Archive for category guitar blogs

I’m being followed by a Moonshadow alright

So there’s this song that I’ve been obsessing over lately. I’m dying to learn how to play or to at least be able to see someone else play it. You see, one of the main reasons I became so determined to learn how to play the guitar is because I have always been fascinated with watching people play. I stare at their hands and try to imagine what it must feel like to be able to do that. It can sometimes get distracting to the point that I hear nothing else of the song but the guitar. I have always been this way.
Well, this song is absolutely way out of my league and I realize that but I think it’s good to have lofty goals. I’m going to include a video of this song for the curious among you. I haven’t been able to find one actually showing someone playing it but the search will continue.  Nick Drake- Man in a Shed

Meanwhile, back here on earth I decided to find a song that I love that may be a little more reasonable for my total lack of skills. So I was watching some of my favorites and it finally happened. I watched a video and thought, I bet I could do that (with a lot of work). I have been watching the video over and over and found the chords for the song. The chorus is only two chords, one of which I already know, so I figured I could give it a try. To be honest, I’m not really even sure how well I did, it may have been fine but I don’t know. I can’t seem to manage to switch chords with any ease which is going to be an obvious problem. But then, I was not yet familiar with the second chord at all so it isn’t natural for my hand to go into that position either. I tried it a couple of times but gave up mostly out of embarrassment as Dan stared at me blankly wondering if I was done yet and could he get back to his game?
But I’m really convinced that this isn’t impossible. I believe that given some time and a little help I can get it. So, in order to force myself to work at it (in another room) I’m going to make a promise right now. I will figure out how to play this song, and I will record myself playing and post it to my blog (it make take a little time) but look for it and hold me accountable.
Here is the video: Cat Stevens- Moonshadow

Here are the chords:Moonshadow

It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine!


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Zen and the Art of Loving Your Guitar (a little too much)

So, I was inspired recently to “make love not war” with my guitar. We’ve had a few bumps in our road to harmony lately but I am determined that we will be able to put these differences aside and move forward to a more healthy and satisfying relationship for the both of us.

Most of that sounds like total crap to me. I’m sorry but it does. A friend of mine (who I’m pretty certain doesn’t bother to read my blog) was trying to coax me back into playing and gave me the rather bizarre advice to think of my guitar as “a friend. You are in a relationship with your guitar and there will be fights and bad times but you have to work through it to build a stronger bond together.”

Now, I have no problem being existential about things but this really felt like bullshit from the moment he said it. It pretty much seems to me that my guitar just lies there depending on me to do everything. I don’t know what kind of relationships he’s used to (and I have no desire to go into that discussion with him.) But regardless,  I’m thinking; he knows better than I and I am willing to follow any advice I can get so I’ll give it a try. I’m going to look at my guitar like another person and try to develop a connection with it.

Once again there is where people who know me are already laughing. First of all, inanimate objects usually cause me trouble. Second, I’m not really the bonding type of person. I tend not to trust anyone and I don’t make a whole lot of friends.  I find relationships with people to be awkward, uncomfortable and usually not worth the effort. I’m not trying to sound heartless; it’s just the way I am, very guarded. My mind works in logic more than emotion which explains my college nickname, Mrs. Spock.  So the thought of me attempting to grow a “relationship” with a guitar when I can rarely even do it with another human being seems far fetched.

But I determined that it was worth a shot.  When I got some “alone time” with it I decided to treat it more like I would a new friend.  Upon reflection of this encounter I can now see why I have very few friends and almost no close friends. I tried to smile at it at first, to put it and myself at ease but it didn’t appear to work. I thought that maybe if I was a little more gentle with the way I handled it, instead of tossing it around like I tend to at times, that might help a little.  I even went so far as to try to tell it a personal story about myself but the situation was just too ludicrous.  I have little doubt that the fact that I found the whole idea ridiculous got in the way of making a whole hearted attempt. But I did the best I could. I feel it’s now time for the guitar to make the next step.

Alright, I’m kidding about that last part.  While the making of  “a relationship” with the guitar sounds like crazy talk I do think that on some level I know what he means. But I don’t think it’s something I can just sit down and do. It will take time and effort and an openness on my part that doesn’t come naturally. However, this experiment did make me contemplate the very few people that have been brought into my life and with which I was able to find a connection. I wondered how they managed it. How did I manage it?  What was so special about them? Mostly, I think it was because they took the time to really get to know me and allow for the fact that I wasn’t going to get close to them very easily. They gave me the time I needed without ever giving up on me. I think that’s something my guitar is willing to do. But it can’t just be sitting there like an ornament.  I need to feel like it’s calling to me. So, I came up with the perfect solution. What’s the one way to guarantee that I will do something? Easy, tell me not to do it.  So now my guitar is sitting in my living room in constant eye view holding a little signs that declares, “You will never play me.” Oh, the hell I won’t!

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If you read my last guitar blog you know that I had an “enlightening” conversation with a friend about how I’m pretty much doing it all wrong. I mentioned that there was another part of the conversation that I was going to blog separately and here it is.

I’m on the phone with my friend, Tye, and he’s asking me how I’m doing with the guitar.  I’m proud as can be as I tell him all the chords I’ve learned so far.  My instructional video came with a chord chart. My assumption is that if I learn the 11 chords on the chart I’ll be pretty much set. So I tell him that I’ve already mastered E,D,A,G and C and.

“That’s great, those really are the basic and most important chords. You can already play tons of songs with just those.”

“I’m so excited that I’m making a lot of progress. Next I’m going to start working on M.” I reply.

“What? What did you say was next?”

“M. I’m going to start the M chord next.” I’m speaking a little louder since he can’t seem to understand me.

“Lisa, I don’t know what you’re talking about. The M chord?”

I’m getting a little frustrated with him because he’s supposed to be very good with the guitar and he doesn’t know what I’m saying. I look back in the book to make sure I’m not insane. It’s right there.

“Yes, M- you want me to spell it?”

“Spell it? What do you mean spell it? Chords are just one letter how can you spell it? What do you do with your fingers for this M chord?” Tye is clearly getting as annoyed as I am by this point.

“It’s E-M.” I can’t for the life of me figure out what is so hard about this.

There’s a long pause on Tye’s end of the phone. Then a loud laugh. Tye’s voice softens and I can tell this is where I find out that I am the idiot here. I don’t know much about music but I can read and I know that “Em” is pronounced “M”.

“Lisa, you really have to get a teacher.” This is not sounding good already.

“There is no M chord. Big “E” little “M” means it’s E minor.” Now I’ve known Tye since college and I remember him having his guitar with him all the time. He even minored in it so certainly he has to know the basic chords but I’ve never heard of such thing.

“E what? I already learned E. So, what’s this one now?” I’m getting even more irritated, not at Tye but with myself. How can I possible think I’m ever going to be able to do this on my own when I have no idea what he’s even talking about?

“See, you already learned the five “major” chords. And by that I don’t mean just the important ones. I mean that’s what they’re called. You learned E major, now this is E minor.”

(I would recite my following response but I’d rather keep my blog G rated.)

This was the conversation in which I learned about the not strumming all six strings all the time too. So by the end of the conversation I was pretty beat up and more than a little upset. I haven’t even picked up my guitar since this all happened. I was so disappointed with the whole situation but mostly with myself. I’ve always thought that with enough basic information I could put the pieces together and learn how to play but I’m finding more and more that I probably can’t.

By the time I got off the phone with Tye I had pretty much decided that I was going to just stop torturing myself and give up. It’s been a little while now and I’m starting to settle down again and I’ve decided that by the end of the week I’m going to make friends with my guitar again.  I’m pretty sure that I know how to relearn a few of the major chords and I’m going to stop with just them. I’m not going to worry about the others for now. From what I understand I can use just those five to move on and start to learn how to put them together and make a whole song.

So the quest will continue but I’m going to change how I do some of it.

I’m trying to walk a fine line between being too cautious, going too slow and jumping ahead to where I’m not ready. I’m going to allow myself to be a little more aggressive but try to keep in mind that I may be watching the more advanced sections of the learning video but that doesn’t mean I have to be able to do that stuff.

Also, I have a wealth of people around who play guitar. If you’re one of them, watch out because I’m not going to keep refusing to ask for help. I’m going to start making more phone calls, email, text; whatever it takes to get advice and help.  I think that will be the hardest part of all. I have never been comfortable asking for help. I don’t want to feel like I’m bothering anyone. This is just going to have to be one more thing I get over because I’m still as determined as ever to learn my guitar and if that’s the only way it’s going to happen then that’s just how it will have to be.

