The biggest problem I’m having with my return to music is the same problem I had the first time around:
More specifically, I’m trying to go too fast too soon.
I didn’t fully grasp this the first time. I picked up the guitar, took a few lessons, and just assumed I would be able to cover any tune I wanted. What’s more, I just KNEW I’d be able to record anything I wanted.
Ummm … no.
The best advice you can give a beginner musician is also the hardest to follow:
Like most any other endeavor, slow and steady ultimately wins the race. Even a sprinter must take the time to learn the proper form that will ultimately help to win races. Making music is no different.
When I learned to read a thousand or so years ago, I was taught through a series of very basic books featuring a boy and girl named Dick and Jane. We (slowly) read about their adventures they took together. Sometimes they even took their dog Spot with them. The dog would race off to wherever it is dogs go frolicking off to. His actions were summed up in our books with the sentences, “See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!” The books were real page-turners.
(A quick aside: when was the last time you heard someone name their dog Spot or Rover or Fido? I for one cannot recall a single dog with a name like that.)
When I first started taking guitar lessons, my teachers encouraged me to bring in songs I wanted to learn. But rather than bring them simple three-chord pop tunes, I brought them the music that inspired me, like King Crimson or Frank Zappa. When I presented such a tune to one teacher, he said, “Well, you certainly don’t go in for any See Spot Run music, do you?” I knew exactly what he meant, and we had a good laugh over it.
But he was right. For the most part, simplicity bores me. More accurately, simplicity for the sake of being simplistic puts me to sleep. Nothing irritates me more than feeling like a musician is pandering to me. This explains why the overwhelming majority of the Top 40 and I walk on opposite sides of the street.
Still, you have to learn to walk before you can run. There’s no getting around that. This time, I’m taking that to heart.
And let’s face it, musicians have written some incredible songs without constantly resorting to complex jazz chords and alternate time signatures. Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, for example, have written some killer tunes using three to five simple open chords. I know because I learned to play a couple of them completely by accident!
I bought myself an Epiphone Hummingbird acoustic guitar for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I’ve come to call him Major Tom, since the first tune I sought to learn on him was David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
Even as Bowie’s tune gains comfort under my fingers, I found a few other tunes sneaking up on me, eager to be learned. One such tune is Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” I’ve loved that tune from the first time I heard it. So imagine my joy when I realized it contained just four simple chords.
I played that tune repeatedly for hours! I even took it as far as finding a couple of live versions that lasted more than 12 minutes to play along with. At one point, I lost feeling in my left hand because I was gripping the fretboard too hard! I knew that was wrong, but that tune is so INTENSE!
I’ve been goaded by musician friends to record my process and share it on social media. I’ve always been able to see how that would benefit me. But I’m also a military-trained slightly OCD perfectionist. The idea of putting something on display before it was properly nailed down shorts out my brainwaves.
I also have a thing for working on more than one thing at a time. This drives my friend nuts. To me, it’s perfectly normal. I take a song as far as I can on a given day. Once I get bored, I work on something else. The cycle continues until I nail a tune down.
I see it the same way I did detective work. I could have upwards of 15 case files on my desk at any given time. I would work a case until I hit a wall, then I move on to the next one. The next day, I might get a call from a witness or a lab report relative to the first case. So, I circle back and fit a few more pieces into to the puzzle. Eventually, I’ll have all I need to solve the case (or, in this case, finish the song). Only then am I willing to make my findings known.
Eventually, though, I gave in and put something on display. It’s a tune from Rick and Morty called “Goodbye Moonmen.” The song is clearly a tribute to Bowie and “Space Oddity,” because the chords used are exactly the same as Bowie’s tune. The only difference was adding a capo to the first fret, which changed the song’s key. So, warts and all, I put myself on display.
Perhaps I’ll do another soon. We shall see. The point is, I’m not in a hurry. I’m learning how to walk so I can see Spot run.
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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