What I Learned Teaching Myself To Play the Guitar

guitarLast December I mentioned that I’d decided to teach myself to play the guitar. Aside from slicing up my fingers too bad that I couldn’t play for a week in January, a couple of days when I was in Chicago for Cubs Con and my guitar was not, I played every day in the beginning and as the year has gone on I haven’t been quite as dedicated, but I do play most days of the week.

After a year of this, here’s what I can tell you.

I’m terrible.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I’m better than terrible. I’m even better than bad, but not quite as good as okay. My hands are too small to play a lot of chords successfully, but I can play some well enough; I can’t strum with a pick, but I don’t do too badly with my fingers; I can’t play the songs I know that well, but I can play them well enough that you might recognize them if I tell you what they are. I think I’m at my best when I playing three of the four scales that I know.

(For the record, the songs I can somewhat play include a bunch of Monkees songs, a few Christmas carols, “Do You Love an Apple”, “Cryin’ in the Rain”, and “Good Morning”.)

It is clear that I do not possess that musical gene required to be able to pick up an instrument and understand it within a few months and probably not even a few years. I can play the chords, but I can’t speak the language. In a way, it’s a drag because I love music and have always dreamed of having some latent ability to create it.

But in a way, it’s also kind of a freeing thing for me to have this sort of hobby that allows me to be bad at something, to only do it because I enjoy it. I’m not trying to make money off of it. I’m not trying to be taken seriously. It differs from a lot of my other creative work because I’m doing it for pure enjoyment. I enjoy writing, of course, but it’s business, too. It’s work. I have to hold it up to a certain standard. I enjoy making jewelry and sewing and drawing, but those things also have a certain standard because in the end I want to create something useful. Even drawing, which is my worst thing, when I’m finished with a picture, I want it to be good enough that you’d at least hang it in a kid’s room.

The guitar, though, is pure fun. And it’s fun being allowed to be bad at something for a change and just play with it.

If I can’t learn the language, I’ll make up my own.

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