Ramblings on Improvising, Outside Playing, and Robert Fripp

Last night, I had a pretty significant breakthrough on guitar and I want to share my thoughts about it for no particular reason other than it was… well, a pretty significant breakthrough for me. Maybe it’ll be somehow useful for another person.

Basically, I finally took to heart Robert Fripp’s aphorism “Abandon concern for hitting the right note; then, hit the right note” and gave myself license to just improvise over a looped chord with no regard for which scale to use.

You’d think that after more than ten years of playing guitar I’d have started trusting my ear and instincts by now, but my method of improvising has pretty much always been characterized by the thought “okay, which set of notes is correct here (and can I play that set across the fretboard with some degree of fluency)?”

But I realized that, particularly for lead playing (and especially given the harmony that emerges from side-stepping and generally playing outside like some of the guitarists I like the most, Holdsworth in particular), the risk of playing “incorrect” notes is basically zero.

Given diatonic harmony, there are more “correct” notes than “incorrect” notes, so any given fret on any given string is better than 58% likely to be “correct”. Even if one plays an “incorrect” note, it’s either adding an unexpected color to the harmony of the moment (for example, giving a Lydian feel when playing over a major chord) or it’s providing some tension to make a “correct” note sound all the more consonant. And, in terms of getting from an “incorrect” note to a “correct” note, you’re never more than a half-step away (again, given a diatonic scale).

But the whole idea of “correct” notes is bound up in music theory and a fairly conservative application of it. What I just explained is mostly a limited justification for an attitude I hope I can continue to have about improvising.

To return to Fripp’s aphorism: “Abandon concern for hitting the right note; then, hit the right note.”

Intellectually, I need to have the “security blanket” of a music-theoretical foundation for a less structured approach to improvising (which is a bit paradoxical), but—once I have the guitar in my hands—knowing that I’m only a half-step away from a “correct” note gives me confidence to abandon concern for playing a “right” note and instead just play the right note. More importantly, I finally trust my ear and instincts and I’m not afraid to play outside of a prescribed scale.

Part of what’s so exciting about this is that I ultimately have a very liberal view of music, but my guitar playing has been relatively conservative for a long time. To quote Robert Fripp again, “The musician has three instruments: the hands, the head and the heart.” To use his terms, I’ve finally unblocked the boundaries between these three, and I expect it will allow me to make more honest, raw, and interesting music.

First Dereification song available for streaming and download

Today I published my first song on Bandcamp, under a name I’m going to use for most, if not all, of the instrumental music I see fit to sell: Dereification.

The project/band/artist name describes my philosophy towards instrumental music (and other things) pretty well.

Also, the name “Dereification” just sort of has a metal vibe to it, right? I mean, it’s not hard to imagine that hunk of jargon written illegibly in white across the front of a black t-shirt. Not that I have any (sincere) plans to design such a thing.

I was originally going to write and release a whole EP this summer, but I decided I prefer the idea of releasing singles, for a few reasons. First, recording was taking longer than expected and I was just getting anxious to get some music out there. Also, it’s not as though I’m working on a concept album. These are just arrangements of sounds over time, and—so far—I don’t have any grand concept linking them other than “I have this guitar here and these notes written down”.

So I plan on just releasing music as I finish it (or, more accurately, when I decide that it’s ridiculous to keep fiddling with the mix).

It’s been a while since I’ve tried to sell any of my work on the internet. However, you can stream this song for free, which I prefer to holding the song hostage behind a paywall. I really like the way Bandcamp works, especially with their pay-what-you-want pricing.

You can listen to the song for free and download the song for $1 or more. Any purchase at any price is hugely appreciated. I’ve invested a non-trivial amount of money into recording this (and future) music, and it would be nice if playing/writing/recording music wasn’t a total money sink.

I don’t like to pirate software. All of the software instruments used on the recording are properly licensed, and—while I didn’t spend a fortune on these things (I’m using EZDrummer and not Superior Drummer, for instance)—I did spend some money on this. And hey: changing strings on an Ibanez RG8 ain’t cheap.

Basically, if I can sell enough to at least subsidize my string replacements for future recordings, I’ll be happy. I mean, sure, those Strandberg guitars sure are fancy and expensive, but this isn’t how I make a living and I’m very happy with the guitar I have.

I’m very grateful for any and all support, which includes listening to the song for free. I appreciate your time and attention, and I’m looking forward to releasing more music for you to hear. I’ve got a few things at various stages of completion that should come out fairly soon. One track has the drums completely sequenced and rhythm guitar recorded, so all that needs to be added is a bass track and some lead guitar.

Today’s song, however, doesn’t have lead guitar. I toyed with the idea of putting a solo somewhere or perhaps even some different textures, but I just love this song as a groovy, riff-oriented track with a simple arrangement.

So here it is: “17 7 14”, available at Bandcamp now!