Mention the word noodling
to most guitarists and their face will likely be painted with a "WTF?!"
I'd therefore ought to start by explaining what it is... or at least my
interpretation of it.
In short, noodling on guitar is freestyle, in the moment playing -
where you explore seemingly random notes and rely more on trial and
error and intuition than rigid musical systems and rules.
It's about poising your finger over a fret and wondering "will this
work?" rather than knowing"this
will work" and just going for it (don't worry, nobody can hear it
except you!). Investigating rather than reaffirming. Making a huge
number of mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Or maybe even
recontextualising them so their no longer "mistakes".
An example might be randomly placing your fingers on the fretboard in
an attempt to find an interesting new chord. Or maybe less random,
using a familiar chord shape as the base for experimental modification.
Another would be finding a
cool sounding harmony/lick across a couple of strings, without being
tied to a particular scale pattern.
So there's even more emphasis on your ears being the judge.
An even more succinct way to put it would be: exploration of the
fretboard without restraint.
There's more a sense of "treading off the beaten path", the
being scales, arpeggios and familiar chord shapes - the roadmaps we use
to keep us from wandering into unpleasant dissonance.
Without these roadmaps, the fretboard can seem a musical no man's land.
often the real magic can lie just outside the safe refuge of a scale
pattern or chord shape burned into your memory (both mental and muscle).
new musical paths and locations can spark ideas you would have never
thought of. It
can stimulate your enquiring mind and exercise parts of the brain that
would have otherwise been left dormant. We don't just want to repeat
what we've heard or seen in a book or online, over and over again.
This spontaneous kind of experimentation can lead to entire songs, maybe your proudest creations,
being spawned or seeded in a single afternoon.
can even save you on stage. Sometimes we draw a blank or lose our way and
roadmap dissolves before our eyes. By noodling on a regular basis,
this will be less of a problem because you'll have "practiced
randomness" enough to avoid that feeling of paralyzing dread! You'll be
able to salvage your solos more confidently.
The problem is, many guitarists lack the ability to
extract anything meaningful
It's all very well tearing down preconceived musical structures and
rules in the name of experimentation, but I assume you still want to
cacophony. There still needs to be some meaning behind what you play.
here I've put together some tips on practicing what can best be
described as "focused randomness", so you get all the benefits of
spontaneous, free flowing exploration and actually get something usable out of it.
Ideally, you want this randomness to become solid ideas with a place in
Noodling with a focused randomness
nice and steady
Move your fingers slowly so you can easily back
repeat the actions that yeilded something good. Don't let your mind and
fingers run away with themsleves because you risk skipping
over the juicy stuff and finding yourself back in no man's land. Don't
do too much at once. The more you noodle the more confident and quicker
aware of every move you make
You'll want to internalise the sound each
movement on the
neck creates to get the most out of your trial and error time. If
something sounds bad, and you can identify the rebellious note, it may
just need moving up or down a fret to complete the phrase or chord in
the desired way.
ideas based on your current neck position Think
more in terms of building on and modifying where you already are
the fretboard, or at least in close proximity, rather than moving
between random note units in sparse
positions. Not only will this encourage good finger economics, it will
allow you to see exactly what you have changed and where you came from
your randomness with what you already know The
aim of noodling is not to completely forget
everything you know, and even if you tried to clear your mind,
preformed ideas will still creep in from your subconscious mind. That's
fine... welcome them through and use them to support fresh ideas. An
example of this could be playing minor
pentatonic and then exploring "outside" notes for a few measures, still
using the scale as the melodic base. The convergence of tried and
tested ideas and fresh ideas is a good ideal to aim for.
A more specific tip. Open strings can give chords
lead lines more depth and vibrancy. My Uncommon
Chords sheet shows you
a number of vibrant chords that make use of open strings (and not just
the same old E, A, D, C, G forms!). For example, I could be playing the
following two-string sequence...
And embellish it by including the open E, B and high E
lead phrases around chord shapes
Use the strings/notes in the chord shapes you
build a melody in the same position, adding in a few extra notes,
either based on
trial and error or a scale if you can recognise which scale they are
of. It doesn't matter if your lead is simple or a bit linear sounding,
the idea is to embellish and develop it into something greater. Use the
chord shapes as the scaffolding and the starting point for your lead.
Use noodling for
increasing finger strength
Sometimes I deliberately find a movement that
awkward for my fingers to execute, whether moving between chord shapes
or single notes. I'll then repeat this until it becomes comfortable.
Being able to negotiate these awkward movements will give you more
freedom to move across the neck how you want, without physical
constraints. It'll also help with changing chords quicker.
down what works!
Transfer the good stuff to your regular practice
integrating it with stuff you already know. If you build a nice
chord, progression or lick/melody, get it down on paper while it's
fresh in your mind. Turn that randomness into utility - ideas in the
hope this article will encourage you to, not only spend more time
noodling, but also to think more about what you're playing when you do.
Keep it free and open, as it's meant to be, but try to develop some
method to the madness to extract as much juice as you can from it.
find that, as your awareness of what you're playing grows, new ideas
will come quicker and easier every time you pick up the guitar.