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An Introduction To Guitar Craft

by Robert Fripp

Guitar Craft is three things:

  1. A way to develop a relationship with the guitar;
  2. A way to develop a relationship with music;
  3. A way to develop a relationship with oneself.

The exact details of Guitar Craft courses are left open so each may find its own level and discover its own character. During the introductory courses we generally work both individually and in groups, with personal meetings to focus on individual needs. We address the fundamentals of playing the guitar with a pick, rather than discussing music theory.

Courses are as intensive as the student wishes them to be and is able to accept.

Music is a benevolent presence constantly and readily available to all, but we are not constantly and readily available to music. Where there is a certain intensity of application our state can change, and at this point we may find music waiting. So, how to reach this point? The direction of attention is fundamental: little is possible without attention. Relaxation is fundamental: little is possible when we are tense. In a relaxed state with our attention engaged we begin to be sensitive to the needs of the moment.

The introductory course in Guitar Craft, or Level One, is open to all levels of experience, even none at all: the requirement is commitment. We ask that participants come with a clear aim, and the commitment to honor that aim. Emphasis is on how to play, rather than what to play. We address the principles underlying our practice. These principles are applicable in other areas of our lives.

The interests of students attending Guitar Craft courses vary. Some wish to become professional musicians. Others have set themselves to find and establish principles of behavior for their day-to-day living. For these students, the guitar and guitar playing is a secondary concern. Some students are players of considerable experience who have lost contact with the original impulse which lead them to the instrument. They come to rediscover their love of both guitar and music. Friends and relatives of previous students have also taken the course, having seen the affect of Guitar Craft, and wishing to experience for themselves an introduction to a discipline of craft.

Exercises from the series of Primary and Secondary exercises are introduced during the early courses, where appropriate. The Primaries are deceptively simple. The principles which form their basis can provide a foundation for Right Practice if examined and applied intelligently by the student, even the experienced player. Ancilliary exercises related to both these series are available, generally in response to individual needs and as part of the development of a personal program. Very few students attending the introductory courses are ready for all of these exercises, and no-one to date has exhausted their promise.

The timing and manner of introduction varies according to the specific students, course and country in which the course is being held. The exercises are neither fixed nor rigid. In this sense they are not a guitar method as such. As our experience grows, in both the practice of the exercises and the response of students to them, the exercises are modified, adapted, abandoned and developed as appropriate. An exercise is a vehicle for principle and should not become excessively valued for its own sake. To date, only one of the Tertiary series of exercises has been introduced and this to a small number of students.

The Alexander Technique has proven to be very helpful and is a feature of most Guitar Craft courses.

Other exercises available to Level One are related to the Division of Attention, and the Transmission of Qualities. The Division of Attention is an introduction to the practise of co-ordinated functioning. Sophisticated and subtle techniques are properly introduced only in person.

Work with attention is related to the cultivation of a sense of our personal presence, bringing a relaxed and sensitive state within our own volition. The student is presented with a series of challenges, and invited to make an honorable response within their own limitations and talents. Room is given to allow the student to act from their own initiative, and more experienced students are often available to give support and encouragement.

The repertoire of Guitar Craft music, for ensembles of all sizes, is large and growing. Most of it has been written by Guitar Craft students, often working together. Group work, and the mutual support of others, has been a feature of Guitar Craft life and courses. Group work has helped many students to become closer to own personal voice and individuality, and their own real needs.

The management of surprise is a necessary element of the course.

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Guitar Craft's particular contributions to guitar technique and calisthenics are:

  1. A new standard tuning for guitar, the Guitar Craft Standard Tuning:
    C-G-D-A-E-G, from the sixth to the first strings.
  2. The operation of the right hand. Specialities are alternate and cross-picking.
  3. The examination and articulation of the principles underlying a sound personal practice.

We attach importance to establishing a centre of gravity in the body, in the arms and hands, and in co-ordination. We move from our personal centre of gravity outwards towards all aspects of our concern.

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If music is an art and the musician an artist, how can we approach this in a tangible way? Guitar Craft is, as its name implies, a way of craft. We develop an instrumentality of personal functioning which can be directly responsive to the creative impulse of music. Put simply, the musician becomes a trained instrument to be played by music. We approach the intangible by working upon the tangible. At a certain point of application, of concentrated effort, craft becomes an art. This is quite straightforward, exceptionally difficult and continually mysterious.

