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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

ride their fathers' magic carpets made of steel

You know that thing I keep saying like a broken record (there's an expression that's on its way to becoming as dated as "hoist on his own petard), how writing is like everything else?

It's got a surprising amount in common with gitar pickin', too. Specifically, arcaedia was here for a couple of hours this afternoon (I took her out for sushi to celebrate, though I probably shouldn't say that, or all the agents will be expecting their clients to feed them) and she asked me to mutilate a couple of songs for her. So I did, more to show off the guitar than any presumed talents of my own, and she (she plays piano) mentioned that piano was easier, because you can see your hands. And I explained, no, actually, the trick with guitar is *not* to look at your hands, but let the muscle memory tell you where to put your fingers. And then I demonstrated, by playing somewhat better with my eyes closed.

And it occurs to me that this applies to writing too. So much of it is drill--teaching yourself through repetition and self-correction (which is what editing is, really) what to do and what not to do. (And it's just as easy to reinforce bad habits as good--which is one of the reasons I think reading slush is bery useful for aspiring writers, because that whole denial thing we do ["Oh, it works when *I* do it"] doesn't hold up to repeated exposure to other writers making the same amateur mistakes.) And the thing is, in some ways, it really is easier when you can internalize those skills enough that you don't have to watch yourself doing them. In other words, when you don't have to constantly look at yours hands.

(One of the tricks to juggling, by the way, is also not to watch your hands. You watch the apex of the balls' arc.)

Anyway, I was just muddling through "City of New Orleans" for the third time tonight (my neighbors must love me) and I emailed truepenny to comment that my love for that song knows no bounds, despite the fact that there are several chord changes I just bloody skip right now, because Bm? Not so much happening any time in 2006. And I said something to the effect of that I was cheating like a cheatery cheating cheater, and she replied:

"Hey, you cheat until you're good enough not to have to."

And I realized, yanno, that goes for writing too.

There's a way you keep improving at anything, which is to keep aiming just a little beyond your ability. To keep trying to do things that are too hard, in other words. Pushing your limits.

On the other hand, if you stay on the edge all the time, it gets a bit frustrating. And you never actually accomplish anything. It's important sometimes to just play, even if you kind of suck.

Or more than kind of, really. And to find ways to circumvent your shortcomings. Even if it's just plain not playing the damned barre chords just yet.

So that's what I learned today.

Comments

I'm amazed that the version you're using has barre chords in it -- Steve Goodman certainly didn't use them.

Here's the version I learned to play from (from back when listening to me sounded like, "*strum* Don't ya ... um, *strum* know me ... dammit ... *fumble, look, think, strum* I'm your native ... *strum* suuuuuuuuuuh- shit. *strum* -on!""

I would come back to it, claw my way through it with pauses for almost every chord, once a month or so while taking Formal Guitar Lessons. Then I had enough repertoire of chordsheets from class to just play through them ... and it was a while before I came back to my City.

It was an amazing moment of guitar-skill-quantumness when I flipped through, went, "Oh, right, this song! I love this song!" and started playing it. I realized halfway through the second verse that I was playing it *AT SPEED*. Squee!
That's why I never tried to sing along out loud when I'm first learning any song. It's alot easier to just go "Lyric-lyric-lyric... uhm... mumbledyfreakin'chordgrrAH! Lyric-lyric!" in your head than outloud.
F chords are usually given in tab as bar chords, so when starting out, just playing the top E B G D strings is kinda the 'granny bar chord' version, where you only have to bar E&B with your first finger...
"If you know the Way broadly, you will see it in all things." ~Musashi, Book of Five Rings

"There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything." ~Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hakagure:The Book of the Samurai
"[arcaedia] she plays piano) mentioned that piano was easier, because you can see your hands. And I explained, no, actually, the trick with guitar is *not* to look at your hands, but let the muscle memory tell you where to put your fingers."

I wonder -- might be that arcaedia is primarily visual, while you're primarily kinesthetic/tactile. And that you would do better at piano playing if you didn't look at your hands.
I consider pianos to be like harps and guitars to be like trumpets in the following way: the latter group has to be put into gear. Meaning the notes are contingent. The former group has all the available notes laid out, you can hit any one you want at any moment (modulo fingerstretch or sharping levers for accidentals, etc). The latter group, you have to DO SOMETHING SPECIFIC to even make the note you want available, and man it breaks my brain.
Actually, it's a little out of context...I was talking about differences in perspective when you're learning a tune. I end up with a lot of muscle memory at work in playing piano especially with coordinating both hands. Of course, I began piano long before I ever attempted guitar (briefly), so I was just used to looking down/ahead at the instrument while attempting a new piece before that level of aptitude had been reached. You're not actually supposed to watch your hands while you play. And half the time with a well-loved tune, I forget to even keep my eyes open.
This is also true in tap dancing (AIR TAP!!) and in language-learning. In Second-Language Acquisition (SLA) pedagogy, it's called "n+1." The teacher is supposed to use language that's at most a chapter or two ahead of the class, so they're challenged but not overwhelmed. 'S a bitch to do well, but it works.
Actually, as I was taught, you aren't supposed to look at your hands. Same thing with touch-typing.

