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Cool Tommy Emmanuel interview and fingerstyle lesson


Phil O'Keefe
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I often wonder if these workshops Tommy holds every year are worth it. As much as I admire his technical ability and how he radiates joy when he plays I know that I could never play EXACTLY like him so I've given up trying. That's not to say that I don't have a passable interpretation or two of his tunes in my repertoire but that at some point I figured out that a big part of being a musician was by interpreting the works of others and "making it your own" - something which Tommy himself does with many of his popular offerings. If we were to break it down, while learning sweeping harmonics and percussion to our "bag of tricks" make seem like a nice feather to stick in your cap it can also limit you greatly as a musician. Even Tommy is aware of this and uses it judiciously.

That being said, given how busy Tommy is I wouldn't expect a "concentrated" lesson from him either. A couple of years ago I paid extra for the preshow "encounter" and chatted with him for all of 3 minutes. I asked him how he played a certain passage in a song and he really didn't tell me anything detailed about it that I couldn't figure out myself by sitting down with a recording and a guitar. Looking back I should have brought my guitar and just asked him to play it so that I could watch up close and see what his hands were doing instinctively. At his level of expertise, a lot of his technique is muscle memory and "economy of motion." My ears are adequate enough to pick up on dynamics and rhythms - even if my hands still have to learn what to do.

BTW, there are plenty of resources online from other sources that can teach you about "Travis picking." Paul Winfield put out a great video about 10 years ago that really broke the technique down into its core components quite nicely. I can't seem to find it, but he did something similar more recently:

 

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If I thought of playing guitar as an exercise in copying other players I'd probably not enjoy it as much. I was playing Classical Gas on a Yamaha FG230 in late 74, having woodshed it for a year, and 6 months later put the guitar down for almost 30 years. Tommy is a couple months older than me. I sometimes wondered if I'd be anywhere near his level had I stayed as disciplined over the years as I was that first year. Then I realized probably not because I'd lost interest in listening to published music just before I quit playing to focus on writing. Tommy did the opposite. He doubled-down on his study of other players as icons to emulate where I drifted off to study just the guitar in a direction of my own. Then, life occurred and it was not defined by the acoustic guitar as Tommy's was.

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