if I had my time again . . .

I have often thought, at various times over the years whilst practicing guitar, what I would/should have examined, studied more closely, if I had my time again. I am probably motivated to think about my choices in retrospect because of teaching. What is/should be important to the young guitarist? What was important to me?

Of course it all depends on what the person is aiming to do with their music practice.

Changing and modifying technique goes on for me. Of course I don’t get to have my time establishing my fundamental guitar techniques again but I can make continual adjustments and prioritise spending time working on certain aspects over others.

If I was a “professional” working guitarist reliant upon consistency it would be really difficult to find the space and time to radically change my fundamental technique – say from plectrum guitarist to finger style – and remain at the same level of proficiency. But I am not in that category and so have the space to test or challenge my ways of playing for creative purposes.

I have been doing this for some years now and find this attitude stimulating in terms of technical study. As noted elsewhere on this site, the notion of practice for me stretches from an isolated study of how something is performed on the instrument to the understanding that practice is the thing I do, it is making music. To practice music-making.  Thoughts arise about how, why, when and where I play the things I play during both these approaches to the business of guitar playing.

Octave transposition (using the octave as a pivot for melodic/harmonic material) seems such a useful, simple concept. Being able to imitate a melody, arpeggio, a chord in a higher or lower octave at will immediately expands possibilities (with variation upon the original), opens up the fretboard and provides a strong frame, for highly specific harmonic situations or its opposite.

I understand and can ‘see’ the value of and how to apply this concept now, in a way I didn’t imagine 30 years ago. I did not prioritise its value nor its application at the time. But 30 years ago I did not have all the experience and practice that I have had since. Importantly, I see that this concept of octave transposition does not exist in isolation. For example, I had been working on different arpeggio fingerings as discrete entities (as we do when we isolate material for study) busy with simply trying to remember and apply. At the same time practicing many other aspects, playing tunes, gigging, etc. etc. Even though I was aware of octave transposition I did not see it as that important or useful to my needs at the time. In relation to what my musical activities, knowledge and priorities were at that time, the concept did not seem so useful.

I can say now, “oh I wish I had really gone deeper into octave transposition because it would have helped me systematise, learn, apply and integrate material much faster and more efficiently”, but this is me now, telling my former self what to value. Chances are my former self would have replied ‘yeah sure, but I’m into this other stuff at the moment’, looked at it a little, thought it was cool, learnt a little and put it aside for another time.

Would I be a different musician now if I had more deeply penetrated and applied the concept and uses of octave transposition? I may have saved myself some time in the long run, made things a little easier, been a better organised guitarist.

Yes,  I think I could be different in the way that I play the guitar. Every choice I make about what to spend time and energy on in guitar practice will impact my present and future development technically. My relation with my context, environment, others, and my self, was and is impacting, influencing, affecting my understanding of what is important at any given moment. The relations I had 30 years ago created the conditions within which I made decisions (even if not consciously) to prioritise certain aspects of my guitar practice. This ‘relativity’ is not isolated in time, it belongs to a continuum. There is an ongoing weave through time, of connections, where this has influenced that.

The truth is I am able to see and apply the usefulness of octave transposition for me now. Perhaps what I worked on 30 years ago has enabled this to be so. This of course applies to many other concepts and organisational methods used in my guitar playing, not just octave transposition. That I decided to begin “practicing” guitar again has also enabled me to see the usefulness of this concept. If I had ceased guitar practice altogether that concept would likely be irrelevant!

In trying to imagine if a different choice in how I conceived of and applied particular information to the guitar would have changed my guitar playing now, I have answered yes.  But to what degree and in what ways? I think the most obvious areas would be the physical and mental, but less likely is the area of expressiveness, the kind of feeling I am able to articulate through music. However, the relationally of all things should never be underestimated. Change one thing, make a different choice, no matter how insignificant, the movement, the unfolding of a life has been altered. Whether this alteration might change anything in my life I will never know. Of course this can only be speculated and imagined because we cannot re-live a chunk of our life and then compare the two versions!

Perhaps in writing this I have come to understand that whatever choices I’ve made in the past have allowed me to understand and perceive things in the way I do now. So the question becomes am I happy with where my guitar playing is at now? I will answer, yes. Naturally there are always things to explore, develop and improve, but I understand this as part of the motivation for practicing and playing the instrument anyway.

Whatever technique and conceptualisation I currently have access to is good enough for me to use in creating art with guitar, with sound, and this is my ultimate focus.

One note, one sound employed in a particular way at a particular time in a particular context, can be mighty powerful.

One thought on “if I had my time again . . .

  1. An addendum to the above rant;

    I realise that I am in a process which involves my work from the past, what I do in the present and where that may lead me in the future. In some way, the anxiety I once had about gaining knowledge around the guitar has evaporated. I do not mind spending time on reorganising, reviewing, retraining, the way I go about things, conceptually, practically on the instrument. Rather than feel like I have “missed the boat” with certain aspects of guitar/music practice, I am more able to say to myself, ‘Oh well just do it now’. I actually enjoy the process of adjustment, learning new skills, reorganising knowledge etc. for its own sake now in my life.
    Some things are more interesting for me to consider spending time on than others. For example, my reading skills are lousy but, as I also felt many years ago, I am just not that interested or indeed required to develop/explore that facet of music.
    A key aspect of all this is that I no longer have any thought about being a professional musician needing to earn a living, or wanting to be famous etc. That means I am able just to follow what my mind and heart dictate – a relief !

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