Author: Compton, Cliff

Demystifying Music

Bert Daniel wrote a column called the 8 year rule about how long it takes to become a good picker on whatever instrument you play. I think heís probably pretty close to right on average, but Iíd like to submit an addendum to that idea.

I call it the demystification of music.

If youíve never played music, it can seem like a difficult proposition. All these things to know. Fingers need to be certain places doing difficult things. Both hands going different directions at the same time. Trying to keep your toes tapping to the beat of the music. Key signatures. Dynamics. All those notes, like a bunch of squashed ants laying there on the music paper. Time signatures, Sharps, Flats. And then having to sing on top of all that!
Daunting is the task!

No, not really.

I watched Randy Shelton go from raw beginner to competent on about six instruments in about a years time. Is he some sort of musical prodigy? I think not. I donít think he put a lot of thought into it. I donít think he got caught up in the difficulty of it. He just played and had a good time.

The first time a person hears a tight bluegrass jam the initial thought is, I could never do that. These guys are so good.
Thatís because there seems to be a lot stuff going on, and everybody is together and things sound complex, and thereís a lot of things hitting you all at once, and Itís pretty hard to process it all in our little pointy heads

But I would submit that itís all pretty simple. Not so mysterious. Three basic chords, and a bunch of notes. Sure, there are subtleties, but you donít need to know them to play enough to have a good time. Actually. Muscle memory is probably more important than all the other stuff. Just moving your fingers enough times in patterns on the strings to get them used to doing stuff they havenít done before.

I think, in generally, the biggest hindrance to learning to play music is thinking to much. It ainít rocket science. Iíve played music with people who couldnít tell an apple from a horseradish that could run up and down the fret board like a hamster through a maze.

Iíd break it down like this. Buy a capo and learn three chords. If you want to get cute, learn about ten, including a minor or two.

Remember there are only 12 notes in a scale. They can all be found in the first four frets of your instrument.

You can play any of them in a song if you play them fast enough.

Practice running your fingers up and down the strings using your four fingers on those four frets. Do it over and over till your fingers develop muscle memory.

With the other hand, play those strings with the pick while you practice running up and down those frets.

Trust me. If you do those things it wonít take long and you will be picking along with the rest of us.

When I was younger I went to a youth camp as a counselor. I remember taking a group of kids and giving them instruments. Bass, guitar, banjo, piano, and whatever. I told them we were gonna play music. Told each one of them what to do and in about twenty minutes we were playing music. There really wasnít much thought involved. We just did it. It wasnít pretty, but it was exhilarating to the kids.

Weíre smarter than those kids. Weíve lived a long time. Thereís no mystery to this stuff. Save the mystery for love.
Just pick!

By the way, none of this works for the fiddle. Now that thereÖ
Thatís mysterious.
Posted:  3/9/2012

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