I’m No Guitar Hero

Guitar is hard.

I say this on the basis of two lessons and about 10 days of actual practice time. Some may say it’s too early to make such a sweeping statement, but as I massage my sore forearm and stretch the cramped fingers on my left hand, it’s become clear that the real thing is much harder than the video game.

Since I left the orchestra world for festivals, I’ve been listening to a lot of guitar-playing singer-songwriters. I’m taken with the purity and intimacy of a solo performer, guitar in hand, sharing stories and secrets with audiences that range from a dozen to the thousands. So, after the festival wrapped up last spring, I bought myself a nice Norman B-50 guitar and began dreaming of finger-picking and hammer-ons.


After months of procrastination, I finally signed up for lessons. So every Tuesday night, I head off to the Ottawa Folklore Centre, and rub shoulders with kids 1/3rd my age as we wait for our lessons to start.

I’m currently struggling with Let It Be. It seems dead simple – just a handful of easy chords – C G Am F Fmaj7. When I try playing it, though, my fingers become swollen sausages. Some strings don’t sound, while the ones that do buzz and twang. Fingers search in vain for the right string, and compete for space with their neighbours on a crowded fret board.

While progress is painfully slow, it does feel good to actually be learning something. My student days are long behind me, while parenthood and an orchestra job conspired to claim whatever free time was available in recent years. My low tolerance for learning curves also kept me from any kind of sustained personal development.

In any case, I think it will be months before I can play through basic chord progressions with anything resembling a pleasing sound. I’m pretty sure my public debut will take place this summer, perhaps around a campfire somewhere. If you’re unlucky enough to be there, I promise not to inflict any Indigo Girls on you – it’s the least I can do.

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