Session Guitar: Play!

Hi, gang! This week, I'm going to get a bit deep. I'm going to speak of music and life.

Music and life follow parallel paths. When you were young, you played. There was no thought process to speak of. If you wanted to dance, you danced. If you wanted to build a fort, you built a fort. Your imagination had no limitations. Your heart had no limitations. Feelings were expressed freely and without reservation. It was an instantaneous world we lived in.

Then you grew a bit older and went to school. You were taught important things like reading and writing. You were introduced to the sciences and mathematics and such. And you were taught one more thing: to behave. Sit in your seat, speak when spoken to, stand in line. You learned self-control. You were also taught about imagination and creativity in the arts.

But you were studying rather than applying, mostly. You looked and listened to great works of art, music and culture. Maybe eventually you went on to study music. But the other things you learned had already taken their toll. You learned disciplines like scales and rhythms and theory and rules. And you were taught that THAT was music.

On a certain level it is. But on a deeper level it is absolutely not. Just because a person puts four legs under a square piece of wood, can we call that a chair? Yes. But the craftsmanship is not there. The creativity, the imagination is not there. May as well pull up a rock to sit on.

Same thing with music. Scales and theory are a necessary evil to learn how to be crafty on the guitar. Work on them and practice until you can't practice anymore. Work till you know it cold. Sacrifice. Put in the sweat equity.

But at some point, as in life, the rules must be set aside! It may mean quitting your safe job. It may mean hiking across the country. It may mean buying that guitar instead of putting the money into savings. Being irrational may be the most rational thing you can do for your art and yourself!

There's a story about the great-late bassist Jaco Pastorius. He had a wife and baby, or maybe she was pregnant at the time. He had $600 in the bank. What did he do? He bought an amp with the money instead of playing it safe. The reason? No one would know how good he was if he wasn't able to be heard. Most would either get a job. Or use the money for food. Not Jaco.

Anyone who knew him may use a lot of words to describe him, but rational might not be one of them. But what a beautiful soul. And what beautiful music he made! (I also heard the money was earned and replaced in a week.)

You cannot break rules you do not know. You cannot forget something you have not learned. And you cannot be brave unless you are scared!

So where am I going with this? You have to learn, study, work, integrate and associate before you can truly create music. Because once you get it inside you, you do not have to think about it anymore -- because music is part of you and you are part of it!

It's all there, but you must become as a child when you truly want to create music. Be uninhibited by rules! Play the music from inside instead of being influenced by the outside! Make it your own. This is where STYLE comes from. This is where YOU will be heard. YOUR VOICE. YOUR SOUND. YOUR TONE.

Sorry, gear snobs and manufacturers and all the money spent on ads to convince us otherwise, but I know damn well that tone comes more from the person than the amp and the guitar! Or the mic. Or the fucking cable! Proof? Listen to Eddie Van Halen. He's using totally different gear today than years ago, but he's still Eddie to me. Listen to Allan Holdsworth. New guitars and gear. Still Allan. Get it?

Once you learn to forget all you have learned, then, and only then, will you find success. In the studio. On stage. Or playing for yourself. You will have become once again like a child. Carefree. The rules are gone. It's just music. You are playing. The music is flowing from you. Through you.

Think about this and we'll talk again soon.

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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