Sunday, January 16, 2011

My First Guitar Lesson

I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone who has cycled through as many hobbies as I have. From the average (rock collecting!) to the odd (flying RC planes!), my collection of hobbies is a long one, at least compared to the average person my age. Nowadays, the reason I pick up hobbies is so that I can perfect them and never touch them ever again. I'm not sure why I do this. I suppose it's out of boredom, and I also suppose that it says a lot about me. But I haven't always been this way.

Before I hit high school age, I'd cycle through hobbies because I wasn't sure what I'd like, similar to most people in my peer group. I hadn't yet realized that everything interests me, and rather than take on several hobbies at once, I decided to go through them one at a time.

The first two were very, very normal: soccer and the Boy Scouts. No disrespect for those that stayed with either outside middle school, but a lot of us that were with you originally couldn't exhibit enough interest in either to keep up a good rapport with our coaches and Scout master, and were usually punted from the group.

Aside #1: I know this didn't happen to everybody. I'm not stupid. I'm just acting as if this very specific instance has happened to everybody, to imply that it's happened to me.

After failing at these two prospects, my mom and step-dad assumed that me being interested in sports or being a lifelong good Samaritan weren't likely futures for me,
so they bought me a guitar for my 13th birthday.

Being something of a guitar aficionado in another life, my step-dad didn't skimp out on purchasing me an instrument of fine quality. He bought me an Epiphone Les Paul Mini, complete with amp and guitar-and-amp-carrying guitar-and-amp case.

Note: Pictured above is the EXACT set that I had, except I'm pretty sure the amp had some sort of stencil across the front of it.

It was literally everything a budding player could want. It didn't have any scary pedals or weird bars sticking out of the guitar, it was the most basic of instruments for those with the most basic level of interest in playing it. And the fact that it carried the Les Paul name meant something to anyone who knew anything (or thought they knew anything) about guitars.

In addition to this gift, I also was given assurance that my mother would sign me up for a lesson in playing my newly acquired instrument, once my step-dad had taught me some form of basic string-plucking so I didn't go off embarrassing myself in front of a professional.

After doing so, three months later, I was signed up for my first lesson at my local Guitar Center. Walking into that store on the day of my first lesson (with my mom by my side, naturally), I was nervous and nearly shaking. We'd shown up early, so we were asked to sit in a tiled area attached openly to both the store and the hallway connecting the individual soundproof rooms where the actual "teaching" was done.

Sitting across from me was a girl who was approximately my age, who was holding the case for what was either a viola or violin. It was obvious just by looking at her that she was comfortable in her surroundings, as if she'd sat in that same chair dozens of times over the years, breaking it in to the point of maximum comfortability. While I, the "fresh meat," as it were, shifted uncomfortably in my plastic chair, the hard curves unknown, my feet not touching the ground, hands groping the neck of my guitar through its nylon carrying case. We were different beasts, she and I.

Minutes went by until a man turned around the corner, clearly having come out of one of the personally-sized rooms. He called my name, and I followed him back into a room with a number on its door. He shut the door, and introduced himself as Thomas. He was tall and buff, and to some people he might have been considered ruggedly handsome. His shoulders were double the width of his hips, likely as a testament to what appeared to be a Samoan heritage. He essentially had the ideal physique for a linebacker or a refrigerator, a variable man and woman's best friend.

Regardless, he was here to teach me, and teach me he did. Sort of. We spent the first 15 minutes of class with me awkwardly playing the three to four base chords I'd learned and actually remembered in the last few weeks, with me promising that I'd learned more but couldn't recall it at the moment.

Aside #2: I also remember a particularly embarrassing moment. in which I picked at the strings at the point between the nut (at the top of the neck) and the fret posts (where the strings are "strung" in, essentially), and claimed that it sounded just like a "creepy piano" tinkling. I hope that more than most of you understand exactly what I'm talking about, and understand how painful and jarring recalling this is for me right now.

After pretending to know more than what I actually knew about playing the guitar in front of someone who taught people how to play the guitar for a living, he pulled out his own instrument and began fooling around and playing a few dumb tunes. Being a dumb kid, I was amazed by his clear mastery of the guitar arts, and mentally bowed down to his talent and made him my master.

Aside #3: I really fucking love(ed) Star Wars.

"What kinda music do you like?" he asked.

"Uh, blink-182 and The Offspring are pretty cool" I replied, knowing that the latter of the two would be impressively considered "adult" taste for a 13 year-old (it wasn't).

"Aw, blink-182! They're that band with the song that goes..."

At this point, Thomas the Guitar Instructor launched into the most melodramatic rendition of "All the Small Things" by blink-182 that this planet has ever seen. Kind of. He sort of knew the lyrics, and the tempo was a little off, and the chords sounded a bit funny, but he got the general idea of the song down. Even more, he was very clearly impressed with himself for remembering (most of) the song.

Unfortunately, this was at a point in time where rabid blink-182 fans like myself had sort of formed a backlash against that particular song, because it was their most popular one, the single song that every person who had heard of the band had heard of. The least exclusive track in their catalogue. Every major band in history has had this exact situation occur to them at some point in their careers.

Here was my teacher, the man to whom minutes earlier I had dedicated the future of my musical life to. Singing my least favorite song (at the time) by my favorite band, out of key and absolutely terribly. I'd never seen someone I respected so highly, so quickly, fail so miraculously and without a single ounce of grace.

The rest of our hour-long session was spent with Thomas trying to tune my guitar with a digital tuner, before giving up on technology and attempting to use his voice. It didn't work.

I never went back. Aside from learning a dozen or so songs in the years since then, I've also given up on playing the guitar. My heart was just never in it.

My former guitar now resides in the closet of my little brother, stored there in hopes that he'll one day use it, become great with it, then buy me a house as thanks for inspiration.

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