The results were a progressive exercise in opening up my musical mind to the possibilities of various voicings of those chords in Drop D. Each little addition or correction felt better and better. I wanted to be able to play the melody (which is quite simple and scale-wise with no jarring departures from the key) while I played an instrumental break at some point (at the beginning? In the middle? Both?). But the lyrics are oh so powerful and timely; they needed to stand alone with chord voicings that enhanced and lifted them, but not get in the way and draw too much attention to themselves. Those I found, I think.
There will be some changes to my arrangement as time goes on and I play it in performance a few times; this almost always happens with the songs I arrange. The challenge for me it to always keep things fresh and avoid falling into an “auto pilot” kind of mode. Somehow, I don’t think that will happen with this one. It is just too powerful a song. I only hope my singing can do justice to the words, which they deserve. If I feel ready I will debut my new arrangement of Get Together on my weekly Facebook Live feed next Saturday or Sunday from my regular gig at the Daily Brew on my Cape Cod Acoustics Facebook page. If you happen to catch it I welcome your comments and feedback. If you’re a younger person who’s unfamiliar with the song, listen to it on You Tube in its original form performed by Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods.
All this is a roundabout way of getting to the true subject of this post, which is practicing during these trying times. I confess that I haven’t much felt like practicing for practicing’s sake for a while. But when I have if even for only a few minutes and a song or two I’ve almost always felt better.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, my guitar hero is the amazing finger-style jazz guitarist from the U.K., Martin Taylor. I subscribe to his Facebook page and a few days ago someone asked him if he’s been practicing much during these times of few or no gigs for professional musicians. Martin replied that he pretty much NEVER practices, these days or even before COVID-19. He said that he often thinks about music and how certain ideas would apply to songs he plays but he hardly ever puts them to use until he actually has a gig. Wow. But I guess if I had his chops I might not feel a need to practice either….I guess….
I’ve heard this from other great musicians too. All I can conclude is that they have reached a place in their ability and musical consciousness that we mere mortals cannot really imagine. Conversely, I have known plenty of great players of a variety of instruments who feel it’s vital to practice hard and often. The analogy I would use would be professional baseball players, great ones, who always take batting and fielding practice every day to stay sharp. This makes more sense to me than hoping great things will happen spontaneously. On a personal level, I think of my late father, my brother, and my late uncle, very fine musicians one and all who would not think of NOT practicing. My dad was a truly great drummer who could play just about any style and I have very vivid memories of him tapping away on the rubber practice pad – never on an actual drum until it was time to perform – from when I was very young. And I know his brother, my uncle, took a very dim view of anyone who did not practice religiously. My brother John, who is an alumni of a number of famous symphony orchestras (trumpet) always bemoaned having to pick up his horn again after visiting us and not practicing. He felt that it would be days if not a week or more to get back to the place to be for performance.
When the subject of practicing comes up with my students, and it always does, my standard response it to say that it’s really just physical exercise in the purest sense. Like all exercise, doing a moderate amount on a frequent basis yields much better results than doing a lot of exercise on an infrequent basis. This does not really address the question of comprehension of course but that can be dealt with; hey, that’s my job, to help the student understand the music and the right way to play it! Sometimes a student will be frustrated with a piece I give them and that’s perfectly natural. I encourage them to be sure to play something they enjoy playing during every practice session. If the current lesson is a struggle or (infrequently, thank goodness!) an outright disaster, keep trying but spend more time with the “good stuff.” It’s supposed to be fun, for goodness sake! This was a bit of a sticky point with my musical family, by the way. I sometimes think that part of the Bourque family musical heritage that goes all the way back to my great grandfather was based on the quote by one of the great Renaissance painters: “We must suffer to Create!” I didn’t adhere to that, much to the occasional chagrin of my elder relatives in my younger days. Oh well!
So while we’re trying to cope and push back at the insanity and uncertainty of our world right now I think it’s vital to not even consider picking up the guitar to “practice.” Pick it up to PLAY, no matter what comes out. You will feel better, I promise. Maybe for only a little while but even a brief respite helps us regain our strength.
Peace & good music,