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The One Never Moves
by Pril Stevenson
I’m taking a break for one week from the American Music series. Between trying to figure out my tax crap as (ding dong!) the local whiskey-swilling, bass playing, trouble causing Avon lady, and the research that goes into even the kind of lame American Music essays, and The Cold That Wouldn’t Go Away!, I need to give my pea-sized brain a rest.
I’m a teacher of things, so I’ve been told. I teach myself to do new things (self taught on the instruments I play) and then pass what I know on. I’ve been working with someone on guitar stuff lately. I’m only the worst guitar player there is, but I’m good at teaching other people to teach themselves to play the damn thing.
Apparently, I’ve always had an inclination to music, specifically the rhythm aspect, but I just didn’t do anything with it until I was almost 30. So, I’ve been working with someone who desperately wants to be a lead guitar player, but he has no rhythm feel. I mean, none. Zero. If you’re a lead player, it’s all fine and good to be able to shred out 32nd notes, as long as you get back to the beat when you’re supposed to. I have tried all kinds of things to help him with this, starting with “Stomp your foot”, to “Count to four” and “Just breathe!!!” and everything in between and he’s making progress, but so very slow. I’ve been working with him for a year on it. I’ve made countless CDs of music for him with songs that are heavy on rhythm so he can hear it. I have no magic to offer him and in desperation I dug through the garage and found the Zen Guitar book, which he has enjoyed as he’s read it and we talk about a lot of the concepts discussed in the book whenever we get together to jam. (Really, I highly recommend this book to anyone who plays an instrument, or is alive, for that matter.)
This is something that’s so ingrained in me that I can tell you which cylinder in your car is misfiring by standing there with the hood up and listening to it idle for a few minutes. I don’t understand how a person can have no sense of rhythm. It doesn’t compute for me. I don’t understand how people can not see that a C# is teal until you throw the add 9 in and then it’s more of a forest green, either, but I’ve pretty much stopped being amazed at that and go with the idea that I’m just wired up all screwy. You don’t see great bursts of yellow and red when your alarm goes off? Boy, are you lucky. You don’t feel soothed and fuzzy when a train goes by, with it’s clacking and ticking all perfectly timed? Wow, you’re missing out.
But back to the guy with no rhythm, I’ve never been able to figure out how to get what is in my head, and as natural as breathing, out of my mouth to explain the concepts to him. I feel it. I can’t show someone that. I know when the song is about to change, no matter what song it is I’m playing or if I’ve played it or heard it before. You can see it coming, in the breath of a hairly extended note from a guitar player or the drummer kicking off on a different beat... it’s there, there are signs, but I can’t necessarily get that through my friend’s brain.
“Friend”, I say, “Play the bass for six months, I think it will help you”. He won’t do it because he wants to play lead. I sit at a table and bang out a steady count with a pencil on the wood for him. He’s all over the place.
My singer in the old band called me the human metronome. I actually get pissed off hearing other bass players fumble around the neck and goofing off and not keeping the count for everyone else. How retarded is that? I’m very nearly offended by the noodling if it can’t get back to the one. It makes my scalp crawl and my brain itch. I laugh about this particular personality defect of mine, though, because it really must be funny to see me turning purple over something do dumb.
I don’t have a job or anything important like that so I guess where other people bitch about work and kids, I complain about stupid rhythm crap that no one but me gives a shit about. Well, I’m pretty grateful that it’s all I really have to complain about, but I wish my friend would get his beat down so we could jam without me gnashing my teeth. I don’t mean to be elitist about it, and I try to work with him to get better, but sometimes, all I want is a solid drummer and a lead player who lands in time with me and the rhythm guitar player. Hell, sometimes all I want is a really good, crunchy guitar player who can tell which cylinder is misfiring by listening to it for a few minutes.