One of my resolutions for the new year is to teach myself a new way to play guitar.
I love just about everything associated with the instrument and I’ve played and collected guitars since I was in high school.
Currently, I am lucky enough to have a wall with guitar hangers featuring an Epiphone hollow body electric guitar in Pelham Blue, a Koa Martin acoustic, a vintage hollow body acoustic from the 1920s that was given to me as a gift, a Music Master bass guitar and a Fender Stratocaster copy that I built (with the help of Lander University Master Carpenter Terry Powell) from a solid piece of poplar wood purchased from a Greenwood construction company about 20 years ago.
Guitars make me happy. I love seeing them in music stores and catalogs. There is a distinct pleasing aroma when you first pop open a guitar case and I love the way the neck and body contrast with the felt material inside. It’s pure joy to see local talents like Ashby Stokes, Jake Bartley and Duane Terry lose themselves in the strumming and solos — a cathartic experience, for sure. You can lure me in with an epic electric riff through a giant Marshall Stack or a quiet minor melody on a nylon string acoustic. I love them both. Give me Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six” on repeat and, as I said, I am a happy man.
One thing I want to do this year is tackle a new style of finger picking using a technique known as the “Travis picking style.” While I can finger pick plenty of songs, the Travis style is what is used brilliantly by masters such as Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel. To me, it seems like a demarcation point for guitar players. To learn this style would be to elevate my playing ability beyond simply strumming chords or the finger picking I am already familiar with.
But, it can be a bit tricky and I am having to teach my right hand to separate into two entities to accomplish this task. Named for the country guitarist Merle Travis (writer of “Sixteen Tons”), the Travis style requires your right thumb to become the in-house bass player alternating between two notes back and forth while your remaining fingers play the melody on the first beat of a measure and then commonly on the off beats for the rest of the measure.
I have been practicing every day using the Fleetwood Mac song “Never Going Back Again” written by Lindsey Buckingham as the first piece to tackle and master. And, I must say that it’s starting to click with me. I initially broke the song down into sections and started very slowly to build up confidence in the new technique.
This daily practice session is taking me back to the first instrument for me, which was the piano. I took piano lessons for just shy of a decade starting at the age of 9. While my teacher never whacked my knuckles with a ruler, she was tough and expected diligent practice every day. I was tested each week and there was a timer on our piano at home. Sitting on that piano bench staring at the black and white keys and working through complex piano pieces is a memory burned into my brain.
These memories come back to me now trying to learn this new complex technique. Practice enough and I know it will become second nature and I will enjoy this style for the rest of my playing days.