How do I forget everything I’ve learned and just play?

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I’ve been doing weekly guitar lessons for the past couple of years, and my ability has improved a ton. I can play things that seemed impossible a while back. Theory-wise, I know my way around the guitar pretty well — arpeggios, inversions, jazzy 9th chords, and about a zillion ways to play a major scale. 

But I often find myself with a guitar in my hands, but I’m almost frozen by the theory. I’m not one of those people who thinks that knowledge gets in the way of self-expression. That’s obvious bullshit, and the only people I ever hear spouting it are guitar players. 

But I would like to be able to let go and just groove. Do you folks have any tricks to get the learnin’ out of your heads and just play? Sometimes I get it, but then I start getting theoretical ideas in my pretty little head.
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 17806
    edited June 8
    Go deeper into the theory and deeper into your playing.

    It just takes time, because although you've been doing it for a couple of years that isn't long enough for it to become automatic.
    It will come, just keep working on it.

    Try not to push too hard though- option paralysis often happens when people are trying too hard to play outside their comfort zone.

    Also look at how effective your practice time is.
    It could be that you are doing a lot of unstructured playing, which doesn't push you further up the tree as structured, targeted practice, designed to achieve specific goals does.
    I am the juice of four limes.
    Trading Feedback
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  • blobbblobb Frets: 817
    Mushrooms.

    ...but seriously get a trio, train it with any old chord combo and jam along. Before you do that, train your ears by listening to lots of music.
    Feelin' Reelin' & Squeelin'
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  • smigeonsmigeon Frets: 74
    edited June 8
    I second @blobb's advice of listening to a lot of music. But also, a good external groove helps me a lot. When I can't play with other people, I use the "Drumgenius" app on my phone (played loud through my speakers): it's based on real drum samples as opposed to MIDI and has lots of really 'human' grooves. This morning I choose a 12/8 gospel sample and played Georgia On My Mind for about an hour. I started out unable to avoid all the cliches I usually come out with when I play that tune, but after a while, new stuff was coming out. Recommended!
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    My practice time is quite structured. I do a bunch of pure exercises, then I work on whatever song I’m learning with my teacher. Plus some extras, like going back over older songs to polish them (I swear I’ll play Lenny through note-for-note one day :) )

    I’m quite well disciplined, is what I’m trying to say.

    It’s good to hear that more work will get me there. Wax on, wax off, and all that. 

    I tried a Trio but I didn’t get on with it, mostly because it a) made a high pitched whine, and b) I play with my amp up and guitar volume down, and the Trio never heard the guitar properly. 
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    smigeon said:
    I second @blobb's advice of listening to a lot of music. But also, a good external groove helps me a lot. When I can't play with other people, I use the "Drumgenius" app on my phone (played loud through my speakers): it's based on real drum samples as opposed to MIDI and has lots of really 'human' grooves. This morning I choose a 12/8 gospel sample and played Georgia On My Mind for about an hour. I started out unable to avoid all the cliches I usually come out with when I play that tune, but after a while, new stuff was coming out. Recommended!
    That sounds like just the ticket. I just realized I also judge what I’m playing as I play it. Not in a self-hating way, but more to see if I’m being “creative enough.” Which is ridiculous, there you go. I figure a nice long groove with a good drum track might be a good use of an hour or two. 
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  • poopotpoopot Frets: 1071
    @mistercharlie  try a few backing tracks from somewhere like http://www.karaoke-version.co.uk/ alternatively there will be guitarless tracks all over YouTube...
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  • blobbblobb Frets: 817
    also, record everything you do and listen back to it.
    Feelin' Reelin' & Squeelin'
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  • blobbblobb Frets: 817

    I tried a Trio but I didn’t get on with it, mostly because it a) made a high pitched whine, and b) I play with my amp up and guitar volume down, and the Trio never heard the guitar properly. 
    well...that's a big shame. In my view the #1 creativity development tool.
    Feelin' Reelin' & Squeelin'
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 1806
    My practice time is quite structured. I do a bunch of pure exercises, then I work on whatever song I’m learning with my teacher. Plus some extras, like going back over older songs to polish them (I swear I’ll play Lenny through note-for-note one day :) )
    Your most creative time is immediately you pick up your guitar, and before you start channeling your thoughts and fingers into exercises and whatever you’re learning. So start with the free practice, whether experimenting over backing tracks, or just noodling.

