without fail

September 10, 2019
Photo of a Gibson guitar in front of a Mesa Boogie amplifier.

A few weeks ago I watched the Tom Morello Masterclass. It’s a great course for any level guitar player, and an interesting perspective on musical expression. I particularly enjoyed his philosophy on practice and his dedication to mastering the guitar.

He experienced the biggest jump in his playing after taking someone’s advice, to practice one hour per day, every day, without fail. And he emphasized the “without fail” part. I decided to take this to heart, and make the same commitment to my instrument.

My practice schedule has always been spotty, and I accidentally painted myself in a box during my formative years. I didn’t learn much theory, and I spent most of my time learning songs by other artists, namely Tool. There was a point where I could play through their entire discography, from Opiate to Lateralus (sans Salival), nearly flawless. It was fun, and I learned a lot about unconventional song structures, but it limited my musical palate.

When it came time to write my own music, I wrote from the only perspective I had, which was the music I routinely played, mostly from the one band. Drop-D tuning, key of D, lots of power chords, muted notes and tremolo picking… Then I felt embarrassed when my band’s main praise and criticisms were that we sounded like Tool. It somehow feels gross to be accused of emulation.

Even though my playing was limited, it was still kinda cool to see this vibe express itself inadvertently in my playing. I become what I practice. So I decided to practice more diverse and complex stuff.

My favorite thing about playing music is the flow state. That shit is magic. It feels like I become a vessel of sound, that something beyond myself is expressing itself through me. It’s deeply gratifying, and such an honoring and humbling experience.

Being in that flow state, I can really feel the limits of my understanding. Limitations can be a good thing, but I want complete freedom from those musical walls. To move through and beyond them. They don’t serve me.

So I’m committing to this practice schedule for the foreseeable future, and I’m a solid 4 weeks in as I write this. My goal is to intuitively understand the guitar fretboard and to create an arsenal of patterns and licks at my disposal. My thinking is, if I cultivate a deep enough understanding of the map, and refine my methods of traversing it, that I can create a space of freedom for the muse to move my hand in any direction she desires.

Edit: This lasted about 3 months for me. I learned a lot, but I ended up focusing on other things!