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Just a dime a dozen

January 18, 2011

I’m thinking I need to come up a pseudonym for the owner of School of Rock. I’m thinking “Floyd,” in honor of Sgt. Floyd Pepper, bass guitarist for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

When I checked out after my lessons yesterday and to pick up my check, I told Floyd that I needed a capo.

He grinned at me. “Yeah, you do.” I think he likes talking guitars with me. It’s clear he’s glad I’m giving the instrument a try.

“I’ve been using a pencil and a couple of rubber bands. It’s just not working so well.”

He laughed. “But it is creative.”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

He showed me the rack of capos. “But this is what we all use here. Let me show you why.” We walked back to his studio and he showed me how it clips on and how easy it is to adjust the strings if you happen to snag them off center. “But really, I like it because when I’m done, I can just clip it to the headstock. Then when I try to put my guitar in the case, it doesn’t fit and I never forget my capo. I used to lose them all the time.”

This is the kind of rationale I can get behind. Readers, I bought it. He gave me a bunch of picks to try, including one that twists around my thumb for more efficient finger picking.

The guitar has become a bit of an obsession. I now keep the acoustic in a rack next to my desk and pick it up when I need to stop writing and figure something out. I’ve always found that getting a tune under my fingers — on any instrument — puts my brain in a more analytical state.

As he was cashing me out, Floyd asked me if I’d tried playing an F chord.

“I’m sure I’m doing this backwards, but I haven’t really done chords yet. I started with finger picking because the tab notation is more familiar to me. I can read it as I play. I don’t have to have it memorized.”

“But chords are fun! You only need to know a few to play songs. Start with a C chord, a G chord, a D chord and an A chord. When you need to know the F, bring in your axe. I can show you the secret.”

I promised him I’d give it a go. And after AJ went to bed, I went down to my office and shut the door. I scrolled through my iTunes playlists looking for songs with simple chord structures. I picked out “I and Love and You” by the Avett Brothers. The original chord backing is on piano, but it’s a simple three-chord strum pattern – G, D and A. And it has a lot of verses, so I have plenty of time to get it right. Although after singing it through a couple of times, I think it just may be one of the saddest songs ever written. But the good thing about it – it’s so simple that I can already sing as I play – something I have yet to master while finger picking. I have to concentrate too hard on what my hands are doing.

After a couple of passes, I put down the guitar and got back to work. But first I found my chord chart and looked up the F chord:

Yikes. I’ll definitely be asking for Floyd for help on that one. But for now, I’m taking pleasure in teaching myself. There’s something to be said for the sense of self-reliance that feeling your way through a new skill provides.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    January 18, 2011 11:08 am

    The guitar and those boxes make me dizzy. I understand piano and notations. I used to be pretty good at reading sheet music but it’s been too long. I never could understand the guitar.

    My husband has one of those capos that attaches to the neck? Is that correct? I think that’s what it is. I’m clearly of no use whatsoever. I do like the image of Floyd though.

  2. January 18, 2011 2:21 pm

    I understand the guitar notation, but working with it is another issue. The reason the F chord is a bear is that it has six marked fingerings and I only have 4 fingers to work with (the thumb doesn’t usually finger, although I’d guess it could in a pinch, and it’s possible this is such a pinch). Yes, the capo is the thing that clicks onto the neck to transpose the instrument. It’s useful when you need to pitch a tune higher for singing. You don’t have to refinger. It also can give you a way to come up with fingerings that are easier than if the guitar is played at pitch. As for Floyd, I wish I could post a picture and include his real name. He’s even better in person.

  3. freshhell permalink
    January 18, 2011 2:29 pm

    So does that mean two fingers hold down two strings at a time each? Or, do you just grow more fingers?

  4. January 18, 2011 2:35 pm

    Yes, some fingers will hold down two strings. It’s hard to get it to sound right that way, though. At least for me. I’m thinking in this case, the thumb might lay the note on the low E.

  5. freshhell permalink
    January 18, 2011 4:44 pm

    Can you see me nodding like I know what you’re talking about? 🙂 Anyway, I just received your CDs and I’m very excited about listening to them. I was interested in your comments about Regina Spektor. I had one of her cds a few years back because someone had recommended her to me (because I love Amy Winehouse and Lilly Allen) but I eventually sold it because I just found her a bit derivative or trying too hard or….something. I never could quite put my finger on it. So, I’ll listen to that song with all that in mind.

  6. January 18, 2011 4:53 pm

    Hooray! I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. I suspect there are a few tunes on there that Red will like.

  7. Elizabeth permalink
    January 19, 2011 9:40 am

    Ugh bar chords. Those were the bane of my guitar playing experience so I cheated 😛 My hands weren’t strong enough for them, alas.

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