Help me shred with confidence.
January 22, 2014 3:04 PM   Subscribe

New musical opportunities have arisen and I need to find my confidence when playing lead guitar. What are the top tips for playing with a confident and casual attitude? Should I be taking note of any lead guitar players in particular for inspiration? A collection of snowflakes inside.

I have been playing the guitar for 5 years and I love it. I have been told that I have a real talent for rhythm guitar playing and I must admit that I do feel at my most comfortable when I'm setting a pace. I have played rhythm guitar in a few bands and, more recently, I have delved into the world of playing in the house band for musical theatre productions in my local area.

After recent success in a production of Grease, I have been asked to take on a more prominent role within the house band. My only problem is that I am a very shy lead guitarist. I believe I have all the ability of a good lead guitar player but the thought of demonstrating that in front of others makes me nervous.

Quite a lot of guitar players that I'm friendly with tell me that they found inspiration from a particular guitarist while they were still learning. I have never had an inspirational guitarist to look up to before and maybe that is what I'm lacking. I've been listening to a lot of Haim recently and their lead guitarist, Danielle, is certainly an example of what I want to be able to do on stage. Her stage presence and attitude are fantastic and, as a fellow female, she makes me feel like it's not impossible to achieve my goal somehow. See here and here for examples. She is the closest thing to an inspiration that I have.

My questions are these -

1. Are there any top tips for boosting playing confidence? Lead guitar playing is especially important.


2. Are there any lead guitarists that I should be looking to for inspiration? Any genre and/or playing styles are welcome.

All suggestions are much appreciated.
posted by sapien to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What a fun question. A few thoughts.

-Get a guitar sound that you really love. That should help your confidence quite a lot.

-An old chestnut from jazz education is, if you play a mistake, play it again. Then people will think it was just a weird idea!

-When you practice, have a defined block of time where you just play, just go, don't worry about if it is right, wrong, sounds good or bad. Actually some people do that ALL the time...

-Here is an inspirational idea that Victor Wooten likes to give his master classes. In Western music, there are 12 notes. Usually a song is in a tonal key, say the key of A. The A major scale has 7 notes. So, even if you blindly put your finger down, you have a better than 50% chance of landing on a "correct" note. And if you don't? There are notes from the scale next to the "wrong" note you played, one fret away, on both sides. Listeners can tolerate almost anything, if it resolves to something that sounds normal.

-A lot of famous musicians are scared shitless before they go on, even after many years. It's not a thing that should stop you, if you have a problem with that. Just throw up backstage if you need to, and then go forth and rock. If you look confident, people will take that away.
posted by thelonius at 3:25 PM on January 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

Confidence: practice, practice, practice. I'll repeat what's been told to me a million times...real confidence comes from doing it.

Seconding Victor Wooten as inspiration - read "The Music Lesson"

Which reminds me, don't limit yourself to loking for inspiration only from guitarists. Wheather it's Miles Davis on trumpet, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Neil Peart on drums or Ella Fitzgerald scatting, inspiration is everywhere!
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 4:11 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are there any lead guitarists that I should be looking to for inspiration? Any genre and/or playing styles are welcome.

There are so many great guitar players.

Mick Ronson is seminal for the sort of rock stuff you linked, I'd say.
Probably one of the most exciting musicians I have ever seen live was Shawn Lane.
posted by thelonius at 4:28 PM on January 22, 2014

Record yourself daily. And listen very closely to what you have played. You'll find stuff in there that you don't like - and you'll practice like crazy to fix that.

Step 1 - Record
Step 2 - Listen critically and practice to fix your mistakes.
Step 3 - Repeat.

The goal is to have a clear understanding of what you are able to do. The stuff you already do well? Play that kind of thing live. The stuff you don't do well? Practice the hell out of it until you can play it well.

I do this with the memo record function on my smartphone. It doesn't have to be studio quality. You just need to be able to listen outside of your own head. The more you do this the better you'll get. I promise.
posted by nathanfhtagn at 4:36 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a drummer so I don't know if this applies to many other instruments, but it should: play things as slowly as possible and as quietly as possible. Set a metronome to some annoyingly slow tempo and try to practice playing at just barely audible levels. I've found that if I'm confident playing something slowly and quietly, loud and fast and anywhere in between is no problem at all.
posted by ltisz at 5:42 PM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you need casual confidence to do this? What if your particular swagger is that you refuse to face the audience? That you make piercing eye contact with somebody this song should be about?
What if you show up on stage naked, or in a wedding dress? What if you blow kisses or bubbles?
posted by jander03 at 7:00 PM on January 22, 2014

