How to Practice Guitar: The Story of Taplature
The very start.
It all began back in 2007 with a particular student in his twenties (let's call him AB) who'd taught himself a few basics but who couldn't play anything correctly. AB seemed happy enough noodling about with no real end product but as a teacher I knew I needed to make him improve. How to do it though?
( Click Image for a Lesson on the 3 Principles!)
I kept making things simpler and simpler in my effort to find something he could do correctly. Eventually I suggested he put his guitar down for a moment and just tried tapping his foot in time with one of his favourite songs.
Instantly the root problem became obvious. AB's foot tap bore no obvious relation to the beat of the music. Here was our first port of call!
By George he's got it!
After a crash course in counting out loud in time with the beat, and then building a new foot tapping regime on top of that, we reintroduced the guitar. Notes were mechanically placed on top of the newly strengthened foundations and all of a sudden AB could play in time, nothing complex yet but this was the breakthrough! Staying with a metronome beat or backing track had been elusive up to this point, but now we could incorporate these tools for everything he wanted to work on.
Name that tune!
On the tabs I used in those lessons I would draw a crude looking foot, in a shoe, complete with laces as I recall, going up and down to formalise the foot tap. I imagine AB still has those early prototype images safely filed away, though I haven't seen him since he disappeared without trace after getting married some years later. Should we cross paths again one day I hope to get copies of those sheets to post here.
After this hint to the power of the foot tap as the cornerstone of practice and improvement I began incorporating it into all my lessons. Progress became much quicker for every student and lessons became more enjoyable, both for them and for me! The unwieldy looking clodhoppers I used to draw evolved quickly into the streamlined symbols for down and up foot tapping seen on today's Taplature.
Name that tune!
Using it regularly, I developed many interesting ways of using the new system, allowing us to see deep into the problems my students were facing, and offering effective ways to deal with them. Furthermore, although I'd been playing for over twenty years by this point, I began spotting major problems with my own foot tap. Consequently everything I learned from lessons was taken into my own practice, initiating a revamp from the bottom up, and my practice was transformed forever.
Talking about this with a bandmate around that time, I was surprised to be told .. "Oh yes, we've always laughed at your foot tap!". That sent me off to practice even harder of course! At the risk of a little public embarrassment I'll post these two videos that I think reveal a little of the hidden side of the sort of improvement I wanted.
Two hotels ... on a lonely highway
Shot five years apart, the big standout difference is the comparative lack of dumb faces in the second video. The 2007 version was recorded before the invention of Taplature. I certainly wasn't aiming to pull so many "guitar gurns", and didn't even pick up on them until the comments started rolling in.
The camera isn't low enough in that video to show any foot tapping but this was definitely before I'd consciously considered it as an intrinsic, if not the most important part of the music. This version was only my second upload to Youtube, and hidden from view, it took me over 100 attempts to get through!
Five years after
The 2012 version, although not sounding majorly different, I'd say demonstrates a lot more ease in getting through the same solo. Either I just didn't have any need to pull the faces any more, or there was enough space left in my brain to actively concentrate on not making them. I think the former, due to the extra (mental) ease attributable to having strengthened my "rhythm muscle" with 5 years of foot tapping investigation. Looking in closely, even here my foot tap isn't perfect all the way through.
One other thing, this only took four or five attempts to get a version I was happy with down, compared to the 100+ for my first effort!
As for AB, if he's still playing, at least his rhythm muscle is in good shape!
How strong is *your* rhythm muscle?