I’ve always wanted to play the guitar. To the point where, oh these many decades ago when I was 15, I took my life savings in babysitting money and bought myself a beautiful $200 Guild acoustic folk guitar. People my age are probably gasping because, young’uns, we remember how vast a sum $200 was way back when and how many months of babysitting — at what I recall was about 75¢ an hour — that chunk of change represents. However, I didn’t get just any guitar. I lived in Newport, Rhode Island at the time, site of the famed Newport Folk Festival, where every folk luminary has played but which also launched Janis Joplin, where Bob Dylan electrified and where Johnny Cash introduced Kris Kristofferson. The music store I went to was famous as a festival gathering place where a lot of the acts would sell, buy and swap instruments. While I was in the shop, trying guitars and finding that most were too big for my small hands, a sales person brought out a used Guild guitar from the back. He said it had just been traded in by a woman about my size who’d been playing the Festival. I have no idea who that artist was — but, of course, I like to believe it was Joan Baez. It probably wasn’t. But my guitar can boast a little bit of street cred.
So the next chapter should be how I practiced and practiced and am now a guitar virtuoso. Sadly, that is not the case. I think I managed to teach myself three chords and finally got to the point where I could plink out a slow, halting version of “I Ride an Old Paint”. Then my little brother walked into the room. As is often the case, talent is not evenly distributed in families. My brother not only got all the musical ability in our immediate family, he got all the musical talent that should have been evenly distributed among at least seven generations of our family. He asked if he could hold my guitar and, without to my knowledge ever before having played a note, he blasted out a perfect Pete Townshend/Who riff. I put down that guitar and never picked it up again.
Well here I am, four decades later, thinking it’s now or never. And it’s tough going. I’ve signed up for guitar lessons starting August 1st. I figured that would give me time to toughen my fingers and relearn a few chords. It’s gonna take more time than that. So far, following along in a Teach Yourself Guitar book, I’ve mastered holding the guitar and putting the strap properly over my shoulders. I have yet to master even one chord as those steel strings cut into my fingers so much I can only play for five minutes at a time. I’ve also revised my original plan to learn three chords. That’s probably two chords too many for my current lack of proficiency. Sadly, there are no one chord songs, so I’ve been scouring the downloadable music sites for two chord songs I might have a hope of learning. So far, I’ve found several: Jambalaya (Hank Williams, good!), Skip to My Lou (Pete Seeger version), Down in the Valley (Earl Scruggs version) and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. Even with two chords, the tempo and strumming patterns for these songs are still daunting to me. The easiest two chord song I’ve found is — horror of horrors — Achy Breaky Heart. I don’t think I can go there. Whatever songs I attempt at this point are going to be played ad nauseum. I just don’t think I could stand to hear Achy Breaky Heart even once, let alone every day at every practice session. Not that I’m at any point where I can plink out a song with even the scant proficiency of Billy Ray Cyrus.
So here I am, trying, in five minute chunks, to learn the C and the G chord so I can play my two chord repertoire. I’d update you on how it goes. But my fingertips are hurting so much at this point, I may have to choose between blogging and playing. Or texting. Or really doing anything with my hands. Makes me wonder why I didn’t choose a safer instrument. Like a ukulele. Or a kazoo.
Building up those finger calluses is more than half the battle. My brother used to play a lot with his best friend. Best friend died much too young, guitar sat idle for a few years. He tried to play with some other guys one night maybe a year ago..Hurt like crazy. I finally gave him the koa wood pick I got for him in Hawaii. Told him that the goddess Pele and Lloyd both want him to start playing again.
Multiple five minute sessions a day may be required to make those fingers do right, unless you decide to opt for slide guitar.
As a child I remember watching Eddy Arnold show just before heading out to catch school bus. I thought the pedal steel was the greatest thing in the world. Taking piano lessons at the time. If had not left the area at eleven might have made my way to Nashville to learn to play pedal steel. Good luck to you. Sally Yates and JT will only snicker a little bit.
You can change out your steel strings for nylon. That will help a little on toughening up the fingers…
Also, the G and D chords are easier to play…
I was part of the Folk Music Scare of the ’60s, and my high school graduation present was a Martin 000-18 ( pretty sure Joan’s playing a Martin in the photo). I played in groups in high school and college and got pretty good. Then, in my late 20s, my guitar took a long nap. My Martin slumbered peacefully, to be reawakened about 20 years ago when close friends we sail with decided to take up their instruments again. I’ve never regretted it. Took a little while to toughen up the fingertips and a few brush up lessons and I was back picking away! Stick with it, and you’ll have a lot of fun. I’m back to playing with several groups ( strictly for our own entertainment) doing Bluegrass, Celtic, folk and a little blues. A couple of tips: there are a zillion tunes of all genres in the key of G, and the I, IV & V chords are all easy to play. The key of C has the pesky F barre chord so if you want to play in another key, the capo is your friend! Just move it around and continue to play in the key of G shapes. And NEVER put nylon strings on a steel string acoustic guitar! Classical guitar is constructed in a different way, and you’ll never get the right sound out of your sweet little Guild. Tough it out and change the strings frequently. Try light or extra-light gauge. Finally, to get inspiration, try a music camp. There are lots of guitar camps out there, with top notch teachers of all genres, many of them in beautiful settings. You will meet many like-minded guitar geeks of all levels. Don’t give up! You already have a good instrument, now you just need a few pickin’ pals to noodle with. I’m sure there are many in your area. Looking forward to a hootenanny some day at Two Terrier Vineyards. Django sings shockingly well with the Irish flute.