Ask Charlie...

What Are You Gonna Do This Year?

Hello Troubadourians! Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If you do, how often are you able keep them? Resolutions are easy to make and difficult to keep. Or, should I say, easy to make and easier to blow-off. And why is that? Well, that’s too complicated of a discussion for this column to address in it’s entirety but may I suggest that perhaps it’s just that we often resolve to do things that just aren’t any fun. Playing our instruments and making music is supposed to be fun. So how about making a resolution to have more fun? Do you see where I’m going with this?

I say, let’s all resolve to play more in 2015! Notice that I didn’t mention practicing at all. If you read this column with any regularity you know that I’m always telling everyone to practice, practice, and practice some more. Of course I still believe that every musician should engage in regular practice, but I know that in real life there are so many things that can get in the way of practicing. Instead of thinking about practicing, just think about playing. Yeah, just play. Play what you know. Play it over and over. Let the music you’re making wash over you, wash over your thoughts, wash over your feelings. Are there words to sing? Are you singing them? What are they saying? It doesn’t matter if you think you can’t sing or play well. This isn’t a command performance; this is just you and your instrument making music. Enjoy it for what it is… pure, simple, fun. The more often you just play and have fun, the more often you are likely to keep doing it – and on a regular basis. Before you know it, you’re playing new songs; many that were inspired by the songs you know, and then you learn others that you thought were beyond your ability. You are beginning to notice that chords and fingerings that used to be difficult are now easy. You start to recognize similarities between songs and in doing so you realize that it has become easier for you to learn new things and you begin to make associations between the familiar and the new. And then you find that your playing has somehow incorporated new techniques and rhythms without your even thinking about it. Feels good, doesn’t it? All that and you didn’t even practice. You were just playing, right? Never gave a second thought to practice. You just played and had fun and guess what? You got better. So why do we practice? We practice to get better, of course. And what happened to you when you just played and had fun on a regular basis? You got better. Hmmm. Think about that one for a while….

With all of this non-practice you’ve been doing, you’ve noticed that there are things you want to play that you just can’t quite make happen with the instrument you have. You can play it just fine on you friend’s instrument. And on those pricey ones at the music store, well you’re playing all those things and more. Is it time for a new instrument? Maybe. Maybe your present instrument just needs some adjustments and a good setup. Either way, there has been growth in your playing but you need a different “something” to fully realize and express it. Good! You’ve played your way into a new reality and awareness so why not indulge yourself a little.

Before you ask; yes, you play well enough to justify spending some money on yourself and your music. But what should you spend it on and how much? The second question is easier to answer; you figure out what you can spend… and then budget a little more. Let’s say that you already have a good quality, name brand instrument. In that case maybe all you need is to have that instrument professionally setup to play the way you’d like it to. That’s always a solid investment that yields more bang for your buck. If you’re not sure, ask a friend or player you trust (maybe that friend whose instrument you like to play) for input and advice. They’ll know if you need more than just having some work done on your present instrument. Here’s where budgeting a little more comes into play. If all you do is get a professional setup, spend that little extra to upgrade any parts and pieces that will complement the new way you instrument plays and sounds. If you’ve decided on a new instrument, find the one that has all of the playability and tone that you’ve been lacking. If an instrument speaks to you, you should listen. This is why you budget a little more because that one special instrument that knows your name and where you live will almost always be more than you wanted to spend. I have come across and subsequently passed on some magical instruments because I thought I couldn’t – or shouldn’t – afford to spend the money. The fact that I still remember each and every one of them reminds me that I made a mistake not buying them when I had the chance. I recently spotted a special edition Fender Princeton amplifier and I was smitten. I brought my guitars to the store to play them through it and confirm that this one was special. It was as special as I thought and I was in the market for a smaller amp to gig with but it was almost $1000 and I really didn’t have that much in my budget. Then I remembered all of the “ones that got away” and I decided that this awesome little Princeton wasn’t joining that list. No, it was coming home with me. Just to be sure, I put a deposit (refundable) down on the Princeton and waited a couple days before coming back and completing the purchase. I now have a bitchin’ little hot-rod Princeton amp and no regrets.

I still advocate regular, rigorous practice but if you find the thought of practice to be intimidating and more like work, then just play. Sometimes the results can be very similar. And who knows, you just might feel you have earned some new gear so go for it. And don’t let that special something slip away. As I sit here and play my guitar through my purring little Princeton, I’m reminded of the line that Mark Knopfler from Dire Straights sings, “That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it…”

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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