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Playing Backwards Forward

Turning Your Own Ideas Inside Out

photo by John Covington

We all have ruts. We all have patterns we fall into. We all need to move forward! So with that I’m going to talk about something I like to do to get past the monotony of knowing exactly what the next note I always play will be, by scrambling my brain. In fact, a great way to move forward in your playing is by going backward. Let me explain…

So, we’ve all heard examples of backward guitars. When I say “backward,” I mean back in the day when people recorded on analog tape (some still do, god bless them!), they would flip the tape backward and record against the tracks going the opposite direction, then flip the tape back to its correct path of travel. This created a reverse guitar effect that was incredibly cool and totally unpredictable. Songs like “Magic Man” from Heart and many, many songs from Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles made incredible use of this trick/technique. Aside from the cool psychedelic vibe and enveloping sound it created, we can learn a lot from this if we put it to good use.

It’s quite simple to explore and learn from the reverse technique. Here’s how: If you have any type of sound recording program on your computer, just record yourself playing anything you normally play. This could be a chord progression, a song, or maybe just some noodling around with some of your regular “rut” licks. Do it for a while and get a little time in on the recording. When you’re finished just use the “reverse” feature on the recorder and flip the file backward. Most programs will render out the audio file so it may take from a few seconds to several minutes depending on how long you played and what type of computer you’re using. Now, take a good listen to it. Right off the bat I’ll bet you will hear things in your playing that never existed in the “forward” world. You might notice that the chord progression you played sounds really cool backward. You might also find that ideas that were very run-of-the-mill on your licks take on quite a unique character. Take it in for a while and bask in your greatness. Once you do this you’re ready for the final step.

Now that you’ve heard these new sounds, learn them! OK, maybe your guitar won’t have the same odd envelope and crazy sustain but the licks will be very different from their “forward” counterparts. Take the time to transcribe your own work and get those new phrases and chord progressions under your fingers. What started out as basic riffs and licks are now totally new and usable ideas in the same key as before so you can start using them right away. You might even find that some of the notes don’t fall exactly right on the chord progressions but they sound really cool.

Take a Listen
Download the following clips to hear Steve put this idea into motion.
Download Original Lick1.22MB mp3
Download Original Lick Backwards 1.15MB mp3
 Download New Lick Lick1.59MB mp3

What makes this extra fun is that now instead of bending up to notes, you’ll be starting from a bent note and “bending down” in pitch. It’s a strange, almost Twilight Zone world at first but I’m confident that you will find usefulness and newness in it. Worst case scenario is you come out of it knowing yourself better as a player and getting a chance to transcribe yourself as if you were somebody else.  It’s a great way to create your own mini lesson without going to an instructor.

So, that’s it in a nutshell.  Try it out and drop me a line if you come up with a lick I can use!

Have a great month and I’ll see you again soon.

Steve is best known for his recent work on Guitar Hero III, the multi-platinum selling video game that is turning gamers into guitarists by the thousands. A guitarist/composer/producer, he holds a B.A. in Music Performance and Composition and spends his days and nights writing music for games, film and television. He’s also a rabid tone fanatic and amp enthusiast always looking for a unique sound. His original music can be found on iTunes and at