Guitar Lessons

I was just thinking I’d pick up the guitar again and work on the Delta Rae song that’s been stuck in my head for the last few days. I looked up the chords online the other night, and they happen to be the handful that I know.

That song’s amazing, and it would be good stress relief during the awful intensity of finals, right? Yes, right! Except that I’m terrible at guitar, even the four or five basic chords I’ve practiced a bazillion times (…two tears ago,  since which time my beloved guitar Benjy has been comfortably resting in his homemade-sticker covered, TSA-approved case, so decorated as to make it easily recognizable at baggage claim on my study abroad trip where I played it for less than half the trip because, oh yeah, I suck at guitar! As I told my friend Obed in slow, awkwardly-worded Spanish as he tried to convince me to play for him, I play guitar even worse than I speak Spanish).  But I digress.

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The point is, I keep Benjy because I think I’d like to play guitar, to absentmindedly strum a few chords into a melody for a little bit of comforting background music. Maybe I’d even write songs to sing along to on the camping trips that I don’t take but would like to take. Did I mention that I also don’t sing? My voice jangles like a janitor’s cluttered old key ring; usually I grab rusty old keys that don’t quite fit but sometimes they’re still kind of pretty, and then every now and again by sheer dumb luck I’ll actually stumble upon the right key. It’s not that it’s a bad sound, it’s just not really singing. I tend to alternate between quietly mutter-singing in the congregation at church and belting out songs on the radio in the privacy of my car. Even my mama has to admit, “Well… you make a joyful noise, though.”

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I want to be the girl who plays and sings beautifully like the music is just flowing out of her– the way my brother does, making up melodies as he goes along that somehow flow perfectly together. That’s not how I play, though. I concentrate just a little too hard and play short, disjointed, plucky chords (or almost chords) with a kind of wonky rhythm and no meaningful connection to one another. It’s like they bear some resemblance to each other, but they don’t quite belong in the same song. Like they’re family members who fought over something years ago that they never quite got past, so they get together at holidays but things are just a bit tense and awkward around the dinner table.

Ok, see? See how I just made up an entire dysfunctional back-story about guitar chords off the top of my head?! That’s where my mind goes. That’s the way I make sense of things. Words. Stories. Words are my thing, not music. I’m not good at it. And I don’t like things I’m not already good at. 

And therein lies the problem. I could write it off as pointless–my mediocre guitar playing isn’t as good as I want it to be, so it’s not really worth my time. I will never be as good at it as my brother. I will probably never be as good at it as most 8-year-olds on their third guitar lesson. But that doesn’t make it worthless. I won’t be the girl who draws a crowd at open mic night, but it’s probably good for me to be the girl swearing under her breath through a Delta Rae song in her living room sometimes. It’s incredibly humbling, and I need that. It gives me a fresh perspective about where my limits are and a new respect for those whose gifts and abilities are different, for those who can do the things I can’t. There’s value in working on something you kind of suck at that makes you feel a little lame on occasion, if only to appreciate those who do come by it naturally with new eyes and ears.

What’s the thing that keeps you humble? What have you learned to appreciate in others that you don’t see in yourself?

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