Finger-style guitarist Don Alder has pushed his abilities to impressive heights, but now he’s working to become a singer/songwriter, and he’s headed to Parksville Feb. 1. — Courtesy Don Alder

Celebrated guitarist performing in Parksville Feb. 1

Don Alder is in search of the right words as he aims to be known as a singer/songwriter

Don Alder is known as a multiple-award-winning guitarist with an amazing finger style, but he’s always felt like a singer/songwriter in search of the right words.

Alder is headed to the MAC (McMillan Arts Centre, 133 McMillan St., Parksville) for a Feb. 1 performance, where he’s hoping to impact the audience with more than his impressive and complicated finger-style technique.

He’s planning to play, speak and sing from the heart.

Alder said he was late to the party when it came to acoustic finger-style techniques, though he said just about his only influence back in the day was Bruce Cockburn.

“I wasn’t technically trained,” said Alder.

“The only thing I could do was use my ear, and because I didn’t know about different tunings, I could never figure out what he was doing.”

Despite taking a break from music in 1985 while taking part in his friend Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour, Alder developed his own technique and was also influenced by musician Michael Hedges.

“I’d never been able to mimic their styles,” said Alder.

“I played drums, and so my right hand was always pounding on the guitar… it’s been an evolution process.”

But all along the way has been an interest in going beyond the acoustic guitar performances and becoming a singer/songwriter.

“If I could finish off some tunes, I’d probably have two albums worth of singing tunes,” he said.

But finding the right words has always been a struggle, he said.

“One of my great weaknesses is lyric development,” he said.

“I listen to the radio, and I go, ‘Man, I can do that,’ because they are such simple lyrics, but when you actually put down your own simple lyrics when you don’t have a lot of experience wordsmithing, you look back at your own simple lyrics and go, ‘Man, that’s like Grade 1. That sucks.’ So it takes me a long time to come up with songs.”

Many of his songs have begun as something he’s intended to put lyrics to, but have become acoustic pieces at least until he can finish writing.

However, a big clue for Alder into writing and speaking from a genuine place came from watching Hansen, he said.

“I’m a very shy kind of person, so I wouldn’t normally talk about things, but when I was on tour with Rick, one of the things that Rick always did was speak to audiences.”

Listening to his friend speak and inspire people, Alder said he eventually realized that Hansen wasn’t just saying the same things each time.

“Every time he’s going up there he’s winging it,” said Alder. “That was kind of a valuable lesson for me,” Alder said.

It’s a lesson he takes with him on stage in an effort to better connect with people.

“It may not always be eloquent, but it’s from the heart and I think people, it seems to me since I’ve been doing it, that people seem to resonate with that.”

And while some may be interested most in the speed and technical ability of his guitar-playing, or his many awards, Alder said his effort has always been to use technique to create something that’s not just impressive, but that’s fun and catchy and gets people moving.

“I’m trying to come up with a song that people can hum to or stamp their foot to,” said Alder.

Alder will be performing at the MAC on Feb. 1 starting at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $18, or $15 for OCAC members.

They can be purchased at the MAC, by calling 250-248-8185 or online at

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