Development by restraint

Over the past few months I've been enjoying 'Inside The Actors Studio' on Sky Arts where host James Lipton interviews big name TV and film actors.

Last month, the iconic actor, Al Pacino was the interviewee. During the program, Pacino said the three most important tips he got from mentor Lee Strasberg (the late champion of method acting) were 1) learn your lines, 2) stay well within yourself 3) you will learn the most from your mistakes.

The first tip about lines is a given and the last tip makes sense - the bigger your mistake, the less likely it will occur again, right? The second tip intrigues so Pacino continued on; don't always go as far as you can go when performing. Indeed, despite winning an Oscar for the role and not knowing how he could have done so back then, he wished he had held back for his role in Scent Of A Woman. Considering Pacino is an exuberant and revered actor, his desire for (occasional) restraint was interesting.

Apply Pacino's tips to guitar playing and it makes for stimulating food for thought. For example, do you always go 'all out' when soloing? Do you use all of a scale's notes when improvising? Is speed and a multitude of techniques regularly high on your agenda? If it's yes to some or all of these, maybe next time look to 'handcuff' your playing approach.

Handcuffing is a powerful filter that with some forethought can transform your playing, regardless of ability levels. For example, handcuff by not adding vibrato to every sustained notes for a 'colder' effect (a favourite of John Frusciante). Alternatively, don't use a scale's major third until a key moment to create a more 'open' sound (favourite considerations for both Joe Satriani and The Edge). Or maybe use only one string to explore slides and legato possibilities (eg Mike Stern and Steve Vai).

Point being, your chosen limitation(s) will deepen your vocabularly because you will find more variations to what you do already. Simply put, it's development by restraint. However, if your particular style is the musical equivalent of Pacino (ie outstandingly 'all out' and lauded by audiences) then well done and keep on at full blast!