The Art of Zen and playing your Guitar Like Django


How to Strangle a Selmer Maccaferri "D" Hole Guitar with one hand!
(Whilst beating it to death with the other!)

For many years, I followed the time-honoured sport of Archery, and became a County Coach for Essex, (one of a great number, so there is no special Kudos to be derived here!) During this time I discovered a small pamphlet extolling the virtues of Zen Buddhist philosophy, with relation to the sport. Such wonders as the Necessity to Breathe, (always a necessity! I've found, you tend to die if you don't do it!), the Importance of Mental Attitude and Focus, drawing inner strength from your whole being etc. All aimed at that wonderful moment, "When the arrow leaves the bow, and neither the archer or the bow knows that it has gone", that moment of "One-ness", when everything is perfect.

At this self-same time, I had played rhythm guitar in four different bands over the years, (skiffle, rock, country rock, and pure western swing), and to this end have fuffed and fluffed about with the instrument for over forty years, (43 to be truthful). Then in 1993 I was diagnosed with Osteo-Arthritis in my hands, as well as in other parts of the body perfect. This was of course a body blow of the worst kind, for as anyone who suffers from the condition will tell you, you lose feeling and dexterity, which is replaced by an annoying pain, which varies in strength from the dull ache to, being unable to move the offending appendage. Worse than the pain, you lose faith in your ability to play, and worse still, if it were possible, your ability to perform, and the instrument that was your lifetime companion, lies in a corner gathering dust. A very painful decision was arrived at, to sell the equipment.

Then, during a visit to my Doctor, one of the periodic ones, (you know the format, "How are you?" "Ok I suppose", "Fine, fine, see you in six months"), he surprised me with, "How are you getting along with your music, Guitar isn't it?" I was thunderstruck! I had mentioned this to him years before, in passing. I related how, sadly I had let the music go, and sold my equipment, to which he replied, "Pity! It's really good physiotherapy for your condition. It might be worth reconsidering, I've got something, which might be of help", he rummaged around in his desk, and produced a dog-eared pamphlet, "Read this, ignore the main subject, concentrate on the philosophy side of it". He handed me the pamphlet, it was, "Zen and the Art of Archery", the self-same pamphlet that I had read years before! After the initial shock, and explanation he said, "Look, what I'm trying to say is, a lot of your condition, is rooted in how you think. In basic terms, you can do something, if you think you can do it! Reconsider your music, a, who is it? Django Reinhardt? You will never be him, but you can enjoy trying!"

So I did. The first thing was some research on guitars, many Luthiers will advise and guide your steps, (my thanks to David Hodson), so will other guitarists, go to meets, go to clubs, one of the best pieces of help that I had was a visit to a "music awareness" evening at my local evening college. As luck would have it, there were two members who had Maccaferri copies, one a "D" hole, the other an oval hole, and more importantly I got to play both!

Read a lot! Books, pamphlets, magazine articles, (I found a good one in "GEAR" magazine, about 'Vintage' brand copies!), Websites, anything relative.

Then make a decision on your next course of action; the following might be useful:

1. Buy a guitar of your choice
2. Learn to play.
3. Leave the country.
4. Take up the nose flute.
5. Become a hermit.
6. Grow a beard.
7. Stand on a mountaintop humming the word "OM" continuously.
8. Learn tap dancing.

Select those that you find useful.

In the event I purchased a Maccaferri "D" hole copy, which make is unimportant, and re-learned to play. The Django style of playing bears very little resemblance to what I am used to. So does the guitar, and a "quirky" little beast it is too. But! When your ever-loving, walks through the room whistling "Sweet Georgia Brown", after you've been trying to get your fingers around these "funny" chords, and trying to master it for the last three hours, you know that you've got it cracked!

Practice, so they say, makes perfect. And that is what I do. PRACTICE, Practice, practice, every day for as long as the hands will let me, sometimes an hour, (NEVER less), sometimes two or three hours, (being retired disabled sometimes has its advantages), my speed is still relatively slow, but it's getting there. The hands are getting stronger, and so are the wrists, and one-day I may sound like Django on a bad day, (if that's possible).

Realistically, Django Reinhardt, I will never be, and, it is unlikely that you will hear me play at Samois, but then again, Django lost two fingers from his left hand, and look what happened to him! Furthermore, I'm just a beginner at this myself, and who am I to tell others what to do, but perhaps in some small way, it will help.

Other things to do:

Get a "squeeze ball", one of those muscle builders things, does wonders for the left hand.

Don't get tied up in so much technical stuff, that you lose the enjoyment of playing, I found that playing and trying to get better, is more helpful than trying to be perfect. For example: on the Hotclub website there are a couple of numbers, and the chords for them. I don't think Steve will mind if you copy and download the pages and the sound files to learn.

Try playing them, but from the word go, play the whole tune, all the way through, MISTAKES AND ALL. Then play it again, correcting, and so on until perfect. All too often, a beginner will play until the first mistake, and then go back and start again. This form tends to lock the mistake in place, and the mistake becomes a hurdle to clear, if you make a mistake, carry on until the end. This can be helpful in performances too, if you do fluff a chord, fluff it again when it comes around and most audiences will think that it is "your variation"! And above all don't try for the perfect copy! A good rendition with some of your own "frills and frippery" will sound far better than a mirror image. Mimicry is very good flattery, but all it does is promote the original, and not your own style.

Play with others, see if you can find a like minded person to jam with, of the same level as yourself, or better if possible, and you can bounce ideas of each other.

Don't be frightened to play with the Masters, (providing that they don't mind playing with you!), most aficionados enjoy helping others, and providing that they aren't on stage at the Albert Hall, they will always help, I've found, and watch them too. It's all about passing the skills on and keeping the music alive. It's surprising how much you can learn from watching someone play! After forty years, I still find myself saying, "I must try that", after seeing something done. Along these lines, I give any help that I can to budding young hopefuls who've just got their first guitar.

Never give in! Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, and if you see something done, then you know that it's possible to do, and you can do it too! Records and CD's can be helpful here, strum along if you can, leave the instrumentals to Django, he's better at it than you!

Finally, if you enjoy what you do, it is all that matters! Develop your own style and repertoire, of two or three numbers that you can play really well, and then build on it. In all honesty, two or three numbers will impress an awful lot of people if played very well.

Enjoy yourself and have fun.

Terry Maker

PS. "Zen and the Art of Archery" used to be available from D. G. Quick, The Archery Specialists, Waterlooville, Portsmouth, Hants, (United Kingdom)