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Intro/Correcting Mistakes Question
  • Hi all -

    I joined the forum a few months ago, but haven't had the opportunity to post until now.

    First, I'd like to say that I'm a big Jim Campilongo fan (of course). I've had the good luck to see shows in both NY and SF (Yoshi's - Dream Dictionary release), and fall short of a complete music collection by one Live at the Du Nord (although I do have a digital copy, so I guess that counts). The new Honeyfingers album has been in constant rotation as well - really love it!

    I'm also a huge fan of the lessons by mail offering (as well as Jim's Truefire course). Lately, I've been working through Awful Pretty and Bb Blues. The latter really has had a tremendous impact on my playing - working first through the basic triads, and then through the solo helped to simplify the concepts for me. I just purchased Arpeggios as Exercises as well, and looking forward to digging in there and seeing how that might augment what I've learned on the Bb lesson.

    I do have a question, and would love to hear any feedback people may have. To prep for a few "gigs," I pushed pretty hard last year to learn a decent repertoire of solo material, ranging from The Claw to Misty to Hideaway. I may have rushed myself, but I've found that, while I do have these songs memorized, I keep making mistakes when performing.

    Any advice on how to re-approach this material to re-learn problem spots? I've traditionally been more of an improviser, so learning songs note-for-note seems to be throwing me off a bit. Appreciate any feedback - really looking for better ways to practice!

    Anyway - thanks, and look forward to contributing more to this forum in the future.

  • Hi Doug,

    I'm pretty new to the forum, too. I'll make an introduction post one of these days!

    I've heard it said that everyone makes mistakes, but seasoned musicians recover so well that you don't notice theirs.
    Your audience isn't likely to fault you for a mistake here and there. A flawless performance isn't as important as a spirited one, in my opinion. That said, you might want to put in some extra hours woodshedding those parts where you make the most mistakes. This stuff takes time!
  • Hey - thanks, Bradley. Agree that woodshedding & time are a necessary part of the equation. I guess what I'm looking for is a better way to use that time.

    For example, is it more effective to learn really small parts of a song perfectly, and then move on? Typically, I try to memorize parts, but not necessarily perfect them, before proceeding. I recently tried a different tactic with Awful Pretty, simply because the lesson was broken out into sections. That seemed to make a difference, which made me think I could use practice time more effectively.
  • Yes, I would say break it down in every way you can think of. It's easy to learn a song by listening to it repeatedly until you subconsciously "know" it. The problem is that this can be slow and unreliable. Put the effort into consciously understanding what you're learning, and what you're asking your hands to do.

    I spent some time studying classical piano, which involved a lot of memorization. One thing we did was learn each hand separately, then put them together. On guitar you can practice the chords without the melody, or melody lines without the other strings.

    - work on singing the melody from memory
    - find problem sections, and practice them super slow with a metronome. This breaks habits of subconscious playing.
    - Consider the music theory in the piece. Song structure, chord functions, scale patterns, voice leading, whatever you can think of.

    Hope that's helpful! I was surprised to see how many people have posted their covers of Awful Pretty on YouTube. It's turning into a standard!
  • "...Any advice on how to re-approach this material to re-learn problem spots?..."

    All good suggestions here -and welcome to the forum!

    "... Typically, I try to memorize parts, but not necessarily perfect them, before proceeding...."

    That's what I do - but I try to get them "good", maybe not perfect.

    Doug- Try to scrutinize *why* it's a problem spot. Practice and isolate that challenge- if it's your picking hand, isolate and practice that many times, even if it's with open strings. If it's a chord movement- play that isolated movement repeatedly and look for ways to make it easier. Can you retain a finger on a common string from one chord to another? Would it be successfully strategic to barre the entire fingerboard to anticipate the next chord? etc. etc. And to reiterate what Bradley said - play the piece slowly with a metronome.

