(Today’s post is brought to you by Do Mi Stauber’s campfire post. Go read it – she is full of awesome.)
I’m learning guitar.
I can’t wait for the day when I can say “learned” instead, when I can look back as an adept (not master: adept), instead of a beginner. “Learned” isn’t the end – “learned” is not just memorizing more than a few chords. “Learned” is being intimately familiar with the instrument. “Learned” is speaking the language, even if there’s still a lot of nuances left to grasp.
But, for now, I am learning guitar.
I’ve taken a three-pronged approach. For one, I’m working through Mel Bay’s Mastering The Guitar. (It is a fantastic pair of books, and I highly recommend them.) For two, I am taking time to sit with my guitars and listen – picking, strumming, playing, letting them teach me how they sing. For three, I am practicing some of my favorite songs – starting with the ones with simple chords. (Lover Please, I am lookin’ at you, baby.)
The guitar is a challenge to me. I have a decent ear, and I sing all the damn time, but coordinating myself on a stringed instrument is not easy. I don’t have perspective on what is good progress, what is good effort, what is good time, so I have fits of stopping and starting, unsure if this is totally normal or if I’m the worst guitarist ever to touch the strings.
On the plus side, I have J as a role model, the improv master of all things, hanging around and inspiring me with his amazing talent-plus-skill. He encourages me. He bears witness to my progress and tells me that what I’m doing is beautiful.
Once upon a time, he didn’t know how to play guitar, either. But he learned. And he is so good now. He is where I consider to be the peak of musical skill – being able to improv, frequently, for long periods of time, and each piece is unique and beautiful. No one plays like him. No songs sound like his. Ever. His music is so rich with its own story that I can’t put lyrics to them – the song is already full of meaning and life on its own.
I want that. I don’t want to sound like him or play like him, but I want to be that unique and that attuned to the music and the guitar. I want his level of proficiency and imagination. So I keep practicing. And practicing. And practicing.
Last night, I realized that I can’t say “I can’t play guitar” anymore. I am not the blank-slate novice that I keep envisioning myself to be. This came as a shock – I’m often slow to realize the magnitude of my own changes, especially when they are improvements.
The revelation came about when I combined a chord progression with a strum pattern with my own lyrics with my own fingerpicking pattern.
And it worked.
That was nothing short of magic. I played for three hours, cobbling pieces together and adjusting them to fit each other, and did not notice the time until my fingertips simply could not hold down the strings any longer.
The song isn’t finished. I can’t play the chord changes smoothly. I’m still slow with the fingerpicked intro. I am still deciding exactly how the words will be sung.
But it worked. I made something that I have never made before, and I took it farther than I have ever gone before.
I am learning guitar. It is a journey. I am still quite far from my goal. But damn, what a journey.