music lesson

Playing notes is the basic idea of music, but it’s an impression, and a shallow one. It’s not enough to play the notes.

What I really have to do as a musician is everything that is not in the notation.

The same way I need time with my instruments to interpret notes, I need time with people, to understand and interpret them.

It’s the things I notice when I’m not with my guitar or at the piano that I find so interesting and want to explore later through the soundboard, the strings, bridges, keys and petals.

Playing music is mostly about this: listening to the human heart as it encounters, accepts, and learns to live from whatever rubs up against it.

music lesson

 

she’s a rescue

I got myself a new guitar today. Well, not really new: an old Gibson J 45, rich and deep on the low E and A strings, with round shoulders, a wine-red finish and tortoise teardrop pickguard.

She’s a rescue from a city pawn shop. There she stood, so beautifully abandoned, in reverent silence. I imagined her maker reclaimed wood from an old church pew in order to create her.

She came with an exile’s suitcase, and a belly filled with songs.

The music just lives in these old guitars. If you really want to write a song, if you have no ideas and can’t go thinking or don’t want to, go to a pawn shop. Go ask a guitar. Buy one used, because she has music in her.

Think of her as your grandfather’s cane, take her on a walk. She will talk to you. She’ll tell you about places she has known, the wrong turns she’s made and who she’s seen. About the café chairs she’s rested on, and baggage carousels she’s ridden, her wild ways. How one night in a downtown club, she found grace. And why her strings are sad and full of regrets. Could be the one who played her before had no heart.

Tune her up and, warbling out the old, she will begin anew. Tell her to find you a B minor, A major song. Maybe the next day suddenly you’ll have something.

People will turn to see where the beautiful notes came from. They’ll feel transfigured. Those that heard will say the holy spirit spoke to them as from an eternal tree. Anyway, that’s what my new song will say.

abandoned

shameless

My songs are unapologetically intimate and unfailingly hushed. To me, quiet, sparse and unadorned just feels right. My recordings and live performances, too, a ritual of simplicity. I want you, the listener, to feel each heartbeat in the wake of every heartache. It’s what I’m about.

That margin has always been mine, and I have never let what’s happening in the mainstream shame me out of it.

I could work in the center, and make up something everyone might like, but it would wreck my art. It’s the edges that are impenetrable.

God, please don’t deprive me of the edges. It’s where I belong. I have nowhere else to go.

shameless

voice lesson

Songwriters worry a lot about finding their voice. We all find our voice, though. By the time you’re ten or more years into your craft, you find it.

But that’s not the trouble. The trouble is getting rid of it.

Of course the song idea in my head has been done before. The question I have to answer is, “have I done this before?”

A mere cut and paste from something I shared before would be pointless.

Bringing my true self to my work, every time … shaping my sound until my own two ears say, “yes, that’s great, this surprises us.” That’s what I’m after.

Passionately pursuing a new song my whole life … that’s everything.

voice