The guitar

Wow, I’ve spent the last week with the guitar as my top priority. Of course day job (full time)  and life stuff (work on pickup, pay bills, trim branches and haul them off–hence the need for the pickup; cooking, laundry, phone calls, exhaustion), suck up a bunch of time.

I wrote a blues song, code name BT – LM, and I need good guitar work in it. As a recording artist, I find that I have taken the easy way out, too often, which is to rely on my piano as a crutch, and, let’s face it, I play boring piano. I play basic chord structure, and don’t go for all the frilly and fluffy fills and notes.

I’ve been back and forth with this guitar thing for a year. Either I think I have the kernel of talent and can do good enough work to be my own studio guitarist, or…I decide to face facts and tell myself that the overall music is worthy of finding a real, good, guitarist (ie NOT me!).

I love music. I love all instruments. But, realistically, on how many instruments can one person actually be good? Devoting time to this level of guitar work means I’m not getting a screenplay written? Can I live with that? How do I divide it up?

I guess the thing that surprises me (perhaps the most?) is that…I was willing to put years into building the piano skills. I worked for years to build the singing. But, somehow, I think I can work for a couple weeks, and get the guitar issues worked out and be up to speed??? When did that change? Why am I not willing to work (years if need be) to bring the guitar skills up to where they need to be?

Is it because when I was building the piano skills, I was  a child, and being a recording artist was a far off distant dream. When I ‘became’ a singer (and finally figured it out), I was 28, and going to the recording studio was still a far off dream? Therefore I put years into building the singing skills. Willingly. Singing was a dream, my first dream in music, and honestly, as I singer, I really didn’t think I’d ever get here.

Now, so many of these other skills are prepared and polished and attained and ready and waiting…so is that why I think the guitar work shouldn’t take so long?

Anyway…

How did we learn guitar skills before the internet? I am amazed at the resources that are available, for free, on the internet. I could spend hours just looking at videos and instructions, but the best thing to do is pick 3 or 4, and work them, and get them good.

Part of playing a guitar is building the muscle memory. My brain can fire a synapse and tell my arm what to do, but it’s about more than that. It’s about eliminating the brain from the equation.

When I drive, the car becomes an extension of my body. When I play the piano, the keys are there. I float along on the dream of the music, and I don’t have to “think” about what I do. When I sing, the passion takes over.

But, for the guitar, I have to think about it. I can hear those hesitations in timing, the tentative-ness of the playing. I need to get it smoother, to eliminate that step.

Anyway, it’s going to take more than 2 weeks worth of work, so I’ll put more into it. Realistically, if I work all this autumn, can I get where I need to go? I don’t aim to be a studio quality guitarist who will work for other people. I don’t aim to be a lead guitarist on stage. I just want to play good enough guitar to capture the meaning of my songs, in the recording process.

Anyway, some wonderful webpages that have helped me out as of late:

Guitar chords 24/7

Blues licks in E

Guitar power chords

Guitar riffs

Blues guitar licks

21 ways to improve your playing

Acoustic guitar lessons

James Burton demonstrates chicken picking

Slow blues in E

How to play Mystery Train (Scotty Moore Style)

Danny Gatton Licks and Tricks

I had bought that Alverez acoustic/electric guitar for recording. I didn’t want to modify one of my existing acoustic guitars by adding a pickup and trusting that the guitar would be the same when I got it back. My favorite guitar is a classical Vito. I have traveled thousands of miles with that guitar. I have had it in my hands for thousands of hours.

But, while the Alverez is perfectly acceptable (it’s a beautiful instrument), it’s still not my guitar.

I had bought that tranducer pickup at the music store a few weeks ago, and finally tried it out. It is going to work so much better than I had thought it might. I had figured it would be “cheap”, and produce a cheap sound. But, if I can use that pickup with my Vito, and capture, in recording, the sounds I want to make….that really puts me back to a comfort zone.

I’ve been trying to think of how to describe this. It’s not like the Vito is calibrated to me. It’s more like: I am calibrated to it. I know how far I can push it. I know where its boundaries are. The frets don’t buzz. I don’t seem to have tuning issues up the neck, as I do with other guitars (whew–the bass-I’m having such major tuning issues playing up the neck: I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, nor how to begin to adjust it!)

