I was just playing my guitar for a while alone in my room. I wasn’t practicing really, just playing. Well, at first I was practicing to a metronome, trying to nail down a few little melodic licks that ran through my head. I have done so little of that over the years and must do more. But then I was just playing. That I’ve done A LOT of over the years to be sure. But it felt like it had been a little while and I was just standing there, playing to my heart’s content, letting my inner ear and my fingers take me wherever I could manage to go.
And eventually I hit upon this one little thing. Very simple. Based off an A chord but with a tiny little melodic thing attached. So simple that many, many, many, many guitar players could play what I just played. But it struck me that there was a little something in that “lick” that I was really feeling inside. And it struck me further that if I kept playing that, and played it as purely and as deeply as I could, then maybe I could play it unlike anybody else on earth.
Hubris… maybe, but I think there’s an element of truth in there. All those years of just playing. Playing, playing, playing, which for me essentially started in a dorm room at Villanova in the mid 90’s and lasted right up through my room session tonight– at some point during that time I inadvertently developed a style. Certain things come out of you when you beat on a guitar over and over and over for years. One major thing that came out for me years ago was a slappy percussive thing. You can hear it on 75 & Sunny, Honeymoon Eyes, and a bunch of other tunes. That’s not a guitar style that I consciously set out to learn. It’s just what happened from playing and trying to make it sound good over and over and over again.
It strikes me that most people have some kind of unique element to their playing if they keep reaching for what they hear and spend enough time on their instrument. Beyond what you hear in your head, people’s fingers are shaped differently, their dexterity naturally differs, they play with different levels of tension (not that tension is a good thing for your body), they use space in different ways. This is not to say that it’s not essential to imitate the sound of others. (In fact, that is a crucial learning tool for anyone and I could be a much better musician today if I had done more of that over the years. It’s not taking away from your own unique style, it only helps you in the long run.) But it fascinates me the different sounds that come out of different people, even if they’re trying to play the same thing.
Peter Prince’s “The Gift” is a great example of this. The tune is pretty easy to learn, based off of simple guitar chords. G, D, C, etc. We used to cover this tune so I’ve played it. But I can’t quite play it like Peter. And I believe somehow that no one can. Listen close. It’s not so hard that even a beginner couldn’t learn how to play the song. And what he himself is doing is not so impossible that someone couldn’t spend a bunch of time on it to get every little nuance of his performance on the acoustic guitar. But Peter didn’t have to do that. He just played it and what your hear is how he played it.
All of these ideas fascinate me:
The nuances that come naturally from playing your instrument your way.
The nuances you can learn and hone in on from practice.
What is the beyond?
Maybe the new nuances. The ones that naturally sprout up from your unique playing, but that you can now find more easily, hone in on and nurture all the better because you are a practiced practice-er.
(Errr… practitioner. )
It’s just a hunch. Maybe someday if I’m a practiced practitioner I can tell you for sure.