Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Facing the Monster

Did some great practicing over the weekend; something that becomes all too rare. There's always some little thing getting in the way. Plus, the metronome drives my wife insane. She even suggested that I go down to the university to practice.


You mean leave the house to go to a private room where I can totally concentrate on nothing but a gee-tar? Holy shit. That only happens during the school year when students cancel or just blow off a lesson. She must have another guy on the side to suggest such bliss.

I know what some of you are saying: big fucking deal. You sit and play a stupid guitar. That's nothing special. Well, I agree, but bliss and hardship are in the details.

Every time you pick up a guitar, you're about to learn something. Probably something about yourself.

Sometimes it feels like music is speaking through it: hands and instrument are one. Other times, the hands are heavy and the guitar seems like a stick with rubber bands on it. Useless. There is no meeting of the two and certainly music is just a hollow exercise. Sure, we play, but what comes out is meaningless, full of cliches and tasteless.

Practice is a very private thing to me. It is both work and meditation. I have to have solitude of some sort in order for it to be effective. True, I can tune out a TV, even conversations in the background if forced to do so. At least, most conversations.

On Saturday, my wife had a friend over and they doing some paper work. Soon the snippy comments came wafting into the kitchen.

"That clicking noise drives me insane."

"Yes, that tick tick tick. Argh!"

"Play a song, Jim."

I understand their point of view. This is monotonously brutal to listen to. Who wants to hear a passage repeated over and again? There's a devil of a passage in the Bach I'm working up. Son of bitch, if it ain't the left hand stumbling, then it's the right getting confused. Being of German heritage, I am not prone to giving up; digging my heels in deep. Slowly, tediously, I go over every possible combination to make sure the passage is as simple to play as possible. Experience has taught me that complexity and live playing are not mutually compatible.

Hans Zimmer, regarding starting a new film score, spoke about not having to "face the monster head on"- the new and ever challenging task of writing original music. He likes to talk with the director before writing a single note. Players, on the other hand, cannot escape the monster, no matter what they tell themselves. There is no end run, not short cut.

I admire players who simply sit down and play without having to ever worry about the minutiae of technique. I also mistrust this notion tremendously.

So, every time I sit down with the old git box, the fingers work their way through simple exercises, scales, arpeggios, slurs, chord inversions with metronome ticking madly away. These are not optional, they are the foundations for the music that I hope will flow from clunky fingers.

So, I will "play a song" for ya.

After Mr. Metronome says its ok.

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