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Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Letter to Pat – Re: Can’t put the guitar down


It’s 2:00 am and I’m trying so hard to put down the guitar and go to bed, but I keep picking it back up again.

I’ve heard you talk about the experience of breaking through a barrier and suddenly you reach a whole new level – well, I’ve just had my first one tonight. I haven’t been playing much, and I had decided that it was time for me to learn some songs, just to learn chord changes. I have been tinkering with a few – Solsbury Hill is too hard, and it’s too much finger picking. I was trying Tonic’s If Only You Could See, but that is probably too depressing for me right now – and then I found Jack Johnson’s Flake.

It’s all barre chords, and it has a complex (to me) strumming pattern (down, down, down up down up) – and I haven’t even learned strumming yet! But I’ve always liked it. I found a great YouTube instructional video (with a fingering chart superimposed!), the YouTube Jack Johnson music video, and lyrics with chords. Unfortunately, the lyrics and chords were a bad job of matching, and the chord diagrams just wrong – they didn’t match the barre versions in the video lesson, so I was rewriting it myself, and trying to imagine sheet music, where the lyrics are spaced to match the measures, not the other way around. (BTW check out After I figured it out myself, I finally found a lyrics/chord chart that was right.

Every time I set the guitar down, I’d just take a look at one more thing in my notes or online, or thinking of the tips you’ve given me, and I had to pick it up again. And boom, boom, boom – one element after another just came to me. That tip about keeping the pace and not worrying about getting the chord perfect before the first strum is genius! When it doesn’t sound right on the first strum, it’s so easy to make the minor corrections and get it right for the next ones. Once I concentrated on pace, the strumming came naturally. Since it’s late, and I don’t want to disturb my roommate, I wasn’t using a plectrum, and I learned a way to hold my right hand that allowed me to strum both up and down without slapping the body below the sound hole. Coincidentally, it’s the “right” way to hold a plectrum – curling your hand up and bracing against the thumb – not thumb and first finger together.

The barre chords are in the formation you showed me – for major chords, the whole fret with the first finger, second finger next fret on the third, third finger next next fret on the fifth string, fourth finger just below on the fourth string. I’ve always struggled with an F major chord in that formation – so I thought it was a hard formation to assume – but I found out that F major is the hardest one to because of the wide spacing of the frets at the top of the neck. The other ones are easy in comparison. There’s only one minor chord, that just involves moving the second, third and fourth finger down a string.

So I finally got to the point where I was playing the song almost at speed and having it sound almost right. It’s awesome. I feel like I have broken though that next barrier, and am ready to practice it, master it, and tackle more. My fingertips are so sore and it feels so good.

Just thought you’d like to know.



Posted by Greg as Family & Friends at 00:20 PST

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