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Friday, 13 April 2012

Musical notes...

Jenny Harrison writes…

I’ve started classical guitar lessons again. I used to play in the 80s and 90s but immigrating to a new country meant that my guitar lived in the back of a cupboard for fourteen years. Then impulse caused me to find a teacher (young enough to be my daughter!) and start all over again.

As you’ll see from my “mug shot” I’m no spring chicken. I'm not trying to manage a Zimmer frame and a guitar case, not yet anyway, but it was certainly easier twenty-some years to remember where to play D# , which is the A string (forget about the G-string!) and what allegretto means. (The lesson here is that age is no barrier to anything but bungee jumping.)

Being a writer I’m wondering how the rules pertaining to music apply to writing. And here’s what I thought:

·         A previous guitar teacher recommended that every day I at least take my guitar out of the case and touch the strings. Playing a few notes would be better, of course. My writing is much the same. Open the file and at least read through what I wrote yesterday. Add something, anything – even if I take it out tomorrow, at least I’m writing.

·         Finger exercises such as scales on the guitar are useful for warming up the digits. One particular exercise is called the Crab Walk. It exercises not only the fingers but also the brain. Julia Cameron in her wonderful The Artist’s Way makes much of “morning pages” and that is not a bad idea. Writing something every morning can be like finger exercises for the mind.

·         There’s a difference that I’m only beginning to recognise between playing notes on the guitar and playing music. It has something to do with soul or quende or being ‘in the zone’. I can play a bar or two and then suddenly something begins to sing and I know I’ve touched the soul of the music. Whatever it is you’re writing, see if there’s something in it that sings, two words that echo, a sentence that flies. Getting into the zone is where words become music, where semibreves become magic.

·         It’s taking a long time to get anything I play on the guitar to sound good. So I have to be persistent. I have to play every day and expect setbacks. Now, doesn’t that sound just like writing?

Above all, for both guitar and writing - it’s practice, practice, practice.

Jenny Harrison


  1. Congratulations Jenny. Lovely and I hear you.... and I am singing and dancing or rather trying to get the writing to sing and dance ...
    and I'm practicing (or trying to).
    Does business proposals fit the bill? No? Oh, well, I didn't think so either.
    Now we need to plan a musical soiree for you to entertain us. Would the Christmas lunch give you enough time?

    1. N-o-o-o! Fergeddaboudit! My guitar playing distresses my cat so I would assume that it would distress the writing group as well.

  2. It occurred to me after the blog had been posted that we could learn a few lessons from sports people. In particular, look at Valerie Adams as she lines up for a throw, her whole body, her mind, her soul are waiting for that perfect duende moment. Now that is being 'in the zone'. Her concentration and focus is all on that movement and in the moment. Nothing else exists. What can we writer's learn from her? One among many lessons would be - drop the ego. There is no ego in the zone. We are not focussing on ourselves but on the perfect moment, the perfect word.

  3. Jenny, you are so right. It is by focusing on our true aim or message that we achieve greatness. No distraction, no waffle.

  4. A great comparison Jenny. They say 'practice makes perfect'and you are surely heading that way. Your writing is getting even more crisp and interesting day by day. keep going and never mind the cat. He'll soon love your playing to bits.