Shred Poets Society: Guitar Tips, Technique, and Tone with James Norbert Ivanyi

Shred Poets Society: Guitar Tips, Technique, and Tone with James Norbert Ivanyi
At some point or another, we’ve all felt it – that dreaded feeling of being uninspired, frustrated with your writing or playing – when you are, for lack of a better word, ‘stuck in a rut’.

It’s something I discuss quite often with my students and peers alike. For artists, this is a natural, very real, and inevitable thing to occur, and it’s something we all deal with from time to time, as our ears and tastes evolve. Having constantly been working on and releasing music in one form or another since 2006, I have personally experienced this enough times to have developed some strategies in order to avoid getting held up for prolonged periods of time. There are occasions where you may just have to sit and wait it out, but for the most part, you can learn to recognise the warning signs on the horizon, and take proactive steps to help yourself quickly feel inspired and fresh again.

1: Destination Happiness

This is a big one, and an easy one to fall into. In order to create effectively, one must have a vision. It’s generally this vision which makes us excited to work, however, a lot of frustrated musicians classify ‘happiness’ or ‘success’ as the completion of a task. That is true to an extent, but it is also misleading. Happiness, inspiration, and enjoyment of music should come from ‘the journey’. If you can learn to focus on the present during writing and especially practice, you’ll find pleasure in the smallest things, and ultimately find more inspiration as fuel for continued creativity.

This is especially important for those in a band. There’s no doubt that in order for a band to function (and, in turn, be successful), it requires a dedicated work ethic from each and every member, and a thoroughly understood and respected delegation of duties to be carried out in order for the band to achieve its goals over time. In this situation, you might inadvertently find yourself in a cycle of ‘destination happiness’ without even knowing it. Suddenly, you realise everything you do musically feels like a chore (i.e. ‘I must learn this new song’, ‘I must have that demo ready for the new album’, ‘I must think of something engaging for social media’, etc.). Unfortunately, these concerns are all part of being a musician in a band, but over time and without appropriate balance they can have a very toxic effect on your mindset, cause you to feel pressure, and stress you out – not at all ideal conditions for pursuing creativity. If you don’t learn to innocently appreciate ‘the present’, it can be easy to develop a guilty resentment toward your band, its members, or your own instrument. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling negative and ‘stuck-in-a-rut’. In summary, it’s essential to have balance in this situation, and a simple way to uphold this balance is to remain ever mindful of the present and to not see your instrument (or band) as something purely goal-orientated.

2: Expanding Your Horizons

Another good trick to avoid becoming stagnant is to embrace variety, both with what you listen to and what you play. I notice a lot of players who become stagnant often become easily frustrated and bored because inadvertently, they are always writing to the genre to which the band is labelled. It sounds obvious, but listening to other types of music, and I mean really listening to it, focusing on what makes it great and learning it, is a simple way to expand your musical pallet and find deeper inspiration to draw upon in the future. Often I’ll make time to acclimatise my ear to different genres, then bring what I have subconsciously taken on board back to the style of the music I was originally working on. This allows for new flavours and moods to transcend into your own style without sounding like a clone (or a rip off), because you have adapted it into your own playing. All too often players are wound up so tight trying to stay on top of all the trends in their own genre or scene, they miss out on everything else. Remember not to keep your head in the sand, and to expand your horizons when it comes to listening to and learning new music.

3: Repetition, Structure, & Variety

If you’re a guitarist like me, you possess and make music with the most popular instrument in the history of humanity. It’s one of the only instruments which can essentially cover all styles – from classical, jazz, pop, rock, country, extreme metal, and everything in-between – we should consider ourselves lucky to be able to engage in a whole new genre without putting down our instrument. I often hear from my students how they’ve managed to find themselves struggling with their practice and writing. I can usually identify one area in which they have gone wrong – structure and variety. If you feel like every time you sit down to practice or write some new material you end up fumbling around in the same shapes and patterns you already know, and a couple hours pass and you still haven’t actually learnt or created anything ‘new’, then it might be worth structuring out your practice and writing sessions to get the most out of them.

An easy way to do this is to break up the time you have. For example, say you’re going to sit down to learn a song, and you have one hour to do so. Before you go in there, grab a pen and paper and make some points for the practice session. You might break it up into points A, B, C, and D, and set it out as so:

A) – allotted time to warm up.
B) – listening to and identifying the techniques involved.
C) – learning and acclimatising yourself with those techniques.
D) – applying those techniques into the song and real world.

Adjust how many points are needed for the complexity of the song and how much time you spend on each, according to what needs most attention. If you stick to this formula, and don’t get too ahead of yourself in regards to progressing to the next stage, you’ll find it difficult not to have achieved something with each and every practice session.

Becoming stagnant, at it’s core, comes from unhealthy repetition. Too often do musicians or band members hope for a different outcome but never change the way they do things. It’s vital to consciously think outside the box and proactively seek variety so as to avoid disappointment and becoming neutral. Like all things, there is a whole world of musical culture out there for you to relish, explore, and enrich your heart and mind with.

Be adventurous, adaptive, curious, take risks, and maybe you’ll surprise yourself with the results.

Shred Poets Society: Guitar Tips, Technique, and Tone with James Norbert Ivanyi
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James Norbert Ivanyi
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James Norbert Ivanyi

James is a multi-instrumentalist, producer and musician from Sydney, Australia.
He performed and toured with a diverse range of musicians and bands for years before going solo in 2013 and releasing two internationally acclaimed albums "Aphasia" & "The Matter Circumvention" with a third EP due in early 2016. He is considered by his fans, peers and industry to be one of the most original, commanding and versatile young guitarist on the scene today. His style of technical modern metal fused with the sounds of the classic 1960's & 70's progressive/psychedelic rock-era have seen his fan base transcend generations and genres.

He currently represents, and is an ambassador to some of the most respected and prestigious instrument companies in the world. He has consistently travelled and performed in the United States, and been invited to the prestigious NAMM event in Los Angeles the last 4 years running as a performer, clinician and product demonstrator. James is endorsed by Suhr Guitars, Friedman Amplification, Fractal Audio, Diamond Pedals and D'addario Strings And Planet Waves.
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