Saturday, September 29, 2007

I got my first real six-string, bought it at the five and dime

In a recent comment Quiche asked if I could recommend a method of learning guitar, and how I long I played before I felt proficient.

I'll answer the second question first. I don't feel proficient.

I'm a competent rhythm guitar player, served as well as anything by a solid education in music theory. My guitar playing is good enough for bandleading purposes. But don't ask me to play a solo.

It's not quite through lack of trying. At various times over the years I have put energy into improving my guitar playing. I've taken lessons, and checked out instructional videos, and practiced scales till my fingers bled. All of that did indeed improve my guitar playing, which is to say that I became a better rhythm player, which is something. But I don't play solos.

For what it's worth, I came relatively late to guitar playing. I was mostly a pianist and keyboardist -- and singer -- until about age 25. That's when my friend Dave and I discovered our mutual interest in country music. A seasoned guitarist, he showed me some chords, and we spent long, inebriated nights playing and singing. It was great fun.

He had a very fine Martin guitar, so for practicing purposes he lent me his beater, a bright blue, plastic-bodied Applause that looked a lot like this, except it wasn't a cutaway. (Years later, one Hippie Christmas, a hippie handed me a very similar Applause that is now my go-to beater.) I think of that blue Applause as my first guitar, even though it wasn't mine.

Not long after that I got a guitar of my own, and I set to playing in earnest. It was some months before my wrist stopped aching, and years, really, before I felt confident. And in truth, that confidence resulted as much from steady gigging as from practicing -- which is to say that I didn't feel especially confident when I started gigging, and also that, except for those occasional bursts of activity I mentioned, I don't practice guitar all that much.

I do wish I played better, but I think of the time I was bemoaning my lack of chops to my bandmate Adam Davis, a very gifted guitarist. He responded: "You're the singer." He was right. Singing comes far more naturally to me than guitar playing, so why not focus on my strength?

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