Thinkin' while Playin'

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by Larry F, Jan 13, 2014.

  1. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Posts:
    16,466
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2006
    Location:
    Iowa City, IA
    I was playing with my blues trio in a local bar the other night, and thought, hey, what am I thinking? I was playing a solo in A, and was "worrying" a few notes in the 5th-8th fret area. "Worrying" is a great term for when you are not really going anywhere in a solo, for a bit. You just kind of enjoy the sounds of the notes, and how cool it is if you change left hand pressure, use bends and slides, and using syncopated picking patterns (these are what come to mind when I think of "worrying" in blues). It was only natural that my mind would sort of be in neutral, as I was just kind of locked into the notes and rhythms I was playing. Then, I thought of the threads in this forum about thinking/not thinking. I wasn't thinking about every single note that I was playing, but I knew what they were and their rhythmic placement. I didn't have to perform any kind of mental operations to play this stuff, as I could just sit back and observe. After a few seconds or so, I felt that I had just about milked the phrase that I was using. I could have gone up to some higher notes, or down to lower notes. Either way would give me some forward motion, as if I am telling the listening to pay attention because I am moving into doing something that I haven't done yet in this solo. But that was the easy way to go, very, very obvious. So, I decided to stick with the notes that I had. In order to create some more variety and sense of motion, I started playing around more with my basic notes. I thought it would create an open, airy texture if I held back from playing a note in a certain phrase, and replacing it with a rest. This is a tried and true method for creating syncopation and rhythmic vitality. Once I had done that, I decided to stabilize again. This suggested two ways of playing the material: in version 1, I play in a rhythmically regular style; in version 2, I play in a syncopated style. This gives me two more things to work with, version 1 and version 2. While I was doing this stuff, I wasn't thinking of the note names, although I knew exactly what they were, in the same way that I know my sisters even when they are not referred to by name. Rhythmically, I wasn't thinking of the different beats and subdivisions. Instead, I was thinking about the two versions mentioned above. I often use things like this to mess with the listener. For example, I might play thing: Ver 1, Ver 2, Ver 1, Ver 1, Ver 2, Ver 1, Ver 2, Ver 2, Ver 2, Ver 2, Ver 2, Ver 2. As you can see, I am toying with the listener. Actually, I really don't know much about listeners, so I usually nominate myself as the listener. Now, after doing this kind of stuff for a while, I eventually realize that I am about to overstay my welcome, so I'll want to come out of this vibe/groove/pattern in either a very smooth way or a big, dramatic way. When I come out of this section, I often have to prepare for it by moving the fingers and/or notes to certain positions on the fingerboard. For example, if I want to use a whole-step bend, I have to set my position so that my thumb can serve as an anchor of support for the bend. I am also thinking of some other things. I remember when Itzhak Perlman was on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. After his performance, Johnny Carson asked Perlman what he thought about while playing. He said it was pretty loose, such as what he will have for dinner the next evening. I also thought about how the thinking aspect of improvisation is sometimes of great concern to some improvisers.

    Well, pretty uneventful, bland stuff. But I wanted to give a report on what my brain, such as it is, was doing during that solo. Meh.
     
  2. ScatMan

    ScatMan Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    3,217
    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2008
    Location:
    Texas
    Difficult to know what the listeners were hearing on their end. Might be a problem if they can't find a way to sync with your thought process.
     
  3. getbent

    getbent Telefied Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    37,597
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2006
    Location:
    San Benito County, California
    I'm not very good, so I have to plan. I try to state a chunk of the melody to 'prove' I know the tune, I try to play a piece of a harmony to show I understand the tune, I try to emphasize at least one change to create movement, then I try to do something playful or funny (sadly, only our bass player comments on this and says, 'man, it is as though you were making a joke about the song in that one part) and then something that pushes my ear (and hopefully someone listening who cares) and then I like to end leaving the root or a good pickup note that the next guy would like to start from... or that the singer is properly turned around...

    Like I said, I'm not good enough to just wing it and go for it... there are a couple of songs that we extend and in the fourth set if there are girls kissing each other on the dance floor, we'll go multiple choruses and at that point, I try all the things I can think of and try to apply funky combinations (ernie isley in a hank williams swing type tune) kind of things...

