Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

(Today’s post is brought to you by Do Mi Stauber’s campfire post. Go read it – she is full of awesome.)

I’m learning guitar.

I can’t wait for the day when I can say “learned” instead, when I can look back as an adept (not master: adept), instead of a beginner. “Learned” isn’t the end – “learned” is not just memorizing more than a few chords. “Learned” is being intimately familiar with the instrument. “Learned” is speaking the language, even if there’s still a lot of nuances left to grasp.

But, for now, I am learning guitar.

I’ve taken a three-pronged approach. For one, I’m working through Mel Bay’s Mastering The Guitar. (It is a fantastic pair of books, and I highly recommend them.) For two, I am taking time to sit with my guitars and listen – picking, strumming, playing, letting them teach me how they sing. For three, I am practicing some of my favorite songs – starting with the ones with simple chords. (Lover Please, I am lookin’ at you, baby.)

The guitar is a challenge to me. I have a decent ear, and I sing all the damn time, but coordinating myself on a stringed instrument is not easy. I don’t have perspective on what is good progress, what is good effort, what is good time, so I have fits of stopping and starting, unsure if this is totally normal or if I’m the worst guitarist ever to touch the strings.

On the plus side, I have J as a role model, the improv master of all things, hanging around and inspiring me with his amazing talent-plus-skill. He encourages me. He bears witness to my progress and tells me that what I’m doing is beautiful.

Once upon a time, he didn’t know how to play guitar, either. But he learned. And he is so good now. He is where I consider to be the peak of musical skill – being able to improv, frequently, for long periods of time, and each piece is unique and beautiful. No one plays like him. No songs sound like his. Ever. His music is so rich with its own story that I can’t put lyrics to them – the song is already full of meaning and life on its own.

I want that. I don’t want to sound like him or play like him, but I want to be that unique and that attuned to the music and the guitar. I want his level of proficiency and imagination. So I keep practicing. And practicing. And practicing.

Last night, I realized that I can’t say “I can’t play guitar” anymore. I am not the blank-slate novice that I keep envisioning myself to be. This came as a shock – I’m often slow to realize the magnitude of my own changes, especially when they are improvements.

The revelation came about when I combined a chord progression with a strum pattern with my own lyrics with my own fingerpicking pattern.

And it worked.

That was nothing short of magic. I played for three hours, cobbling pieces together and adjusting them to fit each other, and did not notice the time until my fingertips simply could not hold down the strings any longer.

The song isn’t finished. I can’t play the chord changes smoothly. I’m still slow with the fingerpicked intro. I am still deciding exactly how the words will be sung.

But it worked. I made something that I have never made before, and I took it farther than I have ever gone before.

I am learning guitar. It is a journey. I am still quite far from my goal. But damn, what a journey.

There are two great events in November.

One is the well-known, well-loved National Novel-Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. Write 50,000 words of original fiction before midnight on November 30th. It is a mad dash into the fray of muse-fueled worldbuilding, characterizing, plotting, and type-type-typing.

The second is something I found just yesterday – National Solo Album(-Writing) Month. Write, perform, and record a full solo album lasting at least thirty minutes in one month. (The performing and recording bits are optional, but the site can host your mp3s should you wish to share them.) This is much, much smaller than NaNoWriMo, and similar to February Album-Writing Month (which tasks you to write 14 songs of indeterminate length).

I have been doing NaNoWriMo since 2003 and have won every year save one; I am certainly continuing the tradition this November! Whether or not I’m brave enough to try NaSoAlMo will be determined come November 1st…

I strongly encourage any and all creative types to participate in one or both of these crazy, wonderful challenges. It’s a wild ride and can really transform your view on and experiences in writing!

Day 30 is one last moment.

(Wow, that means I’ve actually written thirty posts almost every day in succession. Woohoo! My bloggy experiment is a success.)

J and I went to a Celtic session yesterday in a place called Squaw Valley, a touristy little ski resort area around Lake Tahoe. The sun was setting on the long drive home, and the tiny sliver of waxing moon hung long over the treetops. While J talked to his kids on the phone, I mused to myself how the moon had very little sunlight to share… then realized, no, that’s not it.

The moon always has half sunlight and half darkness; it just has differing amounts of light to share with the rest of the world, depending on the day. It made me think of the spoon theory and how folks’ spoons vary by day – sometimes everything gets done, and other times, it’s a Herculean feat just to get out of bed and get dressed.

And it wound up being put to music in my head:

We are like the moon:
equal parts shadow and light.
The only difference lies in
how we face the world each day.

Day 24 is something that makes me cry.

I don’t see crying as a negative thing, nor as a sign of weakness. However, I don’t usually admit to my own tears to the public at large – tough guy image and whatnot.

But, truth is, there is one thing that often gets me misty-eyed, though rarely outright crying.


Not sad music. Just music.

The kind of music that reaches in and seizes your heart, squeezes the air from your lungs, twists in your gut like a wicker basket of serpents. Music that makes you feel, brow to toe, marrow to fingernails. Music that, in some way, tells a story so close to your own that you live in it, images and emotions swirling around you. Lyrics so poignant that you cannot deny them; melodies so intense that no amount of armor will keep them from cracking open your rib cage.

Music that, for as long as it plays, expresses your soul and its existence outloud.

Day 21 is another moment.

Unlike the last “moment” post, I’m actually going to use a recent moment.

Last night, I was sprawled on the floor in the living room, my bass guitar heavy on my ribs, plucking out growls from the low strings. I’d come up with a pretty good bass line for something-or-other, and now I was exploring to see if I could get another one. Maybe one that matched one of the songs I already had words for.

I found an easy rhythm and some notes that sounded good together. And then J grabbed the nearest djembe and started playing along with me. I nearly stopped, unaccustomed as I am to improvising with someone else, but we continued for a few minutes, and – man, J rocks the drums, but I am only just learning bass… but even together, we sounded pretty damn good. It worked.

