Guitarists: If Your FINGERS Are Like OCTOPUS Tentacles... Do This!

Guitarists: If Your FINGERS Are Like OCTOPUS Tentacles... Do This!

Tommaso Zillio

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flailing guitar fingers

I get the best YouTube comments:

“my fingers have a brain of their own. They are like Dr. Octopus’ tentacles (from Spiderman)”

(I confess I laughed a little bit too much at this. Oh well, life is stressful so I take my little joys wherever I can…)

(In related news, why tentacles is not pronounced like Empedocles? And why saxophone is not pronounced like Persephone? English is weird!)

But back on guitar… the thing is everybody’s fingers have a little brain of their own.

I mean, not literally have a brain - that would be creepy - but in the sense that none of us is born with perfect control of our fingers.

In a sense, our fingers are not made to play guitar. But with practice and a little care, we can (safely) misuse our fingers to play guitar.

So in this video, I show you my personal recipe for taking control of your fingers and making them do what YOU want:

In this video we cover also:

  • why learning licks does not help
  • why it’s better to practice a little every day
  • why you should be subscribed to this newsletter, and not only to my YT channel ;-)

P.S. If the content of this video is not enough for you and you need more in-depth help to make your fingers move the way you want, then I recommend my friend Mike Philippov’s course “Technique Cleanser”: https://practiceguitarnow.com/Cleanser. It’s not cheap - but it delivers. (Full disclosure: I bought it myself, full price. I am not paid a commission. It’s just a great course!)

P.P.S If instead you want to supercharge your fretboard knowledge, and learn to create your own licks, then have a look at the Master of the Modes guitar course that gives you complete mastery over scales and modes on guitar

Video transcription:

Hello, internet. So nice to see you. And it’s time to answer your questions.

I wasn’t sure where how to get this message to you. So I chose this video, I just wanted to say how fantastic that symposium was on January 21, 2022. I had about three hours of sleep the night before, and almost changed my mind when my alarm went off, quick pep talk, and I logged in early. I stayed for every minute. It was awesome. Thanks for being part of it.

And thank you for coming!

And if you guys are wondering, what is this all about? We had this Guitar Summit, it was an online event, free, we went on for nearly eight hours, I think, with different people presenting various guitar master classes and tricks and ideas, etc.

And we had a lot of fun.

And if you guys want to be in the loop for those events (there are going to be more) I do recommend going on my website and subscribing to the mailing list because some of them I do not announce them on YouTube. There are reasons for that.

But just go there, get on my mailing list, you’re sure you’re gonna get all the announcements for those events, and several of them are completely absolutely free.

So you can do them, no strings attached. Well, okay, the string attached to your guitar, sure… Terrible, terrible joke.

Okay, but you can go there, and you’re going to get all those announcements and not going to miss any single one of them.

My finger has its own brain. It’s moving like tentacles of Dr. Octopus.

Well, we are in the same boat.

When I was starting my hand had a brain of its own. Practically most people when they start have this, whether they realize it or not.

If anything, you’re in a good situation, because you do realize it. Several beginners don’t realize that their hands are doing whatever they want, and they cannot control them yet. It’s a good start.

Now, what do we do about that?

The idea is, whatever you’re playing chords scales, whatever, I want you to slow down and relax because we need to take back the control of your hands.

So how do you do it? Let’s say you want to play I don’t know, a little fragment of a scale. Okay, I’m gonna play maybe this part of the pentatonic.

Okay, not nothing super complex. But the idea is you are going to start to play slow. And I know it’s a pain to play things slow. And the idea is you play this and start playing this and at a certain point you just stop. Okay, so you just do this.

And you stop, freeze, don’t do anything, don’t take the hands away from the guitar just look at your hands and see where they are, see what they’re doing. Okay, see if they’re in a strange position if they’re in a safe position just to correct the position, and most likely going to find that your hands have a lot of tension in them.

So what do you do, you take your hands, and you relax, then you shake them. This is ridiculous what I’m doing right now in World vision on this YouTube channel, so everybody can take this clip and make funny videos about me. Okay, so just shake your hands and come back freeze again, make sure there is no tension, take the tension away. And you keep doing this way. You just simply play, freeze, observe what’s happening and relax.

You play again, freeze, observe what’s happening and come back again.

And what you’re doing here is that you’re giving your brain on occasion to reconnect with your hand every time you stop.

Now, when you do this kind of practice for the first 10 minutes, nothing happens. It looks like you’re doing something that has no effect, okay?

The second or third day, you’re gonna start to notice something magical, you’re gonna start that you are reconnecting with your hand you actually controlling your hand, okay? So again, nothing happens at the beginning. But then it happens, okay? And then you start to get this new awareness of your hand.

And then you don’t need to do this exercise anymore, okay? Or if you need it later in the future, you can still do it. But it’s not that you have to do this forever. Okay, you do this get control of your hand. And then you can keep going with whatever else you were doing.