Any process has a certain number of stages through which we pass if we are to achieve the aim, in this instance of learning to play the guitar. In a sense, these stages are stations on our journey. Each of these stations is qualitatively different from each other, and recognisable as such. Each contains its own challenge. The form this challenge takes may vary and is often not easily apparent. If we wish to undertake the journey in Guitar Craft, and honor our aim, we accept Three Rights and Three Obligations.

Our Three Rights are these:

  1. We have the right to work;
  2. We have the right to pay to work;
  3. We have the right to suffer the consequences of our work.

Where we have rights, we have obligations.

So, our Three Obligations are these:

  1. We have the obligation to work;
  2. We have the obligation to pay to work;
  3. We have the obligation to suffer the consequences of our work.

At Level One we begin to develop a flexible technique based on principle. This is the foundation of a personal discipline. Once established, discipline enables us to become effectual; that is, to make a commitment in time. If this is difficult to grasp, it may be simply practised.

At Level Two we apply GC principles to the learning of Guitar Craft repertoire, which often grows during a course, and working in groups of varying size. We say that there are three contributions which we can make to the group:

One note. If we can only play one note, this is sufficient. To this one note we apply three criteria:

  1. Is it in tune?
  2. Is it in time?
  3. Is it in tone? This means, does it sound good?

If these criteria cannot be honorably met, then we are asked to make the second contribution.

Silence. This is far harder than playing one note. To be silent with all that one is, is exceptionally hard. If this is too hard, one is asked to make the third contribution.

Restraint. This means, we think we can play our one note but actually we know we can't.

At Level Two we occasionally introduce an exercise to extend the moment in which our attention is engaged. There are several forms of this, but the essence is to train the mind to hold a pattern. That is, we train the mind to see integrally. Once established, this enables us to be in contact with all the notes in any piece of music whichever particular note we are playing.

With practice, this can go further.

Level Three is where we test our enthusiasm. Can we apply the quality of our relationship with the guitar to the mundane activities of our life, like cleaning the bathroom and preparing food? So, Kitchen Craft and House Craft are part of Level Three. The longer courses and are a way of practising the life of the musician. This tests the vocational aptitude of those who wish to become professional musicians, or for those who expect the musical life to be glamorous. Boredom is frequently the challenge at Level Three.

Level Four is where a commitment is made for an extended period of time. The standard Level Four course runs for one year, and often one undertakes a personal task for that period of time. Inevitably, our commitment is tested.

Level Five is where the student becomes apprenticed to Guitar Craft, and a commitment is taken to live one's life according to the spirit of this particular way of craft. In a few words, it is this: we act on principle and move from intention. Some may become professional musicians, but this is neither necessary nor appropriate for all.

Level Six is where we work from our own initiative, in response to necessity, regardless of personal likes and dislikes. This is characterised by the development of competence on our instruments, and in performance.

Level Seven is where we present ourselves, our competence and our craft, to the world. We all have specialities developed in response to our personal natures, talents and experience, and the larger necessity. At this point we speak with our own voice.

Level Eight is where we are recognised by the world. On one level, this is where the professional musician is able to earn a living. In craft, if what we present to the world is necessary we are recognised and accepted. In return, we shall be supported. In commerce, if we give the world what it wants the world will take our product and pay us in return. In both cases an expectation is held and a demand made of the musician. One aspect of this is fame, riches and celebrity. Should this be our lot, we learn the intricate network of imprisonment. The challenge at this point is to be in the world, but not governed by the world.

Level Nine is where we let go of attainment, and end this particular process. This end may be of three kinds:

  1. A finish, in which case something is lost: this is generally where the form of the aim has been honored, but not the spirit;
  2. A conclusion, in which case nothing is lost;
  3. A completion, which is a new beginning. Here, something has been gained which becomes available to the future.

There are three appropriate responses at Level Nine:

  1. To take a holiday: this is an act of resting;
  2. To take a sabbatical: this is an act of refreshment;
  3. To present oneself to the future: this is an act of service.

When we have discharged our aim and wish to remain within the larger process which we have been serving, in this case a tradition of craft, we may present ourself as available to the future. Sometimes, as a gift, we may be given a particular work to undertake which is related to our personal talents, nature and experience. Then, we move to Level Ten. This is the first station in a new, but continuing, process.

The Three Recognitions we are asked to be able to make are these:

  1. To distinguish between the stations along our way;
  2. To see ourselves as others see us;
  3. To see others as they see themselves.