    I don't think of it as thinking, but kind of being lost in a plan.
     
  4. fezz parka

    fezz parka ---------------------------

    Posts:
    13,841
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2004
    Location:
    Del Floria's Tailor Shop
    Shoshin/Mushin. This is my goal.:D
     
  5. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    6,962
    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2003
    Location:
    Santa Barbara, California
    If girls are kissing each other on the dance floor then you know you are doing something really, really right. No other data or thinking needed at that point.
     
  6. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    59
    Posts:
    7,478
    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2003
    Location:
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US
    I've often heard it said that the best improvisation is done without a lot of thinking involved. I don't think I believe that really, the brain & synapses firing is in constant flux. OVER-thinking it is probably not a good call. On the rare occasion when I seem to be playing effortlessly, I doubt I'm thinking any less, it just doesn't hurt as much... The musician that is not harmonically savvy is probably thinking shapes and going for the tried & true lick when things seem to be wallowing around a bit, as do the harmonically sophisticated players. I think shapes, actual harmonic possibilites, rhythmic variation. Approaches and stylistic stuff as well. Ex: "That's enough with the gutbucket blues stuff, let's clean it up and go uptown a bit, how about some Wes-style thumb octaves." Or "Enough with the singing sustain single note stuff, lets play some doublestops and 6ths and stuff." I actually do have these little conversations with myself inside my tiny little almond-sized brain. And yes, absolutely, my improvisational approaches can change depending upon what patrons do and what I sense from patrons. Similar deal as to why I don't use setlists, I want to be open to outside influences and read the room.
     
  7. getbent

    getbent Telefied Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    37,597
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2006
    Location:
    San Benito County, California
    WE have agreed that when this happens... we are on the right track.
     
  8. Mjark

    Mjark Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    12,732
    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2011
    Location:
    Annapolis, MD
    I was playing in a roomful of guitarists once at a big jam, some funk type feel we made up on the spot. When I finished my solo there was spontaneous applause, like the genuine kind, I’m completely unused to. I have no idea what I played but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing at the time.
     
  9. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

    Posts:
    51,323
    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2009
    Location:
    Kelowna, BC, Canuckistan
    You are a Zen master if the sight of that doesn't get to you thinkin'.
     
  10. fezz parka

    fezz parka ---------------------------

    Posts:
    13,841
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2004
    Location:
    Del Floria's Tailor Shop
    Yeah baby! More tongue!:lol:
     
  11. prebend

    prebend Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    544
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2013
    Location:
    Baltimore, MD, USA
    I had a jazz instructor, great player, very accomplished, who believes that the listeners create the music (when you play by yourself, you are the listener and creator, I guess). I didn't really buy it, but he provides some anecdotal evidence:

    He was playing a gig with Charlie Byrd at the Washington D.C. Hilton (years ago) and was in the middle of a solo. He had his head down really into it when suddenly his fingers just started playing nonsense. He lost the beat, the key, and all the other musicians were playing nonsense also. He panicked but eventually everything came back together. When the song was over he asked what the hell happened. A band member told him that a lightning bolt hit the flag pole right outside the window. This caused the audience to be completely distracted for a period of time and the music went to hell in a hand basket. When the audience refocused the song came back together.

    I know this proves nothing, but over time I've drifted more and more over to his way of thinking and it makes me play better. Go figure? So I'm thinking less and less and doing things that I've somehow prepared for but still completely surprise me.

    Kind of a "There is nothing wrong with your television, do not attempt to adjust the picture..." thing.

    So Larry, maybe you know a lot more about the listeners (and they about you) than you think, and that's one of the reasons why you play it different every time.
     
  12. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Posts:
    8,671
    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2006
    Location:
    NELA, Ca
    I'm usually thinking about the tune.
    As an improvisor I'm in the moment a lot - which means I'm in the tune. I may not think specific notes or techniques (sometimes I do - ?) but I'm thinking about the music (and musicians) going on around me.

