Session Guitar: How to Set Yourself Up for Creativity

Hi, kids! I'm gonna get right down to it.

This time around, I'm going to ask you to try something. Put the guitar down before your next session—before you start laying down guitar tracks.

Put it down and listen. Listen to the song. Then listen to yourself. Your mind. Heart. Soul. What do you hear? Do you hear something different than you originally expected? Ask yourself what the song is about. What are the lyrics saying? Can you compliment this? What do the other instruments sound like? How can you find your pocket and fit in instead of fight for space.

I like to call these spotting sessions. Almost as if you were doing music for a movie. You'd sit with the director and talk about where you would add music. What it would sound like. Feel like. What instruments would be used. Would there be a main instrument used for a particular character? (In our case, maybe we can imitate the sound of a jackass whenever the singer starts to sing! KIDDING!)

You see, there isn't one piece of brain in your fingers. Your fingers get told what to do from the brain.

Many of us simply play from muscle memory, and that just cripples growth and creativity. Sure, old reliable licks are great and necessary to establish a style, but stretching out and challenging yourself enables growth and breathes new life into your playing.

Let's move on. Get technical. How about guitar choice or sound? Maybe by thinking first, you'll consider a totally different sound/guitar! Maybe a 12-string. A clean Strat. A really low-fi blown-out amp or a heavily processed, almost unnatural, guitar sound. Maybe even the choice of guitar will make you play differently.

This is why I love the Line 6 JTV guitar. It gives me 29 models with unlimited tuning possibilities.

This also could be the time to consider going direct or micing an amp. And which mic? Ribbon, Dynamic? Condenser? A combination, perhaps? Where on the speaker? At what distance?

Ever track a lead part or extra guitar part with the mic across the room? You really don't know what you're sonically missing!

Do you always automatically double everything? The RIGHT guitar part played with the right sound usually is fine left alone. Doubles are for production. And production is only that...production. But the performance part? Way more important! (And let's not forget that the composition is the most important part of making music.)

You see, if you don't stop to think, you could be missing opportunities to really give the music a special part of yourself, some real effort and consideration. The possibilities are endless from fingerstyle to pick. From dirty to clean. From slide to staccato. From tuned down to capo. From natural to processed.

Finally, let's chat a bit about the all-important solo. Should it even exist? If so, should it be melodic? Or maybe angular and dissonant? Should it be over the top or down low and sparse? Or maybe a combination? Or maybe it needs a whole new direction, a key change or groove change. An entirely new mini-composition right in the middle of the song. (My secret weapon lately.) That really makes the solo stand out instead of the big yawn I like to call soloing over a verse!

Creativity must come from your mind and not your hands! Please try having a spotting session for yourself. Or, if you are brave, ask other band members or other musicians you respect for their opinion too. It might take a bit longer, but I promise you the finished product will be well worth it and way better than your original idea.

Till next time!

Ron Zabrocki is a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. Says Ron: "I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just thought everyone started that way. I could sight read anything within a few years, and that helped me become a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could find and had some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played several jingle sessions (and have written a few along the way). I’ve “ghosted” for a few people who shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I get the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.

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