Guitar

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Somewhere around a decade ago, I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar. In high school, I had been a low-to-moderately talented trombone player — good enough to hold first chair in my school and fifth chair in the all-district band but probably not good enough to qualify for all-state — but don’t consider myself to be especially musical in general. For example, I can’t hear a note or chord and name it. I also can’t just decide to belt out a given note in my own voice. I can pick out simple melodies on a piano with trial and error but can’t just sit down and play a thing by ear.

So, about a decade ago, I bought a cheap acoustic guitar off ebay and spent a week or two trying to make my pretty non-dexterous fingers bend to the shapes required to play some basic chords. It hurt my fingers and I felt like I wasn’t making much progress, and it didn’t take me too long to give up. It’s been years since I gave that guitar to a friend who had mentioned being interested in playing again but didn’t have an instrument.

Last month, my company held an all-hands meetup as we do every year, and one of the activities during the meetup (these things are a mix of work and play) was a set of jam sessions with rented instruments. People who were able to play the various instruments that were available met during the week to play together. A set list emerged, and on our closing night party, colleagues rotated in and out of the band as they played a 40-minute set that was extraordinarily well done and fun. It was a real rock concert put on by people I knew (who I hadn’t previously known were musicians), and it was energizing and inspiring and fantastic all around.

It made me want to think about trying the guitar again. My fingers are almost debilitatingly un-nimble. Sure, I can type 80 or 90 words per minute in bursts, but otherwise, it’s like I’m working with meat hooks. I’m unable with either hand to form the classic American sign for the number three, for example. My fingers just won’t do it. They all bend together as if connected by thread, and it’s sort of physically uncomfortable to try. I had read that an electric guitar had a skinnier neck and was easier to play in terms of fretting, so a couple of weeks ago, I bought a starter guitar. I’ve been practicing pretty diligently ever since, using an app called Yousician to guide me.

I like Yousician a lot. It offers brief video tutorials for various skills and a karaoke style experience that teaches you to play and grades your performance. As you acquire skills and pass tests, you unlock new skills. Rather than just blindly trying to play random chords without knowing whether you’re even doing it right, you get instant feedback and learn chords in an order that I presume is pretty intentionally planned out (E, Em, Am, C, G, E5, A5, and D5 so far). There are two tracks you can follow — lead and rhythm. I started with lead and within a day or two was reading tabulature (ish) and playing simple songs. I followed that track for a couple of weeks and then decided to back up and start at the beginning for the rhythm track. Now I can play and switch between a handful of chords and play a rhythm part for some simple songs.

I have a ridiculously long way to go before I’ll feel like anything but a buffoon with this guitar, but I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve made so far, and even though I wouldn’t yet call what I’m doing making music, it’s neat to feel like I’m heading in the general direction of being able to make music.

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