Impetus

I’ve been practicing my guitar again, and I’m finally returning to a point of feeling good about it.

Dys gave me an awesome Christmas present last year in the form of an excellent instructional book that inspired me to look at my playing (and especially the art of practicing) than I ever had.  It made me keep honest, and keep practicing a bare minimum of 15-30 minutes a day from Christmas until my hell weeks in April (with the exception of our brief visit to the Midwest).

But I got busy on my Huge Project, too busy to do anything but work, fret, and sleep.  So I let my practice slack…and, as I usually do, never got back to it.  I usually resolve every year or so to devote myself to practice, and it usually lasts about a month.  This time it made it much longer, and I felt stupider about it when I stopped…but I still stopped.

The problem is impetus.  Those times in my life when I played and played and played have been those when I had a reason to keep doing so.  As a teenager, it was pure fantasy and ego.  As a college student, I had other musicians around me to play with…first a roommate who was better than I was and who (amiably) pushed me to get better, and later an apartmentmate who was behind me and looked to me for help, which pushed me to get better so I could do so.

In grad school, during my dark time, it was one of my few escapes.  In the early part of my relationship with Dys, it was something I did as sort of a gift for her.  But then I got a real job, and we got married, and we had a kid, and regularly playing my guitar sort of fell by the wayside.  I occasionally got the bug and picked it up – buying a new CD or otherwise hearing a cool song that I just had to learn, or that time when it looked like I might replace her first cousin in his cover band – but for the most part, it fell out of my day to day life.

With less time to do it compared to my other responsibilities, and no real reason to do so other than to express myself, it’s much easier to become frustrated with my inability to express myself as I’d like.  As Devin Townsend says, you need to be good enough to play what’s in your head, and nothing more…but I’ve never been that good.  I’ve been close, at times, but sometimes getting so close and not quite there is the most frustrating thing of all.  It’s almost a disincentive to start up again after a long layoff.

But in the back of my mind I always remember how happy I am when I feel like I’m “on” musically – those rare occasions when it feels like my fingers fall in the exact right place in the exact right timing and I’m not even thinking about what I’m doing, I’m just flitting around the fretboard and the music comes from somewhere other than conscious thought.  There’s a pure serenity that flows through those moments that is sublimely euphoric.

Now, as last year, I have the impetus of my upcoming visit back home and the traditional family sing-along.  Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of my younger brother and the uncle who got me into music in the first place is a powerful impetus to practice in the short term.

So for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to do the 30-minutes-a-night thing again.  (In addition to 20-30 minutes a night of Rock Band drum practice, gotta keep them skills up too!)  And I’m about back to where I was in April, more or less.  My fingers are still about 3-4 steps behind my brain, but that’s better than 10-12 steps back.

So far I’m still mostly noodling, though – fingering exercises, scales and arpeggios, little riffs here and there.  I think I need to get back to spending some dedicated time in front of the old stereo, playing along with whatever strikes my fancy.  That makes me focus on getting it right.

But still, it’s good to not feel completely fumble-fingered again…and to feel like I’m back on the road to someplace good, the road upon which I can sometimes stoop and pick up little bits and pieces of that euphoric serenity.

I’ll take it.

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7 Responses

  1. When we have some disposable income (hah!), Calvin and I really want to take guitar lessons. We have a pair of acoustic guitars getting dusty in the spare bedroom. It’s just a shame.

    You could do worse than to grab a copy of the book I linked above…

  2. This post evoked creative frustration very well. You described how I feel about my fiction writing, pretty much; falling in and out of it, feeling like it ought to be in your life but letting other things get in the way when they’re more urgent, etc. But then, but then, but then.

    But you managed to say in a sentence what took me a page.

    Hmm.

  3. I was just thinking of this very thing the other night. I barely play anymore. My callouses on my left hand are gone. GONE! I picked up a Willy Porter CD last week and nearly started to cry at how well he plays and how my own playing has gone out of my life.

    I used to play constantly. I used to write these great songs. I used to play the open mike nights. I had a bit of a following and played my own shows. I opened up for a band that later on led me into a marriage with the bass player (who also no longer plays).

    I need inspiration for so many things in my life now.

    Stupid full time employment getting in the way.

    Hey, you’re a couple up on me – I only played in front of an audience twice, both times solo at a friend’s party (by request).

    I hear ya though. Stoopey day jobs.

  4. Good job…just try to have fun with it. You and I seem to be cut from similar cloth, so it might be safe for me to tell you to not let your desire for perfection get in the way of your fun and creative spirit.

    Yep, it’s safe.

    I don’t want it to be perfect, I just want to be able to play what I think. I’m just not there yet.

    As for perfectionism, I think part of my problem is some sort of an ego block or selfconsciousness or a combination thereof. My roommates always said I was a better player after a couple of drinks, which I think is due to the booze taking the edge off of some of my inhibitions.

  5. Will this sing-a-long be recorded for posterity? 🙂

    Absolutely – on my parents’ video camera. 😀

  6. Does that mean you’ll post more videos of yourself playing the guitar? Were you wearing a bike helmet in the last one?

    Uh, I don’t know, and yes I was. 😀

    We’ll see about posting more videos. Videos of the family, probably not, but maybe I could dredge up another helmeted one. If Dys will throw the horns at the end!

  7. I’ve been busy reading through your archives, but haven’t commented yet. Until now!
    I’m enjoying your writing very much.
    Good luck with the decorating – I hung a shitload of lights up the other night and ended up flat on my back (not in the good way) from falling off of a stool. So a helpful and obvious tip from me would be to be careful and not try to do anything dangerous while home alone.

    I’m happily flattered that you’re enjoying the archives!

    I won’t be doing anything home alone…but alone on this floor of the house is a distinct possibility. I think they’d come running at the *BOOM*, but I could be wrong…

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