Hello Troubadourians! When you read this column, it will be December (well, actually sometime after December 1…), but I’m writing it in mid-November. The publishing business is weird that way. We have to be dedicated to documenting past events and attempt to be somewhat prescient about the future. For a columnist like me, I’m usually okay with creating a pseudo-present reality that hopefully is relevant whenever someone reads my stories. But there are times when I need to address current events and I find myself out of sync with what I want to write and when you will read it. With that in mind, and acknowledgements to Sly Stone, it’s time for me to thank the people who have made a difference in my life this past year.
I have to begin with my publisher, Liz Abbott, without whom I’d have no platform to write this column. Thank you, Boss Lady! I wish every boss was as cool as you. And, I have to acknowledge my longtime good friend, bandmate, and fellow Troubadour columnist, Sven Seaholm. Svenny has always encouraged my music and allowed me to play on his music, and it was Sven who inspired me to try my hand at writing. Five years later, I think I’m starting to figure this thing out…
But mostly, my life wouldn’t be complete without my daughters, Aimee and Chesalie. They have grown into wise adults and they remind me to be the best I can be by being the best they can be. They’re definitely the best thing I ever did…
What does this have to do with music or technology or playing or any of the other things I usually write about? These people—and many others whom I don’t have space in this column to acknowledge—define me in that pseudo-present life that I lead and I’m compelled to give them the thanks that they deserve for their influence, guidance, and support.
But I do want to talk a little about music. I’m a guitar player. Guitarist, if you must, but I’m happy just to be recognized as a “player” and I don’t need to be an “-ist” to be legitimate. I’m a guitar player because the guitar chose me. I was maybe five years old when I first heard the guitar being played by my Uncle Bob and I knew immediately that I wanted to do that, too. The musician thing came much later. First, it was the guitar and making the sounds I heard in my head reach my fingers and, ultimately, the guitar. At first, and for a very long time afterward, it was very “guitar-y” things that I heard. And, believe me, it was everything I could do to get my fingers to work like I needed them to in order to make those sounds come out of the guitar. I found that often the solvent approach to achieving the desired sound was counter-intuitive to what I thought. The old musician’s sayings like “less is more” and “play slow to play fast” make no sense to the fledgling guitar player. Deciphering the instrument in order to make sounds that are anywhere musical-sounding is a huge frustration for a lot of people. It can make even the most dedicated among us want to give up. But, just like the advice in the old sayings are paradoxical, so, too, is the idea that frustration is your ally. Really? Yes, really. Because when you’ve reached that point where frustration holds sway over your effort and you’re ready to concede, your subconscious often leads you the opposite of what you’d been doing. And in that unfamiliar place you find the answer you sought. Of course, simply knowing this isn’t the end-all solution—the proverbial shortcut to getting good, which we would all love to find. Sure, there are magazine ads and YouTube videos that promise that you can “learn every blues solo with just four notes” or “the only chord you need to play jazz” but the hard fact is that it’s all B.S. There is no magic to playing well and no shortcuts to virtuosity. Everyone learns at their own pace and there is little we can do to change that. Our minds and fingers are ready when they are ready. The only “acceleration” to the process of learning is consistency. Do it every day (or whatever schedule you can manage) and things will happen.
I also have to remind you that learning isn’t all about addition. It’s just as important to practice subtraction. The best way to highlight the good stuff in our playing that we’ve worked so hard for is to remove the stale habits and clichés that we’ve collected over time as stand-ins for what we really wanted to play. How’s that for counter intuitive? We’re so conditioned to think that learning is adding to our collection of knowledge we forget that “forgetting” is learning too. Obviously, there are plenty of times when we truly forget things but I’m talking about actively avoiding what we no longer believe to be our best expression of our playing. “Forgetting” to come in on the one when we solo can add feel, tension, and drama to our music. Phrasing our playing to mirror the story or intent of the song’s lyrics can completely change how a solo works within the music. Does it tell a story if its own or does it just fill time between verses? And for those of you who don’t play guitar solos but do play solo guitar, you can use the same philosophy when you play a song. Whether you play an instrumental or accompany yourself on a vocal tune, you can change what you play to match the lyric or express a different feeling each time through the progression. Try it, it works! So let’s rephrase one of those old musician’s sayings to complement the train of thought we’ve been following so far. Let’s take “less is more” and change it to “subtraction is addition” and remember that the context applies not only to what we’re playing in the pseudo-present but also to deliberately removing what we don’t like from our playing in order to make room for, and to highlight, the things we do like in our playing.
In my tradition, I want to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving and very Merry Christmas, but it is my sincerest wish that whatever your tradition that this season bring you the happiest one yet. Peace.
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)