From the Friendly Confines of the Guitar
It was my Mom who taught me that a great path to happiness in life is to bloom where you’re planted...to find your peace there...to stay within the friendly confines. It works for our lovable Chicago Cubs, and yet the sentiment can also be applied to composing for and playing things on the nylon string (classical) guitar.
And it was my brother Mike who taught me a handful of basic chords on the guitar back in the early 70’s that fell so comfortably under the fingers that I still enjoy the friendly confines of these simple chords today.
So in a nutshell, here’s what I think...
Trust your fingers. Trust open strings. Trust the space between the notes. Trust what resonates and resolves. Trust your ears.
Sheet Music can be a trap. Transcriptions, especially from the Piano, can be treacherous and spiral out of control and lead you down acerbic roads when applied to the guitar fretboard. You may achieve something impressive in your own mind, yet it may be rendered unlistenable because it just doesn’t place well under the fingers and upon the simplicity of our guitar fretboard. Key signatures that fall comfortably under the fingers of Piano composers can sound stretched and labored on the Guitar.
In effort to achieve a true and honest dialogue within the voicing and construct of the guitar, I like to keep it simple, resonant, and melodic. I feel most comfortable when I create sounds that I think are ultimately enjoyable to the ear.
If the opposite of dissonant is consonant, euphoric, harmonic...melodic...count me in. Those are the friendly confines wherein I exist and represent - to me - the common sense for the guitar. G. Am. C. D. Em. Yes...that simple. In my opinion, your ears and your heart should be the judge and jury; not your guitar intellect or desire to impress or ‘wow’ an audience with speed or slight of hand tricks.
And guess what else...
I shy away from barre chords. I never, ever add a capo. I have never even tried to pursue the tremolo technique - some players spend a lifetime trying to master it - I have always thought it sounds like a rapid-fire machine gun and...well...why do that with a guitar?). And alternate tunings on a nylon string guitar to me are just empty promises. Like nothing good ever comes out of a Twitter feed, nothing good has ever resulted from alternate tunings. The pieces are almost always percussive in nature and generally devoid of melody. They wind up being the Chinese food of the diet that leave you hungry in an hour.
By blooming where I’m planted, I have quietly been able to cultivate my little garden surrounded by evergreens that thrive in the warm sun and cool shade of beauty, tenderness and simplicity under the fingers and within what I think works beautifully on the fretboard. Y’all can keep on alternate tuning, capo-ing, tapping, spanking, slapping and stretching the boundaries of the percussive and atonal..and I’ll stay in my quiet, intimate little world of simple chords and melodies that fall naturally under my really slow fingers and within the common sense constraints of the fretboard.
Just basic G, Am, C, D and Em for me...exploring my tiny little corner of the guitar world. Call me elementary...or maybe - at my most complicated - intermediate. But I’ve found there truly doesn’t seem to be any beauty in achieving the difficult or expert ratings - so you won’t find me there. That’s for the collegiate level teachers, the scholars, the expanders, the explorers, the hoi polloi, and all of the guit-arcissists out there who are busy chasing their own tremolo tails. In my opinion, they are not expanding the circle of the guitar so much as they are pushing it beyond its logical boundaries to extremes that ultimately lack beauty and fall outside of what is truly listenable or would stand up to repeated listening.
So kick back and listen to peaceful, easy, simple, relaxing...pleasant. Feel free to listen between the notes too - and enjoy discovering that there’s more room for peace in open spaces than in a room full of clutter.