Guitarist's Mindset Blog

The Road to Effortless Expression - Part 1

guitarist mindset Oct 30, 2022

Early on in my guitar journey, I realized that even though playing the songs I loved, I wanted to express myself musically at an emotional level. The more scales, chords and notes I learned, the further away I got from playing the musical ideas I wanted to express. 

Can any of you relate?

But as I kept on learning about how music worked and became more familiar with the fretboard, I found I wasn't thinking about what I was playing and just playing it. And to my surprise, it sounded better.

What I realized was that FAMILIARITY = FREEDOM TO EXPRESS. In other words, how familiar I was with a skill or concept was directly proportional to how free I was to express my musical ideas using that skill or concept. A deep understanding of how a concept works and sounds will lead to you being able to use it on stage or performing without thinking. It's like the everyday tasks we do like breathing or walking. We are so familiar with those tasks they become automatic, and we don't have to engage our thought process to accomplish them. In the same way if we just know a scale, chord or concept our entire focus can be on musical expression.

Let's take bar chords as an example to show you what I mean. Most guitarists know how to find and play the E shape and A shape bar chords. Here are just a few things to master that will deepen your familiarity with bar chords, resulting in direct musical growth in how you hear and play.

  1. There are three other bar chord shapes in the C-A-G-E-D system. Learn how the whole system fits together. You can use that as 1 of the most insightful ways to organize your fretboard. 
  2. Bar chords sound the way they do because of their stacked intervals. An E shape bar chord from the low to the high note is laid out like this. P5 - P4 - Maj3 - min3 - P4.
  3. As you are learning # 2, realize the scale degree of each note. R5R35R.
  4. Connect the understanding of 2 & 3 to your ear. Each interval sounds a certain way, and each scale degree sounds a certain way in relation to the root. 
  5. Bar chords contain smaller harmonic elements such as triads and diads. Discover the elements within the bar chords on adjacent strings that you can use to make your musical ideas other than the whole bar chord. 
  6. A shape and E shape bar chords contain a power chord as the three low notes on the chord. Learn how to play a version of those bar chords without the power chord sound at the bottom (R-5) Ala John Mayer. 

That represents a small snapshot deepening your familiarity with bar chords, just scratching the surface. My intent isn't to overload you with new things to learn but to encourage you to change the way you think about the guitar to develop a habit of looking deeper and becoming more familiar with what you already know. If you do that, familiarity will allow you to forget about everything you learned and make music effortlessly.

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