Not everything is tone.
Heresy, I know. But wait! Everything can, and does, contribute to tone. And sound. We are wholistic people. So if you want the overall artistic sound that you are putting out of your amp, instrument, or voice to sound good and grab people’s hearts, sometimes it’s time to stop rearranging pedal orders and trying to decide which solder sounds best, and live.
1) Listen to Music Outside of Your Sphere
And I mean really listen. Especially to music that has nothing to do with your current style of playing, or your current instrument of choice. Music is meant to arrest the heart, and fill it with longings of beautiful things, thoughtful things, things we may not want to confront but should, and even things for which we were created and may have forgotten. And for musicians, we can sometimes lose that in the very effort of trying to learn how to create it better. We get caught up in the technicality and miss the beauty. I know for myself, a big part of that is that it is difficult to not listen to what they guitar is doing; because I play it, it interests me, and I’m constantly trying to get better. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. But sometimes I miss the entirety of the music, and hence cease to find any new inspiration, but only find new technicalities.
So what I like to do is listen to music without guitars, and music that I have no outlet to create. That will be different for everyone, but for me, it’s most often classical music and Celtic music. These styles, although usually done without my instrument of choice, fill my soul and mind with inspiration. So that when I go to play guitar, I’m not trying to create any techniques that I have heard within those styles of music, but rather the feelings they produced in me. In essence, I’m playing the feeling, not the music.
Now, you do need to listen to guitar music of course, to continue to get better and get new ideas technically. But, just for a bit, try divulging from that every once in a while. Listen to music that inspires you emotionally that is completely outside your normal listening sphere, and then, next time you play a note, or a riff, or write a song, try to play that feeling.
2) Do Something Physical
I don’t mean become a gym rat necessarily. But it’s amazing how pushing yourself physically opens up your mind. On the days that I work out, my mind is so much clearer. And, this is true, I can literally see the notes in my head better while I’m playing guitar. It sounds odd, but not when you think about it this way. Which do you think will inspire your playing that evening more: sitting on the couch all day eating cheese puffs and watching Vin Diesel drive fast again, or taking a jog? Playing World of Warcraft or pruning trees? It’s a little zen, I admit, but it actually works. Physical activity focuses your mind. I’m serious…try it just for one time, and see if the notes on your guitar don’t jump out at you more clearly.
Just take some time. Especially before a worship service. Pray, okay ya, but also just take a moment. We tend to pray so much and get together for prayer circles, and then the band, who’s been borderline coarsely joking with each other all afternoon or all morning, suddenly gets all spiritual and says phrases like, ‘in this place’ and ‘as we come together’ and ‘go forth in our midst’. And then everyone gives that Christian prayer moan thing. ‘Mmmmm.’ Ya, I know I do it too. haha And that’s all well and good, but maybe take some time to stop, and think about God. In a real way. Just shut up (in a really nice way), remember that He created you, then you didn’t think that was enough, and then He died for you. And then be quiet, let that sink in, and maybe He’ll say something to you. And maybe not. But that’s not the point. Psalm 46 says to ‘be still and know that He is God.’ It doesn’t give any promises of what will happen afterwards. Maybe God won’t speak to you as you’re still. But you did it, and that’s what He tells you to do. And I say this as much to myself as to anyone. It makes a huge difference.
4) Eat Right
Again, with the wholistic thing. Just like your germanium fuzz pedal doesn’t like to be fed 4 volts on reverse polarity, your body also reacts when you feed it things on which it was never meant to run. And then we wonder why we can’t think clearly. And I know…I know, I know…that if you were to have told me that 3 years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face. Or thought you were trying to sell me the latest version of that same pyramid scheme magic juice people have been saying will heal all your troubles for the last 20 years. But honestly, at least for me, eating things my body needs and can actually run on, has helped my playing tremendously.
5) These Things:
Why have I not heard or thought of this before? That’s a rubber washer from Home Depot. Fits any guitar, no modification, can use any strap, interchange different straps, no clicking like normal strap locks, zero installation, and .98 cents. Okay, you need two of them, so $1.96. I guarantee that having strap locks for that cheap will inspire you so much that you can just pretty much forget about the previous other four points. hehehe
But in all seriousness, life is not tone. But a life lived well, will translate into every aspect of that life, including your artistic expression, music, sound, and tone. This is a journey I’ve been on for about three years now, and is coming more into focus daily. It’s a passion, and as I think it’s important, but don’t want to subject all musicians reading this blog to it, I’m going to be posting about life, simplicity, and cleansing, on my wife’s blog: Gluten-Free Wife. So, if you’re interested in increasing your tone, hehehe, by eating nuts and seeds, go there. If you’re interested in increasing your tone by watching lots of U2 videos, stay here. Or, as I’m gonna do, you can do both.
And, of course and as always, feel free to disagree. Especially on the other blog, because I know there’s a lot of people who do. But this is what works for me, and as usual, I for some reason decide to spew it out online. Hope it helps you, amuses you, angers you, or makes you like Coldplay. All of the above is cool, too.
Tone. Life. Cheap strap locks. Yes.