THE LEADS ARE WEAK: PRACTICING WITHOUT PRACTICING AND PLAYING WITHOUT PLAYING
I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee when I was growing up. Not for his martial arts technique or his acting, but for his Zen-like confidence and attitudes towards life. Use your mind before you use your body and you can accomplish a lot more than you initially thought.
A lot of things in life are based around mental performance. Before you all shout “hippie,” I want to say that feel and attitude play a huge role toward getting better and developing as a musician. Playing with a metronome and practicing technique are obviously as important a part of guitar as practicing punches is to a boxer, but what you do with that technique is more important in the long run. It’s more important to HEAR than anything else. I think a very overlooked part of guitar practice is hearing what the fuck you’re playing and what the fuck everyone else is playing.
I like to “practice without practicing,” as I like to call it. Sit with your guitar at home or at your computer and just hang out with it and fiddley-fuck around without consciously trying to play anything. I do this a lot when I watch TV shows; I’ll plug in and just sit there and play, fucking around while I watch. Maybe a song comes on in a commercial and I’ll figure it out, or I’ll play over the song to try and figure out melodies and scales. Maybe I already saw that episode of Seinfeld and I’ll just work on my left hand. Who knows? This helps get my hands used to constantly doing something and it helps me hear how what I play reacts with what’s behind it, all without getting lost in distortion or volume or some jaggoff screaming.
I also like to put on a record or song by a band and just solo over it. It helps if I don’t know the song or the key; I just try to make cool note choices over the harmonic backdrop of the song. It can be anything at all, and it’s cool to shred with your favorite bands sometimes too.
The final step is to remember what you played, then try and relate it to a chord sequence or a backdrop of your own to create something original out of it. It’s a good way to come up with weird chords you wouldn’t normally use and will help you to come up with patterns to play over the top of those sequences. If you have recording capabilities, you can even do this with yourself; record some cool riffs and then use that to figure out new and unique notes and scales that sound cool over them. This kind of playing and “practice” has helped me a ton in my improvisation.
As you think, so shall you become!