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?
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: “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 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?
Have a great weekend, everyone!