Quotes are excerpted from the full interview, “20 Questions WIth Tommy Emmanuel“
Tommy Emmanuel has been voted the best acoustic guitar player in the world – multiple times. His shows are amazing, his songwriting is top notch, and he’s one of the nicest guys in the world.
A few months ago, we got a chance to sit down with him and ask him a few question. During the interview, a variety of insights into his approach to practice emerged. He didn’t run through them in order, really. It was more organic and natural. So, below we’ve compiled those sections of the interview to give a quick insight into Tommy’s approach to practice.
1. Use a metronome
“TE: Learn some good songs, and practice them with a metronome. Understand what REAL time is. It’s so important. Without a groove, no one moves. You’ve got to move people, and you do that with groove.”
Tommy’s emphasis is always on the audience. It came up again and again in the interview. He doesn’t play to show off chops for other guitar players – he plays to delight people. And when it comes to music, groove is so important. So it’s no surprise that he recommends this.
(Interestingly, this was the only really “technical” practice tip he mentioned. The others are more about mindset and overall practice goals.)
FYI: there are a lot of great metronome apps that you can get right on your phone. Check out a list here.
2. Make songwriting part of your practice
“TE: I try to tell young people, if you can stick out of a herd, great! Cause everybody else is looking at the herd, saying, “We wanna be like them,” and they’re just getting lost in the herd. But you gotta stand out.
You can do that with developing your style and writing your own songs.
TGJ: So you’d recommend that as an early practice? Go right to writing?
TE: Oh, definitely, get writing as soon as you can, if you’ve got any talent for writing. You can learn it. Just take in everything.”
3. Learn good songs.
“TE: Learn good songs. Make sure that you’ve got an arsenal of good songs. You’ve got to have some good ammunition to fire at the audience, that you can really pour your heart into. Because if you’re not having a great night, and you’re struggling with either the sound or the “sh*tty committee” up here [points at head] or whatever, then you better have some good songs to play.”
4. Get inspiration from other instruments
“TE: [Listen to] bass and drums. They’re the two most important instruments. As far as learning licks, listen to some great singers that have good bands and have some great playing. You can always reference “The Night Fly”, Donald Fagan – go back and listen to Larry Carlton’s tasty stuff. Listen to what he did on that track. Listen to “Kid Charlamagne” -it’s 70’s music, we all know that, but listen to what he’s playing. Go back to Chuck Berry and play along with it. There’s just so many great players out there.”
5. Practice like you’re playing the actual show
“TE: If I’ve had a break and I know I’ve only practiced a bit every day, the first four days… sore hands like hell.
I don’t want that anymore, so if I have days off, I still pick up the guitar and play “the show”. You have to play full out to keep up what I’ve got going here.
TGJ: Full volume, full intensity…
TE: Yeah, yeah… because if you practice without that intensity, then things aren’t sharpened and your callouses will get softer, all that sort of stuff. Especially this callous that I play with here [points to fingers on right hand, i.e. the fingerpicking hand]. My nails, they don’t sound any good, so I’ve got callouses that are real strong. But because it’s flesh, you gotta keep doing it, all the time.”
Read the full interview here.
Lessons with Tommy Emmanuel
Tommy recorded a number of lessons on the Truefire platform. If you’re interested in getting more ‘hands on’ instruction, as well as tutorials on his tunes, check out the lessons below.
Or if you want to jump right to an individual course: