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European Tapping Workshop 2013 -- Inzing, Innsbruck, Austria

This is a ridiculously beautiful place. Sadly, I am missing my son’s 16th birthday, but he and I did get to spend nearly two weeks traveling through Navajo land last month. (High points: Canyon de Chelly, Grand Canyon, and Chaco Canyon in midnight moonlight). 

This was our second annual tapping workshop and a huge leap beyond last year’s course. A leap in terms of what we were able to tackle, but also in the level of improvement in peoples' playing. And in only 5 days. We even had two people come who had never played a touch guitar before. By the end of the week they were playing music along with the rest of us. Quite amazing, actually.

This year’s course was held in a different location and with no kitchen staff. Our quarters were much closer and we cooked for ourselves. Both these things could appear to be a drag. But, in fact, they were huge bonuses. This is something proved again and again in the world of Guitar Craft: work well together in the kitchen and you can clearly work better together onstage. Work on either one and both improve.

We were in a very small farming village just outside of Innsbruck in the shadow of the Alps. This is as beautiful as it gets. Though the beauty came with one drawback: flies. Lots of them. I mean, LOTS of them. At night I would kill as many as 50 flies in my room before going to sleep (my rule is if you are in the house then I am the controller of your fate. That doesn’t mean I am going to kill you, but I can. For this week, the disturbing-ness of several flies crawling on my face while trying to sleep warranted immediate death). On two different days we had so many flies in the playing room that the ceiling was covered, as well as dozens of them crawling on each of us. For those who like a challenge, this week delivered!

 Source of the flies? See the Gi-normous pile of horse crap on the left.

We decided to have more of a regular schedule this year. Tobias and Alex led two or more classes a day specifically devoted to the “Family” exercises – a graduated series of tapping practices put together by Markus. They start off deceptively simple and quickly head off into “WTF!" territory. Once you can play these things, then you can do anything you want on these instruments. They also have the advantage of producing incredible playing results very, very quickly. This was proved again not only with our two novices this week but also in my own playing.

Markus and I also took a lot of personal meetings. Last year there just wasn't much time for this as we were leading every class. Tobias and Alex freed us up for this and it was great. We were able to address everyone’s individual concerns – either on their instrument or with their musical vision as a whole. I definitely saw some heads pop open in these sessions, which often came as a realization that they were holding onto ideas that they didn’t need to. I love this.

We played a bunch of music. Lots of circulations. Plus, Markus brought several pieces to the group for us to work with. One of them completely defied me and I will be working on it when I get home. It has a rather challenging 7 in the right hand and a slow pulsing bass line in 3. I got very close to pulling it off in the sessions, but couldn’t quite make it all the way through.

I find it fascinating how many 3’s have been appearing lately. One of my solo pieces for the Mexican show was based in 3 and one of Alonso’s pieces, “Culpa”, was also based in 3. I liked this piece so much that we did a version of it this week. (See the video below.) There is a whole universe of tertiary-based rhythms (3) exploding around me. Once you leave the world of  the “12/8 boogie-woogie shuffle/jazz swing” behind, the World of Three becomes incredibly fascinating and super groovy.

13 Touch Guitars play "Culpa" by Alonso Arreola


We also did a fair bit of ear training. I have always felt like this is consistently under represented in nearly all musical craftsmanship. In fact, I could easily see a group of musicians work only with this aspect and end up becoming fantastic, and evolved, players. This week we worked in small groups, which was perfect. It seemed more effective to group people by ability so we could all work together and everyone could be pushed in the same way.

I had a sense during one of these ear sessions with Tobias and Alex that there is some way to move beyond “exercising” to actual dialogue/trialoguing with our ears. We were working a practice where, from a starting note, one person plays a short phrase. Then beginning on this 1st person’s last note, the 2nd person plays a short phrase. Then beginning on that last note, the 3rd person plays a short phrase. And on around the circle. There is no “fishing” allowed. So when it is your turn to play you would have had to follow 4-6 tones in your inner ear so that you began on the right tone.

I know there is some way to take this to another level where we are actually speaking ideas rather than doing an exercise. Everyone hearing the tones super clearly -- knowing what the melody was made up of and where it falls on their instrument. But the playing moves to a level of dialogue rather than a kind of reiteration. I know from Anthony Blake’s work that dialogue can be practiced. This is something I look forward to cross-examining. But for now, we still have ear work to attend to.

As a short aside, the term “ear training” is a misnomer – our ears don’t need training, they work just fine. What needs training is how we organize our perceptions. In this case -- of what we hear.  What follows on from this is how we connect our hands to our ears. This point was made perfectly again and again in these sessions. In most of the players, including the very beginning players, I would see their fingers going for the right note. But then their intellect would intervene and move the hand to another place on the neck and they would sound out the wrong tone. This happened so often that everyone began to notice it, with each other. Our hands can often exhibit a greater intelligence than our thinking.


We had a morning break on the fourth day and Yoshi gave us our annual “Walk in the Nature.” Super cool. This guy’s work is clearly in the woods. He illuminates so many elemental forces in just a short little walk.

The last day was long for me because I was suffering from some kind of stomach illness. Not pleasant. Maybe I just swallowed too many flies? Fortunately, there was a lot of great playing to distract me.

We wrapped up on Saturday morning, cleaned up the house, and headed in the metropolis of Innsbruck. Everyone went out to hear a gypsy guitar band, but I was too sick to go anywhere. I slept for 18 hours straight before heading to the train station, with Tobias, to zip off to Zurich where the next part of my adventure began.

Back in Innsbruck, this sad Tyrolian-Penis-Man offered to put lotion on my back.

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Reader Comments (1)

Hi Trey

Sorry I missed Europe this year. I am looking forward to Seattle this year though. The first one was such a blast, cant wait.


August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRick Allen

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