    I might be digressing here... But while on tour last year, I walked by an open mic in a bar and I heard a guy, about my age - singing "Bye Bye, Miss American Pie". Besides never wanting to hear that song again for the rest of my life -I felt kind of sad. Of course I'm assuming a lot and it takes gumption to play anything in public - and maybe playing that tune made that guy happy? Maybe the audience too? But hearing him play a song- a song he's been possibly singing for 40 years helped me. It reinforced the rewards of taking chances and growing as a musician - and what can happen if one doesn't take significant chances.

    Anyway- I am grateful that I have gigs that I use a workshop - I don't really "know" a piece until I've nervously played it in public. After a few times, something happens in my brain - and I'm able to play it at my full potential. Playing a song for the first time in public, feels like a "first date" ha ha... Clumsy, a little awkward. So don't be too hard on yourself - always take chances. It's a brave and positive thing to play demanding new material- and no matter what happens, pat yourself on the back for trying to grow.

  • Those last 2 paragraphs are pure gold, Jim. Thanks!
  • Thanks very much for the thoughtful feedback - I sincerely appreciate it. Some really good suggestions here that I'll definitely use.

    Bradley - I think you're dead on with looking at the theory behind what I'm playing. It's something I haven't focused on in the past, and I'm finding that helps a lot vs. rote memorization.

    Jim, thanks very much for the insights. It's really great to hear your perspective, and gives me confidence that I can get to the point I'm hoping for. Lately, I've been playing solo at Ronald McDonald House, where my wife volunteers - it's been a personal goal to get out and perform in public. Easy "crowd" to play for, but definitely feel more pressure playing alone.

    One more thing - I am incredibly excited to start playing Awful Pretty. I love the song, but learning it has opened a whole new door for me: I've been as focused on learning the backing tracking as the melody/solo, and I've learned to love the looper. Can't wait to start incorporating that into additional songs (Chet Song/Main Street Breakdown coming soon...).

    Anyway - thanks again. Really appreciate the feedback, and excited to be on the forum.
  • Besides being prepared and putting into practice all the good advice given so far, I find I really need to focus. I know it sounds obvious and it is given as advice across the board all the time. But I had a serious problem with my mind drifting off during performance. Sometimes because of nerves and sometimes because of who knows what.

    I had to go through a period where I needed to block out everything except the song I was playing. That song became my whole universe. When I trained myself to focus I started making much fewer mistakes and could connect with the audience much better. I'm still working on it and it doesn't come easy for me, because my minds wanders all the time, not just with music.
  • One thing to add on the subject of memorisation vs mistakes is to avoid making mistakes in the first place. Once they appear, chances are you start reinforcing the mistakes by further practice, requiring you to unlearn something before progress can be made. My suggestion is to initially skip the tempo until your fingers recognize the pattern and to play it so slow that you never ever play it wrong in the first place. This is how I wish I learned to play in the first place, but of course, no one ever does.
  • Jim's comment is illuminating and insightful. I'll just add a wee bit that comports with many of the other comments so far. Jim said: "Practice and isolate that challenge." I used to play in a big band sax section and if the horns had to do a non-improvised soli, I would often have to practice by doing what Jim said, but also finding the connections between the phrases where the challenges were and the preceding and following phrases. That is, if I had to work on a two or four bar phrase (say), I would practice that, but once I had it down (close enough for jazz, as it were), I would then go to the preceding phrase and make sure that I had the transition into the difficult phrase right, so that it felt integrated. I then did the same thing for the following phrase. That helped me make the music flow. But, I must admit that I find it constantly challenging to do that on guitar.
  • I've actually been reading up on this topic - mentally/psychologically, what is the most efficient path to learn something. The goal is to make my limited practice time as efficient as possible.

    One exercise that I've found beneficial involves playing a section very slowly x times, and then fast once. The goal is to keep decreasing x until you're alternating slow/fast, and eventually you have it. That's been surprisingly effective, and not something I'd really thought of in the past although may have done subconsciously.

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