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I’ll never forget the first time my hands played the guitar without me.

I had put strings on my dad’s guitar a couple of days before and was tuning it again. It’s one of those guitars that a musician is lucky to find: a truly cheap-ass machine-built job that sounds and plays like one that costs ten or twenty times as much. So I tuned it and was noodling around on it and I sort of zoned out on some Delta-style twelve-bar blues, and all of a sudden I heard music I’d never heard before. I actually looked around to see who else was there. I was alone. And when I tried to duplicate what I’d just done, I couldn’t.

When I was first learning, I never had the problem so many guitarists have with synchronizing my hands. Somehow, I happened upon it, and I don’t know how. So when a friend of mine said he was fed up with the choppy sound of his playing and asked me how I got my hands to work together, I couldn’t tell him. But I started searching.

I found in some magazine an article written by a guitar instructor, and he talked about his own teacher’s method of helping his students coordinate their right and left hands. He said it can’t be done.

That kind of surprised me because I was doing it. But then he explained why he said it couldn’t be done. He said that the signals from the left hand travel to the brain and are processed there, then the brain sends signals to the right hand, and the right hand sends back signals which are then processed and sent to the left hand, and so on. Even though the distance is short and the processing is extremely rapid, there’s still enough of a delay to cause mis-coordination. There is absolutely, positively no way to coordinate one hand with the other.

I was beginning to think that I couldn’t play after all, when the author started writing about the following idea:

“The desire for the note.”

We don’t play music with out hands; we play with our brains. Feel the desire for the note and the brain will process it perfectly.

It made such an impact on me that I’ve tried to apply it to the rest of my life, too. And when I explained it to my friend, his playing got better. Still not as good as mine was, but better. 😉

(I finally figured out the blues riff that my brain gave me, but it took a long time. It involved combining open strings with up-the-neck closed strings; flatpickers call it “floating” but I was playing fingerstyle. I’d never learned to do it and had no idea people played that way.)

Written by Michael DeBusk

February 13th, 2008 at 11:33 am

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