Playing Guitar - Protest Songs Revisited

The Easiest Way To Master The Fretboard!Uncle Tim's Building Blocks

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Like so many other people, I have strong feelings about current world events and the way they are unfolding during these very difficult times. That said, I am not interested in turning this column into a vehicle with which I can voice my political opinion. That is not the intention of this article or this newsletter.

Rather, I would like to use these current war events to point out that most of us have little or no voice in these issues. We are not able to express our views loud enough to have them heard. This became apparent to me the first time I really cared enough about an issue to register my opinion. There was very little I could do to contribute my brain power to the situation. This is something that we all must deal with when we find ourselves in the position of wanting to contribute our two cents. Our little voice is one is a sea of humanity.

As musicians of some ability, we are in a somewhat different position than most of the world. Due to our abilities as musicians, we have a unique opportunity to voice our opinions. We can do so in songs. As a person that uses advertising in order to get the word out about my work, I have analyzed communication techniques in an effort to understand it to a finer degree. While advertising can have a significant effect, it is nothing compared to a well written song directed at the right audience. This is one of the most effective means of communicating I have ever seen.

But why? I think the answer is wrapped up in the human mind and what we recognize as important to us. To be frank, most people have never taken the time to develop any musical ability. This in turn leads these people to think they have no musical ability. I have long held that almost everyone has this ability tucked away in their hands and mind. The problem is it has never been given the chance to come out and develop. That said, many people look at guitar players and other musicians as especially gifted people. So they listen. We can do things they perceive they cannot.

In addition to this, the human psyche seems to be tuned to like and desire to have music in our lives. I do not pretend to understand this. But I do accept this phenomena is present. It is because of these and other reasons that musicians have the rare chance to have their voice heard. But just because you can play a guitar and write some lyrics, it does not guarantee anyone will listen. That will depend on many factors including your technical prowess and ability to string notes together to form coherent statements people can identify with. This is a skill that is always under development, no matter how good you are, or are not.

The opportunity to write meaningful songs is magnified during times of conflict. We all have opinions about these issues and guitarists can exploit this. The successful musician will find common threads we can identify with and weave them into a meaningful song. When this happens the musician has successfully taken issues of the day and turned them into pertinent statements others can relate to. This is not as easy as it seems. But that is the nature of art. Everyone interprets things differently and strong volatile issues will have a tendency to polarize people's views. They will either be able to relate to your position or they will disagree with it. Sometimes artists can capture strong sentiments and echo them back to society in songs. When this happens the artist has truly captured the feelings and emotions of the day and elevated their status in society. The stronger the connection, the more people can identify with it. The more they identify with it, the stronger your song becomes. But even more important then your career and your elevation to recognized levels, you have the opportunity to help people.

After Paul McCartney's wife passed away, he publicly said he took comfort with Sara McLaughlin's song, " In The Arms Of An Angel". I am sure Ms. McLaughlin did not know her song would travel into his heart and provide comfort, but I am sure she is happy it did. These are truly powerful gifts to contribute to society. They shape the musician and provide a real sense of accomplishment. They will make you feel like you are tapping your true potential as a musician as well as contributing to society in a meaningful way.

Songs are a way of placing a stake in the sand. They mark an event and the passage of time. They are a way of capturing the meaning of the time and years later, they can take us right back to the moment the song was first heard.

Do not be fooled into thinking your songs must be complicated in order to succeed. People seem to respond to simple songs as well as complex ones. It is the emotional tug on our collective heart strings that connect people and help them to identify with their feelings. Do not be surprised if some of your work makes people cry for what has been communicated. Songs are indeed quite powerful.

Times like these make it easy to find a subject to write about. Maybe you feel this war is unjust. Maybe it brings our your patriotism. Maybe you feel the President of the United States is doing the right thing or making big mistakes. If you can combine powerful events with thought processes shared by many people, you can capture and echo the feelings of an entire nation or even the world.

It can start with a small snippet of notes and issues that run through your brain. When I first wrote Uncle Tim's Building Blocks, I thought it would be a powerful piece of work that would help musicians over the world. I did not know this would be the case, but I thought it would. After I sold 75,000 copies of this series, I began to hear back how it has changed many lives. It did not cause them to think like me, but it did help them to see into the issues of guitar and form their own opinions. In a sense it made them more aware of what they can do. That is the greatest gilt I believe I can contribute to musicians today. All because I had an idea and I chose to develop it. No guarantees, just good thoughtful work that one day helped many, many people. You can do it too, just be examining what is important to you, in your life and communicating it to us thoughtfully. Guitarists have a special gift, it is up to each of us to convert that gift into a tangible piece of art. It has the potential to change your live as well as the lives of millions. Songs are the single biggest tool for communication available to guitar players today.