Friday, April 25, 2008

Principles to Practicals

Ig from IgBlog brought up Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft and the Ten Principles behind it. I mentioned my knowledge of Guitar Craft, my dislike of some things about it, my respect for Robert Fripp's playing and his body of work, and my inability to understand how to apply some of the principles. Ig correctly noted that this had little to do with the ten principles. (I hate it when he's so right.)

So, here goes.

Act from principle - This is the one that confuses me. It seems more of a music business question than a music craft question. What is the principled way to pick a string?

Begin where you are - The other day, I was showing my son chords, and he was having problems. I said "Wanna learn a song?" His face lit up. Then I pulled up the tab for a Jonathan Coulton song, one with lots of chords all over. Last time I wrote this, I think I said "Skullcrusher Mountain" but I'm now sure it's "I Feel Fantastic". Anyway, after a while, the sheer complexity of a witty pop song overwhelmed him, and he said "Can we do something else?" I've seen, and even had, the same boggled-expression from watching Danny Gatton's Telemaster! video. It's usually around the time he pulls out the Lenny Breau-style cascading harp-like harmonics. That's when most guitarists' minds shut down. But I think that the opposite position is often true, too. A player is ready to take it to the next level but never does. Never even looks toward the next level, but thinks there's more he needs to learn from the last levels. At times, I fear that this is me.

Define your aim simply, clearly, and briefly - You can say "I want to play like Eddie Van Halen", but you have to break that down. How do you play like Eddie? You break it down. "I want to play two-handed taps." Even there, there's a physical aspect, getting good tone when hammer on with your fingers and when you pull off, etc, and a theoretical aspect, knowing what you're playing is essentially a big fast E minor arpeggio, for example. So it becomes "I want to understand chord theory relating to making things sound heavy" and "I want to develop two-handed tapping rhythms that will sound cool." Those are simple, clearly-defined action items.

Establish the possible, and move gradually toward the impossible Lorinator covered this, echoed by a now-removed Steve Vai bit from YouTube where he talked about Zappa saying he sounded like an electric ham sandwich. Troy Grady would argue that there's more to it than than, and if he ever finished his filming and released the DVD, I'd buy it and tell you a little about what that more is, but certainly, you can't become great without working on becoming great.

Honor necessity
Honor sufficiency - These two are combined. Necessity is the bottom: without these elements, you can't make it work. Sufficiency is the top: after this, you get no real benefits from throwing more at it.

Offer no violence - This one has me the most confused. Most of what I think of when I think of the craft of being a musician deals with interaction with your instrument. Offering my guitar no violence means I can't pound on the strings to get a sound or anything. Pete Townsend is right out! I can really see this as a band-survival or label-survival idea ("Don't slug your A&R rep just because he tells you to record a Diane Warren song.") but that doesn't work for me as a matter of craft. Except when you can't fret or hybrid pick because you bruised your knuckles on the A&R guy's chin.

Suffer cheerfully
Work, but not solemnly - Listen to The Seldom Scene Live at the Cellar Door. You will hear a group of people really enjoying each other's company, with a room full of people not just watching, but brought into the fun. You will also hear Mike Auldridge, Larry the Legend himself, amongst the best players ever to pick up a dobro. It is necessary to take your quest for craft seriously. It is not necessary for you to take yourself seriously.

Without commitment, all the rules change - I don't really get the point here. I'd say "without commitment, nothing gets done."

I'll also mention the GC Aphorisms page, which inhabit a space somewhere between zen koans and oblique strategies. And, of course, welcome all comments and questions.

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