How do people cultivate "the feel" of playing guitar - going beyond the mechanics to reach a higher level of skill?

Wow, Darrell! That’s amazing! I aspire to reach the point where I’m competent to spend most of my time improvising. I think it’s phenomenal that you’ve discovered that this is the way to keep yourself engaged and excited.

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Stacy, you raise a point that I’ve wondered about, too. How sustainable is this feeling? Is it like the cartoon character who runs off the cliff and hovers in the air until he realizes it, then falls? Is it destined to end as soon as we “make a mistake,” or can we be aware of it, respond to it somehow (maybe embellish to make it look intentional?), and continue to hover? In other words, do we need to be “successful” in some way to exist in that space, or can we visit there without expectations?

Having only had the briefest glimpses of it, I honestly have no idea.

Silvia, this is beautiful:

For what it’s worth, I agree with you completely. I think we are absolutely expressing ourselves by playing music, and to do that we have to be fully, intensely present with ourselves. This is very much consistent with how I heard Justin’s message in the Mindful Listening For Guitar Players lesson.

Not to promote my Live Clubs but for me the feel was “being able to express myself musically, even if it isn’t my own original song”. Making songs your own by grabbing CONTROL. takign them apart, buildign them up again and knowing how and why

I “learned” to do it…sorry…I DISCOVERED how to do that by combining working on fundations like rhythms, chord changes, some basic theory and keeping time with a good layer of experimentaton.

The experimental path for me was into a fingerpicking/strum mix with a lot of embellishments and decorations. I added those things after I learned a bit of singing and playing together. For others it is bluesy leads or something else.

Try some different things and be brave; do some wacky stuff with them and see what works. For me that was “finding other chords while strumming a simple chord by moving a finger somewhere else”. This experiment brought me to what is a large chunk of my “style”.
This is where I found my feel.

First you need to be IN CONTROL. If that means a slow, basic version of a song; start there first. Than build upon that in a way YOU have control and keep control. Don’t be a slave of some sheet music or tab you try to copy.


I’ll let you know if it ever happens! :joy:

I remain very mechanical in my playing, always having to think about what’s next. I suspect it will always be thus for me.

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Lots of interesting replies here :slight_smile: After giving the question a bit more thought and seeing that others also experiment with their playing, I think I also might have tapped into this “feel” thing already.

My focus is not on deadly strict practice routines but on trying to transcribe existing melodies and chords (which I find more difficult) by ear, memorize them as much as possible, and then playing along with original recordings and add my own improvised part if I’m inspired enough. A sort of vague ambition I’ve had is to approach the guitar like a trumpet or a saxophone as I like a fair bit of jazz. Of course, the guitar never sounds exactly like a trumpet or a saxophone and my technique isn’t good enough for jumping between octaves in the blink of an eye and remain in the key of the song, but it’s an interesting motivation to keep trying things.

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You’ve all given me some new perspectives that I didn’t necessarily see coming.

@markr31, I believe it’s accessible to you; you may just have to find a personalized path that gets you there. If I got anything out of this thread, it’s that we’re all unique, so we’re likely to have slightly (or even radically) different ways of reaching that place of “flow” or whatever it is. Then there’s the likelihood that what “it” is is different for each of us, too.

@Jozsef: Yes! I’m glad to see that you searched and found examples that have worked for you.

@LievenDV, thank you. That is an amazing point of view that I couldn’t possibly have considered since I’m nowhere close to having the tools to experience it. Still, what you described has inspired me to broaden my long-range goals.

A couple of things that I think are common to most of what’s been said is that feeling freedom/control is important to our sense of creativity and enjoyment. Freedom and control can be seen as very similar or quite different - as in: When you’re in control, you have the freedom to do exactly what you want; OR it’s only when you “let go” of trying control can you really feel free. I think proficiency has a lot to do with which way we experience that dichotomy. It’s nearly impossible for beginners to control their playing the way Lieven describes, so stepping outside the practice regimen and just feeling and hearing is the more accessible option.

But I also think expectations play a significant role. If we constrain our playing to “how it’s supposed to sound” at all times, then we limit ourselves to a very small space within which we’re able to enjoy our experience. If we can unlearn what we’ve been conditioned to produce, we might discover something we didn’t know we could do or that we didn’t know we liked. I’ve found this more than once when I’ve put a finger on the wrong string or fret and said, “Oh! That’s not bad!” Then I’ll try a few other “wrong” places, too.

I think often about how, when we were children, we’d find physical objects that made sounds that captivated us - glasses, lids of cans, rubber bands, coins, and so on. We’d hit them, drop them, pluck them repeatedly, observing how the sound would change when we did it one way versus another. Adults around us would become irritated and tell us to stop, but for those few minutes, we were completely immersed in the exploration of sounds we could produce with these “instruments” (or the instrument of our mind, @BurnsRhythm). I can’t help thinking that this openness of a child’s mind to uninhibited hearing, feeling, experimenting is a priceless piece of how to gain a better intuition for playing guitar and enjoying the experience.

Thank you all for contributing to this discussion. You’ve unquestionably expanded my perspective in ways that I’ll try to incorporate into my practice.