are rare moments, perhaps during an inspired improvisation,
when music seems to just pour out of us. This music is
much more beautiful, fluent, and advanced than we are normally
able to play. It seems like we aren't even playing this
music. It's being channeled from somewhere else. But, these
magic moments often pass as suddenly as they appear. They
seem impossible to predict, and equally impossible to recreate,
or maintain. If they come when the red light is shining
in the recording studio you've been blessed. If you were
playing live in concert you were lucky. But, they seem
to happen most often when you're alone and relaxed. Few
people tend to understand when you try to explain what
Of course, such moments are not restricted to guitar players.
They can happen to anyone at any time in any walk of life.
Once I was in the deli and asked for a pound of turkey breast.
The man pulled out exactly a pound in one effortless motion.
The scale read 1.00. I realized that this also was a Zen moment.
Essentially, the man had pulled the proverbial needle from
the haystack with casual ease. If he consciously tried to do
it again, he might try a hundred times and continuously fail.
In that case, he would be trying too hard, instead of unconsciously
letting himself do it. He can do it. That has been proved.
is something I've been doing to try to "pull the
needle from the haystack" with my guitar. I record a very
difficult chord progression, one that contains many altered
chords and tricky key changes. This progression is harder than
I should be able to improvise fluidly over, given my current
abilities. I play the progression back and just listen to it,
imagining the sound of a beautiful guitar solo. Then I try
to play along with it, and I record the results. Before beginning
to play along, I try to empty my mind of all note names, theory,
licks, arpeggios, scales, etc. I also close my eyes and place
my hand somewhere in the middle of the neck, where I don't
quite know what fret I'm on. When I begin to play, I just dive
right in with complete recklessness and abandon. Sometimes
I fall flat on my face. Other times, I'm able to navigate the
progression with perfect ease and grace.
I still haven't managed to get to the point where I can succeed
with enough consistency to make this very practical. But, I've
had a lot of fun with the game. It feels like I'm standing
in a doorway, able to see what's inside, but not able to walk
all the way through. I want to live on the other side of the
door. I suppose that's the point of the exercise. My theory
of explanation has something to do with the subconscious mind
being able to integrate and instantly apply its vast store-house
of data, if you let it.
Hurwitz is a guitar teacher in Baltimore,
Md. Check out his CD "Painted Sky," containing
the lead-off track, "Zen Guitar."