Note: This series recounts my guitar playing days. This entry was originally posted on June 15, 2010.
Once and a while during this past year, someone would ask me, “Where is your guitar? I love hearing you play. You have played so well.” I would reply that I needed a break. But I had stopped a long time ago.
I had started playing guitar when I was 20 at my friend Steve’s suggestion. Here I come, I thought, the next guitar hero or the next singer-songwriter. I started with rock and pop tunes from Beatles, Aerosmith, etc. I played “Stairway to Heaven” at a recital in Georgia. Classical guitar was later recommended to me because of my note-reading ability. I recorded my own song, “Do You Remember?” in mid-2007. An inkling, a doubt started to creep up. But I ignored it. I thought if I could work a little harder, I would get better.
Usually when I work on a new musical piece, it would be a steady climb of practice. Eventually, I would reach a tipping point, a feeling that I understand the piece. It would be a smooth downhill progression as I made a few adjustments and mastered the piece from memory. My two favorite classical guitar pieces were William Beauvais’ “Gridlock Blues” and Andrew York’s “Faire.” You can find performances of these pieces on YouTube.
From the fall of 2008 to spring of 2009, every guitar piece became a mountain that had an infinite summit. These pieces didn’t look as difficult as the previous ones. I could hear the progress that I was making. But there was no tipping point, just one hard slog to nowhere. I tried setting different goals like learning a new chord or a piece by this time period. But nothing worked. I was worn down.
My guitar teachers would get excited about a new piece that they were practicing for a recital or for fun. But I didn’t feel like that. It felt more like drudgery. I was pouring all this energy and getting no satisfaction. Coupling guitar practice with work might not have been good idea either. This hobby had become an indictment against me and my belief to live my life fully and passionately. I have to face the fact — I am not a good guitar player. I can’t play a tune from memory. I can’t play a guitar solo.
I chatted with my friend Don about this burnout feeling at the end of April 2009. He suggested putting away the guitar for the month of May and seeing how I feel after the break. When that month ended, I realized that I didn’t want to pick up a guitar again. Maybe if I had focused on another type of music like blues, it could’ve been different. A support network of other musicians could’ve helped, too. A classical guitarist doesn’t play with anyone. He practices alone and performs alone. But I was heading to that solo existence early on when I couldn’t keep up with Steve, who was progressing quickly on his bass. So we rarely played together. I practiced by myself.
I could’ve called it quits right then in June 2009. But I wanted to leave this music phase with an accomplishment. Daily, I would update my “Chord of the Day” section on my MySpace profile. I started with the first chord from the key of A flat and progressed to the last chord from the key of G in my guitar chord dictionary.
Today was the last chord update. That chord is a G thirteenth flat ninth flat fifth. The notes are G, B, D flat, F, A flat, C and E. Try it out on a keyboard. Let me know how it sounds.
I am relieved to have this burden removed. Now I could focus on things I want to do, such as speaking another language, learning first aid and shooting a firearm.
Those nine years of guitar playing were still worthwhile. The rhythm and notes from those tunes prepared me for my brief interlude into Cuban salsa. I have met great teachers who have taught me more than songs. Maybe this wannabe guitar hero needed to be on that journey.
So do the things that your heart desires. Sometimes you have to preserve. Other times you have to stop. But always enjoy what you’re doing.