The One with the Guitar

During my senior year of college, I had a space to fill on my course card to maintain status as a full-time student. I’d already taken all the classes required for my degree, so I decided to do something radical: take a class for the fun of it. Which was how I ended up in Intro to Guitar. Prior to that, my last musical interlude involved a plastic thing called a recorder and a sound only dogs could hear.


But no matter. I would be a late-blooming protege. Despite being nearly tone deaf, I’d surprise everyone by playing the blues like John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt. Then I would drop out of school, join a rock band and be bigger than The Beatles. Hey, it could happen.

On the first day I bounded into class full of vim and vigor. I’m here! Prepare to be amazed. After introductions, we were asked to go to the instrument library and rent a guitar for the semester. Things got off to a rocky start.

Me: I don’t see any guitars here for left-handed people. Do you have one?

Instructor: Are you left handed?

Me: Well, yes.

Instructor: Have you ever played the guitar before?

Me: No.

Instructor: Then it really won’t make a difference, will it?

Pfft! Clearly this guy didn’t realize that I was the next Jimi Hendrix. I wasn’t about to let a little thing like playing with the wrong hand stand in the way of greatness.

But by the end of the third class, I was becoming deflated. Most of our lessons went something like this:Β  “Do you want to learn to play guitar? Then don’t touch one.” We learned how to read music and where to place our fingers to make the chords, but we hadn’t laid hands on the guitars.

When would we start playing? When could I wow them with my ability to riff the lead-in to “Pride and Joy” better than the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn himself?

Week three — a flicker of hope. I took my guitar out of its case for the first time and rested it on my lap (straps were for sissies). I scanned the sheet music for the first song the class would play together. There were two chords. The instructor, who was a graduate student and no older than twenty-five, sighed heavily. He’d probably been studying music since he was three, composed his first orchestral arrangement at seven, and planned to apprentice under Yo-Yo Ma, yet somehow had drawn the short straw to wind up here at this moment teaching this class.

“Row, row, row your boat / gently down the stream. / Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily / life Β is but a dream.”

It was harder than it looked.

Despite embarrassing myself by not being able to keep up (dastardly chord change!) and throwing off the rest of the class, I wasn’t discouraged. Even Jimi Hendrix had to start somewhere. I reserved a practice room in the music building before the next class. It was going to be a big day. We were going to learn “Margaritaville.”

A few days later, installed in the supposedly sound-proof practice room, I got to work. I strummed “Row Your Boat” over and over, singing along to keep the tempo. Intro to Guitar was turning out to be more difficult than my major classes. I learned a few important things that day in the practice room. I couldn’t, for the life of me, move between chords D and G. My stubby fingers were far too short to reach the sixth string. And I wouldn’t be the next Jimi Hendrix. Shoot, I wouldn’t even be the next Nigel Tufnel.

After the twentieth run-through of “Row Your Boat,” I could hear someone tuning a violin in the practice room next door. After a warm up of scales, he or she began.

It sounded like this:

It stands to reason that if I could hear someone else practicing, then everyone nearby could hear me. I packed it in and slinked out of the building, realizing I would have to be content with my English degree. I blame it all on the right-handed guitar.

If I had only stuck with the recorder all those years ago, maybe I could have made it big by now.

Did you study a musical instrument? Did you stick with it?Β 

Have a great weekend, everyone!



  1. ‘Tis my nemesis. And I’m not even left-handed…
    I am the only one who got through school not being able to read even a basic score. And it’s nowt to do with an innate lack of reading skills… I read English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Cyrillic and Braille without any problems whatsoever. Music is just not in my blood, sigh.


      1. Thank you thank you! I really couldn’t face trying again… not that I was trying that hard first time round, mind. Maybe that was the problem πŸ˜‰
        Got any musical projects lined up…?


  2. Friends was popular during a particularly busy time in my life and I haven’t seen all the episodes. That is one that I’d missed, so thanks for sharing it. Lisa Kudrow is so funny.

    My dad taught me to play (he allowed me to touch the guitar, which is probably where things went wrong), but it was just enough to strum a few bear claws and turkey legs. Then one summer a classical guitar student was housesitting for a relative and listening to him play was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.


  3. Drat that right handed guitar! I played the guitar briefly in high school, with the college-student teacher being the big draw. I also played the flute in 3rd and 4th grade and I took piano lessons the whole time I was growing up (until I graduated from high school). I always regret giving it up. I think I might’ve made it big, too, and then we could have a recorder & piano band!


  4. I feel your pain. I tried to learn to play the guitar when I was in second grade. In Catholic school. The nun who taught students individually HATED rock and roll. Being taught how to play “Jingle Bells” in February was the start and end of my music training, but we did have to play the recorder, too. That was another disaster. Whoever invented those shrill, toneless tubes of plastic should be beaten with one.


