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Old 09-04-2021, 01:21 PM
Deliberate1 Deliberate1 is offline
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Default Can an old dog learn new tricks?

I surely hope so. I am a 65 year old dog who picked up the guitar two years ago. I have posted before about my life-long experience as a jazz winds player who took up the box after falling in with a crowd of unsavory string players.

I took lessons for two years awith a teacher who was more about the theory of playing the guitar rather than playing the guitar, so much so that I could have left it home most lessons. He wanted to turn me into a jazz guitarist, which is all well and good, but I have that genre covered as lead tenor/clarinetist in an 18 piece big band.

So a month ago I found another teacher who is all about playing. His specialty is American roots music. He is a good guy and a capable teacher. We have been working on Freight Train as our first piece. I got it down, finger style, in about a week and was pleased. But then we got into the syncopated version which was a whole 'nother can of beans. I have found it a challenge to coordinate the upbeat plucked notes while keeping the thumb moving. He has made vids of the tune, played slowly, which I play and study carefully. Sometimes I get it. Sometimes what I get goes away. But I perservere.

I have never assigned any struggles I have in this realm to age. That said, I do wonder if learning this rather complicated coordination of finger/thumb movement is a particualr challenge for old grey matter. Even when I get a sequence down, sometimes it just evaporates when I return to it.

So I wrtie this post not to whine (though it may seem that way) because I am frankly thrilled to be able to do what I have accomplished in just three weeks of this. But I would appreciate hearing from any of you of a certain age who faced similar challenges learning this coordination intensive style, and what strategies you used to progress, and to avoid that head-banging frustration when it just don't come.
Thanks all.
David
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Old 09-04-2021, 03:31 PM
davidbeinct davidbeinct is offline
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You will get it. Adding in syncopation to a song like Freight Train is where it gets tricky. You will reach a point where your thumb is almost on auto-pilot and it will get simpler. I am learning this style of music on guitar too, at 58. I donít have the benefit of a lifetime of playing on a different instrument like you do and we share being older, but I do have the knowledge that I can do it through perseverance, and I have faith that you can too.
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Old 09-04-2021, 04:12 PM
Sax Player Guy Sax Player Guy is offline
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Hi David,

The parallels continue. My teacher had me learn Freight Train this summer. The difference is he had me learn a simple syncopated version right off the bat (so that the word "train" is anticipated).

What helped me to get it was I took only the first bar, the first "Freight Train" iteration, and played it slowly, over and over and over, then sped it up. Then I increased it to the first two bars ("Freight Train, Freight Train") over and over and over. I got to where I could watch a TV show and play those first two bars without thinking.

Davidbeinct is right about the autopilot thing. When I think about what I'm doing it messes me up! Well, I had to think about it at first, but the trick was to get it on autopilot. One small piece of it, then gradually expanding it and getting to where it's my hand doing it "unencumbered by the thought process" as the Car Guys used to say.
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Old 09-04-2021, 05:42 PM
Deliberate1 Deliberate1 is offline
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Gents, very much appreciate the kind support. Seems like we three are riding that same train. Funny but I got pretty far into the syncopated version and then ground to a halt where it changes to the E chord ("please don't tell what train I'm on"). Had a hard time coordinating the syncopation while keeping that thumb going. But just this afternoon, I had a break through with it. The "click" felt good. But then off to the next phrase (F chord) which uses the thumb to make the low F in the alternating bass. Man, my thumb, which has a bit of arthritis, just does not like that, especially when I try to move the pinky. But it will come. It always does.

David, I share your enthusiasm and confidence, and apprecaite your thoughts. I keep reminding myself - baby steps. To your point, having a musical past is an advantage in some ways. But a curse in others. I have expectations as a seasoned musician, given my proficiency with wind instruments. It has been hard to let that go and accept that I am in a different universe now. Baby steps...

SPG, always good to hear from you. I totally get what you are saying about the muscle memory thing. When I finally get that rhythm going, the last thing I want to do is think about what I am doing. That is when I start messing up and regressing. Baby steps....don't think about walking.

OK, I reread my initial post. I guess I was whiney. But at 65, I sometimes feel that I am just starting a race that others my age are finishing, usually due to medical issues. I just have to reorient my perspective. Small races that can be finished every day. Then nothing will be left unfinished.

