Monday, November 08, 2010

Lazy Musician

I know, I know, there are folks who say "lazy musician" is redundant, but there are some really hardworking ones out there; alas, I'm not among them. I'm not even comfortable with the term when speaking of myself.

Pause for a musician joke:

So there a rich guy standing in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter says, "So, how much money did you make last year?"

Rich says, "About a million dollars."

St. Peter frowns. "Huh. You know what they say about rich men getting into Heaven, don't you?"

Rich guys says, "Yeah, but, I gave a tenth of my income to the church, and I was active in charity work -- I contributed almost half of what I earned to good causes."

St. Peters shrugs. "Okay, I guess that's good enough. You can come in."

Guy standing behind the rich man steps up, shaking his head.

St. Peter looks at him. "What?"

"That guy gave away more last year than I made in the last ten years."

St. Peter raises his eyebrow. "Oh, really? So ... what instrument did you play ... ?"

Back to lazy. A few years back, fooling around with my guitar, I tuned it down a full step. I liked the deep and resonant sound that it made. And I also found there were a lot of songs that were done by folks with vocal ranges much higher than mine that I could then sing with the tuning dropped that way without having to transpose the chords. And I learned some new songs -- wrote some of them -- with the DGCFAD tuning.

So I started going to jam with some folks, and to be able to play, I had do do one of three things: Either retune my guitar to EADGBE; capo up a full step; or transpose on the fly. 

All of these had disadvantages. 

Once guitar strings get stretched out to a certain tuning, they seem to like it there, kind of like a homeostatic set point. Tune 'em up, they keep going flat. Keep them sharp long enough, then when you go back to the lower tuning, then they go sharp. Big tuning changes are therefore a pain in the ass.

A capo is the fastest -- clip it on, you get an instant step up without having to change chords, you just play them relative to the capo as if it were the nut. Everybody is in the key of C, you play C-shapes, you're good.

Problem there is, with a classical guitar, which has twelve frets to the body, you then lose a couple frets worth of barre chords, and anything above the body gets tricky to play, plus the open strings don't sound quite the same. Run out of neck on some of the stuff.

Transposing on the fly -- that is, changing the key up or down from the guitar's tuning as I go is beyond me for anything past three-chord blues. If the song is in, say, the key of G, and I play G-shapes, then what comes out of my lower-tuned instrument is going to sound like the key of F, and once you leave the key of C, you get into sharps and flats and the chords and notes get tricky. You can pull this off with barre chords, but I still have to think about it too much, and it still cuts the number of frets to the body down. I like to play a barred-G on 12. I can't pull it off on 14.

So, I took the easy way out and retuned to standard. Unfortunately, that meant a bunch of the songs I had been singing at home that I could just hit the high notes on in the lower tuning were immediately out of my reach. I'd get to that high note, and my head-voice would give up. (Head-voice or natural voice, as opposed to falsetto, which has limited application and not nearly as much power.)

So, if I want to sing "Hey, Jude, " which I'd been playing in C, but which was dropped to ... um, B-flat? -- then I had to make that choice again -- capo or transposition. (Transposition means, you change the chord up or down and keep the relative positions. So in say, 12-bar blues, if you are in A, then the I-IV-V progression is ADE. Switch to E, and it becomes EAB.)

There are a couple of songs I've been playing for a fairly long time that I want to continue, and short of  having a guitar with the lower tuning, those have to be transposed. So that's what I'm doing. 

B-flat, by the way, is not the greatest key for guitars. Horns, yeah, guitars, not so much ...

(The picture at the top? Nothing to do with this posting. I just liked it ...)


Dojo Rat said...

Playing with a guy that uses a capo drives me crazy.
Maybe you should have two guitars, considering the stretch on the strings.

Anonymous said...

What Dojo Rat said ... time for a second guitar. The jam guitar with standard tuning and the "I can sing it ALL!" guitar with the lower tuning.

It's only money, after all. ;=)