First blog posts are awkward. I’ve written a lot of them only to abandon the blog a year or two later, so I’ll dispense with the formality. Hello. Thanks for stopping by.
Here’s what’s been on my mind recently: I’m learning how to play guitar for the zillionth time in my life. This time it’s finally sticking. I’m a musician foremost, something I’ve spent over two decades doing—the idea of learning how to make a different configuration of sounds isn’t new, but a stringed instrument has always been so different from anything else I’m used to.
With woodwinds (my primary focus), you hear the sound resonating in your head just as much as you hear it bouncing off things in the world before coming back to your ears. It’s kind of a part of you: you make the sound with your breath and your lungs, the same way you keep yourself alive. It’s weird to make sounds that feel so much less visceral. My brain is confused by how I can change dynamics without involving my entire body, and by how much external things distort, modify or amplify the sound I’m making. It’s a lot to process.
The most confusing thing about this different space, so far, is negotiating sonically with other musicians on stage. I realised I’m used to that particular woodwind resonance when I’m trying to figure out what key a song is in, for example (I play in a band that requires me to play a lot of songs I don’t know well, which in turn requires thinking on my feet). On a horn, my usual method is playing a couple of notes pretty quietly for my own ears to establish a key centre. With a guitar rig, this is of course still possible, but my ears haven’t yet learned how to pick my sound out of a mass of other guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums. In short: I don’t think I actually know what I sound like.
Kind of a weird, existential problem, right? It’s not something you consciously expect to come up against. The other things that are tricky—doubled notes all over the fretboard, difficult chord shapes, a million ways to modify the signal before it’s heard—those are straightforward enough. They all come with practice. Getting to know yourself is a tougher, more nebulous one. I guess that’s just practice too.