I pulled out my Strat, and put light gauge strings on it, and am really enjoying playing it (I’m much more geared to medium gauge). I find myself going for a note or a riff I haven’t played before. But enough of the instinct is there, to just throw something in, and it surprises me when I do that, and it’s RIGHT? Okay….maybe I’ve soaked up more knowledge than I think I have. Maybe there is more instinct there than I realized.

I lost my capo a few years ago. I bought the clamp style in the music store last autumn. Hate it. This week…what can I do about these problems? Well, I ordered a trigger style capo.

So, it’s one thing then another. I’m about to come around to the conclusion: don’t play when you are exhausted. My day job takes every bit of energy I have. So, when I come home and try to play, there’s nothing left in the well, to draw from. Then you are sooo frustrated (and sad) when you try to play and it’s not good. What about working the guitar, on my day off, and actually having some strength to draw from? Does that ease some of these frustrations?

Oh well. Every musician has been here. Everyone hits these plateaus. It’s when you hit the plateau and push thru, and learn more skills and polish your existing skills…that you become better.

If it was easy, everybody’d be doing it, right?

Guitarists, Unite! Please, please, please…when you hit this wall…tell me what you do to push thru it.

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  1. #1 by mississippimixing on July 20, 2013 - 10:43 pm

    Yea, I was stuck in that same rut of over using the piano and not ever really learning the guitar. The other day, though, I tried to write a song with the piano, but when it came time to record, the vibe just wasn’t there, so I picked up the guitar in desperation. Out of the blue I played a few chords and the vibe hit me like a brick! I think for me, it was listening to a bunch of old songs from the 50’s and 60’s, that helped me break through because if you go back and listen to those old, unpolished songs, you will find that most of the guitar playing was not perfect, and some literally stunk, yet the song still managed to shine through and make me tap my foot and sing along. I decided that if they could do it back in the day, then I could today. Hope it helps. If your interested, you can hear the song I was referring to writing here: https://soundcloud.com/jeremy-wright-20/a-cock-eyed-mule-and-a-one

    • #2 by livingforcreativity on July 20, 2013 - 11:08 pm

      That is a great track! Love the groove and the guitar work. Awesome. Your blog rocks. Where was all this info when I was trying to figure out recording? Thank you for sharing tips on audio recording. But…and how ironic, I’m pretty brain fried today, so I haven’t tried to record or make music (much). And what did I do for down time? Listen to The Turtles, The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful. So, even before I saw your suggestion, I was listening to that 60s vibe. Wow…great minds think alike. I look forward to hearing more of your music.
      Best,
      Amanda

      • #3 by mississippimixing on July 20, 2013 - 11:35 pm

        That’s funny. Gotta love the irony!

      • #4 by livingforcreativity on July 20, 2013 - 11:38 pm

        LOL. Hey…anything that feeds the creativity well…I’m all in.

        So what all instruments do you play?

      • #5 by mississippimixing on July 21, 2013 - 12:20 am

        I’m best on trumpet and drums. I fiddle around with chords on the piano and guitar. I played a friends bass for the first time the other day and fell in love with it. Can’t wait to get one!

      • #6 by livingforcreativity on July 21, 2013 - 12:39 am

        Wow, I envy you your drum skills. That’s something I really wish I knew. I’ve been working bass for about 2 months now, and like you, I love it. Amazing instrument. Of course…my two closest musical collaborators….both of them play bass. So, I should probably spend my time elsewhere! ha

  2. #7 by peculiaritiesandreticences on July 21, 2013 - 2:14 am

    1) When I’m realky burned out, I five myself a break. Go do something else. Go paint. Write a flarf poem. Compose a weird soundscape using granular synthesis. Anything. Just take the pressure off.

    2) Sometimres what I need is to go aleatoric, all eight braines and play without any thought, without any theory, without any tonality. I’ve done sone amazing stuff that way, had a lot of fun doing it, and it always seems to help me recharge.

    By the way, have you considered the introduction to guitar course at Coursera.org? It’s free and you might find it useful.

    • #8 by livingforcreativity on July 21, 2013 - 2:54 am

      Great ideas. I appreciate the input. But, I’m not creatively burned out. The creativity is there. It’s general energy management that I have such troubles with. As soon as I get a scrap of energy, I apply it to some creative endeavor. And I took today off, so that helps.

      It’s great connecting with other creative people. Have a wonderful, creative, day!

  3. #10 by peculiaritiesandreticences on July 21, 2013 - 2:16 am

    (Sorry for the poor typing. WordPress for Android is a real pain.)

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