Friday, August 4, 2017

Time for a Music Update: Guitar

This post is part of a group of posts, the first of which is my piano update. Now it's time for guitar. I need to divide this post into two parts: classical guitar and acoustic guitar.

Classical Guitar

When I told my guitar teacher I was moving, he said, "No problem, we can do online lessons." I wasn't so sure about online lessons, but I said I was willing to try.

They've been OK. Definitely not as good as in-person, but ... in some ways, better. For one thing, it's nice not to have to lose 30 minutes driving back and forth to my lesson each week. And, thanks to a high-octane internet connection, I haven't had any technical problems. And here's something weird: I used to leave my guitar lessons feeling kind of dejected, like I wasn't cool enough for this teacher because I didn't care about power chords or electric guitar or jazz improvisation (yet). With the online lessons, the focus is solely on classical guitar; we have less chit-chat, and we go on fewer tangents.

Because I have to go back to Asheville every four to six weeks for work, I still have the occasional in-person guitar lesson, which I think is good.

I'm currently working on "Mary Hamilton," a Scottish folk ballad arranged by Peter Hudson. If you'd like to hear the version I'm learning, you can watch this YouTube video.

This piece has brought me so much frustration! I've been working on it for three months, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that it started to sound like an actual song and not a painful stumbling through notes. I think the piece is above my level, and when I told my guitar teacher that, he said he thought it was perfect--just enough to make me reach and get better.

I understand that. I understand that you need to challenge your students, and I need to challenge myself. But I still felt like I was jumping from Kindergarten straight to third grade, and it wasn't any fun. It was three months before "Mary Hamilton" began to be recognizable as a song and not some tortured finger exercise. When he assigned a second song ("Simple Gifts," arranged by Richard Summers) that was at about the same level, my frustration levels increased as I practiced the same tricky measure over and over again with very little progress.

So I got on the phone with my guitar teacher and said, "Look, this stuff is too hard. I need something easier. Baby steps." I have the feeling that, because I know theory and can play piano, there's the idea that those skills and knowledge are somehow transferable to guitar technique. Maybe they are in some students ... but I can't do it. Guitar is so different from piano, and so much harder. The white keys on a piano, and even the black keys, feel like football fields compared to the tightrope wires of the guitar strings. And on piano, everything makes sense--low notes to the left, high notes to the right. Middle C is middle C is middle C. On the guitar, there are half a dozen or so middle C's, and your fingers have to move and forth along the fret board just to play a scale.

So, we're going to ditch "Simple Gifts" for now and come back to it in six months or a year once I've mastered a few more Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade pieces. It's a beautiful piece and I want to play it, but now is not the time.

Acoustic Guitar

While classical guitar is my main focus, I also want to be good enough at acoustic guitar to lead and play songs. A woman in our neighborhood has been giving me informal lessons, working from some old Alfred and Mel Bay books. Some of the stuff is really easy, but I'm also learning some things that I wouldn't have learned (or I wouldn't have learned as quickly) in my classical lessons. It helps that my neighbor is an elementary school music teacher who has made a career of leading kids in folk songs.

So I'm working on some basic scales, practicing (and learning!) some folk songs, and working on simple strum patterns. For acoustic guitar, this is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, and I feel fortunate to have found someone who can work with me at that speed.

OK, that's it for the guitar update. Now on to voice. (Sorry, didn't have time to do the voice update. Not that there's that much to tell, as I haven't really picked it up again since moving. I'll do an update soon ... or in a month.)

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