Finger Picking

Red_martin guitar_2012-07-31

My “career” as a guitarist is notable by the fact that I’ve had very few lessons. If you listen to me play, you might say that it shows. I can play five songs. If I want to learn a new song, I have to forget one of the five.

I got my first guitar for my bar mitzvah from my Aunt Mary and Uncle Morris. It was a simple steel string guitar and hurt my fingers. I took a couple rudimentary lessons that were given at my synagogue, but they were nothing more than strum-alongs with three chords. Not very inspiring.

A couple years later, my friend Ira got a guitar and started learning folk music. This was back in the day when folk music was hot. I bought a Yamaha classical guitar for $65 (a lot in those days—at least for a high school kid) and a couple books—notably one that transcribed some Peter, Paul, and Mary songs in a notation that made it easier to see how to do finger picking. (It was not “tablature” as it is now known, but similar—possibly a precursor of tablature.) It was that book—and having a friend to “jam” with—that really taught me how to play.

My skills never rose to a professional level, but I always loved playing. I took the guitar with me to school where I played sitting cross-legged on the floor. And I’ve played ever since. Maybe 10 years ago, Kit got me a nice Martin steel string guitar. (I still have the Yamaha.) On a summer day, you can see me on my front steps playing away.

For fun.

We all learned guitar on our own in those days. These days, there are lesson. So when my son Nat was in high school, he took guitar lessons. And I took a few lessons with him. But when he stopped, I stopped.

Now, I’m going to try some lessons on my own. If you’re not familiar with Chicago, the Old Town School of Folk Music is the perfect place for it. I’ll be in a group of people at roughly my level.

And maybe I’ll learn a few new songs without having to forget any of the old ones.

2 responses to “Finger Picking

  1. As a self-taught “musician” myself, Steve, I much ‘related’ to this post. Remember Wayne Booth? If I correctly recall he wrote a book extolling amateurs and played chamber music with Barenboim occasionally at the keyboard. My efforts at the piano have taken considerably time away from politics (and philosphy) but no loss really because truth is in aesthetics not politics. And be thankful that you have tolerant neighbors you can serenade from your front porch! Keep at it!

  2. Greg– As you know, I also bang on the piano, but not as well as you. If I could drag the piano out to our front step, I would.
    I do remember Wayne Booth. He was resident master of Woodward Court when I lived there. They have since torn the place down and replaced it with the odious business school.
    Funny you mention the neighbors. They are okay with my guitar playing, but they used to call the cops when Cal played the drums in the basement. The cops were unable to actually hear the drumming outside our house and told the neighbor to stop calling.
    Cal will be graduating college next month with a major in music (also art).
    In spite of my minimal talent, I regard music as one of the great things in life. It can make you cry. The other great thing is comedy, which makes you laugh.

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