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Old 01-26-2019, 05:08 PM
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Ludere Ludere is offline
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Default Frustration Condition Red – need guidance ...

So frustrated right now – spent a good part of the day trying to learn Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy” ... and have little to show for it ...

After ‘waving off’ a few video tute versions that looked too complex for me, I settled on a simple little version that was based on a cameo Paul did back in ’74, while he was still writing the song.

It went Ok for the most part, but after I got through* the verse, I realized that this version wasn’t quite ‘true’ and so I went looking again … found a ‘truer’ version and starting working on it - only to become very frustrated with my inability to master most of the chord shapes; which means I don’t have a starting point for practicing it, which means I won’t, which means I wasted a day, AND I really wanted that song. So ...

Question 1: Does it sound like I’m “reaching” too far? This isn’t the first time I’ve run into something like this ... I struggle so hard to get even a small chunk of a song to a working level that I just surrender ...

Question 2: How does one master chord shapes with stretches/positions that seem impossible at first? Is it like barre chords – where you get close enough to make some sort of almost recognizable noise and keep practicing it until one day your ‘far-extended’ digits no longer fight to curl back into a fetal position? Or perhaps you finally succeed in tying a bowline with your index and ring fingers? I have pretty good-sized hands but for some of these, I just can’t make that reach (or yoga position) with any strength left to fret ... but I don’t see how that will change if I don’t try. Are there exercises for this? Are they called “practice the chords” by chance?

I apologize if I’m babbling. Very frustrated. I feel like a ‘tween ...

Any input and/or guidance would be most welcomed.

~ Paul

“Success is falling down nine times and getting up ten.”
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Old 01-26-2019, 05:16 PM
Gmountain Gmountain is offline
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For me, its practice a little every day. After a while, and mean many weeks, it gets easier. Some shapes are just plain hard, and you may need to talk to a live teacher to see if an alternate fingering can work.

I have a couple of songs that are just kicking my but. I work on them every day and see improvement, but it's slow. I have faith I'll get there though. For me, it's Midnight at the Oasis, and the Shaker Song.
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Old 01-26-2019, 05:31 PM
cmd612 cmd612 is offline
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1. Maybe? It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to give yourself a break by working on something a little easier to master, and then have another go at it if you feel like it.

2. For most people it should be possible to increase hand flexibility and reach. Yes, practicing the chords is one way. There are other exercises, too. I got a lot out of this one (demonstrated on a classical guitar, but it works just as well on steel string, and with a pick if that's how you play):

Do it very, verrrry slowly at first. Don't speed up or move to the lower strings until it's smooth at slow speed on strings 1 and 3.
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Old 01-26-2019, 05:33 PM
AndrewG AndrewG is offline
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It'll come with practise, and one day you'll surprise yourself! Keep at it.
BUT don't force it until it becomes a chore, and do a little at a time.
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Old 01-26-2019, 05:35 PM
GHS GHS is offline
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Tell me the chord that is giving you the "reach" problem. There are ways to get around it (inversions, shell chord, substitutions,) but it all has to do within the frame work of the song, what will work, sound good, be in the right range of the melody...its a little complex.
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Old 01-26-2019, 05:46 PM
HOF dad HOF dad is offline
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All the above works.
I think the one thing that's made me a better player is continuing to work on things that seem to be out of my reach. I've worked on songs for a year or more to get them down and, yes, it's daunting in the beginning. Take little pieces and work on them - you can do this.
Not to discount the value of viable alternative chords. There's a lot of knowledge here (way beyond mine) that can give you options.
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Old 01-26-2019, 05:55 PM
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TBman TBman is offline
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Take the full chord(s) that are giving you a problem and turn them into triads or double stops that retain the character of the chord. Then learn the song. You can flesh out those "reduced" chords later, but at least you'll have something to play.

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Old 01-26-2019, 06:02 PM
musicman1951 musicman1951 is offline
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It would help to read the chord shapes giving you trouble. I suggest a two pronged approach if you really want the song.

1. Spend 3-6 weeks just working on the chords. Not for an hour a day, but a manageable amount (read: not thinking of kicking the dog). Consider substituting a different chord shape for any that really seem impossible after a week. There are many, many ways to play each chord - not right and wrong, just different.

When the chords seem easy played one at a time start to practice switching between two chords - obviously in the order they appear in the song.

2. Then start to slowly work on the song. It's a great tune, but it's been around a while and it will wait another month or two for you to get comfortable.

Everything gets easy when you've done it enough times. If it's not easy yet you haven't done it enough times. You can get frustrated, but it won't help you get to "enough times." Understand the process and be nice to yourself.
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Old 01-26-2019, 07:14 PM
zmf zmf is offline
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Cheat as much as you can without taking away from the piece.

There are some things my left hand will not do, after years of trying to make it do them. But it's learned to work around the problems.

But on the other hand (figuratively speaking), there are many chords that once seemed impossible that are very natural now.

It helps to learn the difference.
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Old 01-26-2019, 07:30 PM
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SalFromChatham SalFromChatham is offline
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I very much relate.

I tried learning the Dave Matthews song “If Only”, after my wife said my buddy Mike and I should include it in our set. I was all over YouTube. I then tried to figure out an arrangement that would sound rich and full with simply two acoustic guitars, or a guitar and a mandolin. I ended up adapting chords so that they would be simpler, using a capo... and I treally thought my arrangement would work.

Then I tried singing. Big mistake. The song is scrapped, and I wasted four days.

