The (Slightly) Embellished Diary of an Aging Guitar Student
Fast approaching fifty, I have decided to make a serious effort to learn to play the acoustic guitar. Other efforts have been made previously, including a year's detour with a cello, but now it's time to get serious. Did I mention that I'm fast approaching fifty?
There is no end to the amusement some people (who will remain nameless) find in my attempts to play Jimi on my acoustic guitar. Okay, it is funny, but still . . .
In any case, here's a blues clip of the man himself reminding everyone that the acoustic guitar is every bit as funky as the electric version . . . the guitarist is the deciding factor in whether it rocks or not.
Mine doesn't rock yet, but I'm working on it . . .
Alas, life is getting in the way of learning to play the guitar. It's all good though. As a freelancer, I can't complain about having a lot of work or doing a little traveling. Still, there is a hell of a lot to be learned and time seems rather precious at the moment.
That said, I am eagerly tackling my homework, which I hope will lead to greater finger dexterity . . . since I discovered by trying to play the blues that I have a long way to go in that regard.
Okay, so Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression is what I'm working on now. I'm sure I'm playing too quietly (or perhaps "timidly" would be the better word here) for Gernot's liking, but I'm playing . . .
Okay, I admit that all I really knew about Bobby Hebb was "Sunny," which is a gorgeous song and one of my favorites from back in the day. But given that this was all I knew about him, I was surprised to come across this clip this morning:
As I am now trying to learn something about playing the blues myself, I was really touched by this performance of Little Willie Brown's "Cut it Out." Quite a leap from "Sunny," which is always refreshing to see in a musician.
I am now the master of the pentatonic scale in A minor.
No, seriously, I can play it backwards and forwards, slowly and quickly, AND with confidence. The chart looks like this:
The action starts on the fifth fret, if you want to try this at home.
As soon as Gernot taught me this scale, and was fairly certain I could handle it, he suggested that I use it to do my own improvisation while he played the blues track I learned last week.
Well, that's what I have to call highly effective pedagogy. By teaching me something new and immediately giving me a real musical application—however elementary—he shows me that all of this abstractness really does mean something, which of course encourages me to stick with it.
So he played, and I picked off some notes on the A minor pentatonic scale, and it worked . . . okay, it would have really worked if I hadn't been so nervous about screwing up, but it will definitely work this week when I see him again.
Not really, I've just been practicing the blues lick (in A) that I learned on Friday. Yeah, Gernot really mixes it up and makes it fun.
Okay, I say "fun" but sometimes I'm so stressed during the lesson. When he's teaching me something new, he plays it, and I have to play along. He gives me the name of the string or the chord or the note, which my tired old brain is struggling to remember and my soon-to-be arthritic fingers are struggling to play. He transcribes everything for me later at the end of the lesson, but during the lesson, I've come dangerously close to breaking into a sweat . . . which is completely unrelated to the sweltering temperatures we're experiencing at the moment.
Gernot never notices that I'm stressed because it seems that I have one of those faces. You know the ones that can look really cool when everything inside is screaming, "WTF??!!" At least that's what Gernot said. Not the WTF part, but the looking like everything is just fine and I'm having fun part. I happen to know, however, that my face can also signal "WTF??!!" with no problem at all. At least that's what my man has led me to believe. So perhaps I'm just being polite during my lesson.
In any case, back to the blues . . . The best part, and I mean the ABSOLUTE best part was the turnaround at the end. I'm playing it to death. I'm even playing it with a pick, which I usually avoid since they make everything sound so loud and I'm so shy. But not now baby, I'm picking that turnaround like a fool. I want to join a band where that's the only thing I have to do. I sit on stage for hours and play—perhaps ten minutes tops—variations on this one turnaround. This time slowly, next time superfast.
So if you're reading this and have a band I can join where all I have to do is look cool and play this one turnaround, please get in touch. You won't regret it.
Today's musical guest, the one and only Mr. Hooker: