When I started learning the guitar 10 years ago, I knew it would be different from classical trombone. Some of the differences surprised me.
I never dreamed I would give so much attention to my fingernails. I don't keep my nails extra long like some classical and fingerstyle guitar players do, but I file them every morning to maintain a certain length. If I chip a nail, it's a tragedy. On the plus side, I stopped biting my nails the day I picked up a guitar.
When I first began playing the guitar, I could only play for a short length of time before the pain in my left hand fingertips grew too much to bear. I gradually developed callouses, and now my left hand fingertips are permanently numb. Interestingly, my fingertips will start to burn toward the end of a gig that lasts 3 or more hours. So my left hand fingertips either feel pain or nothing.
Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or in some cases, Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. When I was a trombone player, my gear consisted of a trombone and mutes. As a trombone player, I would see someone on stage with an acoustic guitar and marvel at how simple it looked. Not until I started gigging did I realize that the guitar was just one piece of the puzzle. I also needed an amp and cables. Batteries. Effects pedals if I was playing a musical or in a rock band. For many venues and every wedding gig ever, you need to bring a PA system. And there are the guitars. I've owned several guitars over the past 10 years. Now I'm down to four that I play on a regular basis. The only things left on my wish list are an AER Compact 60 amp, and a wireless microphone. Once I get those two pieces of equipment, I'll finished buying new equipment. Really. I can stop any time I want.
As a trombonist, I never had to look for gigs. I was in an Air Force band. Someone else booked the gigs. My job was to go wherever someone pointed and play a show. As a freelancer, things are very different. I count myself very lucky to have found a steady Friday gig with Godfrey and Guy, but I'm still on the hunt for wedding gigs, dinner parties, and another steady gig on a different night. Who knew that looking for work would be more work than the actual work itself?
As an Air Force trombone player, I didn't need to diversify. I was hired to play in the concert band, and I was a decent section player in the jazz band. That was about as diverse as I got. Today, I'm a guitar player, church music director, music engraver, and teacher.
I never planned on being a guitar teacher. At the time I began learning guitar, I was music engraving full time. The plan was to engrave and practice during the day, and to gig on weekends. I didn't expect the guitar to take over as much as it did, to the point where I do very little music engraving. Somewhere along the way, I began teaching private lessons and discovered that I really enjoy it. I'm branching out as a teacher, too. I've begun teaching beginning piano lessons and exploring the possibility of teaching general music to youngsters. Teaching used to be "Plan B," but it has become one of my favorite things.
Being a Soloist
When I was a classical trombone player, it was intimidating to play a solo. Most of my playing was in bands and orchestras, where I was part of a section. As a guitarist, and particularly as a jazz musician, I am usually the only one playing a guitar. Unless I'm playing in a big band like the Sentimental Journey Orchestra, I'm going to be called upon to play a lot of solos. Playing a solo gets my adrenaline pumping a little bit, but it's not nearly as scary as it used to be.
While it was rare for me to play a solo as a classical trombonist, it was rarer still that I had to improvise. If playing a solo intimidated me, then improvising was downright terrifying. When I first began playing guitar, I intended to be a folk player. The plan was to come up with some nice arrangements and interesting accompaniments, but never to improvise. Little did I know that I would meet up with a teacher who would get me hooked on jazz. I'm not the greatest improviser in the world, but I'm making progress and having fun with it.
Classical trombone was fun in its own way. I enjoyed the music, and I was part of a small, quirky community of low brass players. As much as I enjoyed trombone, I enjoy the guitar even more. Part of it is the diversity of styles. Depending on the situation, I might be playing jazz, blues, rock, acoustic, or even faking my way as a classical player. As a jazz player, I enjoy being able to just show up and sit in with a group on a gig and hold my own. I've always been a music theory geek, and I find that jazz guitar to be an endlessly fascinating puzzle.
I knew that playing guitar would be fun, but I had no idea! My body is beginning to betray me as my knees and back are slowly giving out, but guitar is going to keep my spirit young for a long time.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.