Monday, December 10, 2007

A Little Knowledge ...


A little knowledge, they say, is a dangerous thing. And yet, sometimes, a little knowledge is certainly better than none.

I have, for the last few years, been paying more attention to learning how to play the guitar than I did in the previous three decades when the cased instrument leaned on the wall next to the file cabinet gathering dust.

I can't claim to have learned much -- I can do a few simple tunes -- but I did realize yesterday that I have picked up some things.

In my collection of sheet music, there are songs I got along the way that I couldn't play when I got them. I didn't have the wherewithal to even know what the chords looked like without a chord book, much less be able to get my fingers to go where they were supposed to go.

I can play a version of "Hey, Jude," which song I love enough to have named a dog after it.
And while "Layla" -- another dog song -- has a fairly simple chord progression, the best-sounding version of it I have is in the key of Dm, and I could never manage that with the cowboy chords (those being the ones you need to play the songs by a singing cowboy like Gene Autry, mostly first-position fingerings.)

Barre chords are both harder and easier -- harder to do on a classical guitar physically, but once you learn them, you can move up or down the neck and make other chords using the same shape, owing to that nice little musical progression thing -- an A-minor moved up a couple frets makes a B-minor, moved down, a G-minor.

So when I look at the Derek and the Dominos song "Layla," (actually Eric Clapton and Duane Allman doing the guitars) and see that there's a D-sharp-minor, a C-sharp, and some B-flats and C-sharp-minors, I actually know where those are and can form them.

I realize there are nine-year-old kids who can play better than I, but it's a revelation to me anyhow, given as how I never thought I'd live to see the day I could do that ...

6 comments:

William said...

I felt the same way when I realized I could play passable lead riffs when I played individual chord notes. Nothing fancy, but it sounds pretty.

Anonymous said...

Hey, good for you Steve. I remember when how things worked on a guitar clicked for me. First the chords clicked, then the scales clicked and then I spent the next 12 years playing semi-pro in bands. Once you get the idea down that there are a lot of movable chords on the guitar you can play anything in any key. I tend toward B flat and F. After that all the cool stuff like pedal tones and drones are cake. :)

Steve Perry said...

Fortunately, I don't have to worry about all that newfangled e-lectrickal stuff -- the joys of an unamplified acoustic nylon-string and all ...

I tend to sing in C or D a lot, which, when the thing is tuned down a full step makes it easy -- play it in D, it comes out C ...

Brad said...

And I tune to C flat and (try) and sing in c flat.

I'm just picking it back up after almost 5 years. Went to the guitar store and found out how much I remembered about playing and how much I forgot. It'll give me something to do on those long trips.

Steve Perry said...

Hey, Brad --

On trips that long, you could learn to play all the pop music written for the last fifty years, along with some Bach and Mozart for spice ...

Mike said...

Bach is good; maybe the best practice you can get. And it's hard to believe that a guy who started playing in the late 50s (if you knew three chords back then you could meet girls) would get to this point, although as you said there's nine-year-olds out there that blow me away. Fun stuff; one of those things you never really master but get a great deal of enjoyment from simply learning new things. And in the immortal words of Norman Blake, "That's just a scale; the fish comes later".