Wednesday, 18 April 2018

MS & Guitar?

Mal "in the bliss", playing with "Pengopuss" jazz quintet in late 2016... and my great amp.

NOTE: This is not a "pity-party/woe-is-me" thing, as I'm simply sharing a very brief insight into some of the reasons as to why I may act so "up-and-down" from time to time.

21 February 2018

I have decided to rejoin our Jazz band "Pengopuss", playing guitar - but only on a part-time "when-I-am-able-to" basis.

Nothing has changed for me, MS- or health-wise.

Basically - I miss it all too much! The last five months of not playing has felt wholly unnatural to me, to be honest. The last time I sat-in with them (six weeks ago), it all felt quite normal and readily-adaptable for me, as a player. In other words - it felt good!

Thankfully - Pengopuss happily and readily said yes!

Mine would be a complimentary playing role only [playing with/alongside the new keyboard player, Kalyan], and only when I'm able to. I am definitely NOT replacing Kaylan at all - playing with/alongside him will cause me less stress playing, and help me play better and overplay a lot less.

If I'm having a day when I cannot play, the band can still function efficiently without me, thanks to Kaylan.

Note: I do not want to get paid for any of this, as I'm only doing it for myself. Honestly and seriously.

Plus the social interaction side of it is a huge positive... well, I feel isolated a lot, otherwise.

I'm already learnt the five new songs they are doing now, in just 2 days - yay!

I'm looking forward to this new step forward on my MS journey.

PS. The goofy things you randomly find and go "Bingo!", when out shopping... I saw one of these soft rubber spiked squeeze ball-thingies, and thought they'd be perfect for my #MS "Dizzy Fingers", especially to help me warm-up for guitaring... it works a treat for me! Yay! It doesn't change the symptoms, it just helps warm-up the flexibility in my hands... helps for my typing too :)

Updated: March 2018... catch-22... I "mislaid" (read 'lost'!) my squeeze ball at a gig! D'OH!

15 September 2017

I have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life, in that I am retiring from performing and playing guitar in a live setting.
  • My MS hands prohibit me from playing guitar well, consistently, to my satisfaction.
  • I am unable to physically play what I feel I can play. It's both co-ordination and competency issues, due to the MS.
  • Sitting down to play has become quite restrictive for me.
  • The MS is causing me major lapses in concentration and memory loss, resulting in too many unintentional mistakes - it's embarrassing!
As I said on 21 April 2017, "It's getting harder for me... not that anything physically has changed, I'm just finding it more and more awkward... to keep this pretence 'that I can play OK' up, I think... playing is really hard, and I'm finding it hard that I'm finding it hard, if that makes sense?"

It's a tough decision... it's finally time for me to pull up stumps from playing guitar, but the band doesn't want me to stop (bless them!)? It's all pretty confusing for me at the moment.

But yes, I have retired from playing in our jazz quintet, Pengopuss. I will play the next 2 or 3 gigs with them (last gig was November 2017), and will remain to help their transition with a new player. I'll stay to help out with their PA sound and lighting issues as well. It's definitely not one of these 'musical differences' thing! lol.

I've been playing 'professionally' since 1985... it's not easy to let that go. But I want whats' best for the band... catch-22.

Believe me, I'd love to keep playing... I'm just not convinced that I am physically able to keep playing guitar competently or consistently - that's the issue.

Even sitting at home, strumming along to my beloved Beatles - I am finding what has always come naturally to me, has become a real clumsy struggle. Practise at home for me last night resulted in blood all over the fretboard of the guitar (a great rock'n'roll look, tho! lol), simply because I couldn't feel the cut on my knuckle, caused by MS-led sloppy playing.

Not that anything has changed radically with my MS symptoms, but slowly, very gradually, my hands and fingers are becoming more permanently numb all the time.

I don't want to let people down, but I just realistically think I can't do this guitar thing competently any more. And that is a very "cut to the quick" decision for me - affects my psyche.

The catch-22 is... I am still able to play bass guitar quite easily and well... I can still 'groove'! Maybe it's the fatter stings, I think? Anyway, I'm a bass player by 'trade'... it comes much more easily to me than other instruments, to be honest.

Driving a car is still OK for me at the moment, but I know eventually I will have to make a sensible decision about that as well. This just means I won't be able to get to gigs etc as easily. Catch-22.

Anyways... I knew this time would come... doesn't make it any easier, tho.

NB. Original Post...

