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.

I’m Trying to Teach Myself to Play Guitar…Again

Music noteSeveral years ago, possibly in the neighborhood of fifteen if I really think about it and piece together clues from my kinda garbage memory, I asked for and received a guitar for Christmas. I like music a great deal and I thought it’d be great to learn how to play guitar. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal to teach myself the how-to’s. After all, ain’t that how it was done in the old days?

Yeah, well, as usual, I underestimated myself.

I probably only played my cheap little acoustic a handful of times in the first month that I had it and then I put it away in my closet to be ignored. I think I got it out a few times when I cleaned my closet and at some point I managed to lose the strap and the little guitar bag it came in (it didn’t have a proper hard case), but the point is, it’s sat mostly neglected. Aside from learning like two chords in a half-assed manner, that guitar got very little use.

Two reasons for this, both of which happen to be fundamental aspects of my personality and also great pains in my large posterior and can be explained with one story that my mother loves to tell.

One day, when I was about three years old, I was found in my grandparents’ closet with a book on my lap and I was crying. My papa asked me what was wrong. The problem? I couldn’t read the book. I was mad and frustrated and disappointed and upset because at three I couldn’t read this book I had chosen. I’d only just started reading words, you see, and I thought that I should have been able to read ALL of them.

I still have a tendency to be like that. If I can’t get something right away, particularly if I think I SHOULD be able to get it right away, then I get really frustrated by my inability to get it. And then I beat myself up for being an incompetent stupidhead and eventually end up giving up. This doesn’t happen with everything, but it has happened with more than I’d like to admit and probably a lot more than should have been allowed.

You’ll notice that I was trying to read that book in a closet. You wouldn’t know it by the fact that I blog and the way I run my mouth on Twitter, but I’m actually a very secretive person. I don’t like people knowing I’m doing things, particularly if I’m learning new things. I don’t need people asking me questions and frowning at me and putting doubts into my head. I do that enough without help.

So fifteen or so years ago I never learned to play the guitar because I was frustrated I wasn’t picking up the chords fast enough and  I didn’t want anyone hearing me practice. I live in a small house. Shutting the door just doesn’t cut it.

This past weekend, though, I got the urge to learn to play the guitar again. I thought of how much easier it would be with the ready Internet access for handy tips and the downloadable apps for tuning and learning chords. It’d actually be really easy, much easier than the first time when all I had was a book and no means to properly tune. And it could be fun.

Writing has slowly worn away that hang-up I have about being perfect the first time. It’s okay to make a mess and be terrible at something at first. And who cares if the other people in the house can hear me? They don’t care if I can hear their Jerry Springer and midnight conversations when I’m trying to sleep. They can put up with my guitar.

In conclusion, I’m giving it another go. Let’s see if I do better this time around.

Also, callouses.