    You can also try playing along with whatever is on the television or radio. This gets you listening to what’s going on, and playing what sounds right. It’s also likely that what’s playing won’t be your choice of music, which is a challenge in itself.
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    Roland said:
    My practice time is quite structured. I do a bunch of pure exercises, then I work on whatever song I’m learning with my teacher. Plus some extras, like going back over older songs to polish them (I swear I’ll play Lenny through note-for-note one day :) )
    Your most creative time is immediately you pick up your guitar, and before you start channeling your thoughts and fingers into exercises and whatever you’re learning. So start with the free practice, whether experimenting over backing tracks, or just noodling.

    You can also try playing along with whatever is on the television or radio. This gets you listening to what’s going on, and playing what sounds right. It’s also likely that what’s playing won’t be your choice of music, which is a challenge in itself.

    I’ve always got my exercises out of the way first, like eating your veggies before your pudding. You’re right though, I do feel drained afterwards. I’ll try that today! And I do sometimes play along to the radio, but usually as an exercise to find the key and then play along before the next song. The key part is easy though — pop music is mostly in C, and anything from the 80s with a sax solo is in Eb.
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  • soma1975soma1975 Frets: 329
    I've been buying a bunch of this guy's backing tracks and playing along. I think he's ace. No affiliation, just stumbled across him.

    https://nowyoushred.bandcamp.com/music
    My Trade Feedback Thread is here

    Been uploading old tracks I recorded ages ago and hopefully some new noodles here.
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    soma1975 said:
    I've been buying a bunch of this guy's backing tracks and playing along. I think he's ace. No affiliation, just stumbled across him.

    https://nowyoushred.bandcamp.com/music
    Cheers! I’ll check that right now. 
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  • soma1975soma1975 Frets: 329
    The Allman and Floyd-inspired tracks are great.
    My Trade Feedback Thread is here

    Been uploading old tracks I recorded ages ago and hopefully some new noodles here.
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  • SCMIVSCMIV Frets: 14
    in a way that's connected to what Roland's saying, just take your guitar, sit on the sofa, and play (i.e. noodle) while watching TV (helps if it's something compelling). Spend at least some of your time outside of practice doing this. 

    It's the best thing you can do. If what I'm saying sounds over-simplistic, think about the process and consider this - you are dividing your attention, playing without focus and minimising brain processes that are getting in the way of playing without filter. Anything you've learned that's automatic at this point will surface. I don't think adding any more structure to how you're going about structured practice will help, it's just giving you something else to think about when what you need to do is stop thinking.
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    SCMIV said:
    in a way that's connected to what Roland's saying, just take your guitar, sit on the sofa, and play (i.e. noodle) while watching TV (helps if it's something compelling). Spend at least some of your time outside of practice doing this. 

    It's the best thing you can do. If what I'm saying sounds over-simplistic, think about the process and consider this - you are dividing your attention, playing without focus and minimising brain processes that are getting in the way of playing without filter. Anything you've learned that's automatic at this point will surface. I don't think adding any more structure to how you're going about structured practice will help, it's just giving you something else to think about when what you need to do is stop thinking.
    Sanctioned noodling! Excellent. That’s a great idea. I don’t watch much TV, but I’m sure there must be something else. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so maybe that would work. 
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  • vizviz Frets: 4766
    edited June 20
    SCMIV said:
    in a way that's connected to what Roland's saying, just take your guitar, sit on the sofa, and play (i.e. noodle) while watching TV (helps if it's something compelling). Spend at least some of your time outside of practice doing this. 

