I was asked by our priest if I could provide some quiet background guitar music for my church’s Maundy Thursday service. I agreed, and when time came to head down to the church tonight, I decided to walk. It’s only ten minutes away by foot and I can always use the exercise. My fingers are sore — with the practice time yesterday and today, plus the actual time playing for the service, I played more than I’ve probably played for the previous six months — but it was good.
On the way home, I was walking by another church (there are at least five churches within close walking distance of our house; this is not a sign of Monroe’s special piety, oh no — it’s a sign that we need ’em) where a bunch of young folks (by that I mean younger than me, so youth group/early adult) were hanging out on the sidewalk. One of the young men saw me walking along with my guitar bag and basically invited me to sit and play guitar with him for a while. I was tempted, but declined the offer; we chatted for a few more seconds then wished each other well and went our separate ways. I really wanted to sit and play, and while I did want to get home, that wasn’t the reason I declined. Nor was I ashamed of my guitar (which was a birthday gift from my parents a couple of years back to replace the one that got stolen years ago), which while inexpensive has an incredibly rich sound for such a low-end guitar. No, I was ashamed of my playing. What I know about playing guitar is almost entirely self-taught.
When my parents got me my new guitar, I was really excited. Since we were at their house in Portland, I sat in a corner and played for as long as my fingers could stand (I hate playing nylon strings, so I play steel string guitars. Steel strings are much harder on the fingers until you build up the callous tissue on your fingertips. My fingers hate me right now). I was horrified to discover that I’d either forgotten a lot in the intervening nine years without a guitar, or (more likely) I was never as good as I thought I was. My parents said it was nice to hear me playing again, but I’m not sure I believed them then; I was so down in the dumps about how much I sucked that I had a hard time deciding if they were just being nice. (And to be honest, I still have that same trouble.)
It doesn’t help that I’ve been grooving to Allison Krauss + Union Station for the last couple of days. They are very talented musicians, so of course I immediately compare myself to them. I’ve had no formal lessons (apart from some sessions I managed to trade in return for teaching computer lessons back when I was a kid) and I have this wonderful music in my head that I can’t get out through my fingers. I’ve got a limited set of chords and fingerings I know and I can’t even do those consistently. There are chords that I’ve tried — and failed — to get down for as long as I’ve been playing. I think I just need to face the fact that I’m not a competent musician.
It occurs to me to wonder if learning how to touch-type early on has affected my manual dexterity; I’ve heard that typing and guitar playing require different muscles. If that’s the case, and I can only choose to be good at one, well, typing wins. I’ve had life-long dreams about being an author. Granted, I have dreams about writing and performing the occasional hit song, but even in my dreams, those are flukes; I’m first and foremost an author. Even so, it’s hard for me to find the will to do something if I don’t think I can be expert at it.
Edited: Steph says, and I completely agree, that I need to keep playing no matter what. Having my guitar available, even if I suck, gives me an outlet I don’t otherwise get.