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A Letter to our students from Jorma Kaukonen:

To the Students of Regarding Tab:Jorma Kaukonen

Now I realize that everyone’s path to learning may be different, but since we are talking about my method and my opinion, here it is. I have never used tab… ever. Whereas I realize that some people swear by it, I find it inaccurate insofar as it tries to represent time and is totally limiting from an educational point of view. The only way to really represent music accurately for any instrument or voice in our western tradition, is with traditional music notation. Learning to read and write is the only way to truly be able to do this.

I consider the music that I have played all my life to be an oral and aural tradition. With that in mind, when I play songs, obviously they are an arrangement and tend to be recognizably consistent, That said, I rarely, if ever, do anything twice exactly the same way. With that in mind, tab is merely an approximate representation of any given performance.

For a student who is the early throws of getting his or her thumb under control, I would point out what worked for me. Learn a simple song in which the alternating thumb is omnipresent. My baby steps version of Blind Arthur Blake’s West Coast blues or his That’ll Never Happen No More would be a nice place to start. In the simplest terms, especially with bare bones songs like these, the thumb tends to play quarter notes in a 4/4 format. The melodies tend to never be more complicated than eighth notes… one and, two and… etc. etc.

If you have heard me play That’ll Never Happen No More recently… it bears little resemblance to the version I learned almost fifty years ago. At this point in time there is that alternating thumb and much more. I use Blake’s drop thumb rolls as well as eighth note triplet rolls against the thumb etc etc.

Think about any given song in parts... break it down into measures even. Instead of looking at your right hand as simply playing a series of integrated patterns, take a moment and think about the actual musical parts that are occurring i.e. rhythm, harmony and melody. Now we often talk about this style of guitar as one in which the thumb is the left hand of a piano and the fingers the right... we also know that this is a very rough metaphor. Now I know that the bar for guitar players has been raised unbelievably. Players like Tommy Emmanuel, Pete Huttlinger, Darrel Scott, Doyle Dikes etc... routinely play music that would have been utterly inconceivable to most of us when we started out. I look at myself in today's light as in intermediate level player with lots and lots of experience.

The right hand was a struggle for me when I was first learning. It is not an intuitive set of motions. I have been playing the guitar for almost sixty years now and if I let a couple of days go by without playing, the glibness of my right hand dissipates faster than I would like to think. When this happens (occasionally my wife likes my to do chores and such when I get home from the road) I go back to basics... real basics like the songs I started out with so long ago, and let my right hand reassert itself.

Here’s my point. You are never going to sound like me, and why would you want to. As soon as any of us learn a song, no matter how hard we try to replicate the original we cannot help but infuse it with our character. For me, nothing could be better than that. Few of us have the ability of an Ernie Hawkins or a Stefan Grossman to get inside another musician’s head, heart and hands as they did with Rev. Gary Davis.

I believe that Breakdownway.comis a class online learning environment and that we have some exceptional instructors catering to people of all levels and musical tastes. As I have said many times, there is more than one way to skin this cat. Again, I do not employ tab because I cannot relate to it. If my methods just do not work for you, perhaps Breakdownway is not what you need. Obviously, we hope this is not the case.

OK... nuff talk.

You will wind up pleasing yourself I know...


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