Getting back to the guitar: What I’m playing right now

The late Ted Greene’s books are a great way to get jazz sounds under your fingers. I remember reading about someone who used them to learn jazz on the trumpet. Also, I am loving that leisure suit.

Getting back to playing an instrument after not doing it is hard. I don’t know if all instruments are unforgiving, but the guitar really can be. I played for about an hour today, and this is what I did:

First I worked out of Ted Greene’s “Jazz Guitar: Single Note Soloing – Vol. 1.” At the same time, I’m practicing reading, playing in different positions, playing jazz sounds based on scales and arpeggios, and trying to swing while doing it.

That was most of my time today. After that I read through a couple of tunes from the very small (in height and width) “Real Little Ultimate Jazz Fake Book,” published by Hal Leonard.

I’ve had this fake book for a long, long time. I have all the tunes I want to play marked with sticky notes so I can go from one to the other. The chords seem OK for the most part (usually a gripe with fake books). I like that it includes lyrics.

A few days ago, I worked on “Autumn Leaves,” but today I played “A Christmas Song,” even though it’s a week too late. It’s a great tune in any season.

What I’m doing right now is playing them in two octaves. Many tunes in fake books seem to be pitched too low for the guitar. You really need to transpose up an octave to play it “right.” In any case, it’s a good practice to play in a couple octaves. When I’m further along, I can start playing them in different keys. When I really get to “know” a tune, transposing should definitely be part of my routine.

In the recent past, I’ve spent more time with the chords, either trying to play the changes, or adding chords to the melody. But the past few sessions, I’ve just been playing the melodies. I’m trying to get around on the guitar and make some music come out of it.

This Carcassi book is from a huge pile that I “inherited” along with a 1950s Goya classical guitar from my late uncle. It’s a long story. I don’t have all of the books, but I do have a lot of them, and I do have a weakness for old method books.

I ended by reading out of the “Carcassi Classical Guitar Method.” Most of my “training” in my distant past was in classical guitar, so playing these kinds of things — and sight-reading them — is second nature. I’m sure I used other Carcassi music when I was learning, but I don’t remember using this particular book. It’s very strong. It takes you through different keys and has a lot of little pieces that bring the techniques together in something that’s musical and even performance-worthy.

Classical pieces — especially those in method books — tend to be extremely “guitaristic,” and that’s a good thing for me right now. I tend to think of jazz music as trying to transcend the guitar (no “cowboy” chords, lots of flat keys, e.g. Bb, Eb, stretching out of position), but music written by the pedagogical classical guitar greats — Matteo Carcassi and Fernando Sor — are not just studies in how to play the guitar but also how to orchestrate for the instrument. I play these studies and think, “That’s what you can do with a guitar, all right.”

That was my hour today. I have a ton of guitar books, and I’m getting ready to start working with a metronome and a recorder and playing with changes.

The first thing I have to do is keep going.

I almost forgot to mention that I’m playing my $200 Yamaha acoustic with .013 Ernie Ball bronze strings. Right now I don’t want to mess with the amp.