Saturday, January 28, 2006

Zero tolerance for silence

No, this not a post about Metheny's album, but about the need to include silence as a very important part of each composition. Like poems need line breaks, or computer source code needs comments to make the code more readable, music needs silence, short (or not so) periods of time where one can think about what he's listening and understand the meaning of each musical phrase. But many musicians, specially guitarists, try to fill every single second with notes and forget the need to "stop" for a while when they improvise.

I once read that sax players have a physical way of "disconnecting" themselves from the instrument and stop playing, simply removing the sax from their mouth or simply opening the latter (I myself do this, and I think it is good also to adapt the embochure and change it a bit from time to time), but such a mechanism is not so obvious when playing guitar. Some people suggest moving your hands away from the guitar, but I just suggest doing the opposite: when you are about to finish a phrase, mute the strings putting your right hand over the strings or grab the neck with your left one (you can even do it with both of them for a more radical stop). That will not only give you the chance to start a new phrase, but also will let you listen to the background music and place yourself within it. Feel the guitar, touch it for a while, caress it, and then resume playing. Your solos will get more interesting. For sure.

Paradoxically, incorporating silences makes you phrases sound much more fluid, adding a nice contrast and avoiding horizontal "linearity". For a good example of this, listen to John Scofield. A big part of his incredible groove is due to his magnificent use of silences and empty bars. In a different style, Blackmore's flashy phrases from his Deep Purple times also display a great commandment of silence.

So, with respects to the great Metheny, don't be zero tolerant for silence. (By the way, I find the title of this album to be brilliant, not like the music it contains,...although Metheny is among my favorite players)

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