09 November, 2008

Opening Stages (or Focusyn)

Now that the neighborhood coffee shop has (reluctantly) closed down to make way for yet another Walgreens in the area, you'd think I'd finally have some rest from having to perform every other week. But the Open Stage there was so popular (or at least so treasured by its regular attendees), that it has splintered off into two (two!) different new Open Stages. One of them is hosted by folk rock band The Primatives, who hosted the other one, and is located about a half hour drive from here. The other one is closer - only a little bit farther than the old one - and hosted by the Stickman, who was a regular and celebrated feature of the old 'stage. And guess what - their schedules are scattered relative to each other, so now I essentially have an Open Stage to perform at every single week (with some exceptions - holidays, months with five fridays, unexpected cancellations, etc.)!

Okay, this is good for me. I know. I've been practicing guitar a lot more the past couple months. And that's a very good thing. But it's still a lot of pressure. The farther Open Stage is cool because it actually has a stage (a pretty tall one, in fact), which is good performing experience, but also adds a lot more stress. The closer Open Stage is a bit less formal (with no real stage). An interesting side effect of the splintering of the old Open Stage is that each of the two new ones feature a number of familiar faces (which provides comfort), while adding in some fresh faces (so you get to hear new performers, and new people get to hear you). And even though *I* get bored playing the same songs over and over again, since each of the two stages feature different audiences (with maybe a few occasional crossovers), I can play a song a couple times before it gets tired. Or I can try a song out at the more informal stage so that I'm more comfortable playing it at the slightly more formal stage.

Enough of that for now. Let's talk about learning. A few weeks ago, I learned the basics to the song Too Rolling Stoned by Robin Trower - a fantastic blues rock song by the way. I can play it fairly well, minus the solos of course (unfortunately). Now, it took me some effort to work out that main riff you hear at the beginning and after each chorus. I had a tab for it (I wouldn't have been able to figure it out otherwise), but it was still tricky getting the timing down, and the tab itself was a little iffy (as they always seem to be). I had to listen to the riff in the song over and over again, listening carefully to the pitches of each note, and the timing between them, etc., to get the riff down. Eventually I got it, after a lot of effort. And being able to play it feels really really good. And this is the stuff I really wanna be able to play, as opposed to boring chords. Moreso whole solos than just riffs (though riffs are fun in their own right).

But a solo is like a dozen different riffs (or "licks", if you will - and that's just for a short solo) strung one after another, usually played fast. So it generally takes the effort of learning one riff times a dozen (or more, for the longer solos), to learn a solo. And that's a lot of effort. Of course, some solos are pretty easy, and some are really hard, and they all vary in difficulty. I'm sure other people - "true" musician types - can work stuff like this out a lot easier and/or faster than I can. But I'm not here today to talk about envy. I've proven to myself that I can work this stuff out if I really really work at it. And the portions of solos I can play are some of my favorite things to play - example, the opening riff for Steppin' Out played by Eric Clapton on the Bluesbreakers LP (I know, I'm mixing up riffs and solos now, just try to stay with me).

Another thing I love to play is the first four "measures" or so of I'm Going Home by Ten Years After, featuring Alvin "Fastest Fingers" Lee - as seen on the Woodstock film. Sure, four "measures" doesn't sound like a lot, but when it's Alvin Lee, baby, it's like a universe's worth of flurried notes (it's not really, but it sure feels like it). Just tonight I worked out the next four measures or so (with tons of effort), including getting past a part that's stumped me since I learned the first part. I gotta practice it a lot now to cement it into my memory, and a few of the sections are still weak, but it feels great to play it, even if I have to slow it down a bit yet.

My point here is, I can work this stuff out if I really work at it, but my problem is making the effort. I have some kind of mental deficiency that creates a strong desire within me to avoid doing stuff - moreso stuff that either requires effort or induces stress. I *want* to spend all day every day for months working out solos and stuff - and can you imagine what that would do for my playing ability? But I just can't get myself to *do* it. As soon as I come up against a wall, I feel a strong (really really strong) desire to turn around and take a nap or something, rather than chip away at the wall. This is why I'm a failure at life. But no amount of telling myself to "just do it" makes it the least bit easier for me.

And this is why I'm "just a picture of what I could have been".


  1. I'm sure you'll be able to memorize it; I remember the prodigious effort you put forth to memorize the end of 55Dunk (or whatever it was called) in DDR.

    So basically, The Primatives' Open Stage is on a stage and Stickman's is like the old one at the Coffee Den? What happened to the one at Empire?

    Maybe this is why it would be good to have someone to play with regularly, whether it's a teacher or a drummer or whatever... then you have a sort of external force that you can't avoid.

    You know I wish you the best of luck with the guitar, anyway.

  2. Pretty sure it was 22Dunk.

    Stickman's is very much like the old one at the Coffee Den, but for the distinct difference that the coffee shop is half gift shop (lots of sports memorabilia), so instead of a groovy "back room" to chill out in they have a, well, a gift shop... >_>

    Both places serve a pretty good Hot Chocolate, though.

    That's another reason why I wish I was in a band. Not just because I want to be in a band, and I'm interested in playing music in a band format, but because having a band gives me a good excuse to practice. If I'm gonna be playing a song together with a few other people (and particularly if I have a lot of opportunities to practice it with them), then I'll definitely be more motivated to get my part down well.

    Too bad I'm an asocial loner...

  3. I wanted to say 22Dunk, but then I decided not to because I thought I might have been getting a bit of overlap from 222much.

  4. Well, that's precisely why I remembered that it was 2 and not 5.