Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Learning John Fahey

I didn't know about John Fahey until very recently. He's a virtuoso guitarist in a country/folky/abstract vein. When I first heard him, I was bewitched. Somewhere someone wrote that John Fahey plays guitar like other people play the piano. I'm trying to learn to play a Fahey tune now, and it is, maddeningly so at times, reminiscent of piano practice.

Fahey's a picker. I love pickers. I love the sound that five fingertips can make over a sound hole. It's much more interesting than one strumming pick, and for my dollar, much more fun to learn. The piece I'm trying to learn is called Desperate Man Blues. It's in an unorthodox tuning, which means its the only thing I'm working on right now. I love it because it never seems to repeat itself. Of course, music is inherently repetitious, especially the kind of bluesy thing Fahey emulates here, but he lets not even one bar repeat exactly.

Trying to learn it is like starting and endless novel. I may work on it forever without finishing it. It's a puzzle of daunting proportions, and therefore more compelling. Like Everest. I'll learn it because it's there. But it's not a joyless exercise, not at all. Like any undertaking, it's about the journey, not the destination. Practice is the means AND the end. Its a fulfillment loop. Each phrase, each note is a joy to sound accurately, a joy as pure as any I have felt in music, and I'm still in the first 16 measures.

I work based off of an imperfect tab I found online. I'm slow, and after a few weeks I'm still just trying to get through the first few measures(it's hard, man!). In the beginning, I listened to Fahey's recording to get a feel for how to play it, but after 20 listens or so, I got a pretty good idea of how it's supposed to sound when I play it. I can't play it anywhere near as fast as Fahey does, and I still stutter along, but I'm slowly learning, which is exhilarating. So I'm trying to resist listening to Fahey's recording because doing so would be throwing a wet towel on my emerging sense of accomplishment.

So I practice, playing plenty of wrong notes, but each repetition brings refinement. If not perfect, practice makes better, and better is perfect.


Blogger Jennifer Scott said...

I'm also trying to learn a Fahey song off of the "Friends of Fahey Tribute" album called "Why haven't I heard from you?" Have you heard it? It's beautiful!!

Keep on picking!

5:06 AM  

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