The A.V. Club

Hey Willis, I was wondering if you always play what you hear because it’s realiy difficult when you have to play like a fast standard like Moment’s Notice or something. The Chords change so fast it’s difficult to maintain your cool and to play what you hear when it changes all the time. Do you have any tips for me ? stuff you did or solo’s i should transcribe to make melodic lines, to get it into my system so after a while i will start hearing more and faster.
Greetings from Belgium !

Hey Raphel,
Greetings from sunny Spain. I suppose the good news is that playing what I hear is only about half of what happens (for me). The other half is visual (geometric). If I maintain this audio/visual approach without distractions then I can focus on my ideas. I suppose the bad news is that it takes a lot of work to integrate all the elements that make up the visual part: fingerboard geometry, the geometry of harmony – what the neck looks like when chords and keys change – and finally, what the next idea I want to play looks like. Sometimes I really don’t know exactly what I’m about to play will sound like but relying on the geometry keeps the ideas flowing. Sometimes I can hear exactly what I want to play next but my fingers often don’t find it until the last millisecond.
The bad news is that to distill all of the work that goes into internalizing all these visual/geometry elements as well as associating your vocabulary and imagination with these elements as well – doesn’t translate to any kind of condensed “tip” that I can pass along.
I suppose the best place to start is take 2 different chords (Bbmi7 and Gbmi7 for example) – 2 bars each. A simple bossa nova groove will do. Isolate a part of the neck – say from the 12th to the 17th fret. Now start with a 2 or 3 note idea – observing its geometry. Then observe the geometry necessary to adapt that idea to the next chord. You’ll probably notice that sometimes you hear the answer but can’t find it – stop and find it. Sometimes you’ll find yourself gravitating to the correct notes of an idea without hearing it in advance. These are the first steps that I would recommend to start creating and editing your own vocabulary. Eventually you’ll start seeing “more and faster” as well as hearing “more and faster”.

  • Nico

    So, you don’t think in scales and all that?
    I like this kind of approaches but is hard to me imagine to play “in-harmony” nice songs with a lot of changes like in bossa nova or some jazz nice tunes without sounding an “out-sider”, I don’t play much of these music I’m more weird stuff player but I heard you playing in old Tribal Tech songs sounding so nice and I can’t imagine how to get this freedom in this kind of music that seams to me very strict sometimes… the only way I can get close to that is when I sing what I play but not always work…
    Hugs/Abrazo! 😉

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