Simplicity, along with eliminating clutter, is a theme that will be reoccurring throughout these blogs.
It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the incredible amount of information that is easily accessible in today’s society. Any song, concert, album, book, etc. is available to us with only a click of the mouse. You want to learn from Danny Gatton? Well, go to youtube and watch his lesson videos. This is incredible, and when I was younger, I would’ve given anything to have had access to the information (for free!) that is available to us today. But, this vast amount of material can lead to feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, and panic. We think that we have to know ALL of this in order to be a real musician.
Remember, Danny Gatton didn’t have the internet and youtube. He learned by picking his favorite things off of records, from other people, or any other means he had available, and playing it over and over until it became internalized. Instead of learning a billion licks, he started with one, played it until he was satisfied with it, and then mutated it, made it fit in many different contexts, and turned it into something that became his. This one lick spawned many different ideas. And then he did it again with another musical idea. Over time, he amassed a repertoire of musical ideas that was representative of him, and he knew how to use them masterfully.
Robben Ford, in this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEUgd5DTw0c) expresses this beautifully. He basically says learn a few things that you really love, and once you internalize them, start applying them. That is an important concept- application. Don’t learn a lick, chord, or idea and leave it at that. Learn how to use it in as many different applications as possible. Learn a blues lick, and then see how you can put it in a jazz or country tune. Take it apart; rearrange it, thereby making it your own. Each lick has an infinite amount of possibilities if you deconstruct it and reconstruct it. Combine it with other licks. If you learn a cool jazz chord, see how you can put it in a blues or rock tune. Again, Danny Gatton was a master of this. He never had categories for his music; any style of lick could be used in any other style of music. That’s what made him sound like himself. Stevie Ray Vaughn was another player who was great at making his repertoire of ideas fit in any situation.
Every great musician, from Charlie Parker to Jimi Hendrix, had their handful of musical ideas that they had mastered and could apply to whatever context they found themselves playing in. And if they are a true master, this never gets boring to listen to. Think of Albert King, who had that much copied “Albert King” lick- I never get tired of hearing him play it. To me, that represents Albert. Charlie Parker is similar, although his handful of musical tools is more sophisticated, with repeated listening you start to hear his “repeated” ideas, and it never gets old.
It is worth mentioning that these licks/ideas/concepts that you decide to learn and internalize should be stuff that you really like. Don’t choose things that you think you should know or that you think will impress people- choose things that really speak to you. That will be the most direct path towards self-expression.
Do not feel as though you need to compensate for your own, most likely, misperceived lack of ability by accumulating more info. This is a common mistake guitarist make when they are unhappy with their playing- “I’m not good enough- I need to learn more stuff!” Information, i.e. licks, scales, chords, songs, does not translate to comprehension, or in this case, internalization. Or even music. Accumulation of this sort leads to mental clutter and confusion. If you have already accumulated a large amount of material, it might be time to do some housecleaning. Think about the things you play and sort through them, asking which ones you really identify with, and which ones that may be just taking up space. Get rid of those cluttering ideas- they are always available later if you change your mind. Devote your energies to the important ones. Really master them, change them, deconstruct them, add notes, take away notes, play them in a different context. The possibilities are endless. Also, just find the enjoyment in playing things you love.
An important thing to remember is that you have your whole life ahead of you to learn guitar. There is no need to be in a hurry; the only thing being in a hurry does is take the fun away from whatever you are doing. More than anything, music is supposed to be fun.