  5. I had a short lived career in third grade as a pianist but quit lessons because the teacher creeped me out. Literally. I still get the willies when i think about them. In middle school I dabbled in playing the drums and other percussion but it was also short lived. I found that I would rather sing than do the instrument thing. It worked out much better for those around me. πŸ™‚ I did another post on NYC–this time a bit about the subway in your honor!


    1. Any family that can put up with a novice drummer in the house either have a steady supply of ear plugs or the patience of saints. Kudos to your family! πŸ™‚
      I’m heading over to your post right now. Can’t wait to read about your subway experience!


  6. I’m a lefty too. But strangely I bowl and iron with my right hand. I never thought about it, but are you supposed to do the chords or strum with your dominant hand?
    Once when he was in middle school my son came to me and demanded to know why I hadn’t started him out playing violin at the age of three like one his friend’s parents had. He could have been brilliant! My answer that he never asked to take violin at the tender age of three or at any other time up until that moment, was just not good enough. Epic parental fail! =D


    1. That is too funny! I bowl with my right hand too! I think it’s because my mother taught me how to bowl and she’s a righty. I also use scissors with my right hand. When I was a kid, they never had left-handed scissors available. (Did you find that also?) To play the guitar as a lefty you would strum with your left hand and set the chords with your right. Or so I’m told. πŸ™‚


  7. I was that weird kid that loved playing the recorder. I actually bought one. I’m pretty sure my mom lost or broke it. I then played violin for a year–I wasn’t too bad, but my mom hired me a private teacher and that ruined it for me. Playing at school was okay, but not after school when all my friends were outside. Now I wish I had stuck with it.


  8. I played the recorder too! But I was quite good haha! I did it for my final exams πŸ˜‰ I also took up the blues harmonica after I came back from a holiday in Memphis – loved it! Must get my harmonicas when I go back to Dublin for Xmas! πŸ™‚


    1. You and TBM! All of these recorder experts! I love it.
      The harmonica is a fantastic instrument. How great that you were inspired to play after visiting Memphis. If there is a more inspirational place for it, I can’t think of one.


  9. So funny! I played flute and piano through high school, then quit. I miss playing the piano.

    My dad tried to teach me guitar but it was a disaster. I’m a lefty too, but strummed with my right hand. It seems like you would want to strum with your less-dominant hand, though? Playing guitar also involves pain until you develop calluses on your fingers. No thanks.

    My youngest son learned to play guitar by listening to Stevie Ray and can now play all of his stuff. I may or may not have heard Pride and Joy one thousand times. πŸ™‚ Have not heard the version you posted, though. It’s a good one!

    Growing up, I thought scissors were supposed to hurt your hand. What a revelation to find out there were left-handed scissors.


    1. Yes, it seems that it would be better to strum with my less dominant hand. But Paul McCartney strummed with his left hand, and by gosh, that’s what I wanted to do also!

      My arts and crafts projects in grade school were a disaster. Any time a project involved scissors, I had to find a kind-hearted righty to help me out. Then I just learned to cut with my right hand. Problem solved. πŸ˜›


      1. After I wrote that, I realized there is also “picking” of the strings which would probably require the dominant hand. Forgot about Paul! πŸ™‚

        For me, the worst were pinking shears! Trying to cut heavy fabrics with those killed my hand.


  10. It was trumpet for me. Jazz band, orchestra, private lessons, and State contest (yikes, I think my palms just started sweating)! πŸ™‚ Great story, full of rich life lessons. Thanks for sharing.


      1. For many years my folks were dedicated to keeping me dedicated to my musical career. I didn’t stay with it after high school but the hook was set and my love for music is still alive.


  11. Fun story. I hadn’t seen that episode of Friends — too funny!

    My hubby plays guitar. He’s tried to teach me stuff, but I have a piano/keyboard background so, sit it across my lap, string-up and playing it piano style works best for me. And by best I don’t mean it sounds well. It just almost makes sense that way.


    1. I’ve seen some musicians perform with the guitar flat across their laps. It seems much easier to see what you’re doing. I’m sure *that* was my problem. Or at least that is what I will say was my problem. πŸ™‚


  12. Clearly your genius is for writing, Jackie.
    I played guitar growing up. And taught myself the flute. Reading music feels a lot like learning another written language. I’ve forgotten most of it now. Just like a foreign language, if you don’t use it, it departs!


    1. You are too kind, Cynthia! I think it’s amazing that you were able to teach yourself flute. Yes, reading music is like another language. It is quite a challenge to understand the meaning of all the dots and dashes when you’re a “wordy” like me. πŸ™‚


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