all the notes on the neck

all the notes on the neck

This is a blog from the dark side, it’s writing as therapy, a bit of a whinge maybe, so if you don’t want to read a blog about a retired person complaining, don’t read on. Thing is I’m getting fed up with my jazz workshops – I went to one last night (Monday) hence this outpouring. I’ve written before that setting yourself challenges in retirement might seem like a jolly good idea but in fact there is a potentially big cost and this is to one of my favourite topics – to a person’s self-esteem. I suppose there comes a time when you weigh the cost – return balance, and decide it’s just not worth it. I may be at that point with my jazz workshops.

Let me explain if I can and if I can’t then let’s just see if writing about it can help my mental health. In my semi-informed view, jazz is difficult. I know there will be many blues guitar players and certainly classical musicians who would disagree with my view that this in some way is peculiar to jazz and I’m not saying it is but the fact remains that, for me at least, jazz is hard. I’ll give you an example from last night, won’t mean a thing to the non-musical person but this blog is for me, nevertheless, I’ll try and illustrate what I’m talking about. Let’s take one of my favourite musical forms – Country and Western. Most played chord – G. You can tell this is a simple (not to mention much used) chord because it’s just one letter. Now look at this one from last night’s workshop –      F7 sus flat 9 (I can’t write the flat out properly because my laptop doesn’t have a symbol for a flattened note) and a tune called Fran Dance, a Miles Davis tune about his girlfriend at the time apparently, must have been a tricky relationship is all I can say. I mean who the hell needs a chord like that in a tune? Another example, while I’m in whinge mode – what in the name of all that’s holy is a A7alt chord? Explained by our tutor he said something like it’s just the same as the minor of the previous chord – B flat as you ask – so it becomes B minor, but is it written like that, oh no, it’s written as A7alt , why? Why? And here’s the real, the real absolute bummer, the rest of the group seem to understand this perfectly. And then there’s that other great dilemma I mentioned before – play the scale I know (it works but isn’t quite right) when it comes to my solo or try and follow the chords of the song and the scales the tutor wants us to play. This may sound obscure but it’s a dilemma I haven’t resolved at all.

When it comes to the chords for the guitarists the tutor seems to have stopped speaking to me on the grounds, oh him, yeah he comes along, don’t know why he comes, he’s too dumb to understand so I’ll just explain it to you two swots (the two good guitarists I told you about last time, still giggling together about this new chord, how thrilling). So there I sit, ignored, feeling stupid, don’t know the fingering for the chord and couldn’t get my fingers into those positions even if I knew where the fuckers were supposed to go. It’s all too much. Half way through this session, an hour and a half but seemingly much longer, I thought, bugger this for a game of soldiers, I’ve had enough. I think this was at the point when I had a rare interaction with the tutor – are you playing the 11th? Duh, no I’m just playing F7, well if you don’t know it just don’t play it at all. Well, cheers for that, maybe I should just unplug my guitar and not play any of the fucking chords. You can tell I’m upset I’m swearing a lot in this blog. It helps.

Then a strange thing happened. One of the swots turned round to me (he usually has his back to me) and attempted to explain the strange chord. I did not feel patronised.  I saw it as a small act of kindness that made me feel quite different about the class but it also made me think, why doesn’t this kind of thing happen more often? Anyway what this small act of random kindness – remember them? – did was to make me postpone my dramatic resignation, at least for now. This postponement did make me wonder, however, what I could do to improve the situation? That is to improve my skill levels without devoting hours of practice to do so. You see here’s the rub, I want to be better but I’m not prepared to unbalance my retirement life my giving up other things. I want my playing to be fun (which it was not at all last night, so why do it??) without it being an unpleasant effort. Perhaps you’re saying, although you probably gave up reading this way back, well, that’s just not possible old chum. It’s one of the other, make your choice.

As always I look for the middle of the road solution, the compromise position. In one of my lessons, way back, my tutor (different tutor) gave me a sheet with all the notes on the neck and advised me to learn them. I know a few at ‘the bottom end’ but not up the neck. Another guitarist advised the same thing on one of his rare visits to the workshop when I told him I just played the patterns, the shapes, without knowing what notes I was playing. BB King, for heaven’s sake said he had no idea what notes he was playing when he played the blues and he is the daddy, my first blues guitar hero, so maybe I didn’t need to know what I was doing. Thing is when you come to chord like F7sus flattened 9th or C7sharp11, you need to know what note, for example, the 11th is and where on the neck it is. Of course then you have to force your knackered fingers into that position (take note, don’t keep wicket and play jazz guitar they’re incompatible human activities) but that’s another story, first you need to know where the position is. So one of those ‘middle of the road’ actions would be to set about learning these note positions. It looks like the image (which will just be a series of squiggles on a small screen) at the top, so you get the idea, it’s not easy, but it is a possible way forward if I don’t want to give up the workshop altogether but I’m not going to spend hours practising. Not sure at this point what I’m going to do.

So retirement, challenges and self-esteem, what a mixed up bag it all is. It’s worse than being at work. Things were clearer back then – weren’t they? Maybe that’s why people keep working, to avoid the complexity of retirement. Retirement choices aren’t so clear.

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