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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

Ask Charlie...

Get Tight…

by Charlie LoachAugust 2023

Hello Troubadourians! A month or so ago I was feeling like my playing was getting repetitive and stale. Still good, but sometimes I just get bored listening to myself. When you play with other people in a band, it is important to be consistent in what you play. Whether playing a solo or supporting the rhythm and chords, you have to play what you rehearsed and rehearse what you’re going to play. Your bandmates expect nothing less. Or at least they shouldn’t expect anything less. And you should expect the same of them. That is the very definition of being “tight.” The consequence of this it twofold: it is easy to get bored with your playing, and it can be difficult to be as creative as you might want to be when given the opportunity to improvise.

When I’m learning or arranging a new song, I’ll work through it dozens of times, always listening to what I’m playing and taking note of what works best. The intent is to have a part that is of high quality and sounds inspired, but one that I can play even when under difficult circumstances or when I’m not inspired. Once I’ve worked out my part, I will play it as close to the same way as I can. It will “breathe” on occasion but never deviate far from what was worked out. This allows the part to have some freshness for each performance—your audience deserves no less—but is still playable no matter what else is going wrong… This is how professionals work. The downside is that we as creative musicians are likely to get bored with our playing. Just put yourself in the mind of a professional musician playing their hits well over a thousand times. Yet they have to deliver a performance in that moment seems like they are playing it for the first time. Believe it or not, there may be many people in any given audience that have never heard those songs before. If you aspire to be that good—and I hope you do—you will inevitably find yourself bored with what you are playing. So how do you get over that?

One thing that I do is to practice more. Just playing whatever comes into my head. Sometimes what I play is inspiring and new. I’ll work on these new things to commit them to memory so that I can use them again when the opportunity presents itself. It could be when working out a new song, or it could be when the band is playing one of the songs where we’ve deliberately put in an “anything can happen here” section and I get to do something different every time. But usually, what inspires me and gets me out of my boredom is to figure out a new song with a strong melody that is completely outside of what I might usually play. Or, it could be working on a song that seems to always be just out of reach of mastering. “Stardust,” I’ll catch up to you one day…

The latest inspiration to break me out of my boredom with my playing is Jeff Beck’s version of “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” Following Beck’s recent passing, the internet was filled with videos of him playing his hits—including this one—from many different performances over many years. Each one was unique, but you always knew what song it was, and all of the parts you’d expect to hear were played. There were also many videos of performances by famous guitarists playing his music in tribute to him. One particular video caught my attention. It was Gary Clark Jr. playing “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” with Eric Clapton. Something about that performance made me want to figure out that beautiful melody.

When I do this sort of deliberate practice, I’ll usually start with the original source recording. I’ll follow up with researching several transcriptions of the song to find some consensus on the key and the chord changes. Pro tip: knowing the changes usually informs the melody and keeps you from getting too far into the weeds. When I’m learning like this, I want to be as accurate as I’m capable of being so that the melody is what I’d expect to hear if I was listening as a member of the audience. This song is loaded with “Beck-isms,” those subtle things that he would play like nobody else. And without them, you can play the melody and be technically correct but still sound wrong. I’m fairly good at finding the essence of another player’s unique style and incorporating those things into my own playing, either when playing their music or adapting their style into a completely different song and style. There are things that Beck plays that are so idiosyncratic that you immediately know it’s him. And his songs don’t work if you don’t have at least some of these, but I have to admit that he does things that are counterintuitive to me.

I think this is why I decided to learn this particular song. Not only is it a brilliant melody but playing it while trying to be Beck-like with my phrasing definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. If you have become bored with your playing, trying to play like someone else is a good way to cleanse your palette and get you thinking in different ways. This process often takes weeks (or months) because the point isn’t to just learn a new song, but rather to learn more about how you play and how you can expand your approach to your playing. As I refine my approach to playing the melody and chords, I always keep with the idea of getting the most expression and emotion out of what I’m doing, and with the least effort. There is usually more than one position on the guitar to play something, so the idea is to learn all of them to find what each one sounds like. You may want to stay with one position or utilize more than one for subtle tone or phrasing variety. Beck was a master of this.

After working through the melody and chords for a while (see above), I’ll take what I’ve learned and I’ll be able to apply it to songs and situations that are completely different from the original source material. And of course, all of this study refreshes and improves my ideas when I’m improvising on songs I already know. And, I still know a cool new song…

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (

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