Attitude

This morning I was reminded just how important the attitude I bring to the guitar can be.  I got in a bit of a kerfuffle with my bonus mom this morning who is an absolute control freak and will not endure her dog to be disciplined even when said beastie snaps and growls.  I am a huge fan of the dog training I learned through the Monks of New Skete, and got very wolfie with Oliver. I don’t hit dogs, it’s both wrong headed and ineffective.  But I do believe in doggie discipline and I put him on his back, growled and asked Ermy and the rest of her staff to ignore the dog for 45 minutes, basically a doggie timeout.  Not only did she totally ignore that she heaped affections him, basically reinforcing his behavior.  Needless to say I wasn’t happy.

I’m not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to play the guitar at that point, but it is my sanctuary, especially during these family visits.  But man, even though my body and hands were feeling better than they have in a couple of week I sucked. I rushed everything, was sloppy as hell, and even spaced out parts of pieces I’ve been playing for 25 years.  It was ugly.

And then I took a deep breath, put the guitar down for a bit and collected myself. This was at about the 45 minute mark of my session.  I was bound and determined to get through this. I calmed myself, relaxed and played the last 3 or 4 tunes well. Not spectacularly, but I didn’t rush and played with dynamics for about 20 minutes. I can’t say that it was fun, but it was satisfying to work through it.

I’m not sure if I’ll have a chance to play again today. It’s my Dad’s 90th and there’s a big party and then packing to fly home tomorrow.  But if I do play, I can guarantee you I’ll have a better attitude or I won’t play at all.

Because IMHO playing with a bad attitude is worse than not playing.

Cheers, kb

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The Good, the bad, and the ugly

Yesterday was one of the more frustrating days I’ve had on the guitar.  I had been up since 3am traveling to Michigan when I finally got to play the guitar at about 4:30 in the afternoon.

There was a hive of activity as family members arrived to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday Monday so I took my baritone guitar out on the back porch to chill and get some of the road off my hands.  My stretching and warmup went well, but the guitar was NOT cooperating.  I had put new strings on it before I left, and with the temperature dropping and humidity rising my guitar did what guitars do; it remembered it was a tree and was moving all over the place.  It was especially wonky when I played in its lowest tuning Dropped-D intervals starting on Bb.

After about 15 minutes of pulling strings and fighting the guitar I said screw it and tuned it up to DADGAD intervals starting on C and it handled it much better. Not great, but I got in about 45 minutes of playing that wasn’t satisfying at all musically, but did do the one thing I was looking for and that was to knock the rust off. I kept telling myself not to be pissed at the guitar, it was just doing what was natural, and that kept me relaxed enough to accomplish my goal.

This morning I had vastly different goals.  I wanted to play some music. My hands felt decent, not great, but my stretching session went well and I hunkered down on the guitar.  And I learned a lesson. As much as I’d like this guitar to be tuned lower for standard and dropped-D intervals the strings just don’t have the mass required to do that.  And the truth is, this guitar loves any alternate tuning a whole step lower than standard.  Any and all alternate tuning sound amazing bE amuse the string gauge is perfect for those tunings.

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And I played music for about 75 minutes.  The guitar sounded and felt fabulous, everything worked, and I played in CGDGAD, DGDGAD, DGDGBD, DGDGBbD, and DADGAD intervals, and the guitar LOVED it.  Every single note, even the ones I  fluffed.

While I’m a little bummed about not being able to play standard and Dropped-D material on the Bari, I’m a believer in using a guitar in a way that suits it best. Since I got my 12-fret OM refurbished about 10 days ago all the standard and dropped-D stuff sounds fabulous on that, so I’ll perform that material on that guitar. It’s a no-brainer. And  I’ll use the Bari for what it does best.  Also a no-brainer. I will use this information as I start putting together my set lists for my June concerts, and I know my performances will be better for it.

Frustration isn’t always a bad thing. To me it just signals that something isn’t working and I need to find a solution.  And today I did. I listened to my guitar and came up with a winning solution.

What did your guitar teach you today?

Cheers, kb

 

Long toss

I’ve been a baseball fan since I watched the Cubs one day in April ’63 at a hotel room in the Chicago area while my folks were looking for a house; don’t worry, I had a baby sitter other than the TV.  Baseball still captivates me. A team sport that is largely played one-on-one between the pitcher and hitter.  As you know my teaching vlogs and blogs are peppered with sports analogies.  But there’s a reason for that.

Much of the way I approach my practice on the guitar was learned on a baseball diamond, and later tennis courts and golf courses.  Learning most crafts requires time on the practice field repeating things over and over and over again to build strength and muscle memory.  Golfers call it digging it out of the dirt.  Lessons are great; vitally important in fact. But not as important as the playing that happens between the lessons.

Yesterday, was a very demanding day on my hands away from the guitar. The whole week has been. But yesterday was  brutal. I wrote and edited a blog, wrote lots of emails, booking emails, and edited a bio. All in all, about 5 hours of work at the computer keyboard. And then I weed whacked the yard.

I had played the guitar for nearly 5 hours Wednesday, and another 10 or 12 from Sunday through Tuesday.  When I was finally able to pick up the guitar  last night, Thursday May 19th for those of you reading this late, I had NOTHING in my hands. I played a little harp guitar and a little 6-string, but after 30 minutes I just put the guitars back in their cases. I was being smart. If I’d done anything more I’d have hurt myself.

