"Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it"
- Mark Twain
I've got fat fingers. This means there are two professions I probably shouldn't follow - proctologist, and guitarist.
Have you ever noticed how you don't get many short stocky guitar players? Brian May, Axl Rose, Mike Oldfield and to some extent Jimi Hendrix - they're all quite tall, thin types, with long thin fingers to match.
I, however, have a guitar - a small guitar that could have been deliberately designed to make it almost impossible for me to arrange my fingertips on the fretboard in a way that shortens the strings correctly while not getting in the way of their vibrations. In other words, impossible for me to play.
Ah, but I'm not looking to play complicated melodies, and most of the time I'm just looking to play chords. And barre chords - or bar chords - where you strap your finger against the fretboard to shorten all the strings by the same amount...are easy.
So why don't I retune my guitar so playing barre chords will produce triads - the basic three note chords that even a musical ignoramus like me knows about.
It's even easier because I tend to think in minor keys, and default to A-Minor because
(1) It suits my limited vocal range and
(2) It's all white notes. Yes I know guitars don't have white and black notes, but I grew up with samplers, which means I grew up with keyboards.
So, if I tune the lowest pitched string to A, and the one above to C, and the third to E...and the next three to the same but an octave higher...I should be able to play my three chord masterworks without ever having to contort my fingers.
Um. Provided the three chords don't include C. Or G. Because thanks to the never-quite-perfect mathematics of music, my C-chord would have a flattened E as the middle note, which would clash rather horribly with any D or E notes that any other instruments are playing. The G-chord would have a flattened B, which is almost as bad.
Humph. So...what I should actually do is miss out the middle note completely - retune so adjacent strings play fifth-interval dyads. Known to rockers as...Power Chords.
Power chords. If you want a big, clean sound but aren't very good at playing the guitar, power chords are your friend. So all I need now is to work out which strings are capable of how much retuning, and within that which retuning will give my chords the power.
|Standard tuning||Low E||A||D||G||B||High E|
|New Tuning||Low E||Low B||Mid E||Mid B||Mid B||High E|
Six strings with five notes between them, a low string with standard tuning for playing basslines on, and a crisp series of barre chords that still sound clear even when you crack up the distortion.
And that, my friends, is my solution to how people with fat fingers can rock out.
I'm still a bit hopeless at strumming though.
I've been trying to persuade my doctor that I'm not depressed. This is the condensed version:
Doctor: How have you been feeling lately, in yourself?
Kapitano: I'm tired all the time, which is to be expected in diabetes, but generally okay.
Doctor: Hmmm. That's also a symptom of depression. Are you sure you're not depressed.
Kapitano: I haven't had depression for fifteen years. So I know what it feels like, I can recognise it, and I don't have it now.
Doctor: I think it's something we should bear in mind as a possibility.
Kapitano: When you're depressed, you've got no energy - you're unhappy but you can't get the willpower to do anything about it. When something bad happens, you can't fight back and you're more likely to dissolve into a puddle of non-resistance than get angry. I've been getting extremely irritated at a lot of things lately, so I'm not depressed.
Doctor: Getting angry can be a symptom too. Not all depressed people are wusses you know. If you're irritable, you could have depression.
What could I possibly have to be depressed about? Apart from welfare state bureaucracy.
Advisor:: You need help in designing your CV. I admit there's no jobs around at the moment, but the reason you can't find work has to be you have a badly designed CV.
Kapitano: I'm a graphic designer, and here's my CV.
Advisor:: Ah well you see, you've listed your qualifications at the top. You should have listed them on the back. Employers don't want to know about qualifications - they want to know what kind of person you are.
Kapitano: I'm the kind of person with a low tolerance for bullshit.
Advisor:: Then you need to change your personality to make employers like you. Anyway, I'm putting you on a one-day course so you can design your CV.
Kapitano: I've already had a job offer, and I've accepted. Starting in January.
Advisor:: You still need a nice CV. And you should do voluntary work - it looks good on your CV.
Kapitano: I already looked at voluntary work, remember? The Red Cross said they had no use for an English teacher with IT skills.
Advisor:: Then you need to approach them again. I'm putting you on a one-day course for people who want to do voluntary work. You could be a carer - would you like that?
