Today, I want to give you a little checklist that will help you with musicality.
It’s a five-point checklist to use whenever you play anything.
These are all important, but they build upon each other, so it’s key you work your way down from top to bottom with this checklist.
Here it is…
1 – Clarity
This goes without saying really, but it’s key to make this point.
If a note buzzes, sounds dead, or you strike the wrong string, then fix it ASAP.
It’s hard to sound musical if you neglect this step – no matter what you do.
Of course, it’s okay to push yourself and play challenging stuff, but remember most of the time…
Keep it simple, because if you play simple stuff well, you will make progress.
Most things can be simplified.
A capo can be used to make chords easier. You can always learn a simpler song or melody.
Just make sure that the clarity of every note that comes out of your guitar is an absolute priority.
2 – Smoothness
Once the notes are clear, it’s incredibly important to get the transitions between them as smooth as possible.
For instance, when you play a melody and move from one note to the next, you don’t want any awkward pauses.
The same goes for when you change chords or when you go to pluck a different string.
You need to avoid all of these musicality-destroying transitions as much as possible.
It’s not easy because every transition requires thought and precision.
In fact, one reason I like students to practise very slowly is so that they have enough time in their minds to start thinking ahead for the next transition.
When you rush, you simply don’t have this time.
Yet when you play super slowly, you can have one eye on the transition which will prepare you for it.
3 – Timing
Most students tend to be aware when their timing is off.
I mean, it’s really easy to speed up and slow down as you play and it’s definitely something you want to keep working on improving.
As is often the case with things like this, there are no easy answers, but using a metronome, of course, helps.
My personal favourite thing to do though, especially when playing songs, is foot tap.
I find foot tapping does similar work to the metronome but in a more human way and once you get it, it can really help your musicality and, therefore, your timing.
The foot tap keeps me in check without me sounding robotic when I play (no one wants to see C3PO play guitar – actually, I think we’d all love that!).
So, try using a metronome or doing some foot tapping each day as you play.
At first, keep it very simple and try it with the easiest thing you can play.
It might take a little time to notice the results (depending on exactly how you do it) but give it a go!
4 – Phrasing
This one is super important.
When playing a melody or riff-based song, you need to phrase it properly.
An example of this is a fingerstyle arrangement where we take the melody of a song and play it on guitar.
The problem is a lot of folks struggle to make this style sound musical.
One reason is that they do not play the phrases.
For example, read this:
Of course, that’s the first part of “Silent Night”.
I wrote it out like that because that’s how a lot of people play it.
I know I’m exaggerating a little, but you must break up the phrases so it’s more like this.
Silent Night…. Holy Night…. All is calm…. All is bright…
It takes a conscious bit of thought, but singing along as you play can really help.
Honestly, it’s a subtle one, but this makes a big difference.
5 – Dynamics
The final thing I’m going to talk about is dynamics.
Again, it’s subtle but to be musical, you 100% need to use dynamics.
Dynamics can be used everywhere.
For example, when strumming, one of the simplest ways to spice up a song is to strum parts of it louder and other parts softer.
You can strum the verse really softly and the chorus loudly.
You can even play certain strums within the strumming pattern louder or softer than others.
As for playing fingerstyle arrangements, the melody notes are nearly always the most important, but what about those extra little filler notes in the background?
Well, it’s wise to play these quietly, so they sit in the background a little.
This will add an almost 3-dimensional depth to your playing.
Often, people can’t put their finger on why a piece sounds so good and, in my experience, great dynamics is one of those reasons.
Okay, so there you go.
Of course, that’s not an extensive list of things that make up musicality, but those things cover a big part of it.
There’s one more thing that all guitarists need that’ll allow you to flourish with the above…
Good fundamental technique.
Without good technique, notes will buzz, transitions can be awkward, your timing will be “off”, the phrasing will be awkward, and the dynamics will probably be the last thing you think about.
I may do a video lesson with examples on this checklist at some point, as it’s so important.
For now, though, keep working on your technique.
If you want help with that in a quick, practical, and fun way, check out the Dan Thorpe Acoustic Academy.
All members get access to the In Focus course.
This is my primary course for improving all elements of your technique, which includes the “3ps of guitar playing”, fretting hand technique, picking hand technique, ear training, rhythm, and much more.
P.S. This post was originally taken from Dan Thorpe’s private email list. To get blog posts like this sent to you which are full of great tips to make fingerpicking, strumming, and learning guitar more enjoyable (especially if you are over 40) join Dan’s list. It’s 100% free, HERE.