Saturday, 19 November 2011

NaNoBlogMo 19 - Learning to Play Guitar

The hobby of mine that I easily neglect the most is guitar playing, sadly. This is probably the first entry in this blog in which I even mention that I play guitar. So here is a little backstory of how I got started playing, and a video of me actually playing.

When I was in high school, I used to come home with piles of homework and either dance or Taekwon-do lessons each night. I used to dream of what I would do if I actually had free time when I came home. Fast forward a bit to when I was working as an intern during my breaks from college. I was doing a real honest-to-goodness 9-5 type office job for the first time in my life which meant when I got homework! I was free to do what I wanted! And what I found was that I was usually so burnt out at the end of the that all I wanted to do was park myself in front of the TV. It frustrated me that that was all I wanted to do. That that was how I was spending (read: wasting) my time.

Around the same time, my parents were building the cabin in upstate NY (read: my happy place). We would spend a lot of time just sitting by a fire and enjoying the night and the stars. It reminded me of the happy nights spent at a small and nerdy summer camp I used to go to, and the man who ran the camp would play guitar and sing with us around the fire.

These things came together in my mind and I thought...why don't I start learning to play guitar? I would like to take this moment to say I doubt I would have nearly as many interests as I do if it weren't for my parents being so supportive. Every time I ever said "I think I'd like to try..." they were right behind me. Sending me to camps, signing me up for lessons, driving me to practices. When I mentioned to my father that I was interested in learning to play guitar, he spoke to a friend of his that plays to get me some advice. That same friend helped me take care of my guitar (change the strings, adjust the action, etc) for the lowly price of a six-pack of good beer. My friend Burf/Jason was also extremely helpful in that he lent me his guitar for a year or so. I didn't want to buy a guitar that was cheap only to have to reinvest in a decent one if I liked playing, and likewise I didn't want to waste money on a good guitar if I hated it.

So I had a guitar to use, I had someone to help me with the maintenance, and I went out and bought a beginner acoustic guitar book. Now all I had to do was learn to play. I learned mostly from the book I bought and youtube videos. I gave myself an assignment. Everyday when I got home from work, no matter how burnt out I felt, I would practice. Whether I just picked up the guitar and reviewed a new chord I learned the day before or sat and played for an hour, I would practice.

It is extremely weird thinking back to those very first days of playing guitar. I remember feeling so frustrated at how hard it was to position every finger for every chord and the excruciatingly long time it would take me to change between chords. I remember fiercely wishing I could just pick up the guitar and already know the chords and just fiddle around and play a song or two without thinking everything through, or staring at tabs or constantly looking at my hands. And I can do that now. I will never be a guitar superstar by any stretch of the imagination, but now I can look up the simple chord tabs for a song I want to learn and more often then not I can pick it up pretty quickly. That's all I wanted when I started. I am happy being a jack of all trades, master of none.

For Christmas of my senior year of college, my parents got me my own guitar. My friend Cori named it Excalibur, which I think is a fantastic name for a guitar. (Just as a side note, my two swords are named "The Chime" and "Son of a Bitch"). When I went to Shanghai I also splurged and got myself a guitar, so I could keep practicing and playing. That's where this video is from. This is me playing "Yellow" by Coldplay, back in 2009 in my Chinese apartment.

I would have practiced, recorded and uploaded a newer video of me playing guitar but I have a deadline with this NaNoBlogMo thing, so this is what you guys get. I'd like to think I can play better than this now, but since I really only pick up my guitar every once in a while now, I think I am only maintaining my current level, not really improving. I remember at one point I was so focused on guitar that I used to keep a quarter in my pocket to press my fingertrips on to, to help build up my calluses.

That sad truth of being a hobby addict is that sometimes hobbies fall by the way side for long stretches of time. I have no intention of giving up playing guitar. I have noticed in myself that my interest in things seems to go in fluctuating waves. I am sure that sometime in the future I will find my desire to play renewed. And Excalibur will be there waiting for me.


  1. I remember you practicing new songs and trying to do duets! Good times

  2. I remember when you came back from break and said, "Hey I can play guitar now!" And you really weren't kidding ;-)

  3. You are my hero Sproffee...and you've just inspired me to pick up my guitar again! (which has sadly been collecting dust for a couple of years)