Q&A JANUARY 2013, Part V
2/11/2013 (updated 2/17/2013)

Dear Richard, I find myself feeling somewhat desperate. I know this because I am asking this question of you. I find it somewhat gauche. Seems that everyone wants to talk about music nowadays, when in fact shouldn't simply listening to it be enough? I've been a fan since I read a great review in Rolling Stone of Across A Crowded Room (imagine that!). I don't know who wrote that review, but I should thank them. I have to laugh a little when reading reviews of your upcoming release Electric that proclaim your fiery return to the cauldron of electric guitar, accompanied by words like "pyrotechnics" and "incendiary". I get the feeling that none of the authors gave Dream Attic a listen, no? ;-)

I am a small-time guitar player of some renown in my small pond. I have still not grown used to the praise I sometimes receive. Kind words like tasty, smooth, and inventive are often used, of which lately I feel I deserve less and less. I do not say the former to bolster my ego, but only to express that others hear things in my playing that they like, some I understand, some I don't. This finally leads me to my question.

I just turned 46 and I find my fingers are becoming cumbersome. My coordination seems to be suffering for the last year or so. I used to take my very good timing for granted, and now I find I'm beginning to stumble…sometimes losing the beat… then taking a measure to regroup while I fill that time with filler. My left hand has begun to become tired and fall behind my right. Simple pull-offs that had become signatures now sometimes stall midway through. And with each stumble or choke, my self confidence takes a hit. It is a vicious circle. I try to stretch often. Professionalism is important to me, and I feel like I am getting closer to a time when I may begin to embarrass myself, and the songwriters and players I play with. I would rater quit than do that.

You of course still sound to me like you are at the top of your game. I wonder if you have ever felt at various ages that you were slipping, and if so what did you do to combat it? Do you warm-up longer than you used to before a show? Do you set your guitars up with lower action than you used to? You certainly don't play less notes than you used to. :-) Concerned in Central PA

Everyone's body is different, and everyone has their own limitations. I could never do some of the repetitious things that orchestral string players do, for instance, and I could never do some of the very physical playing demanded of a concert pianist. Generally, I can still do most things I used to, but I tend to cramp up more, and my right elbow is fairly wrecked, so my mandolin tremelo has slowed down a lot.

In your case, it sounds like the first thing you should do is get yourself checked out by a medical professional, to make sure that the muscles, skeleton and  motor-neuron system are all working normally. If they are, then it's a matter of maintaining muscle by keeping fingers and arms in shape with light weights and exercises, and keeping supple with stretches. It's probably unreasonable for us all to expect to be playing at the highest level into our 90s, like Segovia, but we can fight and try to stave off stiffness and arthritis for as long as we can.

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