    It's the best thing you can do. If what I'm saying sounds over-simplistic, think about the process and consider this - you are dividing your attention, playing without focus and minimising brain processes that are getting in the way of playing without filter. Anything you've learned that's automatic at this point will surface. I don't think adding any more structure to how you're going about structured practice will help, it's just giving you something else to think about when what you need to do is stop thinking.
    Sanctioned noodling! Excellent. That’s a great idea. I don’t watch much TV, but I’m sure there must be something else. I listen to a lot of podcasts, so maybe that would work. 
    I’d suggest putting on a record, something like Hotel California which is richly harmonic and melodic and just lose yourself in it. But don’t forget everything you’ve learned - use everything you’ve learned!
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  • mr-macmr-mac Frets: 187
    Keep it up... You'll find as experience increase and your catalogue of stuff you can play and know how it sounds/where it is on fretboard increase you'll be able to just play what you hear in your head.  

    if not got a friend to jam with get a pile of backing tracks of different styles and so on for songs you haven't learned.  Play along to them without learning song or how it should sound and just make up what you think sounds ok.  Its great Practising using your ear and trying to produce something you like.  The more you improvise like this the better you'll get.  Then at some point you'll find you will just play what your head feels is right and it will sound great.
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  • ModellistaModellista Frets: 725
    I’ve always got my exercises out of the way first, like eating your veggies before your pudding. 

    Urgh.  That sounds awful.  It's as if you're sick of being a technician and doing your homework, and just want to make some music.  Good!

    Music theory and actual music are not the same thing at all.  Your loads of major scales are of no use unless one makes a tune out of them.  What songs have you learned?  What parts of tunes that you love can you play?  Have you worked out a tune for yourself by listening to it?  Scales are a means to an end, not a means in themselves.  I would say play the tune and then learn the scale from that, rather than vice versa.

    From the tone of your question you're sick of theory and "work", so ditch the exercises for a bit.  As has been said above, choose a favourite song, put on a backing track, get a Trio or a looper, and make some music.  Record it if you like, although use something easy like a phone which doesn't need excessive fiddling with to get recording otherwise you'll lose the mojo.

    And come to an FB jam session!


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  • BigMonkaBigMonka Frets: 1506
    I know how you feel @mistercharlie as it's something that I struggle with too. I find it hard to come up with a chord progression or melody that isn't boring and major-scale-based.

    A couple of things which I've found do help:
    1) Try coming up with melodies and harmonies in your head (or singing) and then find them on guitar. If you're used to just playing notes from scale positions on the guitar then it can stifle creativity as you end up thinking "why would I play a note that's not in this scale when these ones are known to go together perfectly". forcing your fingers to wander out of the scale shapes you've learnt is harder than singing something out of the scale.
    2) Look at modes as a way of "spicing up" major and minor scales. Although this is more music theory it can help to break you free from some of the sounds that you think a major scale should sound like.

    Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman, in which case always be Batman.
    My boss told me "dress for the job you want, not the job you have"... now I'm sat in a disciplinary meeting dressed as Batman.
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  • mistercharliemistercharlie Frets: 320
    An update on this thread. I’ve taken a mixed approach. I bought another Trio+, and this time around I love it. It’s really quite an inspirational tool. Easy to get playing, and then I lose hours.

    I’ve been taking the music theory and using it as a jumping-off point. For instance, I’ll lay down a few chords on the Trio, then play arpeggios over each chord. Before long, I find a groove, but I’m also — technically, anyway — practicing. Then, a twist of a knob on the Trio and I’m off somewhere else.

    A few song ideas have already come out of this, including one very 80’s-sounding power-ballad. Thanks for the advice, all. It’s really helping.
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  • mburekengemburekenge Frets: 510
    So nice to read that. Wicked! Enjoy the trio. 
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