Best to you, boys. Stays safe and healthy.
David
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Old 09-04-2021, 07:12 PM
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I've been playing since 1964ish on and off, mostly on now. I used to be able to take a tab and pretty much get it down in a day or two. Now at 66 it takes a week or more.

I have to admit though that lately I haven't been doing warmup stuff, just diving in to learning a tune and things get mixed up between stiff from not being warmed up and unfamiliar finger placements.

Even after all these years of playing, learning a new piece in super slow motion is still the best approach for me. Patience is the key and sometimes its in short supply
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Old 09-04-2021, 09:35 PM
Deliberate1 Deliberate1 is offline
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Even after all these years of playing, learning a new piece in super slow motion is still the best approach for me. Patience is the key and sometimes its in short supply
Barry, I know I go too fast for my own good. My teacher reminds me frequently. A character flaw, I am afraid. As I have often said, only partiallly in jest, patience is a virtue I have no time for.
Lovely piece, if not wistful and tinged by melancholy.
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Old 09-05-2021, 12:26 AM
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Play as often as possible
Play when you're trying to be so good
Play like they said they would
Play when you're tryin' to go home
Play when you're there all alone
Play when you're walkin' 'long the street
Play when you're tryin' to keep your seat
Play when you're walkin' on the floor
Play when you're walkin' to the door
Play when you're at the breakfast table
Play when you are young and able
Play when you're tryin' to make a buck
Play then they'll say, "Good luck"
Play and say that it's the end
Play then they'll come back again
Play when you're riding in your car
Play when you're playing your guitar
Play when youíre laying in the bed
Play when youíre watching TV
Play then say you are brave
Play when you are set down in your grave
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Old 09-05-2021, 05:53 AM
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I started playing at 58, and I'm now 75. I'm finally to the place where I occasionally play for others when the opportunity arises. I had never played any kind of instrument before, and part of my reason for taking it up was to offset the possibility of dementia, etc. I think it's working. Research indicates that learning new things keeps the brain working, even if it is harder than it used to be. To that end I explore numerous styles and numerous stringed instrument. While I occasionally fantasize about playing out more, the truth of it is I get great satisfaction playing in my living room. I have playing partner who is much better than I am through 40 years of playing, and while he's not particularly good at explaining things, he has an impeccable sense of rhythm and keeps me honest. I have also learned it is going to take as long as it takes, so don't rush it - but I do play several hours everyday. With your musical background you'll move much faster than I did. I'd keep trying out new teachers, I learned from two guys much younger than me, but they were pretty traditional in their styles and didn't try to foist the newest thing on me. I studied with them for the first four years, and I haven't had a lesson since then, but the foundation they laid was essential.
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Old 09-06-2021, 07:55 AM
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Seven years ago, when I was sixty four, I decided that I would memorize a couple songs so that if someone asked me to play something I could. I know a lot of old codgers like me who say they are too old to memorize a song. I did, and in the process I got into memorizing songs. Those first were hard to memorized and it took me weeks. Seven years later I can memorize a song in an hour, maybe take a couple more at it until I get it nailed well enough to play it through with someone listening.

I think it has a lot to do with memorizing is just another technique that you learn. I think it doesn't really matter how old you are, whether it is memorizing or learning playing techniques the more you learn the better you get at learning. The problem with old folks is that they get out of practice.
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Old 09-06-2021, 08:36 AM
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I feel like I am in the middle of a huge brain plasticity study. I have been playing guitar for over fifty years. For many of those years, a lot of the guitar things I attempted to accomplish were extremely difficult, as if I was working against my own body or my mind. In the middle of my guitar tenure I began playing recording sessions and playing on a praise and worship team. Those two activities required me to quickly learn new music and play it to a pretty high level of competence. The P&W required me to memorize whole songs and be able to play them back. The studio work I do is quite different. I mostly work alone, not in group sessions and every little part is listened to under the microscope. I'm brought the master multi-tracks or scratch tracks and asked to either play parts the composer has composed or compose guitar parts to make the songs "sing." It is always on short notice and always on short deadline. I usually get the material and am expected to submit my work within hours.

