I occasionally give guitar lessons, and certainly I talk to people at various stages of ‘guitarmanship’. My younger brothers both play guitar, as does my father, my uncle, 3 of my cousins, and probably some others I’m forgetting. Of these, I think I’m the only person who even *tries* to play *solos* note-for-note – meaning I try to capture every note and nuance of an improvised solo and completely recreate it.
There’s some value to doing this, like learning the little tricks of various guitarists that help define their signature sound. However, at some point, there comes a time when, having now learned each note, you have to make it your own. I was asked a long time ago to define that phrase, and it’s only recently that I figured out a reasonable answer to what I think is actually a pretty good question.
The answer starts with looking at what’s so beautiful about improvisational guitar in the first place: accidents. Guitarists spend hours every day, for years, to make the guitar an extension of their soul – to make the guitar their muse. It becomes something they can pour themselves into. What results in a lot of cases is something akin to the birth of a love child: something that you absolutely love, represents a split second in time that will never exist again, is something you can replace, redo, or take back, and is completely unintentional. Accidents, in music, can be the most beautiful things you could ever hope for.
When all of the accidents fall out in just the right sequence, you get things like Eric Clapton’s stunning performance on the live take of Crossroads, or Hendrix’s “Killing Floor” at the Monterey Pop Festival. Unforgettable.
Learning things note-for-note is great – but at some point, you have to morph things and let your beautiful accidents fall into the piece. You have to give yourself permission to create your own beautiful accidents. Most importantly, to push your own limits of creativity, you must prepare to be completely off-base.
Learning note-for-note is done for education. Making it your own is done *from* *inspiration*. It is done, quite largely, by accident.
….May all your accidents be beautiful.