Lesson # 7

For McLaughlin, mastering guitar is a spiritual quest. Here are some of his musings:

Speed: It's all relative, really. If someone thinks I play fast, they should hear Coltrane. He rips up and down the horn, and the notes fall out like a cascade.

Technique: I'm never satisfied with what I have. There's always a terrific way to go. Technique should be a dynamically evolving state.

Fingering: It's probably the big key to unlocking technique; it is crucial. Sometimes I spend not just hours but days and weeks on

different fingerings, because I believe there is a right fingering for everything if you just take time out to discover it.

Scales: What is a chord, if not the notes of a scale hooked together? Scales will unlock the neck for you. Say you want to improvise over Gmaj7aug5, Eb,aug9b,5, and Bmaj7b,5. If you don't know what those chords are in terms of scales, you're lost.

Color tones: In every scale or mode there are king, queen, and prince notes—the notes of vivid strength and color. In the discreet and tasteful application of these, the possibilities and permutations are infinite.

Melody: There is really nothing but melody.

Harmony: No matter how complex the harmonic progression, there's a linear movement through it that can suggest all harmonic possibilities. Any chord can follow any chord in my book.

Imagination: If you have knowledge without imagination, you can't play anything.

True improvisation: To really improvise—to say something you feel at the moment—is the most difficult thing in the world. If you play what you know, then it's not real. To truly improvise requires you to not know anything, in a sense. The most beautiful thing is to play something for the first time in your life.

The guitar's limitations: Are you kidding? I don't know any instrument that's limited. Music is unlimited, and human imagination and spirit are unlimited.

Acoustic guitar: It has a quality that does not exist in any other instrument in the world. The acoustic guitar listens well.

Playing with Miles Davis: You never know what's going to happen, so there's always an edge of nervousness. That's the way he pulls things out of you. Miles has the capacity and ability to draw out of people things that even surprise the musicians themselves. Once he told me, "Play like you don't know how to play guitar."

Mastering odd meters: Write down random sets of chords, then play them rhythmically—6/8, 4/8, 3/8, 7/8, 5/8, 9/8, 11/8, 13/8, 21/8—anything you want. Record the changes. Play the sequences back and improvise through them. Eventually you find chinks in your knowledge, and then some light in the darkness.

Right-hand exercises: Start with the first string and slowly play four quarter-notes to the measure—all downstrokes. Next, while maintaining the same tempo, switch to alternate strokes and start progressing from eighths to triplets to sixteenths to sextuplets to thirty-seconds to thirty-second-note triplets to sixty-fourths and back down again.

Self-discovery: The moment you lose yourself in the music is the moment you begin to find yourself.

The joy of music If music doesn't carry deep emotions, what's it for? You find notes that are joyful to you, and you play them at a fast tempo, and people will get something from it.