I’ve been spending a few days at my friend Bob’s. It’s easily one of the most enjoyable and life affirming places to hang out, because it’s full of life. Bob spent decades managing a group of comic book shops in and around Connecticut, and his house is full of pop culture ephemera: comics, of course; boatloads of DVDs, many of them obscure; countless posters and figurines of assorted touchstones from my childhood, such as Underdog and Davey and Goliath.
Also in Bob’s house are many, many musical instruments. Bob plays guitar, and plays it quite well. Besides that, he’s always had a soft spot for electronics and machines of all variety, so there are also countless guitar gadgets and amplifiers within reach.
A couple of months ago, I bought a Roland Street amp from him, and have loved it ever since. It’s a portable amplifier that takes AA batteries and packs a surprising punch for such a small, lightweight speaker. It also has a couple of effects knobs, so that I can change the general amplifier from a simple clean sound to stacked distortion, and add such things as chorus, flanger, and delay.
When I’m not reading or writing, I tend to sit down with my guitar for a while, and just see what I can discover. At the present I’m messing around with the keys of G Major and D major, which seem to fit best when I’m trying to find a way to play a song so that it’s in my limited vocal range.
Yesterday, after playing the assorted chords that sound best in those keys, I tried my hand at finding the fingerings for the major scales. Without getting too technical, the guitar offers a set pattern of places to put fingers so that moving up and down the fretboard allows the guitarist to play in a variety of keys.
On a four string guitar, starting on the first fret of the second string down results in playing the G# major scale, and starting another fingering combination with the pinky on the fourth fret of the lowest string results in the F# major scale. By moving all the fingers up one fret, the guitarist plays the same thing in G Major, and so on.
So I started messing around with these discoveries, poking around to hear the various fumbling melodies that I played if I just randomly played the strings while pressing down in whatever places resulted in my playing a note in one of these scales. While I had my fingers positioned to play the D Major scale further up the fretboard, Bob just started playing D Major scale chords.
I continued to randomly play notes, and as I listened to him, I focused on certain patterns of notes I playing, listening to the patterns change as Bob played various chords underneath them. I’m sure a true musician could explain it better, but the patterns would sound, at times, as if they were on their way to somewhere, and then, as Bob continued to play those chords, they sounded as if they arrived at their destination.
I continued to do this, and to my surprise, it sounded awfully good. And as I just settled into experimenting with various patterns, something kind of magical occurred to me: I was playing lead guitar.
Yes, of course, the leads I was playing were fumbling, stumbling things, where my fingers would hit upon the wrong note and create wince inducing sound. Yet there were other times where my fingers were going to the right place, and a particular pattern sounded, if it’s not too egotistical to say so, quite beautiful.
We watched the film “Vertigo” a little while later, and as we watched, I sat with my guitar, quietly pecking out notes. I tried my first tentative steps toward melodies that I knew, and stumbled through a measure or two, repeating certain three and four note pieces of the melody that sounded good.
It was exciting. It was fun.
It’s a start.