I guess I’d say don’t be afraid to use a capo, and create your own chords that get you 90% there... it’s worked for so many songs in our sets. Just not this one
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Old 01-26-2019, 07:34 PM
Shuksan Shuksan is offline
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Expecting yourself to master challenging new chord shapes in one day, much less being able to play them smoothly in the context of a song is definitely reaching too far, IMO. I think you need to set more realistic expectations for yourself such as allowing weeks to get challenging chord shapes truly under your fingers. There is no substitute for repetition to develop the muscle memory to land smoothly and with little effort on those chords.

One phenomenon I've noticed over the years in my own learning is that difficult chord shapes could be hard at first because I found myself using a death grip trying to force them work. That can actually limit your hands flexibility and reach and prevent clean fingering of a chord. It's important to try to keep your hand relaxed and don't worry initially about whether you fret all the notes in a chord cleanly. That will come with practice.

Here's one strategy that's worked for me in some instances. Let's say a new chord requires placing four fingers. If I'm having trouble getting all four fingers down accurately at the same time, I will start by focusing on getting the two or three easiest fingers down together smoothly and adding the trouble finger(s) as an immediate second step. With practice, the lagging finger(s) will catch up and all four fingers will land together. This approach got me through many difficult jazz chords.

When trying to link difficult chords in a song, it's essential to play at a much slower tempo (use a metronome to enforce this) than the actual tempo of the song and slowly build up to tempo over weeks. Trying to hit full speed with new difficult chords, especially in one day, is a guaranteed recipe for frustration.

Your first day's attempt to play a song with challenging chords is not "a wasted day". It's just barely getting started.
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Old 01-26-2019, 07:48 PM
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El Conquistador El Conquistador is offline
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Well, I just had to comment on this thread. (see my signature)

I have been playing for 50+ years, and do paid gigs frequently (this morning in fact). I have always loved this song, but, when I set out to learn it, I was stunned by just how difficult it is to play and sing. I, like you, checked out every lesson and video I could find. After about a good solid year, I finally got it down to a playable state and it is in my regular rotation for my public performances.

So, yes as far as I am concerned, it is one of the most difficult songs I have ever attempted. Hang in there.

Still crazy after all these years.
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Old 01-27-2019, 08:30 AM
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How long have you been playing? Believe me you are not alone and I have repeated your same story more than once. I hear a song that I really want to master, but the fretting hand will just not do it.

While taking lessons my instructor would push me to make certain difficult chord shapes. After a while, I just realized my knuckles and my hand is not going to do that. Yes with a LOT of practice and stretching of fingers, but no way in my opinion.

Yes you want it to be EXACTLY as the original, I'm with you. But you can make simple adjustments and use alternate chords and be happy.

Yes post the chords and positions please you are trying to learn.
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Old 01-27-2019, 09:47 AM
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Ludere Ludere is offline
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I want to thank you ALL for the great advice and encouragement.

After a good night's sleep and a break from it, I realize that I can do some form (in varying degrees of success) of about 80% of the chords; and thanks to the observations and advice of a few of you, I have recalibrated my expectations of self and decided to make it a work in progress ...

I think that attempting the harder version after already working on the song for 2-3 hours was definitely a mistake, as it really doesn't look as daunting today.

One note: I am aware that there are many ways to play "cheat" versions of chords (not to be confused with inversions or other legitimate forms).

I make it a policy not to learn songs using "cheater" chords, as it has been my experience that applying the self-discipline to go back and learn it the right way once you have a working version is actually harder than learning it the right way in the first place. At least for me ...


Thank you all again! Love the AGF.

~ Paul

** Since a couple folks have asked what chords are involved, thought I'd provide the link ... although his method is a bit scattered and he never came back and did Part 2; I like this version and there really aren't that many tutorials out there ... I also like the exposure to new chord voicings ...

“Success is falling down nine times and getting up ten.”

Last edited by Ludere; 01-27-2019 at 10:27 AM.
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Old 01-29-2019, 12:41 PM
DesertTwang DesertTwang is offline
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Not sure if it helps, but I looked up the chord sheet for this song, and I immediately "waved it off" just based on what I saw. I'd never be able to remember that chord progression. (You're talking to a bluegrasser here, by the way. Any song that has more than 5 chord changes has to go the extra mile and really convince me as to why I should learn it. )

I've been playing for more than ten years, and it would be very difficult for me to play this song. No way I could learn it within just one day.

So I'm very tempted with voting for your first hunch, that you're overtaxing your abilities at his point.

Another thing that I noticed when listening to Paul Simon's recording on YouTube is that there is almost no guitar in this song. It's mostly keyboards.

So I'm wondering whether Paul would actually have written the song the way he did had he written it for guitar? It's of course much easier to finger a bunch of complex chords on the piano than it is on the guitar. Just a guess, though. I'm not familiar with how he wrote this song.

And just on a side note: I usually never aim for playing a song exactly as the original, because I find that pointless. I'm thinking from a performance standpoint: Who wants to hear random guy play a song exactly like [insert artist name], except he isn't ][insert artist name]? For me, the answer is: no one. I find much more reward in trying to capture the essence of a song and adapting it to my own musical language and artistic expression. If I play a song exactly as the original, it will never amount to anything more than a cover. But if I make it my own in some way that is convincing to the listener — and more often than not, that involves simplifying — the piece becomes something much more valuable.

The vast majority of my repertoire are traditional songs and American roots music, in other words, songs that have been played to death for decades, if not centuries. Yet, on more than one occasion, I have had others tell me, "Oh man, that version of Shady Grove that you played there, that was really cool." In all of those instances, I don't remember doing anything fancy. If anything, I simplified the original or more commonly known version so as to bring it down to my level. But I did add my flavor or feel to it.

Sometimes less more.
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Last edited by DesertTwang; 01-29-2019 at 12:53 PM.
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