Today is Sunday, Easter Sunday, in fact, and I thought I would take some time out between brunch and dinner to provide an update on my travails with my guitar. I do feel like I am making progress, but it slow, especially since hand-eye coordination has never been my strong point. I'm using the opportunity of learning to play to also educate myself on musical theory. When I was in college and grad school, many people assumed that since I was studying math I was also very musical. Nothing could have been further from the truth, though I certainly enjoyed music. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I didn't manage to get any musical training other than a few bits here and there. In contrast, my son at age eight has learned far more in school about music than I ever did.
When I was in middle school, for example, and we had music class, we just sang and learned songs, but topics like eighth notes, rests, and chords never came up. In fact, my singing was so bad in seventh grade that I was just asked to lip sync during a chorus concert. I was pretty insulted by this, but if I had known that Britney Spears and Ashley Simpson would be doing the same thing thirty years later I would have felt better all this time.
To overcome my earlier somewhat negative musical experiences, not all of which were my fault, my current mode of operation is to assume that I can learn anything about music and the guitar, though I clearly understand that I have my limits. Katie and I watched Concert for George last night and, once again, I was just blown away by Eric Clapton's playing - the incredible smoothness and dexterity are simply amazing. I have no illusions whatsoever of my coming up to that level, but he and other guitar demigods like Jimmy Page, Robert Johnson and Buddy Guy are strong inspirations.
My portfolio of songs that I don't play particularly well is expanding and giving me a range of things to work through without getting too bored with any particular song. This weekend I started working on Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue", which I think is one of the best songs ever written. It's not too hard for a beginner though it has -- gasp -- a B minor (Bm) chord in it. My theory about the B and F chords is that the guitar was designed with all the other chords in mind and then when they got to those it was too late to change things. I know that's not true, but I don't venture much from a plain F (and I cheat a bit on that - if you play, you know what I mean), and I have avoided B chords altogether. I learned two things yesterday during my guitar lesson that have lowered my anxiety level around the Bm. First, if you can't play it you can probably get away with playing a D since Bm is its associated minor chord. Second, the Bm is the Am just two frets down the fretboard. So with a little refingering and just strumming strings one through four (which are called the top four strings because of their frequency even though they are physically the bottom), I can get by. I can't play it fast, but I can cheat, and, like the F, I do have confidence that someday I'll be able to do it right.
Once last thing before I go to work on dinner and wrap Katie's birthday presents. The strum pattern for "Tangled Up in Blue" is not obvious, especially because there are two guitars on the CD. David Hodge has a good discussion with MP3 files over at his website.