I have a guitar and sometimes I pick at the strings before I retire for the evening. Regrettably, I can’t produce much that is recognizable. It’s just an elementary condition related to a lifelong neglect of this kind of activity. My brain plasticity has produced a tough layer of rythmic dissonance between my grey hair and grey matter like a skin of old playdough or expired custard.  

What I have come to understand is this- guitar players whom I have taken for granted as providers of background music were in fact some extremely clever fellows.

In trying to convert the sheet music of a few players into sound, I have come face to face with the truth of their talent. And I am humbled. Most people learn this well before their fifties. But not me. My insights are hard won and accumulate when most of the other runners have already passed the finish line.

I was just surfing Youtube for guitar players like Chet Atkins, Leo Kottke, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck,  and a few others.  Another way of looking at the spectacle of their art is this:  Behold what neurons are capable of!! The player’s central nervous system seeks maximum satisfaction in the refinement of the exercise of producing sounds from an external object. It is a feedback loop that explores for a target state and, through brain plasticity via evolving neuron interconnectivity, refines its own capacity to produce a desired effect.  What an amazing universe it is that can produce such things.

And what an amazing demonstration of the marvel of brain biology. Even if they find the Higgs boson next week, we’re still a long way from a fundamental mechanistic understanding of how someone learns to excel at Spanish guitar.

Lately I’ve been listening to Trombone Shorty. He has brought new life to that venerable background instrument, the trombone. This is from his album Backatown.

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