“It seems like I get worse and worse the longer I practice!” they sometimes say. Well, not being with them at home I can’t say for certain just what their practice regimen consists of – although I do try to go through what should go on when they practice. The reality, based on my own playing for many decades is that this is often a false impression. I think our brains focus on the “good stuff” when we first pick up our guitars, but after a bit of time passes we start to hear more and more of what’s wrong with our playing. This is a natural but counterproductive way to approach our playing. It’s likely that you ARE in fact playing better as your session progresses but you must find the balance between the good and bad. I think the trick may be to look at the Big Picture. Ask yourself: Could I even come remotely close to playing that song a week ago? Or a month ago? Am I comparing my playing to what a more experienced player may offer as a finished product? Not a good idea!
I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Most of us have phones that include some sort of recording app or function. Record a part of a practice session, but resist the temptation to listen to it right away. Wait a couple weeks or longer, then give it a listen. I can almost guarantee you will find that you play that song better today than you did when it was recorded. Feels good, doesn’t it?
To shift gears a bit I wanted to report on my recent trip down to the Keys, which I love to do and will be doing again in a couple months. Sad to say, I have been having some back pain issues so I didn’t get to kayak fish as much as I would have liked but I did hear plenty of live music in Key West and elsewhere. This is always very instructive and interesting as there is so much music played there every day and night. Some trends I’ve seen for the last few years are continuing. If the performer is doing a single with just acoustic guitar and vocals, loopers and harmonizers are pretty much standard operating equipment these days. Some performers use them to good effect, others not so much. The better ones use those devices sparingly and they are set at levels that are subtle. The ones who don’t seem to just set the looper up for endless lead guitar noodling when they are engaged. Now granted, I am a guitar player and my standards are probably too high but my reaction to this is…… booooooooring. Stretching out a song that should conclude after four or five minutes to two or three times that long doesn’t work unless you’re Clapton! Harmonizers are great, IF the harmony function is set to be about ½ to 2/3 of the volume of the lead vocals. Anything more than that and they sound fake and frankly (to my ear anyway) a bit amateurish. But hey, they have a gig so more power to ‘em.
There was some good stuff however. At my favorite place on Duval, the Little Room Jazz Club I again made a point of hearing pianist and singer Ericson Holt, with his regular drummer. He plays some fine New Orleans-style blues and jazz and has been a regular at the Little Bar on Tuesday nights for a few years. He remembered me from last year (when I turned him on to singer Johnny Adams) and we had a great conversation. Ericson is a true professional and a fine, fine player and singer. Plus he and his drummer are tight as can be. I often forget just how great it can be to play with a drummer who has style and class and understands the importance of dynamics. If you ever happen to be in Key West, be sure to check him out and you can be certain whomever is playing at the Little Room will be very good.
One final recommendation. One of my favorite web sites lately is Music Aficionado (do a search). They feature lots of great articles about artists of today and yesterday. I learn something every time I visit that site. Recently they posted a feature on the great Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey, who (along with Hendrix of course) pretty much popularized the wah-wah peddle on songs like “Cloud Nine” in the glory days of Motown. Very interesting!
Well, time to practice. I hope I sound as good after a half hour as I do in the next five minutes! Ha!
Peace & good music,