Saturday, September 17, 2011

To pick or not to pick

My fingertips are tender; my left shoulder is aching.

After playing a two-hour jam session yesterday, and four hours today, I guess my fingertips and shoulder have a right to complain a bit -- especially as it has been almost two, maybe closer to three years since I have played that extensively. Nevertheless, I am exhilerated!

Something happened this evening as I played with a bluegrass group called Willow, a group kind enough to invite me to sit in and play and sing with them every now and then at their Gospel Opry. For ten years, they have played mountain gospel tunes on select Saturday nights at a church in Seminole. Most of the songs I had never heard before, but these musicians grew up hearing them sung at church and at home -- and I have learned some poignant tunes.

So what happened this evening, you ask? Or maybe you're not asking, but I'm going to tell you anyway! :-)

For the first time, and after playing guitar for almost 40 years, I played my guitar with a pick.

That's it?!? You drew me this far into this rather lame post to tell me you played your guitar with a pick?!?

OK -- before you click off in disgust, please hear me out.

To pick or not to pick is just the surface question. It's not just a matter of preference, although I do have a tendency to prefer bicycling to motorcycling and kayaking to outboard motorboating. Maybe I started strumming with my right hand fingers because I didn't have a pick. The tiny town we lived in when I first started playing didn't have a music store -- it was so long ago I don't even remember.

But I do remember trying a pick a time or two. Aside from the fact that I'm not terribly coordinated -- so the pick usually ended up flying through the air or inside the guitar itself -- there was another matter.

Playing with a pick made the guitar sound VERY LOUD!!! Much louder than I was used to playing.

So loud, in fact, that I was afraid somebody might actually hear me play. 'Cause, see, I'm not a perfect player. Sometimes we play by ear or with lead sheets that are in a different key than we're playing in so I'm having to transpose and play and sing. And I mess up -- a lot. So it has been safer to play, but not to play loudly enough that anybody but me -- and God -- could hear.

That doesn't mean nobody has ever heard me play. I used to play for kids' church and for an occasional women's group. I used to play when I was a library story lady and I used to pull the guitar out and play and sing at home quite a bit. But somehow those times were different -- and my rather quiet guitar strumming matched my not very strong voice. So.

When I have played with Willow, it has been more a time for me to reconnect with my guitar than to actually add some sound to the group. They're all amped; I'm not. My guitar isn't even miked, 'cause I like to move a bit when I play. Nobody could really hear me play. I couldn't even hear me play.

Tonight all that changed. I bought a couple of different kinds of picks, and ended up using the one shown above. See those little diagonal lines? They're actually raised ridges that act as grippers so the pick can't fly away as easily.

This particular pick is the lightest one made, so it's very flexible. Even so, I could feel my right arm tiring sooner than during yesterday's practice.

But -- I could actually hear myself play! And I didn't sound half bad.

There's more to this little tale. My writing has been the same way. My voice has been heard in the publishing field -- I've had a number of children's magazine stories published, have written for a couple of newspapers, have a travel book and some church plays published. But, so far, it has been a rather softly strummed voice. I have a feeling -- just a feeling, mind you -- it's about to pick up in volume...pun intended.

Maybe I'll even get an amp before too long.