Session Guitar: How to Break Out of Boxes to Enhance Creativity

Greetings, campers!

We're all studio/session guitarists today. We all have some type of recording software. We all have a guitar or three. Maybe a modeler or an amp and a mic. And we all view our music in a box. Limitations.

Take a look around. Your "studio"/ workplace is probably in a room in your house. Box 1. Your literal vision/optics are being viewed on a screen from a computer. Box 2. You may even look at your musical knowledge and improvisational skills based around the box method. Scale patterns. Theory. Rules. Limitations. Box 3.

And you may want to get that elusive prize, a hit record. This hit must adhere to certain limitations: Verse, pre-chorus, chorus, etc., making it sound like what is already a hit. Following in someone else's footprints. All limitations. Welcome to Box 4.

And let's not forget time. You may come home from work. Talk to the spouse. Help the kids with some homework. Take a shower. And give yourself the last hour of a very long day to be creative. (And, trust me, the older you get, the harder it can be. Unless you have become wiser.) That time constraint is another one. Yup. Box 5. That, my friends, is way too many boxes for me! How the hell can you be creative with all these limitations you're placing on yourself?

Before we learn to break out of these boxes, we must learn how to embrace them. Why? Because they are not real and are self-inflicted. They are excuses. Time to change your view. Create a new paradigm. "It's your world." (Bob Ross) Time to take some control. Limitations are like laws. Laws are like rules. And rules are made to be broken. But you have to know them in order to know how to break them successfully.

Box 1. Your studio room. I love my studio. To a point. I treat it as a place to work. I use it to mix and do the necessary things. But most of my guitar playing is done in my dining room or living room on a laptop. Or in nice weather on my deck. On a laptop. I broke out and I am happier for it. Now my guitar playing feels like playing as opposed to working.

Box 2. Looking at the computer screen. We do this too much. That screen is not your music. Your music is inside you, and your guitar takes it out of you and places it in there. I don't like looking at the screen. So once again, laptop. I look out the window as I play. I shut my eyes and feel. I listen. Then I stop and make sure it's all captured as well as possible. By the way, remember, I love my Line 6 HD500, and that makes things easier. I feel no trade-off or compromise in tone or feel, either. But if you want to use an amp, you can do that too! Throw it in the bathroom or some other place and leave it mic'd up and ready to go. But get out of your box and stop looking at that screen.

Box 3. Theory. Rules. Scales. Knowledge. Time to change your closed minds on this. Stop believing Jimi Hendrix wouldn't have been Jimi or Django wouldn't have been Django if they knew more theory. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is freedom. Knowledge gives you the creative capacity to break free. Maybe a good place to start before you go whole-heartedly into music is to dedicate a certain amount of time to lessons. I did, and it wasn't always easy. It was usually hard. And "It's the hard that makes it great." (A League of Their Own) It's why everyone doesn't do it. And if your music of choice requires less theory, then practice your music harder. But theory would help you create a new understanding and is a great place to start.

Box 4. Making a hit record. Musical death. Chasing someone else's star. Pandering. Catering to an asshole in an office with no musical knowledge. Just go out and make a new pet rock. It'll be easier and probably have more integrity. You have to live with yourself. The day you decide to do something for yourself instead of making someone else's music, well, that's the day you will already be a success. You will feel it. You will like yourself. The chains will be off you. "Don't die with your music still inside you." (Wayne Dyer)

Box 5. Time. Placing a set time aside is foolish. You never know when creativity will strike. Allow yourself to always be creative. Include your spouse in it. Include your kids. Write about what you know. Get that creative muscle working all the time. The Beatles wrote songs about the streets, sights and people around them. A writer always writes. When it's time for me to do a blog post and I'm in bed and need more than three hours' sleep, I just get up and it writes itself. Same thing with songs. Same thing with licks. I get up from whatever I am doing and get it down.

Make priorities. We are not like others. We are special. We create music. We make people happy. We challenge. We destroy and build up. We struggle and break through. We are musicians. We are artists. Accept it.

Till next time …

Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.

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