Forty-Something-Year-Old Guitar Virgin

courtesy of artsumo.com

Music is a very essential part of a Filipino’s life. From the OPMs (Original Pilipino Music) blaring on the jeepney stereos to the ever-present karaoke system in every home, singing is as natural to us as is eating rice with everything.

I myself will plead guilty to disturbing the peace with the many ” a capella” concerts I’ve held in the shower. I have also been known to sing in wanton abandon in the privacy of my car. Yet, as much as I am into music, sad to say, when it comes to musical instruments, I cannot play a lick!

Mind you, I did not even aspire to learn to play the piano, the violin or any fancy thing. You see, I already had the feeling that the piano with its black and white keys and foot pedals would be too complicated for my coordination-impaired self. I dismissed the violin as too highbrow for the likes of me. The harmonica may have been handy, but it gave off this “blind beggar” vibe that I could not shake off. Drums, clarinet, saxophone and the likes were out of the question. Too noisy. So I trained my sights on a guitar, one that I could lug around and play some tunes with. Yet, sad to say, after nearly half a century on this planet, I am, by all intents and purposes, a forty-something-year-old guitar virgin.

courtesy of missbimb.com

courtesy of jacobimages.comIt was certainly not for lack of resources or interest on my part. I grew up in a part of the Philippines that is renowned for its exceptional guitars. There certainly was one everywhere you turned. In fact, it was a common sight to see guys hanging out at the corner store, playing the guitar, attracting crowds like Pied Piper attracted mice. I would just sigh and fantasize being up in a lonely balcony somewhere, strumming my heart out with guitar in hand, with only the stars for an audience. Sometimes, if I thought no one was watching, I would even break out into rocker mode, pretending to be the lead guitarist of a cool all-girl band. All that posturing amounted to nothing, of course. Dreaming without doing anything about it is like flying without knowing how to use your wings.

I did make a couple of half-hearted attempts before. The first time was when I was in high school. My older brother encouraged me, even though he was staying in Manila at that time. But without someone closely supervising me, my interest soon waned. It seemed like there was just way too much work for too little pay-off. I sounded as horrible on my quitting day as I did on my first day. 

I guess my expectations were unrealistic. I wanted to sound like a pro during my first try. When that didn’t happen, I quickly lost heart. The thought of learning all those chords and putting in hours of practice was too much for me. What can you expect from a teen looking for instant results and gratification?

As the years went by, the possibility of ever learning to play guitar grew dimmer and dimmer. If I could not master guitar back then when my hands were less arthritic and my gray matter was more receptive, then the odds were becoming even less now, especially since I seem to be hurtling towards middle age at such breakneck speed. Didn’t they say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks? The dream of caressing the neck and body of a guitar seemed destined to remain just that, a dream. The guitar seemed like a childhood crush, sentenced to stay forever confined to the nebulous regions of your mind.

Much, much later, when my youngest daughter started taking guitar lessons, my interest reawakened enough for me to make a second attempt. It was like hearing that an old flame was back in town and you make an effort to reconnect, for old time’s sake.

 I sneaked a peak at my daughter’s lesson book to see if there was anything there that I could remotely understand. Forget it! I realized I was as musically illiterate now as I was back then in high school. Those G clefs and half notes looked like hieroglyphics as far as I was concerned.

I tried another approach. I asked my daughter to teach me. Surely, if a kid can learn it, then an adult can, too, right? It seemed like the perfect solution. What I didn’t expect was that my kid would be such a strict disciplinarian of a teacher. 

First off, before she would even deign to teach me, she inspected my nails like an English schoolmarm and ordered me to cut my nails super short. (I looked at my nails with regret. The only pretty thing about me, and I had to sacrifice them! Gulp!) Then she gave me a bunch of chords to learn which she ordered me to practice non-stop. When I grew weary, my protests fell on deaf ears. I soon realized that breaks were not in her curriculum, at least as far as I was concerned. I hightailed out of there as fast as I could. I am embarrassed to say that I quit on my very first day. (If you ever enrolled in Melanie’s School of Rock, you would also understand why.)

So after being a guitar dropout twice, I gave up. Who needs to play a musical instrument when there’s karaoke, I asked myself. I thought I had purged it out of my system for good.

Then one day, as I was lying down in Melanie’s bed, humming my usual ballads, I happened to glance at her guitar. It beckoned to me like a long-forgotten lover, chiding me for abandoning it. Its lure was too powerful for me to resist. I was hooked. Again.

At this point in my life, I knew it was do or die. I was not sure how much more my brain could handle before it went on sensory overdrive or Alzheimer mode, so I had to give it my all now. I decided to go high-tech, scouring You Tube for videos on the subject. I approached it like I approach cooking. You see, I have my own version of “three strikes, you’re out.” If something has more than three steps, three ingredients, or in this case, three chords, it was tossed out. Hence, I only checked out videos that required the most rudimentary skill possible. I intended to do this at my pace and at my level. If it meant enrolling in guitar kindergarten or Special Ed, so be it.

