I like to practice some licks with hammer-ons both up and down. And when you’re using a hammer (your finger in this analogy) you don’t try to press the nail down with it as hard as you can. You use an ACCURATE and loose swing. The power of the strike comes from the fast motion of the swing. This is quite challenging but the feeling-based training eases it up a bit.

Lastly you need to realize that you need the right motion for playing fast. You can’t have the required motion for playing fast if you practice picking the notes one by one. If you want to go fast you gotta stop walking and start running (i.e. change the motion). Don’t move independent fingers separately that much but rather try to spin them in place by rotating the hand. The more fingers you can get in place with one motion (rotating the hand) the faster you can play those notes. The right motion also means cutting the fat off i.e. economy of motion. Be tidy and only move the hand and fingers as little as possible. Bigger distance means longer travel time.

Now, I described those qualities with the fretting hand but the same goes for picking hand too. Be lax, tidy and accurate. The right motion is always wave-like. Chunky on/off moves tend to be quite awkward. When playing fast try to keep the hands always in motion.

That’s what you need in order to play fast. Nowhere have I mentioned actually practicing fast. That’s the other thing I don’t care about marking down your BPM for the day. You don’t have to practice stuff fast. Practicing fast if anything is counterproductive. Now, I can hear you screaming: “But I’ve always practiced fast and got great results!” Yes, I understand. I’m not saying you can’t get great results with that. I’m just saying that you can get the same results more easily.

If you practice fast there’s no time to pay attention to those three key elements: laxity, accuracy and right motion. In worst case scenario you start playing the lick wrong and before you know it you’ve played it like that 300 times and then your brain already thinks that’s the way the lick should be played.

Also if you’ve played the lick 300 times and still don’t get the results you want it’s gonna be depressing. At least that’s how I feel.

The feeling-based training concentrates on how playing a certain progression of notes with certain techniques feels inside the hand. When you concentrate on the feeling and teach the right feeling to yourself then you’ll automatically play the lick right. You see, if you change a motion even just a little bit IT WILL FEEL DIFFERENT.

On the other hand when you discover what it feels to play the lick with your hands and fingers relaxed and with a motion that you can apply when playing fast then there’s no stopping you. Just replay the feeling and the fingers will find their places on the neck automatically.

If you think you’re inputting the right feeling for the lick (or riff or a chord etc.) and get the wrong result then you didn’t get the feeling clearly enough. It’s a bit blurry. The way to work around this is to execute the lick right and then the way you previously did it and compare those two to each other. How do they feel different?

This was giving me results but not quite quickly enough. So I ditched my training routine for a month or so. That’s depressing, let me tell you. Each week we decided with the band to practice two new cover songs and I barely got around learning their base structures. Then after another day of guitar lessons I again found the willingness to get myself training all those songs in more detail.

I’ll talk about my routines later but let me just mention this. I decided to train all of the stuff that required practice with 50 BPM in metronome. I forbid myself to play more than one note for each click. After six hours of practicing my attention about the feelings started to change.

Before I had focused more on the results i.e. how the lick felt when I played it. After all that playing I noticed that I had started to focus more on with what feeling to try and execute the lick.

This seemingly minor shift in focus made all the difference. I actually learned the feelings A LOT faster. Now I was teaching the feelings to myself in oppose of just reacting to my practice results. I didn’t really need the metronome anymore. In fact it was getting in the way.

I took the first note of the lick and started to feel and see in my mind how the next note would feel. I already had the feeling I had played with before in there and that’s what came in mind first. I scratched it and started to create the feeling from nothing. I noticed how my hand rotated and how my finger moved in slow motion and mark the feeling. I noticed how the picking hand moved and where it stopped and how much pressure I should apply for it to make the move perfect. This took me about five to ten seconds. Then I executed the moves.

This procedure made all the difference. The right feelings started to dwarf the previously forged false feelings and everything cleared up much faster. Of course some repetition of the right execution was still required to really burn the lick into the nervous system but no more trying to master two seconds of a song for 24 months. It’s easy to like playing guitar again!

The Teacher Mindset

Being a guitar teacher is, as Guthrie Govan says, as close to having a real job as you can get as a musician. It’s still fun as hell but you’re actually being viewed as a responsible citizen.

I’ve had a few teachers myself and, being the handsome, delusional, narcissistic megalomaniac I am, I think my teaching skills FAR exceed those of theirs. Now, of course you don’t personally know the teachers I am referring to here but you just gotta take my word for it. There are a lot of bad teachers out there and if you are thinking of giving lessons to others this post might — if not change you mind — show you the way a little bit.

Here is my mindset for being a teacher:

  1. Use any (legal) means necessary to improve your student as a guitarist. This means that you find out what holds your student back. Playing guitar is only a part of getting good at playing guitar. If they don’t seem motivated, figure a way to motivate them. If they seem distracted, find a way to get them focus. If they hold on to a belief system that prevents them from advancing, find a way to transcend that belief system. Remember, forcing them to do something might not be the most efficient way. Instead try to find a the kind of method the student finds easy to accept.
  2. Figure out what the student needs to learn the most. Listening to them is a good start but what I’m talking about here is using empathy. Walk a mile in their shoes. Feel their weak points and the focus on forging them titanium hard. Ask yourself: “What does this student need the most at this moment?”
  3. Try to make yourself useless. If you find yourself holding information back or teaching unimportant stuff from lesson to lesson then you might have insecurity issues. That, or you’re just lazy or don’t know any better. Concentrate on the big picture. Don’t pick a random song as an assignment just because you know the song already. Pick a song that helps the student to improve in one, two, or all the key areas. Your mission as a teacher should be to make the student so skillful and competent that they don’t need you anymore.
  4. The work doesn’t stop when the class is over. Make your students understand that if they ever wish to be guitarists they need to work on it. They need to practice. No one can develop the required playing skills by just attending the classes. Now, if they want to be GREAT guitarists (like I do) they really need to practice and also do their research. Your job as a teacher is NOT to be a guitar databank. That’s what we call the Internet or the library. Your job is to REFINE. Deepen their knowledge, explain things they didn’t quite understand and if they got something even just a little bit wrong in the stuff they read, correct them. Usually if the student’s got the passion they already do all the practice and research they should. You just need take care of the unreasonable expectations of those who don’t.
  5. The work doesn’t stop when the class is over. This goes for you too. Find the lessons, songs, exercises, articles and tools to help your students. Be sure to have your skills and knowledge at the level where you can actually be of an assistance to your students. If you can’t get yourself to do your job how can you expect them to be able to do theirs?
  6. The student doesn’t know about your day and doesn’t need to. What I mean by this is that as a teacher I’m not always at my sharpest either. When I’ve got 12 students lined up for the day it’s easy to slip into a conveyor belt mindset. The thing is that the student that comes in expects you to teach him/her. It doesn’t matter that this is your last student and that you’ve already sat there the last 6 hours. You can’t just lay back and wait for the finish line. You gotta try to be at your sharpest! Every time. No matter what.

This might sound a bit excessive or even overwhelming but in my opinion if the only thing the teacher does is shove a score in front of your nose and tell you when the class is over then he is useless. I’ve been useless many times but I always try to improve. Teaching requires a passion, too, and I love every minute of it.