The­ory God­mother

Guitar Techniques - - Q&a -

Post your play­ing posers and tech­ni­cal teasers to: The­ory God­mother, Gui­tar Tech­niques, 30 Mon­mouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at info@david­ - ev­ery wish is your God­mother’s com­mand!

Rhythm Blues Dear The­ory God­mother

Re­cently I’ve been try­ing my hand at learn­ing to read mu­sic. I can iden­tify the notes on the page, but the thing that trips me up is read­ing rhythm. I some­times have to stop and work out even the sim­plest rhythm in my head. It oc­curred to me that I’m prob­a­bly not alone so I won­der if you have any tips that could speed the process up.

Alan To be­gin with, any work you un­der­take re­gard­ing rhythm means that own­ing a metronome is all but manda­tory, as it’s es­sen­tial you have some­thing tick­ing away, keep­ing the pulse of the mu­sic go­ing while you tackle the di­vi­sions and sub­di­vi­sions of the beat.

That said, I’ve found one thing helps more than any­thing else and that is find­ing tran­scrip­tions that you know well as a lis­tener. Then, sit down with the score, the CD and a pen­cil. Lis­ten to the mu­sic and try to fol­low it all the way through, tap­ping out the ba­sic rhythm with the pen­cil. That’s step one. The next thing to do is to go through the score look­ing for rhyth­mic no­ta­tion that looks strange or scary and cir­cle it with the pen­cil. Then, lis­ten again, pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to the parts you’ve marked. Hear­ing dif­fi­cult look­ing rhythms played back to you in a fa­mil­iar con­text is a great way of mov­ing for­ward; do­ing this on a reg­u­lar ba­sis can pro­vide an un­be­liev­able amount of help. It helps if the mu­sic also has lyrics be­cause it’s eas­ier to re­mem­ber a rhythm if you can as­so­ciate it with words - think of the nurs­ery rhyme that con­tains the lyrics ‘one-a-penny two-apenny, hot cross buns’; you’d re­mem­ber the words even if the writ­ten rhythm didn’t make sense to you ini­tially (Ex 1).

An­other thing is to tran­scribe some sim­ple rhythms yourself. Be­gin with nurs­ery rhymes, folk tunes, any­thing that has a straight­for­ward sound­ing rhythm to it. Ex 2 should give you the idea. Keep com­ing back to these and - think of them like learn­ing your times ta­bles at school be­cause these small com­po­nents of rhythm will oc­cur else­where and when they do, you’ll recog­nise them.

Mean­while, if you find that you’ve got a few blind spots - that is rhyth­mic clus­ters that con­tin­u­ously trip you up - try to think of a tune where that par­tic­u­lar rhythm oc­curs nat­u­rally. For in­stance, I found one stu­dent couldn’t re­mem­ber what sim­ple dot­ted notes sounded like and so I told him that one crops up in the sec­ond bar of our na­tional an­them and wrote it out for him (Ex 3). From that point on, he re­mem­bered it with­out a prob­lem.

The great thing about all these tips is that you can do all of them with­out a gui­tar in your hands and en­tirely sep­a­rate from the job of lo­cat­ing pitch. It’s pure rhythm and when it’s looked at in isolation like this, your progress is usu­ally ac­cel­er­ated.

Mem­ory Up­grade Dear The­ory God­mother

My prob­lem is that I seem to spend ages learn­ing a song or a fin­ger­style piece and then, if I leave it for a lit­tle while in or­der to move on to some­thing else, I ei­ther for­get it com­pletely or it’s full of mis­takes be­cause I’ve for­got­ten en­tire sec­tions. How pro play­ers man­age to learn a cou­ple of hours of ma­te­rial and play it per­fectly ev­ery time they do a gig, I’m at a loss to un­der­stand. At this rate I’ll never be able to build up even a mod­est reper­toire and I won­dered if you had any tips on me­mori­sa­tion that will help me get over this awk­ward sit­u­a­tion?

Rus­sell Ev­ery­body has mem­ory prob­lems to some de­gree, Rus­sell. One name gui­tarist told me that the first cou­ple of days of re­hearsal be­fore a tour, com­prise ev­ery­one try­ing to re­call ma­te­rial they’d played loads of times.

To be­gin with, do you keep the pieces you’ve learned in your daily rou­tine? If not, that could be the root of the prob­lem. We all have to keep our reper­toire fresh, and con­stant re­vi­sion is the only way as some­thing you’ve just learnt, can’t work its way into your mem­ory with­out rep­e­ti­tion. A wise teacher once told me that it can take only a week or so to learn the me­chan­ics of a piece - chords, fin­ger­ings and so on - but a fur­ther three months to learn how to per­form it. Part of that process is em­bed­ding it into the mem­ory.

So take heart that this is a well­known syn­drome; keep the pieces you’re learn­ing in your prac­tice rou­tine and that way, you’ll end up with a reper­toire of pol­ished tunes!

Bet­ter still, get to­gether with friends and ac­tu­ally play the songs you’re learn­ing. This is the fastest way of all, of com­mit­ting them to mem­ory. It’s way more en­joy­able, too!

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