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For some of us, Guitar Craft is a way of life. In Guitar Craft we say, there are no judgements: we accept people as they are. We may not have an equality of talent, ability, or experience, but we can be equal in commitment. If we are not equal in commitment, we may be equal in aspiration. When we share the same aim, something becomes possible. In Guitar Craft we say, there are no mistakes. That is, there are no mistakes save one: the failure to learn from a mistake. In Guitar Craft there is nothing compulsory. One is not asked to violate cherished beliefs or accept any of the ideas presented. Rather, a healthy scepticism is encouraged. Although in Guitar Craft nothing is compulsory, one thing is compulsory: to refrain from the use of drugs. In many cultures drug use is socially acceptable, even quasi-legal, but it is incompatible with participation within GC courses. Prior usage is no handicap to admission, although a price is paid. Within the course, although nothing is compulsory, this is compulsory.

The first Guitar Craft course began on March 25th. 1985. As this is being written, on March 25th. 1994, the first Guitar Craft course in Argentina is shortly to begin. During this time there have been some seventy Guitar Craft, or Guitar Craft related, courses on both coasts of the United States and in England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and Japan. Some one thousand students of many nationalities, ages and a diversity of backgrounds have attended. One three year Level Six course, to develop and refine competence in performance, has been attempted. Extended residential courses have been held in various countries for those who have made a commitment to persevere.

The League of Crafty Guitarists has been Guitar Craft's main performance ensemble since December 1985, touring extensively until April 1991. The work of The LCG is to present Guitar Craft to the world at large whether appearing on national television, in concert halls, rock clubs, street busking, even playing to behaviorally challenged children of a small school in Dorset. The members of the ensemble vary, but have usually been drawn from students familiar with the repertoire and who can respond to a performance challenge at short notice. The LCG has performed throughout the US, England, Holland, Israel and Italy, appeared on television in America and England, and contributed to several records. A current project is to release an album drawn from live recordings of the European Spring tour of 1991.

The period 1991-94 has been one of Application and Assimilation for members of The LCG, and others within Guitar Craft, who have made an extended commitment. Several small performance groups work under their own names, and other groups meet to practice together.

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A school of craft resonates and attracts those who have a sympathetic resonance with that craft and who belong within the tradition. A school also attracts some who, for various good reasons, should not take part in the work of the school. Information about the school presented in this manner, as an introduction and invitation to this way of craft, acts in three main ways:

  1. To inform those who are likely to benefit from involvement in the craft;
  2. To put off those who are likely to benefit from involvement in the craft;
  3. To put off those who are unlikely to benefit from involvement in the craft.

Those in the first category will be attracted for the right reasons. Those in the second category will be attracted for the right reasons, and possibly the wrong reasons. This introduction is a technique for, in part, setting the right reasons in conflict with the wrong reasons within the student. The potential student will then clarify their aim in approaching the school, and consider the price to be paid in going further. In some schools entrance is denied repeatedly until the instructor recognises that a change in the student has taken place, which then enables their participation in the work of the school. Those in the third category may be unsuitable for the school, or the school may be unsuitable for the student.

Experience shows us that much is possible, even sometimes the impossible, but the work of craft is too hard for casual interest. Better stay away and have an easier life.

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Application:

The accomodation is adequate, but not necessarily comfortable. Work will be done on acoustic guitars with steel strings and the Guitar Craft Standard Tuning. Students should bring an acoustic instrument, metronome, guitar strap or footstool, and watch or clock. It is advised that students not play for the week preceding the course, if compatible with their commitments. The recommended guitar is the Ovation Shallow Body Cutaway (model no. 1867) or failing this any other Ovation is preferred. Students on American courses may take advantage of our close relationship with Ovation and a music store to buy any model at a reduced price.

A fluency in the English language is an advantage. The minimum age is eighteen.

A Level One, or Introductory Course, generally lasts from three to six days and the cost includes food, lodging and instruction. We recommend that this money is raised as far as possible by the work of those who wish to attend, rather than by borrowing: this is a valuable preparation for the course and, in a sense, part of it.

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Enquiries relating to Guitar Craft should be addressed to:

IN SOUTH AMERICA:
Pablo Mandel
Av. de Los Incas 3602 - 10p
1427 Capital Federal
Buenos Aires
Argentina
Tel/Fax: 54 1 552-2195
GCGN at cano dot com dot ar
IN EUROPE:
Wolfgang Meyer
Hamburg
Germany
wolfmey at t-online dot de
IN NORTH AMERICA AND ELSEWHERE:
Murray Kopelberg
340 Potter Street
Madison, WI 53715
USA
Tel: (608)251-1623
mkopelbe at students dot wisc dot edu

1994 Guitar Craft Seminars. All rights reserved.


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