And it was a little piece of magic, and glee, and hope for what we can accomplish together in the future.

Day 15 is my dreams.

I should preface this by saying that my dreams are crack-tastic. (In politer company, I might call them eccentric.) My dreams normally resemble certain genres of video games – there’s usually someone or many someones trying to capture and/or kill me, and I get to evade and survive in any way possible. Sometimes there’s futuristic tech, sometimes magic, often telekinesis and/or shapeshifting, and usually modern martial arts and weaponry. I especially love the ones where I get to see (or be) my creatures.

Last night’s dreams, however, were rather tame.

I dreamt of an older lady hitting on me drunkenly, of attending an SJ Tucker house concert, and of getting rowdy and wrestly with a group of random young men who were all being informally instructed by J’s sensei. (That one involved knives and tests of strength, which makes it the most typical of all these snippets.)

Most notably, though, I dreamt that I woke up, looked at my laptop (which stays on the nightstand, playing music while we sleep), and saw the shipping status of my package was listed as “on truck for delivery” some forty minutes prior to my awakening. I stumbled out of bed, put clothes on, and checked the door– only to find the dreaded sorry we missed you slip. And I was about to cry as I flipped the paper over, saw a phone number, thought maybe the delivery lady was still nearby and I could call her and catch her and–

And then I did wake up, and looked at the tracking page for my package, and saw that it was on the truck as of twenty minutes ago. I staggered up and got dressed. But there was no bad news stuck to my door in the waking world, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I did, however, spend the rest of the day hovering nervously and staring down the street, my ears atwitch at every noise that sounded like a truck in the driveway.

And at 3h30 PM – keep in mind, I got up somewhere around 9h30 – a FedEx truck finally pulled up and handed me my brand new sexy black electric bass guitar.

I named him Kitten.

Day 13 is this week.

For which I will cheat and talk about what’s happened since Thursday before last, the ninth. Mundane things like work and feeding the cats will be omitted in favor of a more interesting tale. I already mentioned that I was working on a couple of songs, but this requires backstory to fully convey the impact of such a statement.

You see, I don’t– or didn’t– write songs; I don’t easily find original melodies that I can remember, let alone that I can play on a given instrument; and it’s nigh-impossible for me to combine good words and good sounds into something that resembles a song instead of slam poetry.

But music is my lifeblood, and I have yearned to be able to create it. I love to sing, and my voice can do interesting things– nothing operatic like my incredibly talented and skilled sister, maybe nothing worth more than an open mic night at a coffeeshop, but the only instrument that I have mastered is my voice. And while I can play piano and various percussion, and I am oh-so-slowly learning guitar, and I can mess around with my harmonicas and travelsax and didge… I can’t do any of these things well enough to write music with them.

Until Thursday the ninth, when J and I were at the Irish pub we visit every week for their Celtic music session. Sitting outside, I scribbled some might-be lyrics and then played with them aloud until I found a tune to go with them, then continued singing until it was polished to a gleam. I was amazed and giddy that it worked and sounded good, especially with such personally significant lyrics. Since that night, four people have heard my recording-of-questionable-quality of that song, and all responses have been positive.

And since that night, I have finished five songs (lyrics and vocal melody only, but for one that has drumming) and come up with lyrics for six others (some of which will have rhythm guitar and/or drumming), plus one unfinished lyric-snippet and a little melody on piano. I picked up Mel Bay’s Mastering the Guitar off my shelf and got 30-some pages into it in two nights, and will be diving back into my book on music theory so that I can more easily craft accompaniment to these and future songs.

My world has exploded with such a muse-dump, rife and rich with potential and excitement for what I am doing and what I can learn to do. Inspired by the likes of SJ Tucker, Heather Alexander, and Alexander James Adams, I plan to experiment further, with the help and participation of my partner and my sister. Between us, we have half a home recording studio and an incredible variety of musical instruments, and the passion and talent to Make Things Happen.

I’m wildly excited, and I can’t wait to see what we can do.

Day 6 is my day.

Which is not over yet, so I will tell you about my yesterday instead.

The alarm went off at 7h30; I actually got out of bed somewhere around 8h30, after being pulled back to sleep by very persistent dreams. I got to work a few minutes before 9 and left at 5; during those eight hours I listened to a lot of SJ Tucker music on Youtube (especially City of Marrow) and did my job, which entails website maintenance and troubleshooting and content production. We just rolled out our new company website, so there are a lot of issues to be fixed and a lot of CSR complaints to mitigate. But it was a pretty mellow day compared to recent weeks, which was nice.

J and I got home at the same time and shared a snack before he left for the dojo early to get in some throwing practice. I stretched out, did a balance drill, and lifted weights, finally moving up to the next size on my dumbbells. I wrote a poem and some could-be song lyrics, and I worked on a few of these memeriffic blog posts in advance (yes, I am a dirty rotten cheat).

Then, impatient with inaccuracy, I cracked open one of my favorite books on the African orisas and brushed up on my knowledge. Over the next two hours, I completely re-wrote those could-be song lyrics into actually-are song lyrics, then started tweaking the wording and hammering out the (vocal) tune. I sang the entire thing through a couple dozen times until my voice started to break. J came home with food and we ate; I sang the song for him and he was impressed by the concept and how I dealt with it, which pleased me.

We also bought four of SJ Tucker‘s albums digitally, which was awesome. (Guess what I’m listening to right now?) We’d previously been huge fans but only had a handful of her songs.

By midnight, I was exhausted – the exercise, the singing, and the poor sleep I’d gotten the night prior all combined to do me in. I collapsed into our oh-so-comfortable bed with J and fell asleep nigh instantly.