Over the last month or so, I've been practicing scales. Sitting with a metronome and running up and down different modes of a scale might sound boring (and it can be), but ten to twenty minutes at a shot is bearable and builds a solid base for the future.
Besides, I'm not crazy. I'd change it up: I'd make up little games like one finger on the left hand, jumping all over the fretboard- up the scale at this position, down the scale at another, cross over on the 2nd string. Always on the beat. I'd ramp the tempo up and down. Switch from 8th notes to 16th notes. Hammer hard on a transition that was hard. Work on it until I got it and then switch to a different mode and work in its hard transitions. Do three note step runs, five note step runs. Run a bar at 16th notes and then pause and ping for a few notes before digging back in. With some imagination (and a wee bit of gin) you can make up new games to entertain you for a while.
Playing with a metronome is good, but a drum machine is even better. It helps you count the beat and you can focus on hitting the note with the snare, adding accents and character to the note rather than just hitting it on time. Muffle, pinch harmnonic, clean, soft, hard. And playing clean through your amp reveals the misses that an overdriven sound can hide.
Regardless, when warmed up I'm capable of working the metronome with plucked 16th notes at a tempo of 90 beats per minute which, when you do the math, is six notes a second. Kind of a milestone. I'm no shredder, but that, to me, is pretty darn good for actuallly picking each note, not just hammering on and off through a scale run.
Its the kind of foundation that will let me, in a real playing situation, pull myself up to the tempo of the band and surprise myself with a clean run.
Which brings me to the insight and the payoff. I came across this simple lesson earlier today and it made perfect sense.
I couldn't wait to experiment though I had to (work, errands, dinner). My month of ramping up had left me with nothing if not an ability to take a snippet of a scale and consider it a lick. I've played along with blues songs before, and even felt decent about staying close to the boundaries of the pentatonic in the appropriate key, and the notes I would play would be harmonic- sometimes even emotional- and I could go up the neck and play them here, and I could go down the neck and play them there. But heck, I sounded like a computer program. Play up the scale. Now do it fast. Go down to another mode slowly. Play scale notes. Do it fast then slow.
But tonight, with the insight, it was different. I was able to take a small piece of the scale and center around it, repeat it and change it, reach out to another note on either side, come back; play the same thing up a string and come back, trill around with different emotions, play part of it. Repeat! Hold a note for a long time and make it talk again.
HOLY COW! THIS PO-BOY HAS THE BLUES!
No, I didn't record it.
Suddenly I knew which pickup I wanted because I was trying to get an emotion through. I knew that I needed to crank down the tone knob on the bridge but keep some saturation. I was a boogie-woogie monster. I'd throw it on the neck and clean. I knew my place in the twelve bars. I'd throw in a minor chord along with the rhythm and hen jump back into a solo. I'd go a few beats without even playing a note just to add to the feeling of what I was doing. I got lost in it and was giving Tab Benoit a little bit to handle- certainly not on the skill side, but man, can't anyone deny we were feedin' off each other. As much as an mp3 can feed of someone, that is.
Bottom line, I was feelin'it. Breakthrough.
Oh, and that Hamer Stellar is Stellar.