    If it's a gig where people want to dance - or two girls wanna make out - I probably would think about my audience enough to not blow that groove. Generally though I don't think much about the audience. I will think about what will make the band sound good.

    I don't believe Perlman for second when he said that maybe he'd think about dinner when he plays. That's a 'show biz' answer.
     
  13. stevieboy

    stevieboy Poster Extraordinaire

    Age:
    68
    Posts:
    5,913
    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2003
    Location:
    the valley
    I think about baseball.
     
  14. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Posts:
    16,466
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2006
    Location:
    Iowa City, IA
    Many years ago, when I would ask a good jazz player for advice, very often they would say to learn the tune. Not just the tune, but the words, as well. Like an arrogant pin-head, I was more like, "Stand back! Here I come!"

    After maturing a little bit, I started enjoying playing the melody of some blues songs. I now have such tunes built into my system of reflexes and hearing. I often don't differentiate between playing the tune and soloing. When I make the crossover from melody to solos, I begin casting off the non-essentials (to me, at that moment) and substituting melodic fragments with improvised fragments. I often just sort of meander around in both worlds, veering into pure melody or veering into freer playing. Some of the songs I do this with include:

    Killing Floor
    Dust My Broom
    All Your Love
    Stormy Monday
    Key to the Highway
    Evil
    Politician

    Sometimes, I'll envision myself dressed up and onstage with a certain band and almost becoming Otis Rush, T-Bone, etc. This grew out of me playing along with an artist and band playing live and shown on YouTube. I get into ruts very easily. I first noticed this in the way I started eating in grad school. I would have someone random meal, then copy it and gradually change it. Once I get into the groove of a certain kind of meal or food, I'm inclined to stay with it. It feels as if I am saying, "aha, I got it. At last, I have found the meal for me." This is so perfect and finely attuned to me and my tastes and habits that there is no reason to eat something different the next evening. Oh-oh, rambling bad here, so I must sign off, kids. This is uncle Larry saying, "over and out and don't turn it up too loud."
     
  15. 1955

    1955 Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    9,944
    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2010
    Location:
    .
    I'm not good enough musically yet to even think much about the music while playing. I am easily distracted, and have learned that I must concentrate in the moment or the whole thing can fall apart. If I am not careful, even having a pleasant distraction, say, seeing an old friend in the audience, I can momentarily forget everything - chords, lyrics, etc.

    I am also in the minority here in this regard: Seeing public displays of affection (of the Girls-Gone-Wild variety) elicits contempt, bewilderment, and sadness in me.

    The cry-for-help peddling and joy-riding of their pheromone-wares further buttresses my belief that human beings, (especially in the throes of alcohol and in the wake of aggressive marketing) would slit their own throats on the dance floor (if they believed such a spectacle would give them their 15 minutes, a few bucks, or reason to live.)

    Oh, wait - that sounds like Im speaking of "artists!"

    Luckily, we've been spared the beatnik bongos, but could it be possible that the best in us (as musicians) brings out the worst in temporarily terminal-nihilists? If the french-kissing-margeritas-with-lower-back-tats wanna get all Ancient Rome while I'm tickling the fretboard, I say lets see what happens when they let the lions out in the coliseum! "You're gonna hear me roar."
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2014
  16. ScatMan

    ScatMan Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    3,217
    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2008
    Location:
    Texas
    i knew it! you are katy perry.
     
  17. cleanman

    cleanman Tele-Holic

    Posts:
    509
    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2010
    Location:
    Detroit, Michigan
    In Zen it is said that "the easiest way to do anything is to do nothing at all". This is all based on the concept that everything you have ever heard is in your head and adjusted to your personal taste. You just have to get out of your own way...or as Frank Zappa said "shut up and play your guitar"
     
  18. 1955

    1955 Poster Extraordinaire

    Posts:
    9,944
    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2010
    Location:
    .
    My cover is blown:)
     
  19. loopy reed

    loopy reed Friend of Leo's

    Posts:
    2,010
    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2007
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    "fuzz is on, ok, good."

    that's about the extent of my brain activity during a solo.
     
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.


  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.