Guitarists, Take Some Advice from Obi Wan Kenobi: Let Go and Use the Force
In a recent column, I left off encouraging shaking up "ordinary" life routines as a way of tricking oneself into unblocking and remaining inspired. For example, brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, switching the knife and fork hands, washing yourself in the opposite direction of habit, etc.
Cultivating the habit of going beyond habits requires all your attention and energy to practice, especially if you're striving to reach that stage as a musician where you are no longer just stringing together "licks" but allowing the muse to flow through you.
This state of uncontrived creativity yields boundless energy/ideas and your audience responds most powerfully to those moments of self-transcendence.
I think this is what Obi Wan is trying to teach Luke Skywalker when he tells him to "let go and use the force." Somehow, when Luke drops the blast shield down and turns off the targeting computer, it allows him to become an unstoppable force against the Deathstar.
He enters that synesthetic place where his senses blend together and "seeing" becomes indistinguishable from "feeling." To access both sides of the brain—the creative and the analytical—at precisely the right time for the given situation is the art of living in a state of steady unsteadiness.
My last performance was in Munich a few nights ago, and I had flown in on a later flight because I missed the first one and arrived 40 minutes before the show started! I had all of my devices working except for the 9-volt battery, which powers my EBow, and I use an EBow as often as I use a pick!
It became clear I was going to have to let go of my accustomed guitar rig patches that are contoured for the EBow and there was no time to reprogram anything. Since panic is not an option and the audience is waiting for me to begin, I kicked in this practice of embracing being "off-balance" and started the first song that’s normally defined by the tone and mechanics of the EBow.
This song is an original ("Nagual," from my second album, Being in Dreaming) and I’ve performed it thousands of times. There’s normally no improvisation, I play the melody in open time over a 5/8 ostinato pattern with alternating bass notes running underneath. This time, I went with a rich overdriven tone on the neck pickup of my Les Paul, with reverb and delay and thought about how Carlos Santana would play it.
Then as the song stretched out, I had the intuition to tremolo pick the melody to create the sustained melody, which arcs out over the chords. The effect was far more emotional for me, and afterwards the audience was clearly moved.
Meanwhile, in some alternate reality I had panicked, apologized to the audience for not having a battery for my little EBow, then made a bad joke over the mic while it threatened to feedback ... very pathetic.
Michael Hewett is a composer, producer, guitarist and recording artist who has released four full-length albums and numerous singles. He played lead guitar in the hit Broadway musical “Wicked” (2004 to 2009), is a video instructor and blogger at Guitar World magazine and tours internationally with his own project. Preview his catalog of music on iTunes.