Jazz Guitar Thoughts by Chris Standring

Inspiration - Go Grab It!

We all get discouraged from time to time in our musical journey. It's only natural. "Mom, can I get a guitar for my birthday? - I really want to learn how to play guitar" - is often how it begins. Then lessons start and it's just all too much for many and most give up. This is the first 'wheat from the chaff' separation. Many students do struggle through, but start and stop many times along the way. Then there are the few that seem to have just that little bit more talent than others, the fascination to learn and the wisdom to see their own results. These are usually the small 1% who go on to greatness, or at least become professional musicians.

But no matter what category you might belong to in the above scenario, all of us will get discouraged at some point. It could be a beginner problem like not being able to make a barre chord sound clear. It could be an intermediate issue where a player cannot get out of the rut of sounding like playing scales instead of improvising good melody. Often it is when these roadblocks occur, and we don't know how to surmount them, that the trouble starts. At the professional level we can get discouraged simply because we get bored with the way we play and the way we sound to ourselves. Usually this is a time to dig in and learn some new vocabulary.

And it seems to me, at any level we are at, we just need to get some 'traction', you know, get some fire in our bellies to fuel ourselves to get over these little hurdles. Setting little goals is clearly a great practical way to get over these hurdles. Having said that, knowing what these goals are at the beginner level is extremely important (and private instruction with a mentor never hurt anyone in this case).

But what I really want to discuss in this article is understanding how to motivate yourself. It seems to me that inspiration is not cheap! Grabbing onto those moments when we are really excited and channeling them through our guitar are not moments that are with us all the time, so I think it can be quite useful to really think about those moments when they do arrive, and what led to those inspirational times, so we can do all we can to make them happen again when we need them.

I have talked before about the idea that simply doing something, will fuel doing something even more. I remember when I was at music college that I was on such a roll of practicing daily, that the idea of not practicing to that degree was just not an option. I was very focused about what I practiced and I saw results. This can be an extremely compelling reason to work hard. But it is usually when we think we are not improving that we get discouraged.

So my question to you right now is this. "What inspires you to play?" Be honest. Do you get excited when you hear another great player? When you pick up a new CD? When you go for a walk? After a good workout at the gym or a yoga session? Which is it?

When I was a youngster, in my twenties, I was passionate and driven to be a great player. At the time I was living in London and a member of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho. Back in the day, as a member of the musician's union you could get into Ronnie's for a pound! (boy have things changed!). So we would all take advantage of this and go sometimes a couple of times a week. Anytime Joe Pass would do a week stint there I would go at least twice. I would stand at the back watching him, desperately trying to grab what I could from his playing. I loved it when he played ballads. I would go home and pick up the guitar and try to figure out what I just heard him play.

And so it was with other great artists I saw there. Art Blakey, George Coleman, Monty Alexander, Chet Baker. I was in heaven. What an inspirational time.

I would grab the latest album by any number of artists I was into at the time and wear the grooves out of those records. I would copy licks and phrases and work them into my own playing somehow.

So back to you. What gets you off? Just as importantly, if you are struggling right now, what discouraged you? Pin point exactly what aspect of your guitar playing got the better of you. Remember this: never let a plank of wood with six strings get the better of you! It is always just a matter of surmounting that little glitch in your path.

And what is my inspiration right now? A brand new Benedetto Bambino archtop jazz guitar. The sweetest tone. I just can't put the guitar down. Will that novelty wear off? Sure, but when it does, I'll be sure to grab a little inspiration from somewhere else. If it doesn't stare me in the face , I'll go look for it somewhere.

It's all there, just waiting to be plucked from the sky. You just have to want to grab it!

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Read all about the great jazz guitarists here:

Bill Frisell Charlie Christian Django Reinhardt George Benson George Van Eps Grant Green Jim Hall John Mclaughlin Joe Pass John Scofield Kenny Burrell Larry Carlton Lee Ritenour Pat Martino Pat Metheny Tal Farlow Wes Montgomery