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Wind your way back

May 5, 2011

When I get a song in my head, my preferred method of dealing with it is to listen to it over and over and over again. This will come as no surprise if you were my college roommate. Headphones were invented for people like me. My husband doesn’t understand this approach. He feels the thing you are supposed to do is play anything but the song in your head. But I figure the song gets stuck there for a reason. And the way to figure out what is that reason is to internalize it.

The drive to internalize is one of the reasons I’ve so taken to the guitar. It’s flexible that way. I’m learning to think in chords, something I never really mastered on the piano, which makes it easier to pick things up. A couple of days ago I wrote about having “These are the Fables” by the New Pornographers stuck in my head. Neko Case songs lie well in my voice and most of the chords, with the exception of F#-minor (a wretched bar/barre chord), I can actually play the damn thing. It sounds terrible, but that kind of doesn’t matter. It’s the process of translation that matters to me more than the product. Not that I don’t want it to sound good eventually. But I’ve always found rehearsal more satisfying than performance.

I did discover this week that my problem with bar chords is not just about my inability to get my hands around the chords. It’s also my guitar. On Tuesday night, after having tried out the drum teacher’s acoustic on Monday, I stopped into School of Rock to pick up something I’d ordered and tried out a few of the acoustics they had hanging up in the shop. I was kind of amazed. They didn’t just sound better. They were much easier to play. I’m realizing that there’s something wrong with the fretboard on my guitar. Either it’s warped or the second fret isn’t properly set. The capo doesn’t work properly and I have created this elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque way of keeping it where I want it. I also found a hairline crack in the neck where it meets the body. And the whole thing rattles to beat the band. “Oh, come on!” said the guitar teacher who runs the rock band camps at School of Rock. He and I teach in adjacent rooms and he’s my go-to guy for guitar questions. “You’re getting a percussion section for free!” You see why I like working there?

The guitars I tried, even the $100 one, which I could earn in just over a single day’s teaching my current roster of students there (there’s a fine upstanding barter system at School of Rock – we all teach for gear sometimes), made nice sounds with so much less effort that I’ve now had a falling out with my guitar and am seriously jonesing for something better. And I actually got an F#-minor chord to sound on the very first try. Okay, maybe it was the second try. I always forget to move the bar to the second fret. But still, sound, not clunk. However, I need to consider that if I get a new guitar, I will no longer be able to blame my lack of skill on the instrument. That is a point not to be taken lightly.

The other thing I do to internalize a song is move to it. My first music classes were dance. I don’t know if that’s a cause or effect of my tendency to respond to music physically. But when I’m working through a song, I usually put on my headphones and go for a long walk. This morning I walked out to the park across on the other side of the main road. When the path took a bend to the left, I kept going down the sand track between the cornfields. There is a place about halfway between where the sand track starts and the highway at the other end where I can turn around and see fields on all sides, a red barn, a silo, and not much else. It’s about a 25 minute brisk walk from my house. I love it there, although it’s likely to be gone soon. The fields are owned by the park district now and they’re starting to convert the land into a more ordinary civic park. I’ll be sad when it’s gone. It’s so different from where I start walking that I feel like I’ve walked very far. Also, this morning there were turkeys grazing on one of the fields. And yesterday, Mr. Spy informs me, there were sandhill cranes. And there’s a big pond full of bullfrogs croaking so loudly that I could hear them even with headphones on.

When I’m exorcizing/exercising a song, I get more of a workout. On the way home, I strode past three joggers (Cranky, are you snickering?). I am not lying when I say that I walk faster than I run. Back at home, I’m trying to organize the list of things on my desk. So many words. Maybe if I set them to music, my desk would magically organize itself.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 5, 2011 1:30 pm

    If setting the words to music appeared to clear off your desk, that would be kind of glamour-ous!

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