Keeping up your chops
I’d like to welcome all the Insane Guitar readers to my new column. I am a guitarist that plays my own signature brand of instrumental rock guitar music. I have several CD’s out and my music sells and gets airplay all over the world. It has also been used on MTV’s Real World reality show. In 2006 I won Best Male Guitarist at the “All Access Magazine Music Awards. I am endorsed by 38 different music equipment manufactures and I regularly play clinics and trade shows for them as well as get featured in their ad campaigns. In the winter of 2008 Tregan Guitars will start shipping the Ronny North signature guitar. My columns will talk about stuff I encounter being a professional guitar player.
Now let’s dive into my first column. Playing instrumental music and fronting my own band I always have to have my chops up. As with all players I always don’t have time to practice and sometimes my chops suffer. Since it’s my band I always have to take care of the business end of things with my band and when I have to deal with my sponsors. This unfortunately takes up lots of time. The irony is that I’m a guitarist in the music business that more often than not gets stuck handling all the business stuff and not getting to actually play my guitar to practice so I can make music.
This I’m sure is a common problem with everyday players who work day jobs and then come home and practice or play gigs at night. To be honest I have really never liked practicing by myself and it’s sometime hard to get motivated to practice. I always dig rehearsing with my band but I actually hate practicing by myself. That being said when I am at home watching TV I do always try to have the guitar in my hand and play my electric guitar unplugged. I rarely plug in when I practice. I found that you can play the electric guitar unplugged and get some practice in without bugging anyone. This being said it still sometimes drives my girlfriend nuts but after all these years she usually puts up with it for me……While watching TV I just play whatever and I even play along to the music on the TV shows and the commercials. I sometimes see if I can figure out TV themes and the commercial’s music when it’s going. You usually have only 30 seconds to figure out a song on a TV commercial. These days I’m pretty good at it. My whole thing is that I hate sitting practicing scales (I have never done that from day one…) I figure as long as you have the guitar in your hand and your doing something it will help you improve. Every now and then I’ll come up with a cool lick or riff so there you go. I also do a few fingering and picking exercises that I made up to help me keep my hands in shape. I can’t take more than a few days away from the guitar before it starts to get ugly. I’m definitely not a natural musician so I do have to practice to keep in shape. If I’m off for a bit and I have a clinic or big show coming up I’ll really take time to work on my picking (usually the first thing to go if I don’t practice..). I also sometimes play along to my song’s backing tracks in my studio. This helps both my playing and it keeps me familiar with the songs I’ll be playing. Lately I have been doing stretching exercises with my left hand to try to increase my reach since I have very small hands. My exercises are nothing revolutionary but they really have worked for me. I do show them when I do guitar clinics and I have found that they really do help other players as well. Then there’s my X-Scale that I do as well. You can see the video of it on my Myspace page. It really helps both your picking and your fretting hands simultaneously. I am working on an instructional video that I plan to release in the near future to show some of my exercises. I also want to mention to start doing your exercises in moderation and work your way up. You should always stretch out your hands before playing. There’s nothing worse than just picking up the guitar and shredding some Yngwie licks right off the bat. We’ve all done it and I’m also guilty of doing it from time to time and then I feel it later. That’s a good way to start getting hand problems. I’ve heard that Satch puts his hands in warm water for 15 minutes as part of his warm up routine before he goes on stage. This really loosens up your hands. Stay safe and you should always remember that the most important thing is to enjoy playing guitar and do what works best for you to keep your chops in shape.