And it’s totally worth doing this exercise. Even if it looks like you’re doing nothing because it helps you play whenever you want to play.

Practice is not the goal. And don’t forget to enjoy playing. Time is golden. Let’s not waste it.

Yes, exactly! This guy gets it.

It’s not, it has never been that we have to clear 10,000 hours or whatever milestone and all this kind of thing. It’s always been about enjoying the music.

So play your guitar, learn some music theory, write some new music, or play music written by other people, have fun, do what you like with the guitar.

And then if you need help doing what you like I’m here or you can find other people. The internet is big. Okay, you can find exactly the person you need that can teach you and help you do exactly whatever you want to do.

But forget about clearing 10,000 hours or all these kinds of things. Just have fun with your instrument. Otherwise, what’s the point? The whole point I’m playing this is because it’s fun. So let’s not forget this is fun.

Maestro, I love your lessons and approach. However, I cannot imagine anyone knowing hundreds of licks and not being able to use them. First, we can only play what we practice. Yes, no. Second, then if we learn to practice something, and it doesn’t fit into our style or taste, why would anyone continue? Everything we experiment with either fits us or we let it go. I bought books of licks, videos, or magazines and found one or two golden nuggets that I’ve incorporated into my style. And I know you might have too.

You know what, I was thinking exactly like you when I started. I was thinking, Because it works for me too in a sense, okay, “I can go, I can study a solo, I can take a few licks, I can steal the licks, okay. And then I can build a new solo for myself. And the more I do it, the more I learn.”

But I found that, to my surprise, for the vast majority of people this does not work.

If they learn a lick, then they just repeat the lick. And then it’s hard for them, to modify the leak to their own for their own solos and all this kind of thing.

So I think we need to attack the problem in several different ways. The first one is, let’s reduce the number of licks we learn. And let’s increase how well we learned those licks.

Because if you notice, several great players don’t know 1000s of licks, they know a few licks and a few tricks. But for every lick, they know, they know 1000 ways of playing that lick 1000 different ways of playing that licks.

So they really know those licks in depth.

And this skill that they use there. It’s not memory in the sense of learning licks, the skill they use there is they have this uncanny ability to create variations and variations and variations and variations over the simplest thing, okay, kinda like if you want in pop songs have all the same chord progression. But all the melodies are slightly different and so you can recognize them.

Great guitar players use a similar kind of skill, where they always play the same things, but always in a slightly different way. And I’m not saying this to diss antibody, I think it’s a great ability, okay, an ability worth to be studied, worth to be learned. Okay.

And so that’s why I don’t like books of licks because they show you one lick played in one way.

If somebody produced a book of licks where they show you one lick played in a 1000 ways, I would probably love that book, but I don’t think it exists.

Okay, what I do for my part is that I made a series of videos that are being published on this YouTube channel right now, on how to change licks on how to modify the licks. Sometimes we exchange a few notes, sometimes we change the timing, sometimes we change other things so that you can learn one lick and create several, several 1000s of variation of that lick. Okay, um, I think this is a better skill.

And when I try this with my students, I think that they play better if we train together this way, rather than just learning licks. Now, of course, some people can learn licks and naturally come up with a variation, great, you have these skills, then you can start the other skills, no problem.

But again, I think in this situation, it’s the minority of people that have this kind of skill naturally, and most people actually need to train it, okay.

And that’s why some people say, “I have no creativity” and it’s not true. You just need to train this specific skill. And you’ll see that you can be as creative as you want.

Yes, I’ve been practicing guitar exercises for about 10 minutes a day for the last four years of my playing has improved a lot. It’s true. Consistency is key.

I was talking with one of my students the other day, and he told me that he was practicing a specific scale for 10 minutes or days a day for five days, and they’ve seen a massive improvement.

And if you think about it, an investment of less than an hour, okay, 50 minutes, 10 minutes a day for five days, for a massive improvement.

He was telling me that his hands have been more relaxed and it’s still not perfect. It’s not perfectly in time, but the hands feel more relaxed, it’s much easier to play, and the speed is up is a little bit. The thing is: when you practice at the beginning, nothing seems to happen and this discourages most people.

But if you can just stick to it for a little bit and be consistent, you are going to see results. And you’re going to see results really fast.

Okay, if you’re not seeing results, you may not be practicing the right way. In this case, I will consider asking for help. Ask me, ask some other people.

A great person to ask for this is Mike Philippov at practiceguitarnow.com

It is quality time you spend with your instrument to get better at this. And that’s true for everything on the guitar is true for technique. It’s true for theory.

Some of the theory right now that you can see in this channel right now may look very abstract or complex to you. But if you are consistent in studying the basics of theory, you see that this is going to be easy in a very short amount of time.

And then you’re going to wonder as many other students have told me, you’re going to wonder what was difficult about this in the first place.

I’ll tell you what was difficult: It was unfamiliar, you were not used to thinking in that way. But then you learn this new way of thinking and everything becomes easy.

So yes, consistency is key. And you can learn literally whatever you want on this instrument and in music


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