Jazz Guitar Thoughts by Chris Standring

How To Move People With Your Music

I have never been more interested in musical phrasing than I am now. Perhaps it is because I have recently been hearing young technically astounding players with chops up the yin yang and I am not satisfied. Why? I have been asking myself. And I think the answer is that, to me, it appears they are not 'in the music', they are simply showing off their astounding technique. "Look what I can do!" in other words. This is not the way of the peaceful warrior.

I am quite convinced it takes a good amount of experience to get past the playing. We HAVE to get past the playing in order to say anything of real substance. It is not about chops or those amazing altered lines that we can play over dominant chords. These are the pursuits of the music college student. Which by the way, is perfectly ok and valid. But if one wants to really make a statement musically, and really say something of substance, it has to be about the music, not the musician.

And this does not go for just guitar players. It goes for all artists with any instrument, any field for that matter.

If you want to impress another guitarist who is learning, go ahead, rip through some changes and show them stuff they can't do. But if you want to grab the attention of someone who knows nothing about your instrument, then you have another challenge on your hands, because someone who is impartial to your instrument wants to be moved, not impressed.

Let me put this in no uncertain terms; we need to intrigue the listener, not impress them. We are not performing monkeys, we are artists and until we understand this basic rule, we are simply not artists.

Now, this may seem tough but I want to suggest that I am talking on the highest level here. Everyone needs to go through school, practice with Jamey Abersold records, play through changes, get repertoire together. But there comes a time when we have an audience to play to. And many musicians simply don't understand why they do not communicate.

An audience wants to be moved by the music. They do not need to know what you went through to get to this place. They simply want to be moved. And the way you move them is to make a pure musical statement based on the song you are playing, not based on your immense vocabulary that you might have amassed.

And when you come to not only realize this, but think about these things in a live playing situation, then you will become a great artist.

So how do we get there?

There is a great quote from MIles Davis, who was talking to John Coltrane. Trane asked Miles Davis's advice on how to end a solo because Trane was having difficulty finding a place to end. Miles answered in his raspy whisper, "Take the horn out of your mouth."

Space is the place - Take the horn out of your mouth!

And here lies complete genius. Miles knew, for he thought about this for many years.

Space indeed IS the answer. Phrasing is the key. I have an assignment for you. Play a solo over a song you like to play. Play a phrase to start off your improvisation. Simply play a short phrase, maybe two or three bars, then end that phrase. Instead of picking up another phrase immediately after, I challenge you to wait at least two extra bars before you play again. This indeed will be a challenge because leaving that much space would be akin to us feeling like our audience believes we have nothing to say. We are used to making ourselves fill in the spaces because we feel we need to be saying something. But one thing that is important to realize, the audience does not hear it this way.

And I challenge you to record many solos this way. Whilst you are playing, you may be uncomfortable with this, but when you hear it back you will hear yourself in an entirely different way. Don't forget, where there is space in your solos, there is music, because the band is still grooving, hopefully making you sound good.

One little drawback with the guitar is that we don't need to physically breathe. Unlike a saxophone we can technically play endless phrases without a breath. The piano is the same. But we need to breathe. Music needs to breathe. When the music breathes, so can the audience, and when the audience can breathe, you have them in the palm of your hand!

Don't be afraid to take the horn out of your mouth, if it's good enough for Miles, I believe it is good enough for us.

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Read all about the great jazz guitarists here:

Bill Frisell Charlie Christian Django Reinhardt George Benson George Van Eps Grant Green Jim Hall John Mclaughlin Joe Pass John Scofield Kenny Burrell Larry Carlton Lee Ritenour Pat Martino Pat Metheny Tal Farlow Wes Montgomery