My Martin and I in 1979
I learned to read music in seventh grade band class: fourth chair trumpet. My brother played the clarinet and my sister the flute. Carrying instruments to school was the norm. Around that time dad bought me a Hohner 64 reed chromatic harmonica…which I still have. He played a little and taught me a few songs.
With the harmonica I was able to join the holiday sing alongs where we’d often have a crowd of aunts and uncles singing Christmas carols around the piano. My grandma and my sister-in-law were both piano teachers, and mom was a decent player as well. Dad was the choir director at our church, and his siblings: my aunts and uncles, had great voices.
No one cared if you were a little out of tune, or forgot the song halfway through and had to restart from the beginning. It was all part of the fun. Though my family was very religious, they were never pushy and tolerated us non-believers with a quiet confidence that eventually we’d see the light.
One memorable afternoon mom had the piano tuner in. Grandma was there, along with the normal relatives that gathered for holidays. The tuner guy was a blind man of color from somewhere way down South in the Bible Belt. Think Stevie Wonder. Olympia at that time was very white…but everyone in town knew this guy was the best piano tuner in the county. The way he manipulated the insides of our piano, you would never know he was blind. He had an “aw shucks” humbleness I remember to this day.
After he finished tuning the piano he said he needed to play a song to be sure it was right. To our families’ astonishment he began playing some of the best boogie woogie blues I’d ever heard. The man could play and he was rocking our tight laced Presbyterian world. It was just nuts watching the room go from shock to foot tapping appreciation.
In my own small way I’ve tried to carry on the tradition of amateur musicianship. Not just because it’s a family tradition but because making music is fun. I have a collection of sheet music going back to the 1960’s. But I always keep my eye out for new songs, or old songs I’ve forgotten about. My latest is Take My Breath Away, made popular by a group called Berlin.
If I know the melody and I have some clean chords in my vocal range I can often play a song right from the website on the first try. Finding a new song is like having a new toy…super fun and exciting.
Many times I’ll find chords online but they are presented in a way that won’t fit on one sheet of paper. When you are playing around a campfire there’s very little room. Typically I’ll adjust the key to fit my low voice, copy the pre-formated text from the website and paste it into Word. Or, since I’m retired and don’t like their prices I use the free Libre Office. Then I work the song over for a couple days, fixing the typical flaws that come down with free stuff on the internet.
This is the first time I’ve been home for Christmas in 10 years. I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying playing the old Christmas carols. Those are some mighty fine melodies. I used to just play them with mom. She’d play the piano, with me on the harmonica, but this year I’m learning them on guitar. They have some challenging jazzy style chords…but my oh my they sound nice.
Here are some of my recent favorites songs in PDF form:
- Take my breath away – Berlin
- The Christmas Song – Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas
- I’ll be home for Christmas
- Love yourself – Ed Sheeran
- When I was your man – Bruno Mars
- Angel – Sarah McLaughlin
- Perfect- Ed Sheeran
- Shallow – Lady Gaga
- Space cowboy – Kacey Musgraves
The root folder is here, if you want to see everything I’ve got up there:
At some point I wouldn’t mind putting these all on a big iPad…but for now I print them out and keep them in a ring binder. I keep 4 copies of each song for handing out at jam sessions.
Tutorial on how to fingerpick Shallow:
Take my breath away