Selfishly, this winter in particular, has been a bildungsroman of sorts, with me as the main character. Because of the crisp and bitter cold these past six months, my busking has been nondescript, frustrating in fact. The few times I’ve ventured out, I’ve had to bundle to the point of non-recognition, strumming with fingers that go numb, blowing didge drones that go nowhere.
Before I was a busker, I loved the winter season! At six years old, Kimmy and Larry and Brent and I used to roll around on the blue sastrugi that had piled throughout our village. And then came hockey.
Being and ex-NHL’er I would be remiss not to recollect, for the readers, my ordinary beginnings on winter ice. Skating at five years old and playing hockey at ten, Kimmy and Larry and Brent and I would hop down to the rink every day to skate for the Vanguard Eagles hockey club. We did this in Wee Wee, in Pee Wee, in Bantam, Midget, and finally, Senior. Fact: All four of us went on to play in the NHL for many years -- the NHL (the Notekeu Hockey League).
After my NHL days I played hockey for the Swift Current Indians in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and the Villagers in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Also, during the winter season most people in the village of Vanguard curled. First we had jam-can curling in elementary school, graduating to the community curling rink for high school. A decade later I curled for the Department of Highways in Regina, Saskatchewan, and the Village Hotel in Kamloops, British Columbia.
(Notez Bien: During my salad drinking years in Kamloops, British Columbia, I was an evening patron of the Kami Lounge situated within the Village Hotel on Tranquille Road. George, John, and Rick were the bar managers and the lounge was my homey hang-out. As a community gesture, the Village Hotel sponsored a couple of sports teams, curling and hockey, and I was cast as the captain of both.)
That was a long time ago. Curling, I’ve since grown to hate; Hockey, a Canadian religion, I still worship.
Back to my bildungsroman:
Saskatchewan winters being so bitterly cold and adversary, I’ve decided to wave the white flag and retreat to indoor bastions, regaling for those in hospitals, retirement communities, and coffee houses. This is all fine but … I tend to thrum and sing the same playlist over and over and over again. This is never good for busking.
This winter I’ve been working on some specific strumming techniques for my spring thaw and summer buskpots. I’m trying to acquire more shine to my old shoe strum and thrum patterns. This particular winter I’ve practiced mainly on the Nick (nicknamed after my band mate), the Knock (a percussion technique), the Scrub (a nails back and forth brush strum), and the Neil (nicknamed after me). I’m still practicing the Carter (nicknamed after Maybelle Carter, of the famous Carter Family).
Keep in mind I always wear a thumb pick while strumming my guitar. Also keep in mind that while strumming a guitar, the 1st string is the one closest to the floor, and the 6th string the one closest to the ceiling.
What I call the Nick is just a regular Country & Western thumb and trigger finger slow -action 4/4 strum. Strumming the Nick, I alternate the thumb from the root base notes of each chord (usually the 6th string to the 5th string) and strumming up and back again with my the pad of my trigger finger.
The Knock is simply a knocking percussion style using the knuckles of my strumming right hand. It’s the same motion as knocking on a door, except I do my knocking just under the 1st string. Before each knock, I strum downwards, palm facing out, extending my fingers, brushing the strings with my trigger, index, and ring fingernails (in this same order).
The Scrub is simply mimicking a scrubbing of all six strings, my strumming hand flexed in semi-fist position, rubbing down and up and down and up, repeatedly in a 4/4 or 3/4 beat, using only the top edges of my fingernails.
The Neil has become my signature frail. It’s like a banjo frail but I use the thumb (the same as I do in the Nick, wearing a thumb pick, alternating down strokes on the root base note (again usually the 6th and 5th strings), followed by an up stroke (pulling/plucking) of the ring, index, and trigger finger pads, in this very order. Mainly I employ the Neil in 4/4 rhythms.
And, the last strum to describe is the Carter. I’ll use the G chord for a simple description. Holding the G chord with my left hand fingers, with my thumb pick on my right strumming hand, I pluck downward on the root base note of the G chord, which is the 6th (E) string, followed by strumming down on the rest of the strings three more times for 4/4 time, two more times for 3/4 time. For the C chord, my first down stroke onto the root base note is the 5th (A) string, followed by strumming downward on the rest of the strings, three more times for 4/4 time, two more times for 3/4 time.
To complete my bildungsroman in the inchmeal guitar sense, it has taken this chilly willy winter to advert my mind to other things, mainly these rather simple but effective strumming and thrumming techniques for the up and coming busking season.
My winter of discontent has proved to be my winter of foment, producing a distinct cowboyographic opus of thrums to be auctioned to my consumers in the coming summer throngs.
Strummin’ is icumen … Summer is Icumen!