What trying to learn the guitar has taught me

Being able to play a musical instrument was a childhood dream of mine. Unfortunately, my family couldn’t afford to buy one.

Two years ago,  around the time I started this blog, I felt completely lost in life – a quarter life crisis. On a whim, I bought a guitar. I didn’t even check if the guitar was ok, I wouldn’t know how!. I just trusted the guy at the store who inspected it, played a couple of tunes and handed it to me.

I was eager to learn from day one and did not know where to start. Everybody online suggested JustinGuitar. I glanced through the beginner’s course, which is exactly as it sounds –  you should be able to listen, identify and play the basic chords with few strumming patterns and a few songs based on those chords.

The beginner’s devastation

Week one, I went through few videos in the beginners’ course and learnt to play three chords – no songs, just the chords, at an extremely slow pace, with errors. After putting in several hours over the week, I was disappointed. My fingertips which held the strings down were in pain. Surely, I was missing something? It cannot be this hard. I went through the forum for tips on the course. People stated as a matter of fact that the beginners course would take a year to complete. I was devastated.

YouTube is a fascinating place for any beginner who is trying to learn guitar. There are tons of great guitar videos and musicians – well known in real life or just internet famous. These guitarists play amazing songs without breaking a sweat. What nobody told me about was the thousands of hours they spent practicing over the years. What nobody tells you is that to learn to play a song perfectly, is to be patient and practice the song in pieces, over hundreds of times.

And my first song took a month. It was the theme song of game of thrones. It was the most beginner version possible, picked note by note, and sounded like the ringtone of a 90s phone. I was proud of this achievement. And then I quit playing for the next four months.

It’s complicated

I learnt a few things during my time of giving up on guitar. That my fingertips had hardened and the pain had become insignificant. That playing one hour everyday during a week is better than playing five hours on one day and not playing for the rest of the week. Muscle memory takes days to develop and not hours. I just needed time and a lot of patience to see things through.

I learnt that playing a small part of the song at an extremely slow pace without errors and then gradually increasing the speed is the right way to practice. There are no shortcuts. As a beginner, I have to accept that I cannot play complicated songs and it is not going to sound like those YouTube guys, not in the first few years at least. There is no law that I have to complete a beginner’s book or an online course. I should just try learning any song that I want to learn and see where it takes me.

During this time, I was obsessed with watching YouTube guitar videos. I realized that I am never going to sing or perform for anyone. Not that I wished to. I never had any dreams of becoming a rockstar or to play in a band. I just wanted to play for myself to hear and nobody else. I needed an escape, to keep myself occupied.

Back to guitar

When I finally picked up the guitar again, I couldn’t play the song that I learnt. The pain in my fingertips were back. But I kept watching YouTube guitar lessons. I practiced bits and pieces of songs. Over the next year, I was able to learn 13 songs. Not without errors, maybe not at the right tempo, but it did sound like music to me. There were times that I had to practice the same song so many times that I developed a strange ever-so-slight dislike of the song.

Why am I writing this?

So that I can come back here to read this again in future, to remember what’s going on in my mind right now. I was pleasantly surprised today, because a couple of days back, my team at work asked me to play for them. But I couldn’t as I’ve never played for anyone before. So, I decided to make a video and send it to them.

The people at work loved it! I am in shock. Looking at the video, I now realize that I’ve never truly recognized my progress before, however little it was.

I do hope that one day, I become good enough to not call myself a beginner anymore and be able to learn a new song in few days or even write my own songs. Even if that day is years from now, I am ok with it. Till then, I’ll tell myself to be patient as everybody’s journey is different because everyone is different.