25) Learn a Song on the Guitar

Like a lot of people, I’m a fan of music, as documented in part in My Five Favorite Film Scores post. Not only do I love listening to music, I love making it. When I was a kid, my sister and I would create instruments out of empty plastic tubs that once contained jelly, or empty tin cans with an aroma of popcorn still lingering. We would march around the living room banging on our homemade drums—much to the delight of our parents, I’m sure. Then she had a ukulele, I had a master key, and we both had harmonicas. No doubt we continued tormenting our parents with our evening two-man-band concerts.

I've enjoyed making music since childhood.

I’ve enjoyed making music since childhood.

Finally, my parents bought us a keyboard and put us in piano lessons. I suppose they figured it’d be best if we learned how to properly play a real instrument. Though at times I wanted to do anything besides practice scales, I delighted in recitals our group put on for our parents, especially our quirky take on Jack and the Beanstalk. I also often “treated” my parents to solo concerts, which not infrequently included popular songs I’d “re-written,” or songs I’d simply made up.

While I continued to play piano, I took up the flute in middle school. Like the piano, I enjoyed playing the small silver instrument, and spent a decent amount of time practicing to retain my first or second chair status. During some lunch breaks, I would hang out in the band room and dabble in percussion, learning how to do the paradiddle on a snare drum, and learning enough timpani to play it for one song during a school concert.

In short, I’ve played music since I was a wee lass, and it seemed appropriate to add guitar to my repertoire of instruments. A decade ago I picked up a friend’s Fender and frustratingly stumbled my way through three chords of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” It had been a finger-hurting experience I was not keen on repeating.

Fast-forward to age twenty-nine, and I figured I ought to give it another go. I sat down with the guitar on my lap, my left fingers holding the neck, the right holding a pick, and my laptop open to a Youtube video about guitar for beginners. Despite suggestions of taking lessons, I had it in my head that it was going to be a frustrating experience I neither wanted to pay for, nor share with someone I didn’t want to be irritated around.

That first day, I took that old six string and played it until my fingers bled. While Bryan Adams surely meant he played for hours on end, my blood starting oozing by about minute three. Fantastic. I was well on my way to another unsuccessful stint at learning guitar. I set the guitar down, glared at it, and waited until the next day to reluctantly pick it back up.

I knew the only way to get through the calloused fingers, let alone achieve my goal of playing a song with chords, was to practice every day, so I did. At first it was ten minutes, then fifteen, then twenty. I mostly just plucked strings at random, though I’ve always had a decent ear for music and have been able to learn songs pretty quickly on my own.

After about a week, when I could successfully pluck my way through my renditions of “Let it Be” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” I decided to enlist the help of some guitar players in the Youtube world. I found a couple tutorials for learning chords and got a few, E minor and G, with a moderate amount of effort. Considering many songs can be played with just four chords, I was ecstatic that I was nearly halfway to accomplishing my goal! However, what I didn’t know was that C chord, and then F chord, would be the bane of my guitar-learning experience.

For those who have never tried playing the guitar, let me tell you that the F chord was given the most appropriate letter of all the chords I know, which is admittedly a modest seven, but still, it is apt. I thought the C chord was tough, as even with my gibbon fingers, it’s a stretch. I figured that the F chord, however, may as well F off.

Luckily, the song I chose to learn first—after watching numerous videos for beginning guitar players like myself—contained no F chord. In fact, true to what I had read, it contained just four chords: G, E minor, the once-dreaded C, and D. These four chords can be rearranged to play a number of songs, but in this case, they comprised the notes for “Stand By Me,” one of my favorite songs.

It took a few months of practicing nearly every day to go from whining about calloused fingers and loathing the guitar to playing a song with chords—albeit one with only four chords that merely repeat without adding anything special—but I am happy to cross this one off the list, and be able to type this post with pain-free fingers!

*I thought about adding a video of me playing the song, but it really is just four chords over and over, and doesn’t really sound like the song unless it is accompanied by singing, which even my shower head doesn’t want to hear me do! That being the case, if you watch Rob, the wonderful guitar player from whom I learned this song, you’ll get the gist:

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