Friday, December 2, 2011

Listening for Change

I've been around guitar players my whole life. I probably never went any longer than a couple of days without someone around me picking one up and bursting into song... my father, usually the culprit. Even now, with arthritis in his hands, last week when we met up in Missouri for Thanksgiving, he brought his guitar and picked a few tunes for us. Music was always emanating from something nearby, and the guitar was front and center. All these years later, hearing certain songs played on an acoustic guitar have a powerful effect on me, like picking up a kitten by the scruff of her neck. An instant docility washes over me and I become calm and ready to let the music carry me somewhere like a mama cat in its mouth.

I've told you before how sounds creep into my head and take over. I'm easily charmed. Some sounds have the opposite effect, for instance, I can't watch a basketball game unless the volume is muted because the squeak of shoes distracts me too much. The sound of dishes clambering against the kitchen sink physically hurts my ears. I don't like eating certain foods because they squeak against my teeth when I bite into them... but not all squeaks are bad. I'm embracing some that I didn't pay attention to before. When a guitar player changes chords and drags their fingers slightly against the strings as they move, it produces a squeak. Some people hate it, and adapt a technique to prevent it from happening, and there are a few things you can do when recording to remove it... but I like it. I like to hear a guitar in front of a microphone. The squeak from the fretboard, along with the breathless void of the body and the clicking strike of the strings complete the song. If you only pick up the vibration of string, it's like saying a glass half full of water only contains water... when the air pushing down against the water is also in the glass.

Why do I like this squeak? Part of it, I'm sure, is that I heard the squeak from the moment I existed - coupled with the music in my house played by authentic musicians who allowed the occasional squeak to happen. Lately, I like that when I hear it, I sense the movement of the musician behind the song, their cadence and the subtle rhythm they add to the song. It's pretty special to be able to hear change, even if the change is just from D to A to C.

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