So this was my guitar.
I bought it second-hand on Craigslist a few years ago for $40 because I’ve always wanted to learn how to play one and figured now that I was on my own, there was no time like the present to learn.
Like most aspiring musicians, I brought it home with a great amount of hope that once I sat down and started practicing, it would come as easily as anything else I’ve managed to learn and within weeks, I’d be able to play some chords and songs and be on my way to doing something I’d always wanted to do…but had never really managed to find the time or the means to do when I was younger.
Well, that didn’t exactly happen.
Within the first few days of trying to play, I was finding myself beset by the standard-issue frustration of both my body and my brain not wanting to cooperate. Trying to learn chords was okay, so long as any song required just one and I didn’t have to move my left hand anywhere else on the neck.
My right hand, meanwhile, couldn’t make up its mind about which string it was supposed to pluck. No matter what I did, it was always a case of “E! No G! No B! No e!!” when what I was actually needing to hit was D.
Inevitably, my frustration would always reach a tipping point where I either was going to get very angry at myself for being so pathetic that I can’t make six strings and a piece of wood sound even halfway decent, or I was going to get angry at the guitar because it wasn’t willing to cooperate.
It didn’t matter which tutorials I’d watch or what lessons I’d attempt, nothing seemed to work. And when you’re trying everything you can think of to get your body to do something and it doesn’t respond, the sheer level of rage which can go through your mind is downright infernal.
But rather than smash my guitar into splinters, I put it back in the bag, stuck it in a corner and figured eventually, I’ll figure out some way to finally learn how to play the damn thing.
Last year, I went to my local game store and picked up Rocksmith 2014 for my Playstation, after seeing the ads which said “Learn how to play the guitar in 60 days…guaranteed!!” Admittedly I was skeptical and having never bothered to play Guitar Hero because it wasn’t playing an actual guitar, I figured why not?
I like video games and I want to learn how to play, so maybe this is what will get me there, I thought.
Unfortunately, I didn’t learn how to play in two months, nor did I learn to play in ten or twelve, because I ran into the same exact problem. My brain and my body did not want to cooperate with those six pesky little strings.
I started with the bare basics of learning a chord and how to work the strings to make particular notes. That was an exercise in trying my patience until it was thin as a guitar pick, and so I once again put the guitar back in the bag and hoped I’d somehow be able to figure it out later.
I got an email a few weeks ago letting me know that Rocksmith had updated its catalog to include a whole bunch of songs that I grew up listening to and to my ear, did not sound diabolically difficult to play. So I figured if I’m going to learn, instead of focusing on just lessons, I should try to incorporate some actual music into it and see if that makes any difference.
So I did, and that helped a little bit, but not for very long.
I sat down this morning to try and get a round of practice in. I put on Rocksmith, plugged in the guitar, got it tuned and tried to get through Stone Temple Pilots’ Creep, which is not a difficult track compared to a lot of the others you can play.
Runthrough one went okay. Two was a little more difficult and I found myself struggling to get the sequence down because my brain kept getting confused between the A and D strings, and my right hand decided that it didn’t want to really loosen up enough to allow me to use the pick on down and up strokes.
There’s a three-note sequence in the middle that I was especially stumbling over, and tried to focus on figuring it out, which is when my left hand decided it was going to not cooperate anymore too.
Despite that, I wasn’t going to let it keep me from figuring it out because by this point, the all-too-familiar voice in my head started piping up and giving me the same shit it always does when I’m struggling to learn something.
The hell’s your problem? Why can’t you do this? Everybody else can do this, so why can’t you?! Are you really that stupid that you can’t get your sausage fingers to play three little strings?! There are four-year-olds on YouTube who can play this song backwards blindfolded and you’re sitting here screwing up every two seconds?! Do you realize how fucking pathetic you are?! If your friends were sitting here watching this sorry-ass display, you know what they’d be doing, right? They’d be cringing about it, because you suck. You suck at this just like you suck at everything else, which is why nobody gives a shit about you or anything you do! Just accept the fact that you are a worthless waste of a human being because if you can’t even get this down then there is no point in even trying to convince anyone that you’re good enough at anything else, you unconscionable loser!!
Editorial Note: Comedian Christopher Titus has a name for such a voice who often exists in the heads of people who have Depression and other issues which tend to make them socially awkward. He calls it your Inner Retard. I would love to say mine fits that albeit discriminatory mold, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Mine is much more of an Inner Youth Sports Parent, which makes my internal dialogue really unpleasant a lot of the time because trying to block him out is often like putting a strip of duct tape across a freeway in the hope it’ll stop an oncoming runaway semi-truck.
And because I couldn’t get him to shut up, and because he wouldn’t let me put the guitar down to go do something else to take the stress off, I finally reached the point where my emotions shifted from being angry out of frustration to being angry out of feeling so helpless that I lashed out in way that’s honestly left me even more frustrated and angry with myself.
I smashed my guitar…
…and not in a Pete Townshend-just finished another majestic Who concert in front of 60,000+ people-I am a Rock God-sort of way either.
It was that bitter, disgusting-tasting reminder that I probably won’t get to do and see and be everything I wanted to in this life, and that’s something I’ve never been good at having to swallow.
Thirty years I’ve been wanting to be able to pick up one of those beautiful instruments and make it play the things I hear in my head all the damn time.
The fact that I cannot get myself there, for whatever reason, upsets me in ways I can’t fully describe other than saying it’s like someone taking another one of my goals and dreams and crushing it with a sledgehammer.
Now to go figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my day. Hopefully it will be something more productive.