So…back again to the old dilemma.
Do I have to learn licks or make them on the spot?
I just want to be myself… I don’t want to sound like anybody else… sounds familiar?
Well, I was there, years ago in my late teens, when my guitar teacher wanted me to transcribe Wes Montgomery’s solos and learn them by heart. I just wanted to sound fresh, original…
I just wanted to be myself. And learning somebody else’s guitar solos felt like repressing my creative instinct.
Guess what… I still want to be free from having to keep in mind licks. But I can’t help remembering them while I play… confused? You should be. You see…
…a great deal of what you do today is the result of what you learned in the past… consciously and unconsciously…
The words that you use, the gestures you make when you speak, and yes… the music you play when you solo on the guitar come from what you learned in the past.
Your brain acquired that information and internalized it. Filtered and reorganized it. This information is stored in your long-term memory and accessed every time it is needed to carry out a task that requires it.
So, when you are soloing, you are using all the information you have stored in your brain until that moment. However, the output will be filtered once again by your neurology and will also be the result of the adaptation to a specific context (a song with different chord changes for example, where you need to transpose the original key of your licks).
In other words, you’ll be playing original solos using the patterns that you studied. Voila’!
This seems quite easy to understand logically. It is a COMPLETELY different story when it comes to performing.
Have you ever been in a situation when in the middle of a solo you start thinking: “Maybe I should play a fast lick now”, or: “this is too simple…I should play something more complex…” And while you are busy saying that, you realize that you just lost the song form or your creative train of thought.
So how do you let the music come out and use your memory to your advantage?
I thought you’d never ask…
sit down and breathe deeply 4 or 5 times. Then from that state, play whatever note feels right, with no timing, following no harmonic setting. Just do this for 5 minutes. Don’t worry if it sounds terrible…
In fact, your goal should be sounding bad… as bad as you can… just let go of any judgment and let your fingers move as if they were 4 little mice on the fretboard. And whenever you catch yourself thinking, stop… just stop playing.
Then, as soon the 5 minutes have past, stop, get up and do something else. Do this every time you practice soloing, especially after you have been practicing within specific restrictions.
Very soon you’ll be able to find this state of mind while you are playing your solos and you’ll find that you are capable of playing with more “taste” and creativity than you can possibly think of.
Just leave worry and fear of being judged out of of the picture. Enjoy your music… have fun.