Zen and the Art of Guitar: Up and coming guitar ninjas discuss their craft

Marcus Robinson laying it down.

I spoke with several talented local guitarists about their passion. Each player interviewed has a unique and evolved approach to the instrument. The interviews shed a fascinating light on guitar artistry. Guitarists interviewed were Kyle Paulk of funkateers Soul Funktion, Adam McCray of jam rockers Fillmore’s Ladder, Neil Carmichael of prog pyros Escherbach, Marcus Robinson of the red hot neo fusion band Gun Metal Black, and Justin Ross of jazzy tunesmiths Half Pint Jones.

What does it mean to be a good guitarist?

Kyle: “I don’t want to see the guy who is school taught and can play every trick, I like the guys who go for it and rip it right out of their gut. I am not interested in scales or practicing patterns, I am interested in stuff with a raw human feel, where every time you hear someone you know its them. I work on my sound and try to sound like me”.

Neil: “A good guitar player is aware of space and time and the moods of the other players. Know where to put the notes to make them effective. Time stretches depending on what you play. Phrasing and tone are also critical…Try to convey emotion”.

Marcus: “Players need to be self-expressed. I’ll take a guy who knows one scale but somehow slips into the music and reveals himself. Chops are secondary”.

Justin: “Guitar players should learn not just from guitar players but also from trumpet players, sax players, and other instruments”.

What mistakes do you see inexperienced players make?

Adam: “Hurrying”.

Kyle: “A lot know the notes but they don’t have feel”.

Marcus: “Too many want to sound like somebody else. Eric Clapton became Eric Clapton after he stopped trying to be Robert Johnson”.

What is the most important thing you have learned as a guitar player?

Justin: “How much I have yet to figure out. Play within your abilities at the moment. You have to be flexible. You have to learn all the rules but ultimately you learn there are exceptions to them”.

Neil: “Don’t overplay. Some guitarists can play really fast but are not able to convey emotion”.

Kyle: “I gave up practicing tricks. I try to play stuff with the least amount of notes.

Adam: I used to not know how to tune myself before I played. Now I like to grab time to myself and meditate. I’ve outgrown a lot of the party aspects. I am more centered now. The party aspect comes in the music”.

Marcus: “Music is about life. You don’t have to have it all made pretty and wrapped perfect, but it has to be real. That’s the way I play and the way I try to live life”.

Is there anything you have learned not to do as a guitarist?

Kyle: “Don’t play too loud. Its offensive”.

Justin: “Don’t overplay, sometimes silence is just as important as the next note you’re gonna play. Lots of people, including pros, get caught up in trying to play faster but not necessarily in trying to make better music. What separates BB King from 1000’s of other guitarists is that he found his voice”.

Marcus: “You gotta work on your chops but once its time to perform you gotta leave that behind and be in the music”.

Adam: “I learned to not put my head in the turtle shell. Play loud and unapologetically with no fear. Even if you mess up you may gain some respect, it’s like throwing the first punch in a jail cell”.

Do you have a philosophy of the instrument?

Marcus: “Treat it like a lover”.

Justin: “If you think you have it figured out then you aren’t looking hard enough. Keep looking, stay hungry, and stay curious”.

What is your philosophy of music?

Neil: “I like switching keys and modes and chord voiceings, and taking all those ideas and placing them in time and space in ways that are interesting and unique”.

Marcus: “Music is inherent in the universe. The creation myth is God spoke, so music created the whole universe. As I play I am trying to find that primordial sound in me, and reenter that original creation space and find what is there inside me”.

Do you have an approach to playing with other people?

Justin: “Listen, it’s the most important thing. Don’t step on anyone’s toes”.

Marcus: “It requires a real ability to let people into your heart and sacred musical space and you do that through listening. I want to feel what they are feeling through the music, resonate with it, and then have a dialog about it”.

Adam: “What I want is a meaningful connection with the people I am playing music with. Try and “out-honest” your friends, and they will be honest with you”.

Kyle: “We play funk and it requires a lot of feel and tightness. Really I’m a part of the sum of the whole. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re too loud and playing over the top of the band it’s gonna suck”.

Neil: “We aim for a cohesive energy and sound. Its not a competition, you don’t want to be on top of the music but right inside of it”.

Is there any advice you have for beginning guitarists?

Marcus: “Play what you love and make up as much new stuff as you can”.

Justin: “Find the styles that move you, study the masters, and develop your own unique voice. Stick with it until you get over the learning curve. Don’t stress out, and take your time. Practice patterns until you don’t think about it anymore”.

Kyle: “Band experience is a must. Also don’t pigeonhole yourself into liking one thing. Don’t block out good music you havn’t heard because you think your thing is all that matters. The more you get into the more you realize there is so much more to get into. The more you learn the more you realize you need to learn”.

Neil: “Practice, practice, practice. Put down the guitar hero and pick up the guitar”.

Adam: “The more time you spend doing nothing with the guitar the more you may actually learn to use it. Everything you do should have a guitar with it”.

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