Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Novice and His Guitar

Guest Post by Sean Williams and cross-posted at his blog, Endless Joints and Wiffle Ball Bats

My life  has always been saturated with some kind of music, whether it was my dad blasting Coltrane or Pink Floyd on the weekends or my mom and her Motown cassettes that would eat away the hours on long car rides. I've been singing in choirs and a cappella groups for over ten years, and I listen to an unusual range of genres and styles. The one musical aspect of my life that has always been lacking is an instrument. I played cello for a year in elementary school and the trombone for four years, and I was mediocre at both, to put it generously. Since my early instrumental failures I have never attempted to play another instrument until recently, when I decided to try my hand at acoustic guitar.

I began in the summer, and needless to say I was terrible. It took me weeks just to establish basic chords  and more weeks to string a song together. In spite of my ponderous progress I have managed to string together a few simple songs and am slowly noticing improvement, and hopefully by next summer I'll be able to play with some degree of skill. I didn't know what "action" was, and barre chords remain a nightmare, but in comparison to where I began, I am a modern-day Clapton.

I began playing on my black Takamine Jasmine, a cheap guitar with strings that are noticeably rusted, and promptly discovered that playing guitar was a moderately painful exercise, at least for someone who squeezed down on every string like he was trying to make the instrument surrender. In the end, the  guitar remained unbroken and my fingertips had developed some blue-ribbon weals. I stubbornly proceeded, because I am a methodical, inefficient mule when it comes to these things and I rarely circumvent a wall that I could just try to punch through it. Calluses came slowly, and the discordant plangs and scrapes of the guitar became incrementally more noticeable as an attempt to play music. My dad would stop downstairs and nod with a hint of approval, and my dog gradually ceased fleeing the room when I stomped in, guitar in hand.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm good, because that would not be close to the truth. For me, playing the guitar is still a physical struggle, and every transition from chord to chord offers a chance to screw up. More important than the sound is the fun I'm having, something I could not confess to in the early days of playing. The instrument was a chore, and I loved the idea of it but didn't enjoy trying to bend it to my will. I look forward to grabbing my guitar and just banging out chords, singing off-key to songs that are well above my vocal range (my version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is essentially me just warbling well into my falsetto while loudly and ponderously clanking out chords. Thank God my parents are tolerant people) and keeping my family up at night. I had my doubts at first, but playing has really become a great musical outlet for me.

One last note before I wrap this post up is the influence of my uncle, who plays guitar well and has always pushed me musically. I have taken to playing his old 1978 (or thereabouts I think, he can correct me) Hondo II, this beat up piece of wood that sounds better than it should and is easy to play. I think this is the thing to remember about music-whether you're awful at it or a virtuoso, it carries a history and connections that can only be loved.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post, and I can relate heavily to all of it. And of course it's deeply moving to me on a personal level, so thanks for that.

    I actually bought the Hondo in the summer of 1983, mostly because I could afford it. It's the first guitar I ever bought myself. The little gummy stain on the tail piece is from the acoustic pickup I bought for sixty bucks, which you had to affix to the guitar with gummy little rubber gunk. Sounded great, as I recall.

    Thanks for the reminiscence, and keep on playing! We want to hear some stuff here on the blog.