Simplicity pt 2

In my previous post I hope I generalized well about the differences between full gear and simple sounds. As guitarists, I know there is a point of sound/perception that exist simply from cool effects and not talent (or hard practice). That’s why I am amazed when someone can sing a simple song with simple chords acoustically and completely bewilder the masses. There is a certain glory in silence.

Exercise: sit silent for 1 minute. Its hard right? You have to be on the internet, have to be checking your ebay to see if you won the DD 20, or the T Rex delay, or what is that– Lindsay Lohan is now gay?— you cannot do it can you? Have you ever captured the moment in your music/service where you forced the listener to listen to silence? Do not over estimate this moment- have you built up a song in so many guitar layers, keyboards, rhythms, and then STOPPED to only continue a stanza/chorus with only vocals? Have you ended the song in sole silence, not one chord ringing?

There is something special about silence. I challenge the musicians to capture it and add it as part of the dynamics of your playing.

There is something special about ambiance. It sounds greatly like silence.
Slow swells, some slurred delays lightly echoing, reverb! – makes the perception of “silence” descend like a cloud. Can you use these “effects” to harbor that secret whispering?
Of course, as a guitarist I realize this effect is not as forthcoming as a solo or riff. Most laymen will never comprehensively “hear” the ambiance for the talent that creates it. That is why its called ambiance! While everyone can understand and appreciate a solo, no one recognizes the slow, sweet ambiant playing.

I played one service, impressing myself in how sweet my sounds were swelling and drifting as the closing prayers were said. I’ll never forget one of the dear, sweet deacons coming to me and saying, “I think they turned you off, I could see you moving your hands, but I couldn’t hear a thing!”

Only after I showed him my particular part did he realize that I was playing well, and things would sound absent if that “drifting” sound was not there.

So my challenge is that you might play at the particular time in the silence, to force reflection. Or to create “silence” in such a way that it affects all who listen. Be quiet yourself, and listen. Just listen.

I know now, more than ever, that it takes talent to play, and a different talent to organize the effects. I will not get into the debate about “Practice vs effect usage” as long as the endpoint of expression/worship/sound is the desired one.
I for one crack on Chris Tomlin for writing the same song a  million times, the only difference is: flat tuning, or a capo on a different fret. But, it works. I was once told by a pro guitarist in Nashville- “sure you can be the best player, they still hire whoever sounds best.” By that he referred to my questions and answered again, “why play in A when you can capo G and play?” And he is right- accuracy on chord changes, TONE and overall “on-key” sound are more important than being able to play ANY key up and down the fret board. Our lay people do not know the difference between G and Bb. So capo 3 will not make a difference when they are focusing on the music ebb and flow. (yes, yes, these are mild thoughts- there is NO excuse to not be able to play in Bb naturally- we have the responsibilty to have integrity in our playing- but capoed 3rd G is so much nicer on the ear!)

And lastly- try playing acoustically every so often. Those of us who play electric with all our fun “gimmicks” suddenly realize that there are some not-to-pretty nuances that show on the acoustic. I have to readjust my playing every time I play acoustic. I bet if I played it more, then I would lose some of my bad habits- I cannot hear them with my mixture of goodies. There is a certain raw honesty that comes from steel and wood and vocal that is hauntingly transparent in the way it touches all. Sometimes the audience could care less about my new riff or my new stompbox, but they know something special happens when I sit (instead of stand) with my acoustic. Maybe its how we are trained- to listen to stories. That is the beautiful part of what we do… people listen. So slow down, relax, use the gift of dynamics- including silence- to tell the story.

I know this next piece is a bit of a stretch for a “simplistic” post. Here is a clip with Phil Keaggy in an acoustic version of his song “Salvation Army Band.” I have had the pleasure of seeing this man live, and every time I look at my acoustic and laugh. I am not worthy. (of course when I started playing guitar, Phil was in his “220” electric phase (220 being “amps”) so I never touched an electric. Then he crossed over, so did I- figured it was safe with him out of the way 🙂 )
Listen to his use of silence, ambiance, and his overall excellence in playing (with a few gimmicks thrown in for good measure).

Until I win a T Rex delay for under 200 bucks, I remain-

The Les Doc

who am I kidding?

and if you ever want to learn more about guitar style, playing, and feel like you have seen the greatest magic trick ever…. then go see Phil live. I was more touched and amazed than the time I saw AC/DC do “Stiff Upper Lip” live.


3 Responses

  1. Bro!! How come you live so far away?! We could so use you at my church! 🙂 It’s so rare to find guitarists with this mentality. That paragraph about the Nashville thing and the guy who sounds the best getting the gig is invaluable.

    Not to mention that I’m amazed every time I see that Phil Keaggy clip.

    And T-Rex Replicas are pretty darn awesome! 😉

    Great post.

  2. Yeah, thats the beauty of growing up in Nashville- EVERYONE is a guitar player, and 1/2 of those are pro, or on the pro level. My school was right next to Belmont University (the biggest commercial music program in nashville) and I had the chance to jam with a ton of people. I still stink by comparison, but its interesting when I came here to PR and the “talent flow” is drastically less. Its like I was raised for this music roll.
    So yeah, I like the capo– mainly for more than 1 guitar, especially for more than 2, you can get a nice layered feel by the capo. I’ll play acoustically up to the 7th fret (G, for playing in D). However, on the electric I refuse to go higher than 4 as it just sounds funky to my ear. I generally only do up to the 3rd fret, but if the singer is like “a half step more?” then I’ll do 4. More than that, I rather risk the natural key 🙂
    As Chris Tomlin once said- in worship music, we play in D, G, and E. The rest we capo.

  3. Nice! That must’ve been really, really cool growing up there.

    And yes, capos are brilliant for voicing purposes. People will laugh until you ask them to make Bb to Gm sound smooth without one. 🙂

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