But He Could Play the Guitar Just Like Ringing a Bell…


Go, go, go Jonny go go…

-Chuck Berry

Well, while I may not be able to play the guitar like a bell, my new friend, Tim can.

Let me back up a bit.

I have always wanted to learn how to play guitar. When I was about nine years old, I expressed this interest to my parents, both of whom play the guitar. My mom found a small guitar at a used toy store and purchased it for fifteen dollars, and my dad sat me down for my first lesson.

I don’t think the lesson lasted more than fifteen minutes. The memory is a bit muddled, but I do remember that I struggled for a few reasons. First, my dainty fingers hurt from pressing them against the steel, and I am sure I expressed this regularly during the fifteen minutes of lessons. Second, my fingers were not very strong; I could barely press the strings down hard enough to change the sounds emanating from them. Third, my hands did not agree with the positioning required to play chords. While my hands were freakishly big for my age (I could palm a women’s basketball at the time), they cramped and failed to function when placed in formations meant to yield harmonic noises from the guitar strings.

I was frustrated, and I am sure my dad was also frustrated. However, he probably had to endure his own frustration in addition to my endless complaining and lack of mental and physical fortitude. That was my first and last guitar lesson from my dad.

Eleven years later, I found myself surrounded by guitar players in a University of California at Santa Barbara residence hall, Tropicana Gardens. There were two in my suite, along with a few of their guitar playing friends, who all but lived in the room, as well as two guys down stairs who had electric guitars. I pestered them all to teach me. For my efforts, they may have obliged with a grand total of fifteen minutes of lessons.

Up until a few weeks ago, I could claim, an impressive, half an hour of guitar apprenticeship. I could also strum a grand total of one chord: G. To be quite honest, I only know this because every time I pick up a guitar, I place my fingers in that same position and strum. And, inevitably the owner of the guitar, who actually knows how to play, says to me, “G,” with a look on his or her face that says, “Now what?”

So what has changed in the last few weeks? I met my new friend, Tim!

I actually ran into him quite by accident. About a month ago, I was organizing pictures from a trip my partner and I took this past summer using iphoto, periodically clicking on the tutorials so I could understand the nuances of the program. In a rush to get to the next tutorial, I accidently clicked on a Garageband overview. The overview explained that I could, not only, make music digitally, but I could also learn how to play the piano or guitar from downloadable tutorials as well!

I thought to myself, Wow! This is great! Learning how to play the guitar has always been one of the top five things on my mental to-do list. Moreover, the prospect of having a child makes me want to learn how to play so I can sit down and sing Nowhere Man while strumming along on an acoustic guitar (if I am lucky enough to have a son or daughter).

About a week later, I retrieved the fifteen dollar guitar from my parents, clicked on the Garageband icon, and was introduced to my new friend. Tim, who has apparently stolen Simon Cowell’s wardrobe, and borrowed Peter Gallager’s eyebrows, is the affable guitar teacher (and apparently, piano teacher) of Garageband (pictured below). He has already taught me Chords G, C, A, A minor, and…. some other chords that make semi-lovely sounds when the finger placement and strumming is done correctly.

Now I can even read guitar tableture like a kindergarner can read an organic chemestry text book! I am on fire! Soon I’m going to be that guy on camping trips referenced in Role Models, “There’s always a guy with the acoustic guitar that doesn’t quite know how to play it.”

[Flash to the camp site]

Kumbaya my... Wait. I know it. Kumbaya…”

I find myself empathizing with that guy now, for I have since attempted to learn my first real song. The other day, probably sick of the nonsensical noise coming from my seat by the computer, my partner asked me if I was ever going to learn any actual songs. I was told, Free Falling by Tom Petty, was the easiest song of all time since I would only need to learn four chords, so I looked the tableture up online so as to prepare a performance for my one-person audience. After a few days of practicing, I sat my partner down and said, “I know a song now. Wanna hear it?” She said that she would love to hear it, so I gripped the guitar, and began playing:

She’s a good g… Wait. I know this. She’s a good… Crap. Wait a sec…”

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