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Is This the End?

So I get a call from a friend yesterday asking how I’ve been doing with the guitar lately. He’s been playing for years but lives out of state so occasionally helps me out when I have a question. Unfortunately, not being able to be here in person and see what I’m doing there’s only so much help he can offer. To make matters worst most of the problems I’m having can’t be solved over the phone and I know so little about playing the guitar I don’t even know what questions to ask most of the time. I’m sure you can see all of this leading up to a minor disaster (two actually but I’m saving one for another blog). Disaster is really too strong of a word upon retrospect but in the moment it felt like it. Let’s call it a set back. Hell, let’s be honest; I have no idea what I’m doing and the only little bit I thought I was getting down I was doing wrong.

After thinking it over all night I have come to this basic conclusion; I’m being too cautious. I watched my video long enough to get me to the first chord “E”. Once I got to that point I turned it off and used my chord chart to begin learning the others. My thought here was that if I stop and just learn the fingering to each chord first and get comfortable with them then I could go back to the video and learn how to change chords, more advanced strumming and how to put a song together. At one point (as told in an earlier blog) I unsuccessfully tried to move ahead when I wasn’t ready. So I decided to keep it nice and slow and only focus on the chords for now.

So, predictably enough, that was a mistake. Here’s why: when playing an “E” chord you strum all six strings. So when I watched the part of the video showing how to do an “E” I learned to strum all six strings. However, it was at this point that I turned off the video…dun dun dun. Apparently, you don’t strum each chord the same. Here’s the confusion, I thought that the strumming was the same it was just a matter of where you put your fingers. Well, that’s what happens when you assume.

As you can see from the picture below the chord chart does show when not to strum a string but I didn’t know what the “x” meant. Now I do.
So the biggest problem really is that I don’t know what I don’t know and without someone else who does know to see me and catch it I’m wasting a lot of time learning things wrong and having to relearn them. It already took me months just to be able to play five chords, three of them wrong. Now I have to reteach myself how to play “D”, “A”, and “C”.

One good thing I did discover though was that even though my chart still has 6 more chords to learn I can easily get by with just the first five for now and slowly add the others later.

I was and still am feeling a bit deflated and defeated. This is just really making me wonder if it’s even possible for me to properly learn without an actual teacher. To be honest I’m not sure where I stand with whole thing right now.

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Patience is a What? Screw That!

So being patient has never really been my strongest personal quality, especially with myself. Waiting, for some reason, has always been just completely unbearable for me. Being the strong type-A personality not being able to pick up something easily as often lead to me quickly giving up. To be honest, I have never been this bad at something for this long without quitting.

Actually the most amazing thing is that I haven’t pulled a Pete Townshend on the Smothers Brothers and started beating my guitar on the ground. (How was that for a reference beyond my years?) I haven’t even considered destroying it once. That may only be impressive to the people that really know me. But for everyone else; trust me that’s saying something.

I’m not sure if it’s because of my age and there has been some great shift in my personality but I am perfectly fine with the border-line stagnate pace of my learning the guitar. For some reason, for the first time in my life I am more focused on enjoying the process than rushing to the end. I feel like a bird being distracted by a shining object. I do think that part of it could be that I have become much more comfortable with myself as a person in general. I no longer feel the constant need for approval from others so I don’t care how crappy I still am; I think it’s fun and I don’t want to stop. I’m that kid in the school choir just singing away at the top of their lungs completely unaware of how loud or how awful they sound. They’re having a great time and the rest of the world can kiss it.

So many people in my life have spat words at me like, “stubborn”, “hard-headed”, “obstinate” and “devastatingly beautiful”. Ok, maybe not that last one, although… would it kill you? But I digress. While certainly they weren’t meant to be compliments now I look back and see that they were (at least that’s how I now chose to take them). If you look up stubborn in the dictionary it says, “persistent and determined”. I’ve never thought of myself that way before. I’ve alway just accepted insults as insults. But now I see that insults are only insult if you allow them to be. I’ve chosen to be proud that people are calling me determined. And one of the key components to determination must be an abundance of patience. So here I am, 31 years old and for the first time in my life…I’m being patient.