So I taught myself a few chords one baby step at a time. One of my early favorites were the E minor and the A major. The E minor entailed the use of only two fingers, one on top of the other. Loved it! The A chord meant adding an additional finger and moving all three fingers a notch below. Double love!!! Then I learned the G and D chords, which were not as simple as the first two, but were still “doable.” Then I struggled with the E and C chords. The going got a little rough, but I made it. Then I had to learn an eff-ing chord. No, I’m not cussing. I meant, I literally had to learn the F chord. Then, the B chord. Double trouble these two, if you ask me. They required some acrobatics that my fingers were not accustomed to. Then when I found out that aside from the basic ones, there were also minor, augmented and diminished chords, not to mention seventh and extended chords, I wanted to cry. It was like there was this giant conspiracy against self-taught guitar players like me. E-A-D-G-B-E was bad enough, but now I discover there’s an A sus or F#m7! Come on! I felt like clenching my fist at the guitar gods and yelling, ” All right, all right, you win, you win. I quit!”

After this hysterical outburst, I managed to calm myself down. So what if I didn’t know all the chords? A few basic ones should suffice. D, G, E and A could take me places I’ve never been. Plenty of beginner songs abound. The Internet was chockfull of them. Jamaican Farewell. Leaving on a Jet Plane. Scarborough Fair. Have You Ever Seen the Rain… The more my repertoire grew, the more my confidence grew. Never mind if was getting progressively delusional about my skills.

Now I’d be lying if I said the road to guitar land wasn’t full of potholes. For the first few days, my fingers were raw and throbbing. Eventually, I must have killed off enough nerve endings on my fingertips because my fingers didn’t hurt as bad later on. Just when I thought it wasn’t so bad, I encountered a road block called chord progression. This entailed switching chords one after the other without your fingers getting tangled up and without you pulling your hair out from frustration. As if that weren’t enough, I stumbled across strumming patterns such as D-D-U U-D -U D. (I soon found out that I was really D-U-M-B when it came to this.) Then I strayed into foreign territory by trying finger-picking techniques that looked deceptively easy but were not. (If you’ve ever tried your hand at T T I T M, then you’ll know what I mean.) I am far, far away from the finish line, if there is such a thing. Everything still feels like a giant obstacle course to me. Though I stumble and falter, I journey on, one six-stringed melody at a time.

So here I am, calloused fingertips and raggedy fingernails later…

I am nowhere as good as I wanna be, yet nowhere as bad as I used to be. True, any serious guitar artist would be appalled at my technique, but I am not here to be judged. I am here to enjoy myself. My fingers are clumsy and my skills, non-existent, but I am producing sounds on my guitar. You may consider them noise, but they are music to my ears. I am like a child who was given a toy drum set for Christmas, and is now banging away nonstop at it, to the dismay of his parents and neighbors.

Besides, how many beginners can brag of an avid, albeit small, fan base? You see, at my workplace, there’s a handful of people who do not know the key of C from the key of F. These are tone-deaf guitar virgins who, in their musically-clueless state, marvel at what they perceive as my musical prowess. These are my loyal listeners who applaud every song I upload on my iPhone. They don’t care that I substitute barre chords for basic ones, because they can’t tell the difference, anyway. You may dismiss me as nothing but an amateur, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and to my fans, I am nothing less than royalty. Rock on!

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mari anjeli
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 21:24:07

    Love this! Haha. I’m self taught myself, and still fumble with a lot of chords. And with the raw-eventually-turning-to-calloused fingertips.. I feel for you.. 🙂

    Well anyway. Here’s to music!

    Reply

  2. Florence
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 21:42:58

    Hey em. Good for you. Ma rock star unya ka at 50. Rock on!,

    Reply

  3. emmblu
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 22:09:12

    Anjeli, you have youth and talent in your favor. I have middle age (yikes!) and musical illiteracy in mine. Not exactly the best tools for guitar-playing, but thanks for the sympathy, anyway.
    Flo, the only star in my vocabulary is probably “stars and stripes” c/o good old USA. I am having fun, though, playing for a very select few (those that are as musical morons like me). I know better than to play for those who are legit guitar players. I am delusional, but not crazy ^-^

    Reply

  4. 4skywalker
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 07:47:57

    Hey, just the blog I was waiting for!!! For me, guitar is the best stress-relief I can think of! Nothing like plucking or strumming to your fave songs….

    One of these days, you will have to show me how you make that guitar scream!!! 😀

    Reply

  5. emmblu
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 21:05:55

    Skywalker, the only one screaming are my neighbors asking for peace and quiet ;D

    Reply

  6. Felipe
    Apr 19, 2017 @ 07:27:08

    Fantastic! Can’t wait to hear you someday… perhaps. Would really enjoy that. Congrats and younger A for effort. It’s not easy learning any instrument, specially when forty and s virgin (at music that is). Keep it up! And you are totally right, is about the enjoyment. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

    • emmblu
      Apr 26, 2017 @ 10:45:04

      Thanks for your kind comments, Felipe. Unfortunately, my guitar pluckings are best left for the ears of tone deaf musical virgins like myself, and certainly not for accomplished musicians like yourself. Thanks for the support anyway.

      Reply

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