Starting Over II: Picky, Picky, Picky …

I’ve been retired for a year now. And it has taken me that long to adjust to it. Thirty-five years of service is a hard habit to break!

Friends who retired before me can’t wait to tell me there’s life after the job. What they don’t mention is how difficult it can be to deal with the lack of structure that comes with retirement. You have to create your own.

I’ve gone from nearly four decades of being told when to show up and what to do once I get there. Now I’m self-employed. There’s no one there to push me along. It’s a tough adjustment.

But I think I’m finally figuring it out, and the return to playing guitar is helping. I want to play again, which means it has to fit somewhere in what is a pretty busy schedule. Lucky for me, I’m getting a little help.

Anthony Garone’s recently published Failure to Fracture (which I recently overviewed) is proving an invaluable resource as I look to find my way back to the guitar. The book cover’s Garone’s two-decade quest to learn King Crimson’s most difficult composition, “Fracture.” In order to accomplish this, Garone had to take his already top-shelf playing in a completely different direction.

I’m only 93 (out of nearly 300) pages in, but there are three things I already know for certain:

  1. I have no desire whatsoever to play “Fracture;”
  2. I need to seriously re-evaluate my approach to the guitar.
  3. One of the first places to start is with my picking technique.

My first teacher was a man named Billy Barnett. I started taking lessons from him c.1997. I have no doubt he taught me the universally preferred way to hold a pick. But it my quest to do other things, my technique got sloppy.

Now that I’ve started playing again, one of the first things I noticed is how frequently my pick seemed to slip in my hands. Thanks to the book (and a gentle scolding from Billy), it didn’t take long to figure out why.

I held my pick between my thumb and forefinger. That’s it! There was no real stability. Hence, pick slips. Time for a better approach.

Garone uses the Guitar Workshop method taught to him by Robert Fripp. Fingers stacked and curled, thumb flat, pick secured between the thumb and forefinger. The difference is night and day!

Garone (by way of Fripp) suggests the best way to perfect and maintain this technique is to play a single open string for eight hours a day. Now, I’m a busy man. I don’t have that much time to dedicate to such an activity. But with a revamped schedule, I can give it a good 60 minutes.

I questioned this method at first. While I admire Fripp’s technique and skill, his is not the style I seek to emulate the most. That title belongs to Adrian Belew, whom I assumed did little to nothing like Fripp, even in King Crimson.

I may have been wrong about that. Slightly.

I’ve watched Adrian play guitar thousands of times. But have I ever really seen him play? After watching a few videos on YouTube, I found the answer was no.

Adrian riffs with a technique similar to Fripp, but at times opens up the bottom three fingers slightly. Why? Because he needs them to grab his tremolo arm (aka whammy bar), which helps him make his crazy sounds. It’s a hybrid style, and that works for me.

I can’t wait to see what my left hand should be doing.

The schedule. Therein lies the key to my new life.

I’ve gone a year without a real scheduled bed/rise time. It’s nice, but inefficient. Given my desire to exercise again, the need to do a TON of online and book work, and my desire to play guitar, a schedule is the only way to make this possible.

I’ve struggled with a good time to get up (I’m NOT a morning person), but I think I can handle 07:30. This gets all the physical stuff out of the way by 10:00, so I can work until 18:00, have dinner, then pick up my guitar by 19:30, when I’m usually zoning out in front of the TV. Might as well have a guitar in hand while I do it.

Once I manage to get picking under control, maybe I can start considering my pedalboard. That should prove most interesting, indeed.


You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell

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