If I were to be generous and kind to myself, I’d call myself a campfire guitarist. If I were to be honest, I’d say I have a sporadic ability to coerce 6 strings into a chord on an occasional basis and accompany them here and there with something that sounds like singing/ cat strangling/ dentistry without anaesthetic.
Anyhow, this past time has given me much pleasure over the years. As a self-taught guitarist I can, with judicious use of a capo and a fair bit of winging it, ease myself into pretty much most tunes and hold my own.
We regularly have large gatherings at our house, generally centered around a combination of food, music and games – I have a wonderfully creative group of friends and, more often than not, said gatherings will result in a number of instruments and voices gathered round the piano in our dining room as we communally slaughter an unrehearsed set of shared songs, all of which are bent out of shape and squeezed into easy chords and simple melodies. It’s good fun. Occasionally we’ve recorded ourselves, convinced in a wine-tinted rosy state of oblivion that we sound okay, only to then play back the hasty recording the next morning and weep, whilst we silently vow to never give up the day jobs.
Anyway, the guitar has always been my instrument of choice and the entry point into these melodic, free flowing conversations. Whilst my brother and I were brought up on saxophone (my parents were patient and must have also had highly disciplinary selective hearing) and despite the horn section being louder (my bruvver is now a very successful musician) the guitar appealed, not just because it was slightly cool, but also it was social and portable. During the semi-nomadic period one experiences after university, but before settling down a little, I was lucky to travel a lot – my guitar always came with me and I’ve made some great friends through sharing music – often actually round a campfire.
However, just this last week, I’ve downsized. The number of frets has lessened, as has the number of strings. I’ve discovered the joy of a concert ukulele. And I love it. What a beautifully cheeky little instrument it is. 4 strings instead of 6 and a whole new array of chord shapes to learn. At the outing, it seems to be easy to pick up. I bought my uke a week ago and it’s already given me a whole lot more pleasure than the price tag offered – It’s like a little musical adventure. The thing I enjoy so much is that somehow (and I’m really not exactly sure how) it seems easier to pick up and play – as if less ‘faff’ were involved. And the sound is wonderful – when the character of the instrument is placed against the songs I favour, it manages to be a voice of contrasts – light and deep, playful and resonant, quirky and quietly solemn.
More than anything in these first days of picking up a new instrument, I’ve been surprised at the transferability of personal knowledge. It’s a bit like Latin; the core knowledge allows one to fairly easily develop translational aptitude in a variety of derivative/ relational linguistic contexts– in the construction of chords on the fretboard of the uke, I find my fingers have a readiness to assume new positions without too much bother. This has already led to much fun – Just yesterday I was playing along with friends.
This experience has, in turn, got me thinking again about transferable knowledge. More and more, it seems that it’s the underlying principles and skills which are of most value to an individual’s adaptability and success – in this case me playing uke with friends as opposed to guitar. Of course, there is a knowledge base at play, but I do think that, increasingly success is less about the knowledge itself, and more about the extent to which one can identify and understand the underlying principles and then creatively re-apply them. It aint whatcha do, its the way thatcha do it, so to speak.
These thoughts become even more interesting when one considers such underlying principles in the gearing of the learning endeavour in order to deliver sustainable success for the learner. Even more interesting when considering this on an institutional scale.
See you next week.