Saturday morning, after crossing the river for doughnuts at the best damn doughnut shop in Portland (hint: it’s not Voodoo but rather a little hole-in-the-wall place on NE Alberta called Tonalli’s that has a killer buttermilk bar, among other offerings), the kids and I were driving around the ‘hood, scouting out garage sales as we often do on weekend mornings. There weren’t many – probably thanks to lousy weather and the fact that it was a holiday weekend – but we did find a couple. At our first stop, there was a guitar for sale.
I’ve wanted a guitar for ages, and I’ve been on the lookout for an inexpensive used one. This was a full-sized Burswood acoustic guitar in very good condition with just a few minor scuff marks. Amazingly, they were only asking $20 for it. I have never found a guitar of this quality for less than $60, and I’ve been searching for a long time. So, I did the natural thing.
I walked away.
“That’s a really good price,” Audrey said on the way to the car. She’s eleven, and even she knows a good deal when she spots one.
“It is, huh?” I replied, stopping dead in my tracks. I don’t have a lot of money these days – hence my hesitation – but my wallet was crammed with fives and ones, and after all, I have been wanting one. So I retraced my footsteps, nonchalantly picked up the guitar, gave it the once-over, and then announced “I’ll take it!” and handed over twenty bucks before they could change their minds. A smile played at the corners of my mouth as we drove away, and a Bryan Adams song flitted through my head as I realized, I got my first real six-string.
The mere act of owning a guitar made me feel instantly cool. I was suddenly in good company with many of my heroes. Kurt Cobain. Jimi Hendrix. Eric Clapton. Springsteen. Dylan. What boy (or, umm, 42 year old guy, in this case) doesn’t dream about playing in a rock ‘n roll band? Plus, let’s face it: chicks dig guitar players. For the record, I am open to having groupies. There’s only one slight problem, one possible hitch in the rock ‘n roll fantasy.
I haven’t the faintest idea how to play it.
Growing up, I was never musically inclined. I could play a mean kazoo, but beyond that…nada. However, I never really tried. And musical ability runs in the family – my grandfather played saxophone in the Army band, and my mom and various aunts and uncles all played instruments. Plus, there’s the whole right brain aspect of my personality. I tend toward the artistic and creative side, by far. So I’m hoping I can teach myself to play guitar fairly easily. Learning to play was, in fact, one of my unwritten New Year’s resolutions for 2011 (along with “getting a goat” and “making out with Jenna Fischer,” neither of which is likely to happen, I now realize).
So yesterday, I fired up GarageBand, the super awesome and versatile software program for my Mac that includes, among other things, a basic guitar tutorial. I sat down and watched while Tutorial Dude Tim taught me how to properly hold the guitar and to tune it. All you’ve got to do is pluck each string and the built-in tuner tells you to tighten or loosen them until you’ve got the right pitch. Thank GOD…I wouldn’t have the faintest clue how to tune a guitar otherwise! Then I learned about the various parts of the guitar, like what the little knobby things are (note to self: stop calling them “little knobby things” if you really hope to land groupies), and how to properly hold a pick. Then came the fun part: positioning my fingers around the fret and strumming an E chord. I had this stupid, cheesy grin on my face and had to resist shouting,
“I MADE MUSIC!!!”
Hey, told you I was a newbie at this guitar stuff. Don’t make fun of my excitement. My initial thought – other than I hope chicks also dig bloody fingers because, man alive, playing makes your fingers hurt (something which Tutorial Dude Tim says is natural and will go away after a few weeks of practice…yes, weeks…) – was, hmm…this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
And then I got to lesson 2 this morning. Suddenly there were chord diagrams and G chords and C chords and chord progressions, and Tutorial Dude Tim was infuriating me by making it look simple. “You’ll want to switch chords quickly, in one fluid motion,” he intoned, his fingers flying across the neck of the guitar effortlessly. “Slow down!” I shouted at the computer, still trying to figure out how to make the first three fingers on my left hand stretch enough to fit in their proper positions, which I kept promptly forgetting anyway. I would finally get them in the right spots on the C chord, and then he’d switch to the G chord. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the simple strumming pattern I’d memorized the day before – down, down, down, up, down, up – was replaced by something much more complex. Down, down, up, down, up, down, sideways twist, stand on your head, juggle apples with your third hand while chewing gum and reciting the alphabet backwards. I began to despise Tutorial Dude Tim. I was hoping I might be an idiot savant, but sadly I suspect I’m only half right.
So, it turns out playing the guitar is hard work. My fingers are throbbing and every keystroke involving the left side of my keyboard is agony. Deciphering the chord diagrams is about as easy as explaining rocket science to my cat – in Latin – and I can strum about as well as I can pitch a perfect game in the World Series. However, mama didn’t raise no quitters – well, except for my shady brother (kidding there, Scott!) – so I’ll plow on, until one day I can play the guitar halfway decently.
I may be 80 by then, but hey, the blue-haired ladies in the retirement home will be tripping over their walkers to get a piece of this.
- How do guitar learners stay motivated and start “knowing” the fretboard? (ask.metafilter.com)