I find it horribly discombobulating to watch my hands when I'm trying to play--I can't synch muscle memory and visual input that way. On the other hand, I can't play by muscle memory any more than I can play by ear. It never seems to stick. 'S why I have to have sheet music.

(The most excruciating moment of my ten years of piano lessons was the recital when my memory shorted out on me. We weren't allowed sheet music at recitals, and I got a good twelve or fifteen measures into the sonatina or whatever the hell it was I was playing, and then pfft. Nothing there. Started again from the top, got those same twelve or fifteen measures in, and again. Pfft. Sweet fuck all. I crawled back to my chair and spent the rest of the night wishing the earth would open up and swallow me.)

... I wonder if this is somehow related to the fact that, unlike almost every other Shakespeare scholar/fan of my acquaintance, I have almost nothing learned by heart. It's not that I haven't read, oh, say, Hamlet 12,000 times, and it's not that I can't tell you the plot or the characters or the imagery. It's that the precise words aren't there.
I have a hell of a time learning things by heart too. Don't feel bad. *g*
You may find the chords easier to play if you transpose them to the key of C.
That's a different kind of cheating. *g*
This makes up for the brainmelty in the previous entry.

I was very surprised when I picked up a harp at a con and was able to pick out songs based on... nothing. Here, have the one piano piece I still know, simple and pretty and easy to vary. Here, have some Nutcracker. Here, a nursery rhyme. I can't do that on piano. Either the colored strings or the sidewaysness of it made it easy.
Part of the fun of bassoon was that nothing made *sense*. As someone said above, you can see the notes on a piano. You can see them, sort of, on a clarinet-- they move up and down logically. Bassoon... oho no. It's straight-up memorization of which fingers are down when you see the little black dots.
There's a way you keep improving at anything, which is to keep aiming just a little beyond your ability. To keep trying to do things that are too hard, in other words. Pushing your limits.

On the other hand, if you stay on the edge all the time, it gets a bit frustrating. And you never actually accomplish anything. It's important sometimes to just play, even if you kind of suck.

Or more than kind of, really.


Thanks, I needed that. ^_^
On Saturday I learned to resheath a katana without looking at my hands. In fact, I closed my eyes for a good portion of the time to allow my muscle-mind to work out the movements without the distraction of sight or the temptation to use it. And I only poked myself once. :-)

On the other hand, if you stay on the edge all the time, it gets a bit frustrating. And you never actually accomplish anything. It's important sometimes to just play, even if you kind of suck.


I do that with iai and writing. Work the new, work the old. Break new ground, retreat to what's comfortable. Still, it's nice to have the reminder laid out like you've done here. Embrace the suck, knowing it's only temporary. It's all me -- both iai and writing -- and I kind of like that.

Thanks.
There's always a cheater version of those bar chords, like for B Minor, just sliding the three fingers of A Minor up 2 frets, and trying to avoid the open strings around the three you're fingering. Or just let them ring, they'll sound kinda jazzy.

And look for video of someone playing the song and watch their left hands. A lot of time they've got their own version of cheater chords, which you can use until you get the digital strength for bar chords.

Another thing, if you're playing a steel stringed guitar, get the next grade lighter strings next time. Super-Slinky or Extra-Super-Slinky strings are much easier to fret. Standard gauge acoustic strings are like bridge cables unless you can devote an hour or two a day to practicing....
Bm is why the good Lord made capos. Which is also another kind of cheating, and may bollux up all the other chords, but so it goes. I stopped feeling bad about capoing when I saw lots of musicians much, much better than I (which is most people) using them.

My first barre chord was F#m, and I learned it to play "Tangled Up in Blue"; it's a nice place to start, because in that song it just slides right up from E a couple of frets. I think I spent a couple of years on that building those muscles before I could dive right into a Bm, and I still avoid 'em if I can, because that's just the kind of big poser I am.

One of my bandmates observed that much of the art of making music becomes clear in light of understanding that musicians are, by and large, spectacularly lazy, and will take the clearest shortcut to producing the desired sound nine times out of ten unless they're just showing off. (Writing's probably like that, too.)
(Writing's probably like that, too.)

If we're smart, it is. At least, I'm a big proponent of using the simplest effective tool to get the job done. Because it distracts least from the end effect.

Of course, sometimes the stunt writing *is* the point. Or is thematically important. Or whatever. Like playing guitar with your teeth, I guess....


Or playing three guitars at once? (Saw it done: one across the chest, one low on the hips, one on the table in front of him. The same artist retuned in midsong for effect several times when playing on one instrument. Bleargh!)