Watch the Space and Air online guitar lesson by Robben Ford from Rhythm Revolution
I had a lot of experience in the Los Angeles recording studios in the 70's and 80's. I wasn't actually a studio guitarist but I would often be called to play and people knew who I was so I would be on people's lists of people to call. It was a great mystery to me how people like the guitarists at that time, who were kind of the king pins in that world, like Larry Carlton, Steve Lukather, a very young Steve Lukather, Dean Parks, one of the great studio guitarists and record producers. These people would just craft the most wonderful parts behind people in songs. Michael McDonald records or Dolly Parton records, any number of artists. These guys were on all of those records because of how well they were able to just produce themselves, create their own sonic world and would know how to fit and come in and out of the music. It was a real mystery to me. It took me many years before I finally relaxed enough and felt confident enough that I could do that too. It really just comes down to listening. The most important thing that you have, your most important asset, is your ears, your listening. There's something going on around you so your job is to fit into that situation. So space is actually the beginning of that. Not playing is actually the birth, the place where everything else happens. So not playing is the perfect place to start. In fact, that's what I always do. If I'm in a situation with a group of musicians I kind of pretend to play for a minute. I listen to what everybody else is doing. I'll play a little something and see if it fits and kind of move and morph whatever it is I'm doing until we finally all come to a very agreeable space with the roles that we're performing. It's the place where you have to start, not playing, and once you do play you can basically fit in and around everything else that's happening. You listen, you wait, then you find the place for what it is that you might add to the situation. And it can be the simplest of things. You can play very little and be making a tremendous contribution. It requires a lot of confidence, quite honestly, to take this approach. You have to be pretty relaxed and comfortable with yourself to play with other people and feel like you have the luxury of not playing anything or waiting. So it takes time and a lot of experience to really develop that chop. It's one of my favorite things that I learned, one of the most important things that I learned in the L.A. studios.