5 Musical Qualities that are More Valuable Than Speed

Thursday, July 13, 2023 by Andrew Hatfield | Uncategorized


Your tone is the first thing that defines you as a musician. Guitarists spend lots of time and money looking for gear that will give them the tone they want, but few spend much time learning how to get the best tone from their instrument. Here are some factors that go into what your tone will sound like(in no particular order).

  • The instrument you play, including any electronics or amplification involved

  • The pick thickness and material

  • The angle you hold the pick

  • How far you pick from the bridge

  • The weight, shape, and strength of your hands and fingers that is completely unique to you.

  • Who you listen to, want to sound like, and really try to emulate (it’s the trying that matters. Often you’ll try to sound like someone else, and in that search, you end up sounding like yourself)

What you imagine yourself sounding like begins the search for your unique tone.


Every musician should be able to play in time, both in rhythm and lead playing. At the basic level, playing in time means:

  • being able to keep a beat (play one note per beat)

  • being able to subdivide a beat (play 2, 3, or 4 notes per beat)

Besides just keeping basic time with a metronome, it's important to also learn to play in time with other musicians. You learn how to back up a singer or other soloist, when to come in on your solo, how to manage transitions as the chord changes, and how to end on time with the band.


While timing is mathematical, groove is about making your music come to life. Does it make you move? Could someone dance to it? Forget the notes for a minute—Is there a rhythm to what you’re playing that just feels really good?

Sometimes groove isn’t open what notes you play or how many notes you play, but how you accent. You can groove on one note. You can groove on quarter notes! Listen to any jazz bass player—they only play quarter notes, but they create a groove for the whole band.


As an improviser, your taste will help you decide what and how much to play. This includes your preferences (your taste in music), as well as your ability to play something that fits the song and situation (playing tastefully).

Playing with Feeling

Being told that you play with feeling is one of the highest compliments you can receive as a musician!.

Someone could program a computer to play faster and more accurately than you or I could ever play, so playing fast and accurate really can’t be the only goal. The life, heart, and experience that is in your music is really what connects you to your audience.

Tension and Release

Wednesday, July 12, 2023 by Andrew Hatfield | Uncategorized

Imagine you are holding a rubber band. Stretch out the rubber band, and you’ve created tension. Relax the rubber band, and it returns to it’s original shape.

In music, we have consonance and dissonance—notes that ring together in a satisfying way, versus notes that are create some tension. All good music has a balance of these two. If there’s only consonance, the music sounds childish. If there’s only dissonance, you’ll hear the sound of lawn chairs clicking together as the crowd walks back to their cars.

What do the notes sound like against the chords?

When you’re taking a solo, the notes you play are heard against the chords that the band is playing. Sure—you might have a whole scale under your fingers, but you should always be listening to how your solo sounds along with the chords. An F# note sounds very different against a D chord, a G chord, a C chord, an Em chord, a Bm chord, etc.

What will the next note be?

Now that you’re listening to your own solo, start to think about what comes next. Can you “hear” in your mind whether the note should go higher or lower in the scale, or stay the same? As you listen to yourself, your mind will help make decisions about what comes next.

Practicing and adding in music theory

If you have someone to practice with, you can take turns playing the chords and soloing. If you’re on your own, you can record a rhythm track on your phone or computer and jam along with the rhythm part you created.

We’re starting from a standpoint of listening to yourself play. As you grow as a musician, music theory might also help you make decisions. For example, if you know what notes are in each chord, you can choose notes right away that are consonant or dissonant without having to hear them first.

Who does this well?

Two improvisers that come to mind that are masters of tension and release are David Rawlings and Derek Trucks. Listen to how David Rawlings plays with tension on Gillian Welch’s song “Annabelle.”


What Colors are on Your Palate?

Tuesday, July 11, 2023 by Andrew Hatfield | Uncategorized

An artist has a palate, which has the colors he is going to use for this particular painting. Think about what you need for each painting. Imagine a painting of a sunset—you’ll need reds, oranges, and pinks, and blue for the sky. Now think about a forest scene where you’ll need deep greens and browns.

Each painting will have a particular mood.

In music, our palate is a scale. Improvising with a major scale creates a very different mood than a minor scale.

When you think about how you want to sound, think about the mood you want to create. Do you want to sound bluesy and edgy? There are notes in a blues scale that will give you that edgy sound. Do you want to sound like bluegrass? The notes in the bluegrass G-run become a scale that you can use over each chord. Do you want to sound dark and mysterious? The dorian mode might give you what you're looking for.

There are many more examples of musical palates that change the mood of what you’re playing. In fact, some scales are called modes. Remember this—when you say mode, you’re really just saying mood—each mode creates a different mood.