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February 15, 2008


I started learning "Taylor" by Jack Johnson in earnest last night. I spent about an hour on it before Valentine's Day dinner beckoned. My approach was to split the intro into bite-size chunks and practice each chunk independently before even attempting to put the whole thing together.

"Taylor" is a prime example of a song that's impossible to play at speed whilst 'thinking' about what your fingers are doing. Instead, you have to teach your fingers what they're supposed to do through repetition and then just let them do their own thing.

It's kind of like learning to type. To start with you have to think about where every key that you need to hit is. After a while, though, your fingers remember patterns and locations all by themselves. There are actually two levels of (sub) consciousness going on. On one level, you start to type what you're thinking, your fingers doing their own thing. On a whole other level, when you come to put in stuff like user names and passwords, because you're so used to that exact pattern, you can enter the keystrokes at high speed. The former would be what's going on when you're improvising. The latter would be the equivalent of learning licks. There is, of course, a crossover when your mental lick-library gets so huge that the line between improvising and riffing becomes blurred.

Back to the song! I'm definitely not there yet, but the patterns in the intro are starting to make a lot more sense. What I have to do is to stop thinking in terms of what notes to play, but instead focus on how they're played. There are a lot of hammer-ons of open strings where you don't actually pick the string first. In theory that simplifies things as far as the right hand goes, but my right hand is so used to working with the left, as opposed to ignoring it, that I tend to pick when I shouldn't, which slows things down. Maybe I should just sit on my right hand and try to play the intro just using the left.

I haven't spent much time on central part of the song yet, but it's just 4 chords and a relatively simple strumming pattern. I may actually take the opportunity to change the way the song's played to put my own stamp on it and make it more interesting as I won't be attempting to sing over it and I don’t have a drummer to help create the right rhythm.

I have 4 weeks to get it down. That sounds like a long time, but I'm not confident that I'm going to make it, yet. I just listened to the original version again and it sounds nothing like what I've been playing. As with most stuff by JJ, the songs are deceptively simple. The key to getting the right sound is to make sure you nail the rhythm, which is no mean feat.

Guitar class again, tomorrow. Last one before the half-term break. No firm networking plans. I just plan on going along and seeing what happens!

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