Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Memorizing Artifacts of Ancient Architecture

Joe of From The Woodshed is reconsidering his goals for learning the six-string beast. Which seems like a good reason to at least form an initial set of goals.

GAS is easy. We can say "I'll get a Les Paul and a Marshall stack and I'll sound like Cream-era Clapton!", or "If I just had a high-end Martin, I'd get those Tony Rice licks down." This isn't true, because tone comes from your hands as much from your hands as it does from your gear. It also isn't good, because instead of being the best, most interesting you that you can be, you end up sounding like your hero. But because you are not your hero, you sound instead like a cut-rate imitation of your hero. Which is even more boring.

Looking forward in my own playing, I see four areas where I would like to grow.

  • Repertoire

  • Technique

  • Scales, Chords and Arpeggios

  • Lyricism

Repertoire is simple. I think I should know more songs. I think I should know different songs. I know a great deal about playing over some chord changes and the like, so I can improvise when others play a song, but I don't know enough songs.

There's things I have Technique for. I can pre-bend, I can bend to a note. I know hammer-ons and pull-offs. I can do squealers. There are things I want to do that are strictly technique that I hope to get into. I can do straight boring folkie fingerpicking, but funky blues fingerpicking and dead-thumb is beyond me, So is chicken pickin'. I can make the sounds of EVH finger-tapping, but I can't make it music. And I'm more and more resigned to the idea that I'll have to pick up some sweep picking someday. And I can't crosspick with authority, and my arm gets tired quick.

I'm iffy on Scales, Chords and Arpeggios. I know the major, minor and blues pentatonic scales in a few positions, but I do not know them in all the CAGED positions, nor do I have a real handle on the three-notes-per-finger scales. I have a good start with chords and chord theory, but the jazzy, Freddie Green chords still make my hands hurt. And I am just starting to see arpeggios as acceptable and applicable to the music I want to do. I was listening to some New Orleans piano, I think Professor Longhair, and he used an arpeggio to get halfway across the piano, and while New Orleans piano is not what I do, it is in the style of music I want to do. I want to be funky and bluesy. I listen to shredders, but I don't want to sound like a shredder. I'd rather play like Mike Campbell than Vivian Campbell any day, but that doesn't mean that Viv doesn't have anything to show me.

Finally, I don't know that my playing has Lyricism. I just don't really have the means to record myself and listen back. I know this is something that is rare and to be treasured. I've heard outtakes from Charlie Parker, from his Strings album, where he's improvising the intro, and there's absolutely no relation between the original melody, the scratched previous take and the one he followed up on, but each one is perfectly melodic. Not everybody has that. Not that many rock solos you can hum, and those you can are those you remember.

Those are my failings as a musician. These are the areas I need to work on. Which is not to say I consider myself a failure as a guitarist. I put on some XM radio the other day and worked to figure out the key and try to play some matching music, and I was greatly heartened by my ability to catch on fast. For one or two, I found myself playing the same licks as the guitar player on the track, and I hadn't heard the song before. I am a pretty good guitarist. I'm working on becoming a good guitarist. I hope to become an interesting guitarist. Being good and being interesting are not the same thing.

Shub-Internet is helpful for some of it. There are lots of guys on YouTube who want to show you how to play that song, that lick, that style, and the tab sites have a whole lot of chord sheets and lead sheets that, if they aren't perfect, are at least good enough. So I can build up my repertoire. I have the HotLicks DVD Learn Heavy Metal Guitar with 6 Great Masters out from NetFlix. I have the Masters of the Telecaster book and my library has the video. So I can pick up technique. I'm a coder in my day job, and I always heard that the best way to learn a new thing is to write something that uses it, so when I wanted to figure out Scaled Vector Graphics, I wrote a tool to show scales across the neck so I could use it to learn positions. (Comments are always welcome, because it ain't near good yet.)

What I don't know is how you learn how to be melodic. I am sure that, even if I'm genetically able to be half the melodic player that Bird was, I'm about 20 years of practice behind him. It might be part of the repertoire thing. I have to say that most of the songs I can play, I can play the chords. I can't always play the melody. Which isn't necessarily the guitar part. Really, it's the singers that get the melody these days, if anybody gets one.

I feel I should comment on this. I've put together a couple lists of guitars I want. I could easily come up with a good 20 more. I love Hendrix, so gimme a left-handed white Strat I can flip over. I dig gypsy jazz, so I want a Selmer. You gotta have an F-hole mandolin if you wanna play bluegrass, right? And the Hammond B3 is an instrument that is equally cool if you come at it like a master, like Jon Lord or Jimmy McGriff or Booker T. Jones, or if you pull out all the stops and lay your arm across the keys. There, I did more.

But I know that I could play what I play now and never need more than half my collection. I have and I play lap steel for myself. I play mandolin for myself. I scratch at the fiddle to show my limits. I play out on the acoustic and the Telecaster, and the most need are spares so I can keep going should I break a string. The point of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is the hope that you can bypass practice and get good by simply buying good. And it just doesn't work. It's a fallacy. There are things you need, and I needed my AX1500G or something like it to put some juice between me and the PA at church. I don't need everything in the Musician's Friend catalog. But I still get it sent to me.

Just so you know, I'm a very talkative fellow online. If you have a comment, any comment, I will read it and appreciate it, and more than likely I will comment back. Don't be shy!


Joe said...

The SRV signature Strat is my favorite example of GAS failure. I always chuckle when I see one in a store, cause they're strung with .09s or .10s. And I know that a set of .12s or .13s on any guitar through any amp will sound closer to SRV than his very own setup with wimpy strings.

I clicked on your code link and a mystery was revealed. I've been wondering for months why csociety.org/~jacoby kept showing up in my stats. Now I know a non-malicious person is behind it. You seem okay to me.

Thanks for the links.

Dave Jacoby said...

I have a script that checks your site (and many many others) and keeps track of changes so I know when you've written something. That's all that is.

And thanks for the comment!