Not The Guitar Chord Book
The Jenkins Method
Argue with six string instructor and cult rock hero Billy Jenkins on the best way of teaching yourself to play.
Fed up with flattened 13ths, tired of guitar tutors that resemble a landslip at King's Cross? Let six-string teacher and cult rock star Billy Jenkins show you another way of starting. Gather your wits, tighten your truss and manacle the cat to the sideboard... it's the Jenkins method.
Whether a would-be guitarist, a beginner, or a pro, it's worth considering methods other than the familiarised approach to contemporary guitar tuition. Let other magazines bore and confuse you with masturbatory diatribes on the supposed inability of the reader to understand the musical stave or, God forbid, guitar tablature, but there's no legal obligation for that third, formal dimension. All that's required is the ear, eye, limbs, voice and instrument.
Do you love your guitar? Are you married to it, and if so, for how long?
Do you long for the weekend so you can get away together? Has it ever broken your heart? Have you ever broken its neck?
Love and the single guitar is perhaps the most powerful force a person can experience. Some dabble in polygamy which, unsurprisingly, affects performance. But more often or not that minority caste tends to be exceedingly rich, selfish and untalented.
As you can determine someone's musical taste by skipping through their record collection, so too can you tell how much a guitarist means what he does by the way he unwraps his concubine.
Most people take up an instrument in the subconscious intention of emulating someone or something which has given them pleasure, and this is when the novice rushes to the chord charts and another Lennon-McCartney song bites the dust.
Unable to reproduce the sound of 68 double tracked voices, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and George Harrison chanting mantras backwards on a £40 guitar from Bell's Musical Catalogue, the novice is disheartened. But had N.O. Vice stopped to consider that he too has the same built-in facilities as the aforementioned tunesmiths, and if he took time to listen, as they had done, to many different types and forms of music — he too could digest, regurgitate, rip off then recycle his own "original" pieces!
To do this, N.O. Vice must tear aside his musical blinkers and be ready to accept and try to understand every sound that is thrown at him. Censorship of musical variety is as bad as martial law in Poland. For example, Pete Townshend certainly didn't create exciting sounds by listening only to similar outfits — he got his inspiration from ALL sources — musical, socialogical or otherwise. His father was a dance band musician, an atmosphere totally alien but at the same time essential to Townshend's musical upbringing.
I wrote a piece of music in 1977 with a haunting opening line. A certain familiarity about it convinced me I'd "stolen" it, and it was only by chance that I discovered it came from a cassette a friend played me two years previously. All that time it had lain in wait until it popped out with various other snippets to create a "new" tune!
With the smallest amount of self-discipline, the conscientious pupil can sit himself in front of a radio and tune into ten minutes a day of classical music on Radio 3, a jazz programme, a late night Radio 2 smooch programme or whatever provides a complete contrast in musical diet.
N.O. Vice should join the local record library and systematically borrow every single record on the shelf — from Albanian to Opera, Coltrane to Coal Trains, folk music to comedians, Heavy Metal to Medieval, Stockhausen to the Human League: no stone must be left unturned.
N.O. Vice may hate a lot of what he hears, but the important thing is that HE HEARD IT.
DOWN into the subconscious go those alien melodies devoid of rhythm. DOWN go those smoochy rhythms devoid of melody — all without seeing a thing!
Now pick up the guitar and start to hum. Let an idle, whimsical tune with dangerous trancendental meditation undertones slowly emit, while caressing the instrument with both hands.
Now locate the similar pitch on a string — it doesn't matter if it's tuned or not — and copy your verbal improvisations. The effect may sound like George Benson at 16 rpm, but the fact is that you and your guitar are re-cycling all those hundreds and millions of little black notes that have been shoe-horned into your ear from the moment you plopped into a kidney dish.
The competent player can use this method for "tuning" up the ear and familiarising the effect that one note has upon another in terms of pitch variation, the object being first to play note for note a sung sequence, leading eventually to being able to play on the guitar any melody line heard on the radio or record.
