exhaling little black notes, inhaling guitar 101

This is the exhale part – or maybe the waiting to exhale part (ha!). I’m finished with the Baroque post (my next in the music history series), but I need to tweak a couple things before I post it. It feels good to be forced to think again. Okay, I say ‘forced’ loosely I suppose. It feels good to have a reason to let my brain cells work. I’m ready for a challenge. Remind me I said that, oh, about a month from now.

I sat here reviewing figured bass, harmonic/numerical analysis, counterpoint, 7th chords, formal analysis, styles, forms, voice-leading, chromatic harmony, modulations, progressions, weird chords and funky cadences, fugue writing, serialism, etc. At first it made me smile that I remember so much of it and how it links contextually.

Of course, some of it I don’t. Throughout my grad. degree in conducting, I did quite a bit of form and style analysis, but only analyzed the basic chord structure for most pieces I worked with unless I needed to know specific sonorities that would effect the way the piece would be conducted (which was pretty often). My major professor was very much into stylistic integrity and whole phrases in context versus how each chord leads to the next. As a result, a lot of the more intensive analysis techniques I learned in later theory courses flew out the window.

So over the next few days, picture me fighting with my two dogs over the papasan chair in my office as I struggle to remember this stuff. Of course it’s nothing like… the dreaded undergraduate theory courses (dun dun dun). Grimace here. Trust me.

Why do ‘nazi’ theory professors make those classes so miserable for music students? It took years for me to realize that it really was a tool to utilize (i.e. it could HELP with the 50 other classes you were taking per semester), and yeah (gulp) it could be fun at times to figure it all out. I remember my very first theory course as a freshman. I walked in to a class with about 60 people. By the second semester it went down to 40. By the end of our fourth and last semester, there were five of us left. FIVE. To explain such a low number, our major theory professor got cancer at the beginning of our third semester, so we finished the last semester and a half with visiting professors and subs. It was difficult, because they all had different styles. Each one was a ‘different school’. The same five of us continued into upper level theory courses, and four of us worked on graduate degrees together. The 5th is starting his grad degree this coming semester after spending a few years at other schools.

It’s no wonder most people don’t remember their theory courses, because after years of therapy they probably have to just block it out of their memory, even at the expense of subject content.

Anyway, time to inhale again I suppose –

I spent a couple hours with the guitar again today. I spent a while reviewing what I did yesterday, then I remembered I had a pack of picks in one of my unpacked music boxes (I just moved). I found one and tried playing with a pick. My first lesson of the day was this:

It is a COMPLETELY different animal to play with a pick as opposed to your fingers.

I felt like I had wasted time yesterday and had to re-familiarize myself with the fret board and the feel of the strings. BUT I know real guitarists play both ways. The good news is ‘Ode to Joy’ felt super easy today, and I was able to get the tempo up. I also relived ‘Let it Be’, and dug into a two measure phrase that I kept messing up. Got it. That’s my success of the day – those two measures. It involved skipping strings with both hands – a first!

So I found some great online lessons on picking. I also learned that if I play on an acoustic it will lead to greater dexterity on an electric, and I found a great lesson which gave me amplifier basics.

So far I’m unbelievably disappointed with the teaching sequence of EVERY online guitar lesson video. They all claim to be for ‘VERY beginners‘ who have never picked up an instrument before, but with every one of them I found myself saying “If I didn’t have a music background I NEVER would have known that”. Grrr.



  1. I never took a class in music theory, so I can only speak from experience with profs who taught metrical theory, all of whom were 100% insane in what sounds like the same way you’re describing. It was always my impression that they wanted to use theory to put the the universe in order for themselves, to sort of crystallize their own beliefs in amber — but not to explain how theory could lead to constructing anything new and/or creative. Not exactly helpful.

    Good luck with the guitar lessons!

  2. There must be something about teachers in general. Or maybe it is simply the students (at their various levels) who “don’t get it”. Is there a “nazi” poetry squad out there too, I wonder?

    I ask this because I have just come from a poetry site where Emily Dickinson’s “A Light exists in Spring” had been posted. It’s a simple little poem, written in basic English, about a transient moment as the seasons turn; and yet there are five or more comments below it to the effect: “i have to do an assignment on this cr@p, but – duh – wtf is she saying? sumbody pls help me.”

    Ignore me – more off-topic sp@m from an out-of-touch poet.

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