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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

It's Holiday time!

Carlos interviewed on Radio Nuevo Leon Monterrey, Mexico, 2009

How to take it easy and become a better guitarist at the same time

There is an idea going round that the only way to improve your guitar playing is through the hard slog of practise. This involves sitting on a chair at the correct height, holding the guitar at a good angle, foot perched on foot-stool (or guitar balanced on support), music stand in front with a hefty volume of studies thereupon, guitar at the ready, and off we go. This is all nonsense. It may be the most efficient way to practise but is certainly not the only way to improve your guitar playing.

Consider the season we have in hand, in other words the holiday period. Some of you may be visiting relatives for the first time since last year. You may be sitting through interminable sessions of family talk while watching boring old movies on TV and munching nuts. On Christmas day you may over-indulge in a lunch not because the food is irresistible but because the excitable atmosphere of the occasion goes straight to your head, as does the alcohol. Trying hard to keep that throbbing headache from spilling over into snapping at the many young children gathered and running over your extended legs and climbing over your lap as they chase upwardly mobile balloons, the last thought passing through that tired brain of yours is going to be “proper practise”, the sort of practise you promised yourself a few weeks back in your idealised vision of what to do with your time in these holidays.

I bet you didn’t remember there were so many children linked to the family. And I bet you may be thinking how difficult it will be to do some practise, with them running around and chasing you into any quiet space still available to you. So why not turn all this on its head and make something memorable out of it?

Turn to the children and say:
“Look what I can do.”
Play a few chords. They may love it, or they may groan and say:
“Can’t you play anything else?”
Either way you have their attention. Play them something silly but totally captivating. Can’t think of anything? How about improvising a piece made out of a drum roll (cross the 6th string over the 5th string at the 9th fret and play in the rhythm of a marching drum), add a set of harmonics (fairy music to the children), follow with strums at the nut beyond the first fret (well timed it will raise a laugh), and finish with catchy rhythms tapped with your right hand thumb and fingers on the sides of the guitar.

Once you have offered that improvisation some adult relative in the far corner may ask you to play that piece, oh what is it called, ermm, romance, or something like that. Oh you mean Spanish Romance? OK, here goes. Now you have captured the attention of the entire motley crew who makes up your Christmas festivity. You finish the piece with a smile and everyone claps and cheers, and someone actually says:
“you are very good, you know that?”
And you, secretly pleased as punch, reply modestly:
“no, not really.”

Auntie Rosie over there, about 110 years old, who looks the same year in and year out, and seems to have been around since your parents were children themselves, now breaks out into some soft singing of a Christmas carol. Others join in. You fiddle around quietly on the guitar till you find the right key to accompany with chords, chasing them across the fingerboard till you strike the right ones. Soon you get the hang of it and by the last verse have them nailed (the chords, not your relatives).

You end with a flourish. By popular request you play one more piece. You have saved your rousing party piece to last. They clap and cheer and offer you another drink, and if you have done really well, the last slice of Christmas pudding. You put your guitar away, and take it to the room next door where you slide it under the bed for safe-keeping.

Consider what you have done:
You have improvised a piece of nonsense, which nevertheless has caught the children’s attention.
You have brought musical class to the proceedings by playing a couple of solos, which everyone loves.
You have brought sweet harmony to the event by accompanying songs on the guitar.

To sum up: improvising, performing, accompanying, communicating, and winning the attention of small children – now isn’t that worth a lot more than a couple of hours of “proper practise”?

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday.

22 December 2012, Lisbon

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2125 .
© 2019.

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