When it comes to playing guitar with my MS, it's this 'adapting' thing... I just 'do it', simply because I've been playing for so many years, I think. Playing guitar is a challenge for me, let's admit it. But I can do it, albeit pretty clumsily. It's hard to describe, but it's like playing by rote... my brain tells my left-fingers how to co-ordinate and finger a chord/play a series of notes, but the fingers don't always land exactly where they're supposed to... from years of playing, my fingers kind-of automatically know where they should go! That's the 'playing by rote' bit, I think.

Thankfully, my left-hand (the chord/note fingering hand) doesn't feel too bad (most of the time), so I'm able to finger chords and notes reasonably OK (not as well as I'd wish, but well... it's this 'adapting' thing). It's my right picking hand that can be an effort most of the time - just holding the pick and trying to keep a steady 'feel' going can be a challenge. But I can do it (hell, I've been hacking my way thru things for such a long time, it's a good habit, I suppose!) - which makes me feel satisfied... just more of that subconscious adapting, I guess. I've always been a rhythm player for years, anyways - must just be subconscious habit, I thin?  (It's hard to explain the inexplicable).

Henry, our double-bass player, said to me once, "I don't know how you do it..." I had to honestly reply, "I don't know, either!" It's a bit of a mystery, really. I think it's just after playing for so many years, the chord shapes and rhythm strumming patterns just come almost automatically (albeit clumsily, somedays).

Hot humid conditions slowly render my playing hands totally numb and useless. I had this experience (a brand new experience, actually!) at a Pengopuss gig in March. Symptoms developed as the heat slowly increased during the afternoon indoors' gig. First set - fine. Second set - I had to sit down (I felt a little 'wobbly' on my feet), and my hands were starting to feel less co-operative, and I noticed it harder to play fluidly and consistently. Third set - I couldn't feel my fingers and hands at all! It was so frustrating - but there was nothing I could do! The chords and strumming was still coming (albeit automatically), but everything felt so sluggish for me, playing-wise.

I forgot to take my small fan, as part of my standard gig-bag. But I'm also thinking of adding some instant cooling packs as well - just in case it happens to me like that again, in the future. Maybe a small esky with some frozen ice packs wrapped in an old towel during breaks, as part of my gig-bag, also? Well, if needs be...

I am very thankful to my Pengopuss jazz cohorts, for allowing me the privilege of continuing to play with them. We had a few rehearsals, before we performed at a private function in Bathurst, the day before NYE (2016). Because the numbness was relatively less that night, I was able to (albeit awkwardly) play guitar - tho I had to gaffa-tape a pick to my right thumb, so I could play! I could barely feel the strings under my fingertips as I played, but it worked well for us all. Thanks guys... I honestly thought that it might be the very last time I ever perform live again!

It's frustrating that I have to miss the occasional jazz quintet rehearsal, simply due to hot weather making my hands feel like rubber! Makes it tough to hold - let alone play - guitar. I hate feeling as though I'm letting the other guys in Pengopuss down, but there's nothing I can do about it (which is equally frustrating).

Catch-22... the next day, my hands were comparatively fine. Go figure...

I think one of the most frustrating things for me, when it comes to playing guitar, is - in the weeks leading up to when my MS first kicked-in - I was actually playing probably the best I ever have! Things I was practising on at home in private was truly boundary-pushing for me as a player... really working on solos and different modes and new things for me - and feeling really refreshed as a player as a result. Now, I'm no shit-hot player (not at all)... I'm just an old hack who knows how to adapt when it comes to playing different styles, after doing it for years and years - that's the "playing by rote" thing. Unfortunately - all of that advancing-playing has ground to a shuddering halt now. Thanks, MS...

(21 April 2017) It's getting harder for me... not that anything physically has changed, I'm just finding it more and more awkward... to keep this pretence 'that I can play OK' up, I think... playing is really hard, and I'm finding it hard that I'm finding it hard, if that makes sense?

Blog post: Some questions I answered about playing music, years' ago

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  1. I've played keyboards with MS for 20 years now. I have several times had to miss a gig due to MS flaring up in different ways. My band is flexible enough and they adjust the set list to leave out keyboard-centric songs. My most recent flare-up has both of my hands experiencing what feels essentially like peripheral neuropathy. I'm not playing. I would need to relearn with these hands the way they are. I feel like I have a decision point coming up about staying with the band. It feels pretty shitty, missing gigs. Might have to let it go and focus on other things that feed my soul. I remember one telling a former neurologist about the issues I had with it and his response was akin to 'boo-hoo, trrishie' :-)

  2. I really appreciate your reply - thank you. I'm glad that is a "former" neurologist! What an @sshole!