Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Up and Down

The image of the guitar above is positioned essentially as you would see it holding it in playing position.

Perhaps one of the worst habits you can acquire in your pursuit of guitaristic fluency is connecting the idea of "up" and "down" on the fretboard with anything other than pitch.

It has nothing to do with how close a particular string is to the floor or ceiling.Think of how the same terms – up and down – are applied on the piano, an instrument who's lowest note is the same distance from the floor as its highest. Think of the fretboard as if the floor and ceiling of the room you're in are not musical directions. They aren't. Up can only mean "Up in pitch." in music – not "Away from the floor of the room I'm sitting in."

If you don't get this idea out of your head you will be plagued for life, confusing UP and DOWN on the fretboard. You will think "up" but the note will get lower. Is this what you want your brain to deal with when you're playing?

If you're still reading, your answer is "no."

If course, although this truth applies to the fretboard, the movements of the right hand and arm are another story. A down-strum or down-pick does refer to the directional movement across the strings made by the right hand and arm.

Yes – it's sort of schizoid. But the right and left hands on the guitar are not living in the same world. Their reference points are different. The right hand is not concerned with the grid of the fretboard (much) and the left is not thinking about gravity (much).

All these factors have to exist in harmony ... and rhythm. Just as the right hand fingers are named and the left hand fingers are numbered, the left and right sides have to deal with up-and-down in different ways.

My basic way of thinking about this is that gravity (floor to ceiling motion) is the exception made for the strumming arm/hand when it's strumming.

A trickier problem is that the right hand almost always goes from a lower to a higher note as it gets closer to the floor. A downstroke rises in pitch ... an upstroke goes from high to low.

Does all this matter?

What matters is that – as a guitarist – you are 100% clear when you think about the concepts of "up" and "down" and that it is also clear to others. If you are used to referring to notes using physical, rather than musical reference points, you may, at some point, find yourself telling the keyboard player in your band something like "... I slide up the neck from G to A ... a 7th lower." You won't likely notice the keyboardist roll their eyes and you won't hear them thinking "... um ... yeah ... sure, dude ... whatever you say."

"... lower, up the neck" seems like an oxymoron to me.

As for strumming. The piano player watching you strum your guitar may need to know if your playing a certain beat on an upstroke or a downstroke, but it's more likely they want to know if you're going to arpeggiate the chord ascending or descending, so I say; lead with pitch.

Up and down are first and foremost musical terms when you're talking about music, they refer primarily to pitch, not physical direction.

All contents of this blog are © Mark Newstetter

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