***I bow, while you applaud***

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Sit Up Straight

Do you know how when you’re a kid and your parents try to teach you proper manners and you find the whole thing annoying? Mostly, you ignore them or only retain as much as is necessary to not get into too much trouble? Then one day at work or a wedding someone points out to you that you just made a major faux pas and you wish you would’ve listened to your mom all those years ago? Well, manners were a very big deal in my family so I mastered them but one thing that wasn’t strictly enforced was posture. Growing up I was rarely ever told to sit up straight. Now, I wish that would’ve been different.

Anyone who knows me can clearly see that I have horrible posture. The only time I manage to stand up perfectly straight is when I’m shooting my bow. If only mom had forced me to straighten up. First, I’m a very short person; I barely hit 5’1″. Better posture would probably make me look a hint taller and a bit thinner too. I’m also certain that my back would be stronger and not be so susceptible to pulls and strains every time I fall (which is abnormally often). Aside from all these benefits I find that most of all I wish I had been taught good posture from a young age so that I could better handle my guitar.

I have noticed that I start playing in one position and generally end up in a very different situation. My guitar somehow manages to slowly move from a 90 degree angle to a 45 degree angle. This is all due to short arms and poor posture. I’m quite sure that it is having an influence on my playing. Now let me be clear, I’m not saying that in order to reach everything I need to pull the guitar back towards me at a slope. I can reach everything even though sometimes it feels like a stretch. No, it isn’t that it’s a simple matter of my back isn’t accustomed to that straight position and slowly begins to slump back to my default slouch.

So now I’m working on keeping my back as straight as possible for as long as possible while trying to remember 100 other things in order to play my guitar. It’s certainly not a pretty sight to watch me play but not to fear; it sounds just as bad.

Most importantly, I’m loving every minute of it.

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Oh Paul, You Tease

Have you ever been watching the Olympics and think; “that looks easy”? Generally, when you watch someone who is very good at what they do actually doing it; it looks easy. It looks deceptively easy. As grown adults we usually have the presence of mind to realize that, in reality, it is not in the realm of possibility that you will be able to go buy a pair of skates and be capable of gliding around on ice doing flips. So, instead we watch and cheer and just sit in awe.

Now some of you know right where I’m going with this. You know me and you know that I was only going to be able to sit strumming E,E,E,D,D,D for so long. Well, here’s how it happened. I was watching an old video of Kiss playing Every Time I Look at You.

Kiss is someone who is very good at what they do and me, well, we don’t know what’s wrong with me, I thought “I bet I can do that.” I wasn’t thinking I could play that song but I did think I could start playing songs with more than one chord. I watched Paul Stanley’s hands glide across the frets, effortlessly going from note to note, chord to chord, not even paying any attention. His hands just did it with no thought at all. This is usually the part when, as a grown adult, I realize that he started just like me doing E,E,E,D,D,D but that would be too easy.

No, I decide it’s time to stop going so slow. Screw the basics, I can do this. So, I get my guitar and get into position. I start slow with my E chord then go to my D chord. Once I have sufficiently convinced myself that my fingers know where to go with little effort I start strumming away. I’m going to switch chords without missing a beat. I know I can do it. I know it’s time to move on with my training. Off I go…

You thought I was going to fail didn’t you? I was strumming away with my fingers on D. I can feel it’s time to switch and I begin to slide my fingers into the all too familiar E chord position. I keep strumming and to my pleasant surprise, it sounds good. I think I did it. I keep playing, moving back and forth from D to E and back again. I was thrilled. Then it happened. I looked down. I couldn’t just leave well enough alone. I actually wanted to watch my new accomplishment. As I switched from D to E again I notice something; my stupid fingers have been disobeying me this whole time. They’re moving alright- they’re moving from one fret to another but my fingers themselves are staying in the same position. They’re on the same strings just a different fret. I’m playing the same stupid note, just a different octave.

Basically, I was moving my entire hand not my fingers. Normally, I would have gotten very upset probably even cried but I surprised myself. Instead, I laughed. More impressive than that I just put my fingers on the E chord and started my E,E,E,D,D,D jam all over again. I’m not Paul Stanley and I’m ok with that (for many reasons). I have to learn at my level and pace. For right now I’m going to move on to the A chord.

But, I’m never going stop watching the Olympics and I’m never going to stop thinking; “I can do that”. Because, who knows, with enough work and patience someday I could.

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