When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I started learning to play guitar. I was pretty obsessed. I started with a hardware store guitar. A cheese-grater. Bar chords were quite literally a pain. I built up callouses. I took lessons where I learned chords, the names of notes and such. Hardly any of it was related to music I listened to. Still I practiced and then practiced some more, hour after hour. In high school I experimented with lead improvisation, but was never much good at it. My fingers just couldn't move fast enough. Still I would practice. I used a pick. It never occurred to me to try finger picking. I was having enough problems with the left hand fingering. I couldn't see making my life more complicated than it already was. I suppose I also assumed, quite wrongly ( and I had no one to tell me anything different) that because I was mediocre at one thing I would be so at the other. So why try. When I went to college, I pretty much stopped. Put the guitar in its case, and only once every few years I would pull it out and strum a few chords, put it back in the case until the next time. Eventually, I gave the guitar away.
After awhile though, years later, decades after high school, I felt this urge to play again. I pooled some funds and bought a new guitar. A low end Martin dreadnought. Still for the most part, it stayed in its case. For about two years.
Then one day, I was spending time with my brother, sitting around. He plays guitar too, and so he had his out. We were watching an instructional video on the internet. We started talking about reading tablature, an alternate formate for notating guitar music, where the lines of the music ledger represent strings and the "notes" are fret numbers. My brother mentioned that when fingerpicking you were pretty much either using the thumb of your right hand in a down stroke, the fingers for up strokes, and so some times you end up "pinching" two strings at the same time.
The video we were watching featured Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist for Hot Tuna and earlier, The Jefferson Airplane/Starship. He talked about how you could practice rolling your fingers on the front of the guitar, or on a kitchen table. First index, next middle, last ring or you could reverse it.
Flipping through a tabulature book of blues transcriptions, I found another piece of the puzzle, verification of something I had observed on my own. That regardless of what the music sounded like, as if there was repeating bass line, against which the melody line played in counterpoint, that was pretty much an illusion. The thumb and fingers were playing each part together. And that was key. Regardless of how the music sounds, the notes are played together in a single line of music. It just sounds to the ear as if there is a bass line on the bottom, underneath a melody played over the top. It's just that sometimes, instead of the thumb or finger playing alternating notes, they both pluck notes together.
I have always admired the sound of country blues, blue grass, and ragtime. I began ordering tab books. And listening to John Fahey again. I had seen him in college, in then basement Student Union at Cal State Fullerton. I loved his music. But I had never imagined being able to play that kind of music. This time around though, I found out that he had made instructional videos and cds. So I bought them. I was on a mission to see if I could do now, many years later, what back then would have been unimaginable.
All the information I had gathered converged in whirlwind of synchronicity. I started fingerpicking the guitar I had bought two years before.
There was however one more observation that was the final piece of the puzzle for me. That I could listen to a melody, find the right notes, and then imagine myself doing easily - and that was key - doing easily what I wanted to do.
So since that time, about two years ago, I began playing everyday. and in the meantime, I have written about fifty songs and have begun performing instrumentals at a local open mic.
My intention is to begin to share those performances on this blog and to continue these observations. Stay tuned.