If you can feel it, you might as well try it!

To quote a great inspiration to me and probably most of you (more about him later) : “If you can feel it, you might as well try it”.

But first, I want to recall a story from when I used to share lyric duties for a band some years back. Our vocalist, whose written English was better than mine, used to ask me how did I manage to come up with what in his opinion where better lyrics than his. My answer used to be that what I presented to the band would be the 5th or 6th draft, as in actual fact, I would have written down and corrected a lot. With every draft, I would let the words talk to me as a piece of art themselves, seaving the horseshit from the gold in a bunch of hay if you will.

How I differed from him was that I never expected amazing lyrics to come out at my 1st attempt, but would rather let the good parts shine through the bad parts as I re-read them over and over again. Guess I was doing nothing that a novelist would not do when writing a book, and as soon as he applied that approach, we were now both writing amazing lyrics!

Similarly, let us now bring this to the table of how to become a good improviser, which we all know is music made on the spot without time to allow oneself for drafts. But in actual fact, drafts do happen, in our practice time before taking the stage. So what I generally suggest to my students is –


Time and time again, I have found that this approach has made them understand that the fire only burns the 1st time, and once you know how to walk it without getting burnt, it will become fun every time. And it works! Every time without fail.

So now to the quote above, taken from leading guitarist Mr Joe “Satch” Satriani!

With “If you can feel it, you might as well try it” what Satch is telling us is that after hours of training and singing scales (your drafts), melodies and fingerings become sort of attached to each other with less effort. So when you are actually creating music on the spot, whatever you hear in your head can be translated onto your fingers. Be adventurous!

The main thing is knowing how and where to resolve, purposely repeating “mistakes” before resolving. The safe move for this is to always play a semi-tone up or down to find the note that sounds right (within the key), as explained in detail via my related blogs www.malcolmcallus.com/fingerboard and www.malcolmcallus.com/jazz.

Meanwhile, I let you off with good old Satch doing some explaining himself …..

Modern approaches to guitar, bass & music theory tuition
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Enough burgers! You need a fit body to let healthy music flow out of you!

What is it with some players who despite their solid understanding of music’s “right” notes, they still get tired (or even feel pain) when playing for a long stretch of time?

The answer is simply that musical performance is an athletic discipline like any other sport, and that the key to effortless playing depends on the body’s fitness, or how to make use of it.

Getting the best result for the least effort is indeed the most elegant satisfying way of doing anything, but is it practice that makes perfect? I would rather say repeating nonsense will achieve fluent, thoughtless nonsense. As the reknown Alexander Technique mentions “prevention is better than cure and hence one is to focus on how to carry out actions to build GOOD habits.” So consult, stop to listen to others with less or no physical shortcomings, and then re-approach one’s methods afresh. Sometimes dropping the stubbornness that something is good only because it has worked for many years is the key to open a new door.

So here follow some guidelines I have over the years shared on how to play comfortably, and why everything IS possible! As you may note, these are split into physical and mental exercises for a reason – the physical is put on first as it is the actual practical task you will try out; however you will surely instantly notice a change in application (maybe easier) when you try out the practical tasks after reading the mental part.

All following physical examples are for a right-handed guitar player:music

1. Simply rest the right hand on guitar. The weight of arm keeps guitar in place, so do not try to push the guitar inwards from the right as this effects the posture.

2. Strap to be fitted so that guitar is same angle whether sitting/standing.

3. Thumb should not curl around fingerboard but rather act as a pivot midway behind the fretboard in line with the 2nd finger from the front. If not, the palm of the hand is narrowed, restricting playing of notes on adjacent frets.

4. A good posture depends on your body staying balanced and erect, avoiding undue twisting, with your head, elbows and neck able to move freely, your back standing/ sitting up firm & no twisting of shoulders to side.

5. The shoulder is not to lean sideways towards the guitar. The reason the hand and elbows are free is to pull the guitar inwards to the left of the body, if at all necessary.

6. Avoid picking too loud with right hand as this in turn demands left hand to apply more fretting pressure.

7. Despite a tutor’s guides, the best way to improve is to experience things first hand. A good way is for you to play a piece focusing on new posture without much attention to the piece, then playing the piece again with the old posture. This will reveal how the new posture differs from the old, and how easier it is.

Mental suggestions:

1. There is no way but the best way. It is the easiest to master, so make a habit of that. This is known as the cycle of conscious incompetence > conscious competence > unconscious competence i.e. that first you are aware of your shortcomings, then you practice enough to garner some skill & the knowledge that you know what you are doing, then your knowledge becomes so innate that you do not even think about it, and it flows out of you when you perform.

2. Mental rehearse what needs to be done, and focus on it before actually playing it. This way the muscles are more liable to react positively as research has proven that the muscles react to something when thinking about it as they would when one actually does it.

3. Practice with awareness of your goals vs too much unfocused practice repeating same mistakes. In other words, playing flamenco differs from playing extreme metal so new postures for each might have to be learnt, as what works for one style of playing might not necessarily work for others.

4. Listen to the music to produce a tone befitting the style being played vs just focusing on getting a better tone. As decreasing your physical efforts makes you more sensitive to producing tone colours, and enjoying music more.

5. Instruct yourself with positives not negatives (DOs not DONTs).

So you might still argue that the old way works better? Well try the new way, see how it functions for you, think about how it differs from your previous methods, and only then reject it.
A Chinese idiom goes: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”
And I bet you that if you understand the easiest way, it will become your new habit and you will not reject it. Just as many professional guitar players before you have not.

Modern approaches to guitar, bass & music theory tuition
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The discourse of musicology and timbre

  1. How was it possible for Beethoven to create music well after he turned deaf?
  2. What was the very fact that made the rumble of bass-guitar-voice-drums that was The Sex Pistols appeal so highly to music researchers from a scientific point of view?
  3. What makes an experienced journalist write about music without being a musician the same way you and I recognize the contrasting tastes of two different chocolate cakes, despite neither of us have the culinary expertise to break down their composition as a chef would?


Creativity always having been the epicenter of what I consider makes an artist, innovations to one’s music allow its listeners more anchor points to experience it differently out of “the musician’s box”.

Hence, the above, similar and others, are some of the many questions & answers I approach throughout this blog, as to convey a sense of looking at music composition not only from a chords’ & scales’ point of view, but further!

Modern approaches to guitar, bass & music theory tuition
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