stained glass guitar

Of God and Bar Chords

It turns out Jen is a full-service mentor. At our second meeting we talked about frets and scales and how playing the same chord in different configurations changes the sound and the feel of the music. It’s true. I learned the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” a winsome tune, all classic-pop changes and a heart-tugging melody. Except when Jen showed me how to play it using bar chords, scratching at the low strings, it changed from sweet and yearning to coiled and desperate. I find this to be nothing short of magical. Then we talked about boobs. Then we talked about eyeglasses. I’m not a middle-aged whiner; I don’t spend a lot of time complaining about how getting old sucks, and I don’t think Jen does either. But we have a context now, an organizing principle to our conversations, and everything connects. We decided which has been the more humbling decline (eyesight, partly because when it comes to mammaries we at least gave for a good cause). Then, obviously, we talked about children. Which led to organized religion, which led to God, which led to music. Here’s where we ended up.

God isn’t a thing, Jen said. It’s a process. And music is that way, too.

She tried to elaborate and I think I understand what she was getting at. When Jen plays in the so-called pocket, she’s not creating the rhythm but rather slipping into it. The sense of motion is in her, but it also exists independent of her. We acknowledge as much in our music vocabulary. People don’t make the groove. They get into the groove.

In the beginning you figure stuff out and your brain wants to know how it works. But once you figure it out you try to feel it. If you screw up a chord, keep going. If you keep screwing up in the same place, stop, and do the change again. Stop, do it again. Do it a hundred times. I’m not kidding. Then put it in time.

Webster’s Unabridged has 29 definitions for time. Here are a pertinent few.

The characteristic rhythm of a composition.

A period neccessary, sufficient, or available for something.

The period during which something happens.

Every moment there has ever been or ever will be.

I’m not actively working on the last one but it’s just so awesome to think about.


Filed under: I am trying to write some songs Tagged: , ,


  1. Posted May 14, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I never thought of it that way, well put!

  2. Posted July 18, 2011 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    I agree 100%

  3. Posted January 5, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    Does your site have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it develop over time.

    • joan
      Posted January 5, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      There’s a contact link at the top of every page and I would love to hear recommendations.

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