Feel? If we were to break it down, what is it? Can you develop feel?
Some develop feel at a young age. Others don’t have that natural tendency and have to consciously work on it. I think one of the biggest indicators are those that learn songs by ear tend to hear all the things that make up feel. Those that learn by tab or sheet music don’t have the same exposure to “feel” as those that hear the “feel” along with learning the song. Here are 3 things to focus on to develop your feel.
This is probably the biggest. The ability to hear, interpret and play off rhythms. The ability to play “straight 8ths” vs “swung 8ths”. Developing a good sense of time will greatly improve your feel just by helping you place your notes in correct spots.
Probably the hardest thing to do is play slow. Most want to “shred”, which is understandable after a Van Halen or Malmsteem record or two, but what helps your timing and your sense of time is playing slow. Set a metronome to 60bpm, 50bpm, 40bpm, 30bpm and try playing a scale, arpeggio or try strumming along. You’ll find the slower you get the harder it is to hear where the beat is. Don’t worry, with practice it gets easier. This is how you develop timing.
How to practice – Work through a song, exercise or strum pattern at as slow as you can. Metronomes are your friend!
As a string player we have an incredible tool which makes our guitar that much more powerful and expressive… bending. Take the time to have the ability to control the bend. The most important aspects of bending are:
– being in tune
– how fast you bend
– vibrato (vibrato right away, vibrato after hitting the note, no vibrato at all)
– being able to use all your fingers.
Being in tune is huge. A majority of bends are a whole step away (2 frets). Sometimes they can be a half step away (1 fret). Other times they can be a 3 or even 4 frets away (eek!). Hit a note, grab your tuner and start bending. Say the 8th fret on the 2nd string. When you strike it it’ll be a G note. If you bend it a half step, your bend note should be as close to a G#/Ab as you can. Whole step will be an A note. Check your tuning and take your time.
Some bends can be quick. Others can be slow. Once you have a good grasp on being in tune try testing how fast/slow you can bend until you reach your targeted note.
It’s tempting to always throw a bunch of vibrato as soon as we bend. The ability to control whether you vibrato or not vibrato, how fast or slow you vibrato and even how quickly you let your vibrato seep into your bend are all crucial aspecst of developing feel.
Trickiest of them all… feel doesn’t have finger restrictions. Try bending with all of your fingers… even your first finger! Also try adding all the things previously mentioned (being in tune, how fast you bend and vibrato) to all of your fingers.
How to practice – Take 3 frets on different areas of the fretboard (5th fret, 10th fret, 17th fret for example) and try bending that fret up a whole step and a half step on the first three strings (High E, B & G strings) with all of your fingers.
Video Lessons – Bending & Vibrato
Dynamics are basically the fluctuation of volume throughout your playing. Sometimes the band, song or backing tracks have built in dynamics. It gets quiet, you play quiet. Maybe it’s loud… cue, play loud! Having good feel is a little more complex when it comes to dynamics, each note has it’s own attack. You want your phrases to have the same amount of dynamic fluctuation as a whole song. A thing I try to stress is to over emphasize the volume you’re looking for. If you’re trying to play quiet, play really quiet. If you’re trying to play loud, play really loud.
How to practice – In scale exercises or other finger technique builders focus as much on playing a group of strings (2-4), each individual string, every 2 notes or even every note as a single dynamic level. Constantly moving from over emphasizing quiet, medium volume and over emphasizing loud.
Developing feel doesn’t come over night. Start taking time out of your practice schedule to work on it. These aren’t the only things that make up feel, but these will certainly get you a step closer to having your feel be rock solid.