What’s Your One Sentence, Guitarist?

One of many things that stuck out of Drive by Daniel Pink (a great book about business and motivation) was the bit about One Sentence.

In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress, offered some advice to President John F. Kennedy.  “A great man,” she told him, “is one sentence.”  Abraham Lincoln’s sentence was: “He preserved the union and freed the slaves.” Franklin Roosevelt’s was: “He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a world war.”

I got to be thinking about this in terms of great guitarists.  I think it applies here.  Let me take a few stabs:

Jimi Hendrix: He combined blues, psychedelia, and mysticism into a single most expressive fire that burned fast and bright.

Eric Clapton: He demonstrated how blues can achieve mass appeal by incorporating licks of Black Americans into songs White Englishmen can appreciate.

Jeff Beck: He knows more ways to get sounds out of an electric guitar than anyone else.

Eddie Van Halen: He epitomized the youthful decadence, indulgence and unabashed outpouring of creativity through his unrestrained gush of notes that revolutionized what tapping can do on an electric guitar.

Santana: He proved that Latin beats can marry rock guitar.

Ahem.  Mind you, those I made up really quickly and they are quite reaching…. but you get the point.  Great guitarists can be described in a single Twitter-sized sentence, because their playing had a focus.  They knew where their strength was, and pushed that aspect to extreme.

What’s my single sentence as a guitarist?  Hmmm. I don’t know, it still feels like a moving target….  I do have a few strengths (and countless weaknesses) but I feel like I’m still holding back, still afraid to let go of some conventional rock guitar ideals (like being able to play fast) which is distracting me from realizing my potential.  (I’m not saying I’ll be a guitar great, but I do feel that I have more potential.)

But I’m gonna give it a try: as of May 2011, this is my One Sentence as a guitarist:

Ari Koinuma: He knew how to sing with wide intervals on his electric guitar.

Wow!  Having written that, it surprises me.  Admittedly, it only focuses on me as a lead guitarist –I was thinking it may be about use of weird chords in my songs, but I suppose that applies more to Ari the Songwriter — but somehow that feels right.  A good friend of mine once pointed out how I sing with my guitar, that guitar is my voice, and that struck a chord with me.  (pan very intended)  And I’ve been drawn to incorporating triads and wider intervals, rather than step-wise motions, into my lead playing.   Going from one note to the next note in scale seems so expected, conventional, and boring.  When I skip a note, but still make it fit within the chords/harmony — that’s when it sounds fresh and interesting.

But that’s hard to pull off, too, because wide intervals can sound unnatural and mechanical, jagged and forced.  I’m practicing right-hand tapping, because I see the potential in how easily I can pull off big intervals, yet with smooth and pure tone. (String-skipping can sound so harsh — it just seems impossible for my pick to travel that far, that fast, and still produce smooth tone.  Maybe chicken-picking)  But I’m still in the elementary stage, where I’m just learning the basic mechanics of how to do it, rather than how to use it creatively.  Most lessons about tapping seem to focus on some fast arpeggios and yes, they tend to sound mechanical to my ears.  I am after a different feel — slow, melodic, smooth, expressive.  If I knew how to sing with wide intervals, I can really play something that’s perhaps uncommon.

Hmmm, this has been an interesting exercise.  I feel a renewed sense of purpose and focus — I can’t wait to pick up my guitar and see if my One Sentence really fits me.  I feel fired up to practice, which is a good thing!

What is your One Sentence as a guitarist?  Think about it, and let me know, by commenting below.

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