Kapitano: I've already applied for the carer jobs.
Advisor:: Really? Why?
Kapitano: I want to do something worthwhile.
Advisor:: Um. You need to apply for a wider range of jobs.
Kapitano: I've applied for all the jobs in the region than I can do. That's almost everything except the 75% which are in sales.
Advisor:: Why not sales?
Kapitano: Do you think I could sell you shit you don't need and I hate? Do I strike you as a smooth-talking salesman?
Advisor:: I'm putting you on a course - a special course with a company who'll find you a job. It'll give you a warm glow of satisfaction to be in work. Isn't that worth it?
Kapitano: I'll let you know what I start the job in January.
It would appear that intelligence and authority cannot co-exist in the same mind.
Learning the guitar is hard work.
When every time you change the string-fretboard alignment to prevent 'buzzing', you have to start tuning again. When every time you change the string length at the bridge to keep the octave intervals in tune, you have to start tuning again. When you've got new strings which tend to stretch a little and, well, go out of tune.
You can find yourself spending the whole night fiddling with allen keys and miniature screwdrivers, and never get around to plugging it in or opening Bert Wheedon's book on how to "Play in a Day".
On the other hand, doing a favour for a friend - the kind of favour that should take an hour but winds up taking two days. The kind that involves sitting in front of a wordprocessor doing what they should have done if they'd read the instructions. That's light work. The kind you can do with the radio on, giving most of your attention to the radio.
Guess which one I'd much rather be doing. Give me difficult and meaningful over easy and meaningless any day.
I once knew someone who spent most evenings configuring their collection of TV satellite dishes. They could get thousands of channels - none of which they felt like watching - they just enjoyed figuring out the technology.
Oh yes, my guitar arrived yesterday. And tomorrow I have the day and an empty house to myself - which means I have a choice. Do I invite a friend round for a drink and a shag...or do I start learning to play the guitar?
I've bought an electric guitar.
The reason is quite simple: After a year of trying, on and off, to create realistic strumming and plucking with samples, scripts and physical models, I've come to the conclusion that...it can't be done. Making a realistic emulation of a plucked string is simple, as is a set of samples of muted and open chords. It just sounds totally unrealistic and choppy when you make a tune out of it.
If you want something that sounds like a real guitar - acoustic or electric - you have a choice. You can either:
(1) Use slow and painful MIDI programming to recreate the dozen or so subtle but important interconnected parameters which constantly change in context to make up the sound of guitar strings, or
(2) Learn to play a guitar.
Ah, but my guitar needs to be small and portable, because I'm short on space and will probably need to fit it into a travelbag for transport. So I spent a week looking at half-size guitars.
Now, most half-size guitars are aimed at children under ten, and the biggest seller is the absurdly (or wonderfully) named Dangleberry Music. They're real electric guitars, with optional humbuckers and professional-level rosewood and maple build. It's just that they come in pink, or bright yellow, or camouflage patterns.
But the much more sensibly named Tanglewood do a (cheaper!) range which are "great for beginners, those with small hands and those on the move". So all I need now are the hands of a child.
And music lessons.
You've got to know who you really are to be happy, so I'm told.
It's a strange notion, because even if there is a 'real' you buried underneath the 'false' you that you and everyone else thinks is the real thing...if you're confused about who you are, isn't that confusion part of the real you? And what happens if you find the real you and you don't like it?
Anyway, I think I now know a bit more about the real me. I'm a fag hag. For christians. A christo-bitch. A godbotherer-botherer. A soteriological vampire.
If a fag hag is a straight woman who hangs around gay men because she's both attracted to their sexual non-threateningness, and simultaneously wants to destroy it by seducing them...
...then I'm a skeptical man who hangs around jesus sunbeams because I'm both attracted to their happy simple-mindedness, and simultaneously want to destroy it by making them doubt.
You see what I mean about not liking one's real self.
It would be nice to believe in something mystical. I spent much of my 20s trying to find something mystical to believe that wasn't also preposterous - which is a little like searching for cakes to devour that aren't also fattening.
Most of my boyfriends were christians - and some of my christians were also, erm, eager to be persuaded. But no, like one of those wonderful straight women who attach to gay men, I can't be one, and even if I could...I wouldn't really want to.