Channeling

I’ve been watching a few things on youtube lately. Youtube is packed with virtuosos, who have found in youtube a way to express to the world their phenomenal talent. There are a great many people out there who can tap harmonics and kick around inside unusual dissonant scales. They’re better at it than I’ll ever be, especially since I have little real interest in tapping.

For those that have never seen me play, I’m not virtuosic. I’m not half bad either, and I like to think I’ve got a bit of natural talent, but I’m not Hendrix.

I’m going to try and express what it is I love about playing. It’s something that doesn’t perhaps fit into words so well, but it’s something I could never show you on youtube, no matter how good I ever am.

There’s something about music that can describe the human soul. Einstein thought the study of physics was the attempt to understand and describe god. Maybe music is like that, I don’t know, but it can describe the very inside of someone’s mind in a way like no other form. It can’t perhaps communicate higher ideas like entropy or why the sky is blue, but every human can understand music. Everyone has preferences, but at a basic level that idea holds true with everyone.

But that’s not what I love about playing.

And when I say playing, I mean just playing for the love of it. I’m not talking about sitting in an orchestra pit, packed in amongst two dozen other museums and gear, counting some ridiculous time signature for 137 bars to hit a punch note with everyone else, so the 200 people in the audience don’t go ‘what the hell was that random note?’ as you come in a bar early. That’s too cerebral to really be fun. Satisfying yes, but you don’t really feel it.

So what is playing for love? How do I do it?
I get home from work and pick my guitar up. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a good day or a bad day. I take all I know about music and playing. All the technique and muscle memory I’ve built. I call it all up. It comes easy, because I’ve been doing it nearly every day for more than ten years. I fill my conscious and subconscious mind with it, and it takes less than half a second. I colour all of that with whatever it is I’m thinking right then. Relaxed? Angry? Upbeat? It doesn’t matter – mix it all together. Then I just kind of pour that all into the instrument. I’m not thinking about what my hands are doing – that detail is long ago taken care of. It’s all about feel. And then you have music – and that music affects what you are thinking, so the colour of what you pour into the instrument changes, and so the music changes. It’s a feedback loop, for the geeks out there. It’s often subtle and smooth, sometimes abrupt and dischordant. And the circle continues. You can’t get all of yourself into the instrument at once. That’s like 9 people trying to get through a door at once. You put it in sequence and put a meter, tempo and key to it. Throw in some dynamics, embellishments and flourishes, and just be yourself.

It’s like channeling the colour of your own mind through your fingertips. It closes out all else and its just about you and your mind.
It doesn’t matter what else there is in my life right then – I always feel good afterward.

I’m not totally happy with that description, but it’s probably as good as I can make it. I can’t even communicate it musically because all you hear is what I’m thinking, not why I’m thinking it. It’s a transparent idea, because only I can see it – kind of like a one-way mirror.

Anyway – that is what I love about playing. I’d rather have that than be a virtuoso, though maybe one day I’ll be both.

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2 Responses to “Channeling”


  1. 1 Metro 5 September, 2007 at 9:24 am

    I am a master of three chords. Unfortunately I’m never entirely certain which three.

    It diminishes not a whit my pleasure in playing, however it does seem to occasionally affect the listener, mostly Mme M.

  2. 2 Envelope Filter 5 September, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Ahh. Experimental Jazz. Don’t worry – even the masters have no idea what’s going on.

    I have a great deal of fun trying out different chords on top of one another. I don’t really worry about the key, I just use notes relative to each other that I think might sound good.

    I’m usually wrong, but sometimes there’s a gem.


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