I play the guitar at least every other day, more or less purely for recreation and to regain some (much lost) fluency. I’m also getting some practise in for the guitar parts on my upcoming ‘IRIS’ album. Most of what I play is pretty rubbish really, repeating patterns that I’ve done for years, but every now and again, something good happens ! There’s a transcendental moment when it just comes together. As a kid, I was very impressed watching Led Zeppelin’s ‘The song remains the same’ live show and seeing Jimmy Page not looking at the fretboard of his guitar. I do the same when improvising whilst internet browsing (for one thing). It’s an interesting thing – the way the brain does two things simultaneously and the ‘focus switch’ between the conscious / sub-conscious. It’s not so much me being lazy and unconcentrated, more allowing the fingers to do one thing and the mind the other. I also try not to look at the fretboard to break up the ‘licks and patterns’ approach. I find that when I switch focus to the playing, I’m sometimes doing something unexpected.
I’ve played guitar for years now and there is a lot of repetition in my playing (and most other players, for that matter), I suppose this repetition defines my ‘style’. There’s an interesting Alexander technique analogy – what comes easy and naturally to us can lead to poor posture (not sure how well the analogy stands up ), similarly we tend to play what comes easiest (from a physical perspective) and from what we’ve developed when learning an instrument – unless you’re Robert Fripp of course and you go out of your way to makes things difficult !
Regarding the actual playing, I’m trying to get that ‘electric’ sound – fluid, legato hammer-ons/off with sustain (but not a high gain fuzz-out !) that I hear from my heavy rock heroes (Van Halen, Schenker, Uli Roth etc.). These days I opt for a dry tone (no delays generally) when recording, so there’s more going on with the dynamics of the playing. Regarding ambient music, I’ve noticed a fair bit of guitar soloing going on as of late – this wouldn’t be my approach (well, not for ambient anyway). I’ve got a box full of cassettes from my 4-track mid nineties noodlings, which I don’t plan to share with the world ! I find it odd that for a minimal music form, there is an element of pretty extended improvisational soloing. When I released my first album in 2003, I thought the idea of melodies and chordal patterns in ambient was somewhat profane, but I’ve ‘mellowed’ since then and my upcoming album ‘IRIS’ will feature guitar-isms quite heavily.
So my (perhaps somewhat laboured) point is, that something that has become automatic and repetitive can still break out of it’s own constraints with time, practise and most of all, the desire to do something new. To play a different phrase, think about the next notes as opposed to doing what you automatically, move to unfamiliar fingering pattern etc. I feel this is also a good mind-set for the music making process in general. It’s a wonderful thing improvisation, almost like speaking an entirely different language (when it works). On the subject of language, I’m certainly somewhat ‘blessed’ (if that’s the right word) at that aspect of improvisation !
Here’s a video of a one-take improvisation (mistakes and all). I’m playing over some work-in-progress material and yes, there’s a large reverb patch used (contradicting my earlier comment regarding a ‘dry’ tone) Apologies for the neck moving out of the frame on occasion – I moved around too much when recording, such is the excitement.