Friday I sat down with a piece where the composer sent me scratch guitar parts performed on a keyboard and ask me to perform them on guitar. I had to memorize the melodies, translate them to the fingerboard, train my fingers to perform them, and then perform them naturally to record them. I had three hours to accomplish it. If you've ever dealt with material compose on keyboard you'll know that is often quite different from guitar material. Few keyboardists have the ability to think like a guitarist and approach the material in a way that is comfortable to play on guitar. I've done the opposite, playing piano and organ parts on a guitar synthesizer, and I understand the challenge. In either case, your fingers don't want to do what they are called on to do.

But the point here is that every time one of these projects comes through the studio door I am faced with a job that requires a lot of brain plasticity. The good news is that I am getting better and better at it, even at sixty-four years of age. My hands (actually mind) require less and less mental bludgeoning to translate these parts and then smoothly pull them off. I do have the luxury of recording most parts in chunks. I quite often will translate a few bars, come up with a fingerboard strategy to allow the thing to sound natural, run it a few times to get my fingers to be able to pull it off, and then record it, all in a few minutes.

And here is the funny part: the next day it could quite possibly lost to the mists of time. I seem to don't hold onto this stuff because there is very little chance I'll ever play it again. If someone asks me to show 'em what I did I have to go, "Let's see, it was somewhere around here and it went something like this." I call it "studio throughput" because it comes and goes so quickly. I discuss it on my site over HERE.

Bob
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Old 09-06-2021, 01:06 PM
Andyrondack Andyrondack is offline
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Default Can an old dog learn new tricks ?

Well all the current research sugests you had better try or spongify!
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Old 09-06-2021, 01:58 PM
Deliberate1 Deliberate1 is offline
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Originally Posted by Andyrondack View Post
Well all the current research sugests you had better try or spongify!
OP here, and agree."Spongify" sounds painful. I'll keep trying to learn the new tricks. And do my best to dredge up the old ones.
David
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Old 09-07-2021, 10:23 AM
Glennwillow Glennwillow is offline
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Default Can an old dog learn new tricks?

Hi David,

I do think us old dogs can learn new tricks. I keep learning new stuff on the guitar.

You probably know this stuff already, but just in case, let me offer some encouragement.

First, if you were able to get a simple version of "Freight Train" down in a week, I think you are doing very well.

When you refer to a syncopated version of "Freight Train," I wonder if you are referring to finger picking the song with a Travis picking pattern. If that is the case, then I understand that learning the Travis picking pattern is a much tougher task.

I have done a couple of video tutorials on how to play the Travis pick that might be helpful to you. Going through these should not interfere with your lessons; my videos could just be a supplementary thing that might help your brain. They're free...

This is a lesson on using the Travis picking pattern to play "Clay Pigeons" by Blaze Foley and as played by John Prine. This is a good lesson to start from because the tempo for Clay Pigeons is fairly slow and so it gives you a chance to get these patterns down without requiring much speed.

This is a lesson at a faster tempo for playing Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice" using the Travis pick.

The latest research on slow wave sleep seems to suggest that when our brains go into this mode of sleep, our brains are wiping away unimportant memories from the day while also helping our brains organize and consolidate important stuff we have learned. If you keep working on learning a new task day after day, your brain will reward your tenacity. Every time your brain goes into slow wave sleep, your brain is again working on organizing that information to help you make sense of stuff. Over time our brains learn in layers, so repetition really helps and is essential.

I find this information about slow wave sleep helpful to take the pressure off of myself when I am learning something new. (I keep learning new stuff and I am age 73. I have been playing actively without losing my calluses since I was age 16.) I just work on stuff for a while until I'm almost to the point where I can't stand it anymore, and then I let it be and come back the next day and do it again. And then keep repeating this approach until after two or three weeks I have integrated the new technique into my brain and my fingers.

I hope this helps a little.

- Glenn
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Old 09-07-2021, 10:45 AM
Nama Ensou Nama Ensou is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deliberate1 View Post
Can an old dog learn new tricks?
Absolutely, but it all boils down to mindset/dedication, and it sounds like you've got that covered. Just as when you first started to learn your other instruments, there's be days of frustration alternating with elation.
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Old 09-07-2021, 01:51 PM
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Freight Train is great. The first alternating bass piece with syncopation I learned. It took me months (I was in my late 50's) at the time. 4 years or so later it is like falling off a log. You will get it, just not a fast as you hope.

As others have said, the slower you play the faster you learn. Don't practice mistakes
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