Friday, December 5, 2014
Years ago, I bought a guitar and tried to learn to play. I managed a few chords and a little bluegrass finger picking, but I only got proficient enough for my own enjoyment. I never played well enough to actually perform in front of anyone.
I did gain an appreciation for those who can play well.
As it is too cold to play golf, and as I am retired and have plenty of time, I recently pulled out that old guitar. I practice a half hour a day, or until my fingertips start to hurt.
I have a theory about playing a musical instrument.
Real musicians make it look so easy, they not only pick up new songs quickly, but they also improvise to make a piece their own. A real musician can play a piece in different keys on command. A musician hears a piece in his head and his fingers go to the correct string and the correct fret. There is no thinking; it is virtually automatic from hours and hours of practice.
Most people can sing a song without reading music, some better than others, and most better than I, still most people can follow a tune vocally. Imagine how difficult singing is. Your instrument, your voice, is far more complicated than playing a piano or a guitar. You don’t play a note by simply striking a key, or strumming the correct string while covering a fret, you must shape your mouth and tongue in just the right way, and adjust your vocal cords simultaneously while forcing air from your lungs. It is so incredibly intricate that it defies teaching and yet most of us can sing a tune.
OK, here is the theory…finally.
Most of us can use their voice as an instrument because from the time we are born we constantly use our voice, constantly hit different notes and constantly experiment. By constantly experimenting with this instrument, our voice, most of us can to different degrees of expertise learn to sing, and often do it in different keys with little effort.
Musicians can do this with their instrument of choice because they put in so many hours of practice that they can eventually play with the same level of ease as most people can sing. Their fingers learn to go to the right key as easily as others learn to shape their mouth, tongue and vocal cords.
If this theory is correct, if I practice guitar and constantly experiment with different chords and scales and note patterns, eventually the sound I hear in my head will be converted to the correct fingering and plucking required to duplicate that sound with the guitar. In effect I can learn to play the guitar with the same ease as I can play my voice.
I have been practicing now for over a month and in fact I see great improvement. Some pieces I can pick up and play without really thinking of what string to pluck and what fret to cover. It is in fact starting to become somewhat automatic.
I have mastered one piece (to my own satisfaction) and parts of several others and can even improvise a bit. At the rate I am improving I firmly believe I can reach a high level of competence simply by playing over and over and letting my fingers learn to react the same as my vocal cords react when I sing.
I know I can never reach a professional level of competence the same as I could never sing beyond my own enjoyment in a shower venue. But if I keep practicing everyday for first a half hour, then an hour, and finally several hours a day I think I can become a pretty good guitar player…in about ten years.
Of course I will need a water-proof guitar.
When the weather warms up I might just put the guitar down and bring out the golf clubs again. In the mean time I am having fun trying to prove my theory.