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Recording Acoustic Guitar… and Hand Percussion!

In the early days of my project studio I had the whimsical idea that my songs would be enhanced by liberal application of hand percussion. So I went round music stores and bought all sorts of shakers and rattles and cowbells, triangles, a tambourine, a cabaasa, brushes, and several items whose names now escape me. I also took the opportunity to pick up a swanee whistle, an ordinary whistle and a mouthorgan. My brother donated a didgeridoo brought back from a business trip. These items remained unused. I never even dreamed of bringing the didgeridoo into service, particularly since my one and only effort to coach a sound from it failed utterly and in fact lasted leas than a minute.

I did overdub many songs with items from my collection with variable results. I think I drove our cat crazy and my moved the television to the other end of the house. The sound of an enthusiastically struck cowbell can penetrate all but the most effectively acoustically treated room.

I even bought a sound module containing samples of various drum kits which I attempted to “play” by way of a MIDI keyboard. The results of these efforts were not variable: they were consistently awful. Several songs got the full treatment of hand percussion and MIDI enabled Hell. The resulting cacophony signaled the beginning of the end. I’m a slow learner, but I got message. I’m not a percussionist.

My strict adherence to simple guitar and vocal these days is not so much borne out of a desire for purity, but more having arisen from these experiences during the early days of my studio. I guess I could hire musicians but I’ve also learned that the risk of other parts “getting in the way” of the songs is real and makes the effort hardly worthwhile. A sort of “less is more” outlook has taken over my aesthetic sensibilities, particularly since the songs themselves appear to be getting more convoluted in form and arrangement.

The assorted hand percussion was eventually gathered together and tossed into a large plastic bag and donated to the local primary school. The contents of the bag seemed to clatter in protest as my wife hauled it out the door for delivery. We got a letter of thanks from the school a few days later and sometimes in the morning, before the mists have completely risen from the hills opposite, I believe I can just hear from afar the rhythmic hiss of something being shaken.

I sold the sound module to a jazz guitar player who had similar MIDI driven dreams of adding drums to his playing.

The Didgeridoo remains supine and gathering dust behind a sofa.

I threw the mouthorgan and whistle away.

The cat’s in rehab and my wife moved the TV back.

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