Saturday, August 09, 2014

Open Mic Nights: Training and The American Song Book

At an open mic night an older genteman asked me if my finger picking style was a gift or could it be learned. I told him it is the way I've played most of my life but that a year or so of classical guitar lessons clean up the left hand technique enormously. Thank you, Charlie Higgins.
A gift is just such, but there is much to be said for training. A gift given technique accomplishes what technique alone cannot and a gift will not. If somehow you were afforded lessons, that is a real gift. Thank you, Jimmy Carter.

Another thought looking back on the week was a joking comment from other songwriters that I use "too many chords" and it reminded me of Ronny Cox also making that same joke at me one night in the Bluebird. I know the rubric about four chord songs in pop and three chord songs in country, that a song must be commercial so dumb it down.  Yes, it is a gift to write a timeless song that is simple and direct.

I could not give a flying rats fat behind.

I was lucky enough to be born early enough to grow up listening to Jimmy Van Heusen, George Gershwin, Jacques Brel..., Burt Bacharach, all songwriters of the American songbook. They mastered jazz, blues, classical, folk, fused styles gloriously and did not shy away from a ninth, a diminished, a thirteenth, they embraced the colors and fashioned wonderful soarng melodies the likes of which cannot be sung well without some training and much practice.

Much of this is missing in writers who stop with Dylan, Cash and even the Beatles although Lennon and Mc Cartney were prodigious in their admiration of those masters. If you write with a beat box, tracks, loops you can quickly create a snappy song. Unless you learn music, unless you discover how harmony reallf functions past fundamentals and what that makes possible in melody, you have not wandered far from your front porch.

Whatever formulas you apply as songwriters never ever stop exploring the palette, the colors possible when you master more than folk songs and a beat box. Do it because in the range and colors made possible you can evoke more subtle emotions, emotions both rich and mature and timeless. Music is not meant to be simply a career and hopefully but sometimes only a sport. It is an adventure, a country meant to be discovered, seen and most importantly felt and experienced. Do not let the strummers and the chord police cheat you of that.

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