I play a lot of one-on-one basketball with my younger brother, who happens to be a good head or so taller than I am. Since the obvious disadvantage that this height disparity creates has done nothing to diminish my will to win, I’ve taken to adjusting my game to compensate for the challenge of being the short guy. Instead of attempting to power my way into baskets, I rely on footwork and speed, opting to establish a midrange jump shot outright, and work from there.
Unfortunately, I’m historically reluctant to fine-tune the mechanical aspects of almost anything, opting instead to rely on my bottomless natural talent. I don't suffer the consequences of this mindset often, but it definitely makes it difficult to shoot basketballs consistently. The accomplished players of any sport will attest to the advantages of repetitive mechanics, whether it pertains to a basketball shot, a pitching motion, or even a running stride. The work needed to attain consistent mechanical control is often tedious, but without a fixed system, we’re liable to introduce a slew of unneeded variables into any physical equation. This makes it difficult to perform any task with the consistency required to, say, beat one’s younger brother at one-on-one basketball.
While being faced with the overwhelming need for a fixed shooting mechanic, and especially after viewing Troy Grady’s Cracking The Code Series, I was struck by the presence of a similar need for mechanical control in playing guitar. Too often, I find myself in the group of players who believe that their guitar playing should exist solely in the realm of pure artistry. Why practice mechanical things when the notes are supposed to flow naturally from our musical subconscious? After all, the only people who practice their picking and fretting mechanics are those “mindless shredders,” right? If I’m not looking to set a world record for notes-per-second, what good could a focus on mechanics possibly do?
While it may seem that mechanical practice should only be useful for those players interested in being heartlessly technical, the harsh truth is that a focus on mechanics can benefit each and every player, regardless of style or genre. Acknowledging, and ultimately gaining control over one’s mechanics should be a necessity for every serious player. Here are a few reasons why:
Mechanics are Consistency
Like my need for mechanical consistency to make jump shots, a fixed mechanical system in both our fretting and picking hands will get us far closer to truly clean playing than “focusing really hard,” ever will, and will probably keep us further from an aneurism, which is also nice. Understanding the way our picking and fretting movements feel and operate allows them to be refined for predictability and dependability, which in turn allow for cleaner playing in a broader sense, but also give us a more explicit understanding of our technical boundaries. Knowing our limits is always nice, especially if it can take a couple of those “big swing, big miss” moments out of our set.
Mechanics are Freedom
A control over our mechanics also means that we can cross a few types of licks off our list of things we “just don’t do.” Whether a player has a natural propensity towards a certain technique becomes a moot point when nuanced mechanical control comes into play, allowing techniques like fast alternate picking, economy picking, tapping, and hybrid picking to become accessible for any player. Being able to play however we need to means that we can compose without consideration for our supposed mechanical limits, allowing for unhindered expressive freedom.
Mechanics are Dedication
In short, if we have enough dedication to our instrument to have a “custom” anything, surf Reverb for pedals more than once a week, or have some reference to guitar in our social media profiles, we should have enough dedication to care about mechanics, and really understand the way our hands interact with the instrument we apparently care so much about.
Mechanics are Progression
One of the great things about an understanding of mechanics is its role in removing variables. Before I discovered that I had a natural inclination towards a particular system of picking, I was often confused as to why I’d be able to play certain licks or exercises easily in some sessions, but with great difficulty in others. By removing extraneous motion and gaining efficiency, we can monitor our progress more effectively, making practice far more rewarding than going in mechanically blind.
Mechanics are Mastery
Ultimately, I think all of us as players dream about the day when we can honestly consider ourselves a master of the guitar. If we’re truly serious about playing, we don’t want to be at the “intermediate” level forever, and the reality is that mechanical control is simply a necessity if mastery of anything is one’s goal. Whether sports, dance, guitar, or magic tricks, nuanced mechanical control is of paramount importance to high-level success.
Mechanical practice certainly lacks romance, and can feel overly scientific for those of us who narcissistically consider ourselves “artists.” However, I hope that this post has encouraged you to think about mechanical control the same way some folks think about multi-vitamins, daily exercise, or a visit to the doctor. It may not be exciting or enjoyable, but it’s a necessity, and good for your health.