Greetings and welcome to Prof. P’s Dumbass Guitar. Why “Dumbass Guitar”? Because, during my years of learning this insanely beautiful instrument there have been many moments when I discover something new then slap myself on the forehead and say, “This is so obvious, I wish I would’ve learned it when I picked up the instrument! I’m such a Dumbass! ” Now what I’m talking about are those moments when you learn something new and exciting about the guitar that takes your playing a big step forward. Like, an exiting the birth canal type of forward. A taking off the training-wheels type of forward. A getting tattooed type of forward. You know, a getting laid
off for writing an article on the clock type of forward. The kind of forward where beyond there is no back of. But Prof.* P, you say, what on Earth do you mean by this?
Well if you sit down and stop bothering the class, I will tell you. By the time I was 19 or 20, I had been playing/trying to play for a while and I had recently purchased a new, next-step-up from starter, guitar. I could play a couple chords (G, A) and some riffs (who am I kidding, I really couldn’t even play Iron Man correctly back then (not even sure I do now).). I experienced a significant DaM** when my friend, Ike***, showed me a simple D chord and how it was used in such timelessly classic songs as “Bound and Bound” by Catt, and “Pole Vaulted” by Monotreme****. And believe it or not dear reader, in this modern age of cynicism and all things snarky, at that moment in my life,
That D chord was beautiful. It was majestic. Learning that chord was like suddenly being able to speak in a new language. Being taught that simple shape, which people often refer to as a “beginner” chord, took me from living in the mere sub, sub, sub, subbasement of my guitar house up one whole floor to where I was now staying at the much more posh sub, sub, subbasement. I fiddled with that chord (along with the requisite hammer-ons and pull-offs on the high e string) for hours. It was AMAZING. And, coolest of all was that the D (heh heh the D) WAS MUSICAL. It was everywhere in popular music, being used in heavy metal bands and by guys like Dom Getty*****. Play it clean, sounds cool. Nice and jangly. Add an Arion distortion pedal to your 15W Fender Bullet Reverb “stack” and wail. Sounds even better. Oh and wait a tick, here come the girls to wiggle your whammy, right? Well not many girls in my case, but hopefully you get the idea.
Whew, what a mindboggling recollection of experience, am I right class? Learning that chord was one early DaM that sticks out in my head. It probably wasn’t the first, and hopefully it isn’t even close to being the last. However, the question, dear pupil, remains as to why that particular moment, that teeny tiny little flash of insight that I experienced, is something that I like to refer to as a Dumbass Moment? I did mention that the D chord was a “beginner” chord, right? So why was it a big deal for me when I learned it? Everyone learns the D right? Right after C? Kinda before E? Maybe that is all true, but for whatever reason, I simply hadn’t paid much attention to that particular chord. This particular bit of guitar knowledge had flown past me like a fish on the wind. Missing the D (chuckle) was not a mistake or an oversight on my part; it was simply something
And, more to the point, I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
Now at the time I did own the standard chord book and had likely seen the D shape before. Heck, I had probably strummed it a few times as well. But, and this is the big but so pay attention, I had never plaaaaayed it before. Up until that moment simply messing around with my friend Ike, I did not know that the D chord sounded so great in a musical context. To use a physics paradigm, in my frame of reference, the D did not exist. You Grok? In the following weeks, further investigation on the fretboard helped me realize that not only did that chord sound great with the hammer-ons and pull-offs on the 1st string (technically playing the D, Dsus2, and Dsus4 within some kind of rhythmic context) it also worked really well with the other “beginner” chords C and G. And that, class, is what I mean by a Dumbass Moment.
That jumping off point when something you learn takes you to the next level.
It becomes part of you and your guitar playing.
There is no way to forget it.
Intense right? Small moments of empowering achievement like that are what compelled me to begin this blog. Not everyone is a musical protégé. Frankly, to many guitar players, most of the exciting (to me) moments that I speak about are likely inconsequential. In the mass media, most of the large guitar publications focus on famous players with famous equipment. I understand that. Big famous names sell issues. In fact, I subscribe to way too many guitar magazines and I enjoy reading about the topics they choose to cover. These publications can be useful tools in learning songs and provide extensive detail on musical concepts…if you’re into that. What I haven’t seen much of is a forum dedicated to the experiences of the somewhat “less-than-stellar” guitar player. The guy or gal that loves guitars and music as much as anyone, but may not be able to practice as much due to family or time constraints, or someone who has been playing a while but still struggles with concepts. The ‘banger that may be starting to realize that now it is his hair that is too thin and his belly that is too thick. The person that knows the starting riff to 50 different songs, but has never quite managed to learn one song all the way through (“Listen to this, no wait, this is it, no wait, here it goes…”). The point being is that I think everyone who loves guitar and loves playing guitar has had these Dumbass Moments much like I described, where you learn something or try something different and a light goes on, and you can’t believe that you have been playing guitar so long without knowing this bit of information. I wanted to examine more than just learning the mechanics of moving your fingers over the frets and to bring attention and appreciation to those little instances of insight that one experiences and internalizes so that they begin to lend shape to one’s playing. Some people may have these DaM things come along more often than others do. If you are like me, in order to get some of these DaM things to click, you need to be knocked off your horse by a tree branch as you chase the knight getting away with the damsel in distress. In full disclosure, I am by no means a brilliant guitarist. I still struggle a lot with what I consider to be basic concepts (maybe in my case D stands for “Der”). I’ve never “played out” with a band. I jam with friends every once in a blue moon. I’m still trying to learn how to figure songs out by ear. However, I do love to play. I love guitars and guitar “culture” for lack of a better term. Much of what I think I know, I’ve gleaned through the years from reading magazines and books or by studying my favorite guitarists in pictures and videos. Prior to writing this, I completed just over a year of guitar lessons. The idea for this column actually came to me during a lesson at a moment when I slapped my forehead and said to my teacher in regards to some seemingly obvious concept, “Damn, I wish I had known that 20 years ago. I’m such a Dumbass!” And so it goes. -Prof. P “Let me be the Dumbass.” * Not a real professor ** Not Mike’s real name *** Dumbass Moment **** Names changed to protect my street rep ***** Ibidgettingupwaytooearlythelastcoupledays