A new year is upon us, and with it comes the familiar and arguably cliche theme of new beginnings. People treat January as an opportunity to re-ignite their motivations in a host of different ways. Whether it be to eat healthier, exercise more or start learning an instrument (hint, hint), there is perhaps never a better time than now to start anew.
In Part 1 of this series, I set the stage for the general differences between improvising and soloing. While both approaches require focused practice to excel, in my opinion, neither is superior to the other. It all depends on the player. Essentially, improvising is the act of embellishing notes over a given chord progression on the spot.
The traditional approach to breakdowns is that they be heavily percussive and rhythmic in their delivery. This means the entire band is in lockstep with the same groove-based and sometimes staccato-sounding pattern. The result is a very precise, tight and often catchy section to a song, which can even eclipse the main chorus.
The line between proficiency and perfection is sometimes blurred, to the detriment of the player. We are solely focused on improving our miscues from the prior day's practice that we don't stop to realize just how far along we've come. When I would play along to songs in my room, I had a habit of replaying a song from the beginning if I screwed up just one section.
Rock, pop, metal, alternative, blues, jazz and hip-hop have die-hard fans who firmly believe the best aspects of their favorite genre lie in its purest form. Mixing these styles together can be thought of as blasphemous by some, an attempt to dilute their purity. But is this really the case?
In my previous column, I briefly touched upon how polarizing the topic of music theory can be for some musicians. I described it as being a false choice, a line in the sand between the ardent supporters of theory and those who believe it's a hindrance to the creative process. I say this is a false choice because it is not a cut-and-dry issue.
In my previous column, we explored how you could visualize four seemingly separate scales as one unified concept. To illustrate this point, I used the major scale to produce the major pentatonic, the natural minor and the minor pentatonic scales. How did I do this? Well, it's all a matter of perspective. Simply by changing the tonal center of the given scale, our ears perceive dramatically different flavors and musical moods.
In my opinion, a key symptom of this cynicism is when the listener starts to gloss over the finer details of a song, a band or a whole genre. Failing to realize the subtle yet important variations in music can further contribute to a person's indifferent mindset. Reactions toward specific bands or styles become over-generalized and less insightful.
Unlike the piano, for example, the guitar offers us the opportunity to manipulate a note in various creative ways. We can even alter a note to where it's no longer one of the established 12 tones of Western music. This kind of versatility is what helped the guitar earn its status as the dominating instrument of the 20th century.