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So today, I made sure I got the guitar in my hands first thing after I wrote my morning pages and answered and sent a few critical emails; about 9am.  But I went into it knowing how spent my hands were the night before, and that I had to mow the lawn later this afternoon.  I went into it like a starting pitcher who throws a long toss session after a complete game start having thrown 130 pitches a couple days ago.

I stretched for about 15 minutes before I picked up the guitar, and then played a bunch of chromatic scales and did some right hand warm-ups on my 12-fret OM, standard scale guitar.  Slow and steady, and I played softly. Everything I played I played with zero tension. I did this for about 6 or 7 minutes.

Then I played a couple of ballads in DADGAD, really just letting the guitar do the heavy lifting, and after about 10 minutes my hands felt great. My forearms were, and are, still a little tight, but nothing that stopped me from playing. That’s the best part about stretching and playing relaxed; you can get more out of tired muscles.

I moved on up to mid and uptempo pieces in DADGAD that were played at full speed but half the volume-that trick really saves my hands-it’s something I’ve learned to do on concert days as well as days I’m recuperating.  And then I finished up playing a difficult medley in EbBbEbGAD tuning at full volume and full speed.  Total elapsed time from stretching to casing the guitar was 57 minutes. This was my version of long toss.

I will probably play later again tonight. I usually do after I mow the lawn, and it will be a shorter version of this morning’s long toss session but played on the harp guitar. But I’m really looking forward to it, and while I know I won’t have my A game, I’ll have fun and get some work accomplished.

Tomorrow I travel, and won’t play guitar until late in the afternoon or early evening if at all. But I’m ok with that now because a day’s rest after the week I’ve put in might not be such a bad thing.

I hope you have a great day on the guitar.

Cheers, kb

 

The birth of an album

I just spent a very enjoyable 45 minutes ‘charting’ the songs I’m considering recording on my next album. Oops, did I say I was going to record another album. Ahem.

Anyway, over the past couple of years I’ve done lots of stealth writing and arranging, material that for the most part I’ve not performed or videotaped. I did debut a couple of pieces on my November tour with Steve Davison and in December with Raymond Gonzalez, but for the most part the 16 songs I’m going to record haven’t been heard much by the general public. I’ve been doing this on purpose because I really want the tunes to be a bit of surprise.

So this morning I was doing what I normally do about 30-45 days out from the studio dates; taking an inventory of what I’m planning on recording, which for me includes which instruments I’m going to use, an estimate of how long the piece will be, the tempo of the piece, the tuning of the piece, and whether it will be solo or ensemble.

I always try to have about 60 minutes of music ready that I can edit down to 42-48 minutes; what I consider to be a proper length for an ‘album’. Any longer and folks won’t hear the last couple of tunes, and any shorter and folks might feel like they’ve been cheated.

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Simple Pleasures

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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. Continue reading

A Father’s Gift

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This Saturday, June 14th I celebrate my 59th birthday. But it’s a much bigger day to me, because it marks the 40th anniversary of getting my very first guitar; a Narada dreadnought my father gave me for my 19th birthday in 1974.  Interestingly enough I had planned on asking for a guitar for my high school graduation the year before, but after a friend showed me how to play a C chord on a classical guitar, something I found incredibly difficult, hell, impossible, I opted for something else. And it must have been inconsequential because I have NO idea what my graduation present was.

That fall I went off to college to SMU in Dallas, TX. That year was the first year without having music a daily part of my life. I’d been active in choirs for the previous 12 years, as well as having music class as part of a daily curriculum.  Those were the days. I can’t tell you how much I missed participating in making music.  Listening to music for me has always played less of a role in my day-to-day existence than making music has; it was true then and it’s true now. So I felt lost. But I was lucky enough to become friends with two classmates, Bill Glass and Mike Crane, who were very fine guitarists. I would hang out with them and listen while they played everything from the Beatles to James Taylor tunes to Allman Bros. staples like Midnight Rider. Mike was also a fine fingerstyle guitarist and was doing a credible job on tunes like Duane’s Little Martha, and Leo Kottke’s The Fisherman, two tunes I still perform to this day and are recorded on my albums Homecoming and Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard respectively.  The fact that I had two friends who were fine guitarists somehow proved to me that I too had what it took to play the guitar. Not sure why that was, but there’s something about watching peers do something that makes me think I can too. I started begging for a guitar as soon as I got back to my suburban Chicago home in mid-May after finals.  And my dad listened. Continue reading

A Rose by Any Other Name: What’s in a name?

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At dinner this week while celebrating my father’s 88th birthday I was asked by one of his friends what I called my music. This person has a few of my CD’s, and loves them, but wanted to know what to call it so she could describe it to her friends and family.  It took me five minutes and hundreds of words to describe it, and I knew right then what my week’s blog post was going to be about.  Thanks Gay!

A little over two years ago I got a very interesting email from my friend and fellow instrumental guitarist Kinloch Nelson with the subject line “What’s in a name?”  It’s one of the best treatises I’ve ever read on the conundrum of what instrumental guitarists like me go through in what to call our music.  Think about it.  If someone says they’re going to a folk, jazz, blues, classical, rock, or punk concert we all have a pretty good idea what type of music we’re going to encounter. Bookers at venues know when one of these acts calls to book a gig what they’re booking.  And we know what genres we like and those we don’t, so we can support ‘our’ music and leave the rest to others. We know what bin to go to in a record store (yes they still exist), or what to look under at iTunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, or Pandora to listen or download our favorite music. For those of you who know my music, what would YOU call it. One word, no more, no less. What is it?  And you can’t be nice and say “Good” or “Great”, what GENRE is it? Okay, I’ll be nice and you can have two words. But no more. Continue reading