now playing: grateful dead, “terrapin station”
(my all time favorite GD song, by the way…)
i’ve been put in the position, of late, to give some thought to how it was that i came to learn the things i’ve learned about playing guitar…or any of the instruments i play, for that matter. i have a son whos’ learning to play, a daughter who wants to take piano lessons, and a wife who is looking to me for guidance to learn to play bass.
i’ve been asked before – and have attempted, once or twice – to give lessons. “you play so well”, people would say. “if you can play that well, surely you can teach other people to do that, too, right?”
well, frankly – i haven’t gone about this in the normal manner. and, given my druthers, i’d have done some of this considerably different than i have. if i could stop/rewind, i’d find a traditional teacher and learn the way everyone else has. i might not have some of the stylistic quirks that i have now, but strangely, i don’t see that as a bad thing.
i have a lot of handicaps. by handicaps, i mean that there are a lot of things that schooled players can do that i’m unaware of how to execute properly. i don’t have the musical vocabulary of a traditionally schooled player, i don’t think. and i’ve certainly developed a lot more bad habits than any schooled player would’ve been allowed to…and at this late stage in the game, i’m kinda stuck with them. at this point, i’m not sure i could unlearn any of them.
so how the hell did i ever manage to learn anything, without any proper guidance, you might ask?
if i had to give it a name, i guess i’d call it subtractive intuition.
my first instrument was the drums, and there sure as hell wasn’t anyone around to teach me jack shit about that. i built a makeshift drumset out of buckets and lids and whatever i could find lying around, and i sat out in back of my grandfathers’ house and beat on them incessantly. i’d listen to the radio and i’d try to figure out what it was that they were doing, and if there was music anywhere, i’d beg to go and i’d watch every move the drummer made, and then i’d go home and emulate what i saw. i’d stay up late to watch the midnight special or saturday night live or even the country music shows that aired on saturday afternoons, just to try to figure out what it was that they were doing, and then i’d try to apply it.
in the fall, there was a harvest festival at the elementary school in my town, and there’d usually be a band for that…i’d sit as far around the side of the band as i could and watch the drummer’s every move. i probably creeped a few of them out, but they didn’t let on if i did.
in my teens, my mother got me a clock radio for christmas, and it went everywhere i did…i’d take it to my grandfathers’ house and i’d play along with the radio for literally hours at a time.
my point is that i was hungry for every morsel of knowledge i could attain about music – drums in particular. i absorbed everything i could about them, and i became a kickass drummer very quickly.
later, when i decided to try my hand at the guitar, i did the same thing…i’d watch the guitar players in the bands i was in, i’d ask questions, and i’d go home and try to apply what i’d seen, or what i’d been shown. i’d read articles in magazines, watch tv, anything i could – just to try and pick up something new.
heaven knows what i’d have been like if i’d had the internet when i was a kid.
i marvel now, as i watch my son flirt with the notion of playing an instrument, at his general indifference towards the instrument. now i fully realize as i say that how much it must sound like i expect him to take the same path i did, and truthfully, i don’t. if he doesn’t want to play, i fully respect that, and he’s free to flirt with the notion as much as he wants…if he ever actually gets hungry, then i’m there for him. same thing with jayda, or wendy for that matter.
to anyone who would be considering this path…learning to play an instrument…i’d ask that simple question first.
are you hungry?
seriously. do you find yourself compulsively tapping out drum fills and rolls on the desk? do your fingers rise and fall on the table as if they were playing hammer-ons and pulloffs, a la jimmy page? does the music play in your head constantly? do you draw pictures of your instrument in the back of your notebook? are you constantly listening to music, trying to get inside the head of the person who inspires your hunger?
none of these things are prerequisites to playing an instrument…playing it well, even.
but if you want to learn, there’s no substitute for being hungry.
and one other point i’ll make about learning an instrument…a point that applies to learning anything, really. write this down.
no one ever learned a fucking thing while their own lips were moving.
that’s all. class dismissed.