It's worth considering that although the voice is the most immediate instrument we have, it's often forgotten when faced with the mysteries of the fret-board. There are many guitarists who are unable to sing in tune having allowed their ears to hear a guitar note ("because that's what I'm into"), but have decided that singing is for nancy boys.
As an athlete will push his body harder in training than may be required in an actual race, so too should a guitarist consider his "fixtures and fittings" when applying his energies to his instrument.
Deaf people still hear music, they feel the vibrations — try and deafen yourself from your obvious inspirations and rely on your inner collection.
The guitar is a percussive instrument — you have to strike it to produce a note — so study drumming techniques and rhythmic syncopation. In the contemporary small group the guitarist should pay particular attention to the snare drum, and the bass guitarist the bass drum.
Exercise the strumming hand with constant tapping. Hold the guitar neck from over the top with your left hand then syncopate all over the strings with your right. Go WILD! The importance of free expressionism cannot be underestimated. We're talking instant ethnic Naked Guitarist Truth! Not formulated orthodoxy. That only comes with understanding and time, but will come much more easily after all those hours spent communicating in the rain forests of your bedroom with your loved one. Call it growing old gracefully.
All music has a pulse running through it, some say the pulse of life, and you must discipline your strumming hand to play any sequence of micro-beats without changing the prescribed tempo. Just think — three chords and a dynamite right hand could land you down in Nashville as a C&W session rhythm player!
Feel is really self-taught, the main bugbear being self-doubt - dangerous when a "good feel" depends on a relaxed frame of mind: why else do reggae musicians smoke so much?
"Target practise" for the left hand is an essential part of training. Constantly familiarise yourself with ALL the notes on the fretboard. The beginner might pick out an A on each string, adding more notes to make a little ditty and repeating it on every string. Then the whole piece can be started from a different note, thereby placing it in a different key. The more established player might partake in three octave arpeggios with his eyes shut.
The definition of balance should be carefully observed. Formulised guitar tuition may well turn you into a good imitator, but it's only the free, uninhibited altar image of the Naked Guitarist that will bring forth original interpretations and sounds.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, YOU PLAY WHAT YOU HEAR.
If N.O. Vice chose to study the guitar at music college, he would have compulsory piano tuition, and so it should be for the self-taught player.
Most people have access to some sort of keyboard. Learn the names of each note (if you do not already know them), then get down to 100 per cent energy improvising.
Choose a starting key and construct your sketches in what seems to you a sensible form, which will probably be a balance of loud/soft and slow/fast. Try and make melodic sense, relating your ad libbing to your chosen key.
Various exercises can be undertaken.
For example, the basic scale of C Major (all the white notes) when played from D to D (with a low sustained pedal D on the left hand) gives you the "blues" scale or Dorian Mode upon which most rock guitar solos are based. Repeat the old Benson trick, studying once more the relationship of different tones.
Now return to the guitar and locate some of the same patterns.
All the information you've digested from the keyboard will have entered your "inner collection" through your ears, thereby furthering your understanding of tonality.
Who knows, it may even give you the confidence to enjoy singing!
Underneath that bow-tied veneer, the classically trained musician harbours a deep jealousy of the liberated soul of his rock 'n' roll cousins. But unbeknown to him, many of his rock 'n' roll cousins still treat the guitar like Hank Marvin had just made it with the Shadows, by virtue of some caressing, silken, tremolo movements.
Several took it to the other extreme by smashing their "baby" to bits — the Ultimate Sacrifice, short of homicide, for the demanding fans. But VERY FEW have taken the guitar to the limit of energy and expression without resorting to vaudeville trickery.
And this is where you have your say in the matter. Think not only formally, but freely. Put down that book of Blondie guitar chords or the Gary Numan Song Book and give yourself ten minutes of... YOURSELF.
You're better than anyone else.
Feature by Billy Jenkins
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