The past month, as my 40th anniversary of playing guitar got closer, I spent a lot of time reflecting. This reflection has both brought up demons I didn’t know were there and exorcised some long-held demons as well. I’ll deal with the new demons over time, but the biggest most important takeaway from all this reflection is my growing realization that my happiness and contentment are not brought on by major, life changing events. The happiness and contentment I’ve found is in the everyday living I do. It’s noticing the birds chirping out my window, or feeling a cool summer breeze as it wafts through the open window. Watching a movie with one of my daughters, or cooking a meal with friends. It’s the small stuff. But for me these little moments happen most often when there’s a guitar in my hands. I’ve told my closest friends this is, and I’ll make it public today, the day I got my first guitar was the FIRST day in my life I felt complete and whole EVER-the very first time. That’s huge, and it’s still true for me today. I don’t NEED the guitar the way I used to NEED the guitar, but I still feel an instantaneous change come over me when I play a guitar. I have to admit that it is that feeling that has made it impossible to contemplate getting a ‘real’ job. Part of it is physical; the guitar has always felt natural in my hands, and the other is the sound. Ahh, the sound of a plucked string, especially the sound of a fine steel string guitar; that has always been sound of the music I hear in my head. It’s just such a powerful feeling to pick up a guitar, pluck some strings and have music the I hear in my head come out. It’s still like magic to me. Still, after 40 years.
Last week I spent a lot of time on harp guitar; I was scheduled to play a 20-minute harp guitar set at a songwriters shuffle last Thursday and Saturday I played almost 1/3 of my concert on the HG-I NEEDED to spend some time with the instrument. And I was digging really deep. Actively listening while playing at performance tempos and using performance dynamics. Not wood-shedding per se as I wasn’t learning a new technique or learning a new tune, but I was doing the last 5-10% bits of work on 4 or 5 tunes. The work that gets tunes from the living room to the stage. I discovered two things. The first is I’d been throttling the guitar with my left-hand, my fretting hand. This made the guitar harder to play, choked a lot of the tone from the guitar, and made me tired from playing much sooner. Once I adopted a relaxed left-hand approach the songs just came to life-and that carried through on stage, and I could play for much longer periods of time without fatigue. Voila. Aha moments are really important. I’m glad I was paying attention.
The other discovery I made was that for the longest time I’d looked at the harp guitar as an instrument with two distinct sections; a 6-string guitar portion, and a 5-string bass portion and I went about learning how to play both sections separately but at the same time. Somewhere in the past several months I’ve noticed a huge change in how I feel, approach, and especially play the harp guitar. It feels much more natural. My attack is the same as the attack on the standard guitar. I can play it at multiple tempos, not just ballads. I’m comfortable tuning the instrument in multiple ways live, on stage. In essence I’ve started treating it like I would any other guitar and all of this started when I started calling it an 11-string harp guitar and thinking about it as one, 11-string instrument instead of two instruments glued together.
Both of these things were moments that I’ll remember and reflect on for a very long time. One was a powerful seed for present and future improvement, and one was a recognition of a profound truth. Well, profound for me. These are the moments that I live for and revel in. These juicy little nuggets of truth that continue to inspire me. It’s these moments of insight that make me believe that choosing the path of playing original, independently produced music was wise.
In a couple of weeks I’m going to be getting some of Ernie Ball’s new aluminum bronze strings and I’m going to be like a kid in a candy store. I just can’t wait to see what they sound like. Are they different? Different in a decidedly better way, or just a little different, or really different in a bad way? Oh, what fun I’ll have. Like I said, it’s the simple pleasures that give me the most joy, and there are few things simpler than a different set of strings.
So, what little revelations did YOU have this week? And if you didn’t have any, maybe you just weren’t paying attention!