I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution. I just wanted to get my hands on the guitar. I didn’t set any goals, though I do have them. I just want to play.
I split my time between classical music, jazz standards and improvisation. I want to learn standard tunes — the melody and harmony — and be able to play over them. I work on my classical technique. If I really concentrated, I could develop something resembling a classical repertoire.
The thing is to keep picking up the guitar. It’s not a chore. I want to do it. That makes it easy. I just have to carve out somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes a day. That’s doable. If I said, “I need to spend 3 hours a day,” not only would that not happen, but I would probably not enjoy it either.
So my goal is the routine. Pick up the guitar every day.
If I were more focused and worked on the same things every day, I’d probably make “better” progress. For now I do what I want. Sometimes I play through “All the Things You Are.” I really need to work on the harmony. I need to memorize how it modulates. I also work on “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” It doesn’t change keys with the frequency of “ATTYA,” but there’s plenty to learn from just about any standard tune.
Other times I play exercises from Emilio Pujol’s books. The etudes at the end of the books are fairly difficult, but the exercises from the text are easier and very much like workouts, you don’t think playing through them is going to pay off, but they really do develop your right- and left-hand technique.
I just picked up a piece by Miguel Llobet after reading an article about his Bach transcriptions in the new Soundboard magazine. It wasn’t Bach. I chose “Cançó del Lladre (Song of the Thief)". It’s within my capability, sounds great with the low E string is tuned down to D, and has some interesting harmonics.
I could shed a month on this piece and have something to play.
I could also play a standard tune for a couple of months and try to figure out a way to play it solo with chords here and there. Despite not having goals, I do have a goal: To figure out how to play standard tunes in the way that I “hear” them. Not with crazy stretches and heavily arranged harmony, but something more like what a pianist would do with a lead sheet: Play it solo with the melody and simple chords. I would love to be able to do this with 10 or 20 tunes, but first I have to begin with one. I know what I want, but the chords on the lead sheets seem “wrong” a lot of the time.
As aimless as my approach has been, I can feel myself playing better. I decided to play without right-hand fingernails — even on classical guitar — and I have become much more comfortable doing that.
Another part of my practice has been playing through William Leavitt’s “Modern Method for Guitar,” the old Berklee books aimed at jazz players. They don’t really teach much jazz, but you do learn a lot of jazz chords in between the books' primary lessons on reading and playing in different keys all over the fingerboard. And all those scales can help you play just about anything: tunes and improvisation.
Maybe a little planning (and playing the same things every day) would help, but for now I just play whatever strikes me, usually for a few minutes. I still really want to pick up the guitar, so I guess I’m doing something right.
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