For inspiration, check out Marnie Stern. She shreds.
posted by outfielder at 7:07 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Learn very simple blues-rock solos note for note. I know they are cheesy, but Clapton and Hendrix solos are what Haim and Marnie Stern are reacting against, so understand the simple pentatonic scale structure first before trying to be "angular". Listen to those solos, try to play those solos. Then just quote em, throw in some minor key notes, and you're shredding too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:42 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been learning some guitar myself (I am a bass player), and I'm finding it's better to go right to the source for the blues. So, older players like T-Bone Walker, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Albert King etc, who were the guys that blues/rock guys came up on. For one thing, you listen to people who sound like they are playing as if their life depends on it, not the kind of cheesy, oh, this is just a blues, here's something from my bag of blues licks feel, which that kind of music kind of decayed into over the decades. Also, the ideas are often simple and very clearly stated.
posted by thelonius at 10:11 PM on January 22, 2014

John McLaughlin
posted by ergomatic at 11:15 PM on January 22, 2014

Have you got a way of practising lead guitar by yourself? I can really empathise with your question - I find it a lot more comfortable to play rhythm compared to lead. However, something I've realised recently is (at least partially) this is down to the fact that I can play a chord progression over and over in my bedroom until I get it sounding 'right'. I never really used to do this with lead pieces, and I'd very rarely play them with backing, which meant I never really thought about how they fitted in to the piece as a whole. Fairly recently though, I got a loop pedal. I wasn't really intending to use it as a practise aid, but now I can lay down some chords, try over and over again to get a riff or a solo sounding good with them, and then hit record and listen to it. It's been really useful.

Could you do something similar, even if it's just finding some sample tracks on youtube and trying to come up with a riff that goes over the top, and then playing it until you've got the tone down. I reckon it's a lot easier to have swagger and stage presence if you've done something a thousand times before and you can be sure it will come off right.
posted by Ned G at 3:17 AM on January 23, 2014

Best answer: Are there any lead guitarists that I should be looking to for inspiration?

How about:

Ruyter Suys from Nashville Pussy (warning: video possibly NSFW due to language.)

Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney.

Bonnie Raitt

Susan Tedeschi

We had a recent AskMe (This rock chick needs more rock chicks to listen to) that was aimed more at finding women singers, but lots of the answers suggested bands and/or people who are also instrumentalists.

On a more general note, there was another recent AskMe (How do you dance like nobody's watching?) where quite a few people talked about the process of learning to be more comfortable performing in public.

And of course tons of guitar players over the years have cribbed from Pete Townshend of The Who.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:07 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Think about what basic sort of style appeals to you first. Overdriven and "hell yeah" loud like in the Haim clip (cool clip - not what their album is like at all!)? Slinky and twangy like country/roots stuff (or even the Band, or Dire Straits' first two albums)? Show-offy and fast like a lot of metal? Melodic but off-the-cuff and messy like Stephen Malkmus? Bluesy? Straight to the point like maybe the Breeders?

You don't have to pigeonhole yourself, but some types of playing favor minimalism and ideas over virtuosity and will let you get your point across without needing to have 10 years under your belt. Speaking of which, try to have a point to your playing. If you are good at humming or improvising melodies, make one in your head while some chord changes or a song is playing, then try to pick it out on the guitar. Don't overplay - you can walk into any guitar shop and probably find a guy working there who can play stuff that George Harrison couldn't have played technically, but also that he probably wouldn't have *wanted* to play and with good reason. Just say something with it.

I started off with blues (the scales are very prevalent in rock music, and a simple blues progression will let you try lots of things out) and did a lot of jamming (not in front of an audience!!) and wanted to stretch out, but after a stint in an alt-country band I realized that I could say pretty much anything I wanted musically in eight bars or less. As Archer would say, "PHRASING!!" Don't just go up and down scales till you get tired (unless you like extended solos, in which case go for it). Usually only other guitarists care about those though, so frankly I'd try to speak to the rest of the people in the crowd instead of the 3 guitarists standing there critiquing you.

Jeez, I have lots of thoughts on this. Other stuff:

* lead and rhythm playing don't have to be separate things. Hendrix for example had a really fluid style that intermingled chords and little riffs throughout the song.
* Some of the most effective lead playing is the little flourishes in between lyrics, or right near a change, rhater than a big solo. I was in a band where I was the lead guitarist but I used to say I was the "frosting guitarist". The rhythm player was pretty much defining the song so I just had to add a nice design on top, not big globs of frosting goo.
* Compose some solos. Put the guitar down and listen to the song, and plot out something in your head. Then play it. This will make your playing memorable to people and give you a fallback live if you are tired or sick and still have to come up with something.

As far as confidence, you need to spend a lot of time playing with no one else around. Not just sitting around your bedroom, but somewhere like a practice space where you can crank it up, move around, make faces in a mirror, whatever. Then surround yourself with musicians who make you feel good about your playing and who you trust to carry you if you screw up. Then take it out in public. I would describe myself as fairly shy and nerdy/introverted, but I got to the point where I was able to play lead in front of a packed club of 700 people without being all that nervous. People want you to succeed and are very forgiving of small mistakes or even big ones like restarting songs. Just plug ahead and don't worry about it ...
posted by freecellwizard at 11:20 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

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