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Oz Noy and the Art of Feel

By October 6, 2018 News

The amazing Oz Noy will tell you he doesn’t think much about his phenomenal technique. Then he’ll spend five minutes demonstrating subtleties of forearm position, hand anchoring, tracking, and muting that has taken us years of interviews to uncover.

And so it goes throughout both super fun talks in our latest Cracking the Code interview with the jazz-rock-blues maestro. Oz continually cops to not doing certain things, like sweeping, for example, and then proceeds to demonstrate sometimes in quite literal terms exactly the thing he says he doesn’t do:

Oz Noy's Subconscious Sweeping

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That’s Oz on his impeccable scalar technique, which switches semi-consciously to economy picking when he kicks into high-speed mode.

Another great example of this in our talk arrives as Oz demonstrates how he navigates arpeggio shapes with intricate combinations of alternate picking and sweeping that he is also apparently unaware of. Watch Oz fly through a sample of six-string arpeggio shapes, mixing and matching arm movements, hand movements, alternate picking, and sweeping, auditioning each attempt for mechanical smoothness. Then, watch as he takes the winner and begins translating the same shape across harmonies, making slight alterations to the mechanics as he goes, to maintain that smoothness:

Learning Complex Arpeggios By Feel

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Oz is “not responsible for any of that” arpeggio mastery. Classic. And as I’m beginning to gather, very Oz.

Speaking Virtuoso

Oz is not a faker. If that were true, then we would have to conclude that many of our interviewees are less than genuine. There was that time in our 2017 interview with Michael Angelo Batio, when Mike described his unique picking motion by commenting that “human wrists don’t move side to side”… while moving his wrist side to side as an illustration.

Instead, when you interview great players, you have to learn to get past their specific choice of vocabulary to the sense of what they’re trying to communicate. In Mike’s case, what he clearly meant was wrists don’t move comfortably that way, at least for him. He prefers wrist flexion and extension, the movement he subsequently demonstrated as an alternative, and which indeed looks more like motions he makes when he plays.

In similar fashion, as I learned from Oz, it’s not that he’s not aware of the motions he’s making. In fact, he’s often quite aware of subtleties many players don’t notice at all, like the discussion of forearm pronation and supination that begins the first of our two interviews. Rather, it’s that when Oz is working on technique the way that works best for him, he doesn’t want to know specifically what he’s doing. Huh?

Learning By Feel

It may seem paradoxical to enforce ignorance about a skill you are specifically trying to learn. This goes double for the kind of intricate threading through the strings necessary to play the arpeggio figures in the interview excerpt above. But sometimes, that’s actually what works best.

As Oz explains multiple times in our talk, he uses motion feel, and specifically speed, as tests to determine whether a phrase he is working on has been learned well enough to withstand usage in real-world improvisation. And it clearly helps Oz to grasp the overall feel of a phrase or technique when he’s not hyper-focused on the details of things like individual pickstrokes.

In our 2015 interview with Carl Miner, Carl echoes this sentiment in describing how his crosspicking technique came together:

Learning Motions By Feel

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In Carl’s case he again cites feel, and not so much the mechanics in question as being the litmus test for when his technique is working. It is notable in fact that in both cases, the accuracy of the notes themselves isn’t even the primary criterion. In all the shapes Oz tests in his hands-on arpeggio examples, he hits the notes. So that’s not the concern. It’s the ability to hit them smoothly which is “how you know you’ve got something.”

The Wizardry of Oz

The ability to develop complex physical skills by feel is not just a mark of elite musicians like Oz. That Oz’s musical vocabulary is so diverse and unpredictable as a result is also no surprise. The ability to harness feel is power that transcends music and extends to the core of human learning. This thoroughly enjoyable pair of conversations is a great window into how that process can work in the hands of a master.

The Oz Noy Interview is ready to watch for Cracking the Code subscribers. It’s a double-header of conversations, 40 minutes each, mixing topics in mechanics, harmony, and improvisation strategies. We’ve extracted 120 musical examples, including Oz’s blues funk jam “Ice Man Groove” and two two takes of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves”.

Top Comments

  1. Avatar for Troy Troy says:

    We have two conversations with Oz - forty minutes apiece, with about 120 musical examples pulled out. Up on the platform now. These were both super fun to do, and we had a great time getting to the bottom of Oz’s seemingly endless supply of cool picking techniques.

    Astute observers will note just how many ways Oz will play the same line, with no particular provocation from me. He’ll do the same scale phrase with economy, alternate, or economy then switching to alternate right in the middle of the line. He’ll do pure alternate with one pickslant, pure alternate with another. And pure alternate crosspicking both orientations, pronated and supinated.

    Oz will also tell you he has no conscious awareness of any this, which is also not entirely true, since the very first thing we talk about is forearm orientation and he’s quite aware of the subtleties in his different approaches. Instead, as I’ve written in the accompanying blog piece, I think it’s just that Oz doesn’t like to think about those things, because his trial and error type learning functions best when he’s a little hands-off. Regarding learning by feel, Oz explains this rather explicitly at several points in the conversation, even going so far as to say that when you can do a movement fast, “that’s how you know you’ve got something”.

    This is something we’ve discussed quite a bit and I think the more we look at this, the more we’ll realize that “naturals” have a whole different approach to learning which is for the most part not the slow and steady metronome slog, but something much more like what Oz does.

    Great guy, great meeting him.

  2. Avatar for johgru johgru says:

    Fantastic work! I’m very interested in this interview!
    Will it also be available as a standalone purchase?

  3. I can’t believe I never thought of that 2nps diagonal scale thing (what he calls “backwards” playing).

    I guess that’s why he’s Oz Noy and I’m sat here in my pants in the farm office watching Oz Noy.

    I really like how he articulates the difference between practising and playing/performing/improvising.

  4. Great interview! He does seem like nice guy, I really liked the vibe of the whole thing. Great playing. I relate to most of his concepts and I’m curious if he ever worked with Mick Goodrik’s Advancing Guitarist book-that’s where I got all these ideas from, the 2 strings at a time mini positions, the 2 nps scales, the 4 nps with 1st finger slides…I’ve been working with that stuff for years and it really opens up thr fretboard in a way that directly conects with music materials and concepts…triads, 7th arps, motifs.
    Also, great playing on Autumn Leaves.Amazing lines…the octave dispacement thing, wow…he makes it sound so good and flowing. And this counter point thing…that’s something you don’t see often and I feel that he will develop it even further…
    Great job, Troy. Hard to pick just one CtC interview as my favorite but this one would make the top 3.

  5. Avatar for Tom_h Tom_h says:

    you guys work like crazy on this stuff and we are all massively grateful! I can’t begin to imagine how long it takes to tab out ‘free form’ playing and I’m thankful (for my own back’s sake) that I’m not the one having to be stooped over the computer/guitar working this stuff out. You guys are awesome!

    Cant wait to get stuck into it all

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