There is a common trait amongst the greatest musicians I’ve played with. They all have what I like to call HSP. It stands for Hear Sing Play. It’s the order of actions that lead to playing a note.
It requires a healthy imagination which is a crucial
part of creativity. All of the theory in the world can’t make up for lack of creativity.
I’ve seen far too many discussions about modes and scales as a means for soloing. Most of which are based around positions. Although scales and chords are important to analyze music, they are not the mothership for creativity. In this case we do know what came first, the chicken or the egg. If the egg is melody, it definitely came first.
In theory (pun intended), you can be unaware of music theory but hear and play great melodies. You can also know all the theory in the world and end up playing solos that sound like mathematic equations.
Feedback In The Field
Let me explain a way that I use theory and HSP.
Let’s say I’m listening to a chord progression for a song. The first thing I do is NOT play my instrument (say what?!?!). I listen and imagine melodies. At this point, I don’t care what key it is in or what the chords are. I don’t want my mind to be prejudice to any of that.
Once I’m singing exactly what I hear, I grab my guitar for the first time. At this point, I find the key signature and chords.
Next, I look at the melody and start thinking about the specifics. This means theory. What am I playing? How is that working? With theory I have a base of knowledge to build from in the event I want to make changes quickly.
That’s where theory really shines. You’ll notice I didn’t need theory until this point!! I’m certainly not knocking the importance of theory. I happen to really enjoy theory. So much so, I wrote a book about it. It has it’s place in line though. No line cutting!!
Hear Sing Play
Let’s try and interesting experiment.
1: Create a backing track.
We’re going to solo over the backing track and record it two times. The first time you should play the way you normally do.
The second time you’re going to try and only play what you can sing.
Now listen to playback. Do you hear a difference?
When I do this with students I notice a couple of things. When they play without singing, their solos lack direction. There is little space between notes and phrases. There is no theme or repeats of phrases. It’s not melodic.
Most often they comment that they’re missing some kind of music theory knowledge. Tis is rarely the case.
When I have them sing and play, the phrasing sounds more natural and has direction. There is an immediate change. When you sing while you play, it forces you to connect your mind and fingers. Your mind and fingers should not be doing two different tasks. They’re Turner and Hooch, Batman and Robin, Bret and Jemaine…
To Serve Somebody
At first it’s difficult to sing and play every note in sync and that’s ok. This should not discourage you. If your pitches are not locked at first, don’t stress.
With practice, you start to hear relationships between notes. You can hear the note in your mind and play it. You will also develop a note filter. Guitarists have a tendency to spit out notes like M&M’s at the a Times Square Hershey store.
They fly all over the place. And if you don’t have a bag to grab them, they’ll go al over the floor. You don’t want to put them in your mouth, now do you? The answer should be no. Eeeewwww. That’s disgusting.
How to start. It’s easy. Sing along with everything you play. Get your voice and hands working together. Don’t play anything you don’t sing. You’ll be tempted, trust me. But don’t do it!! Stay strong young Jedi!!
You don’t have to be a great singer. You’re not auditing for the Met Opera. It’s simply a tool. Too many people get self conscious about their voices.
You can be working on this even when you don’t have your instrument with you. Create a playlist of some of your favorite songs with strong melodies. I stress the melodies should be strong and simple.
Imagine how disastrous it would be to go deep sea diving for the first time if they just handed you the gear and pushed you overboard. Or driving in the Indy 500 the first day you get your permit.
Personally, I like to use Beatle songs or Otis Redding songs. The melodies are well defined and easy to remember. If that’s not your musical bag, you can pick something that fits your tastes. But, something busy like Ornithology by Charlie Parker is obviously not the best starting line.
A Journey In The Dark
For one week, don’y play anything you don’t sing a long with. Forget everything you think you know about playing guitar. Listen to the sounds in your head. If it results in less practice time, it’s ok. Make this your main focus. You may fear you will stalling your scale chops. The truth is, you’re not stalling anything! You’re opening the most important door your playing will ever encounter.