I remember when my mom's Alvarez was bigger than I was. At an early age, I wanted to play just like her. Music isn't my primary art and playing this instrument has been an on-again, off-again sort of thing. The knowledge has come and gone and now that I'm off lessons, I try to maintain it as a hobby and not let the knowledge of my notes slip away as it did before.
I remember being taken to a guitar-learning session sometime in my early childhood. I had no guitar like the other kids so I have no idea why my parents took me there. Wanting to join in to play music, I started to clap to whatever the group was strumming. The teacher (I remember his name was Mike) then paused the class, took a pair of little maracas from a box and gave them to me. I have to wonder at how shameless my much-younger self was. I don't know if people considered me cute or annoying. Maybe it was a mix of both.
I was eight years old when I finally got a guitar that was just my size. My mom enrolled me in guitar lessons and my sister Nicole took piano. My brother started taking violin but he got tired of it quickly and quit before he got to use the bow much. I met with Chris, the instructor, in the band room across the gym of Nathan Bishop School every Tuesday that summer. I learned to pluck the basic notes and play shot ditties but before I got to learn chords and strumming, my mom forced both my sister and me to quit. It cost money, and the lessons were relocated farther across town when Nathan Bishop school closed for renovations. Plus, it was overwhelming to go straight from school to music lessons and from music lessons to CCD. I hated how she called my teacher and told him that I wanted to quit. It was completely untrue! "You never practice enough anyway," my mom said.
Sure, I wasn't self-disciplined now as I am now, but I still wanted to play guitar. Though I didn't have an instructor, my mom still expected me to practice on my own so I wouldn't forget. Without an instructor to give me material to practice and without self-discipline to remain consistent, I was lost. She let me attend another group lesson, which was torture. The entire lesson was given in Spanish ("Better so that you learn Spanish," my mom insisted) and it was nothing like my old lessons. Chris, my old teacher, taught me the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G on a basic five-line scale: E, G, B, D, and F ("Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips") are the notes on the lines and F, A, C, and E ("FACE"). are the spaces between the lines. Whole notes have four beats, half notes have two, quarter notes have one. These kids learned the notes Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do with majors and minors. The chord names were written over the lyrics of a song titled Yo Quiero Ser Feliz. The lesson that I stumbled into was a lesson on a bar chord. These kids were stretching their fingers across the frets and I had no idea what any of the basic chords were! Thankfully, I only went to two of those sessions.
Without a teacher to tune my guitar before starting our weekly lesson, my guitar started to sound out of tune and I noticed this each time I tried to practice.
"Do something productive! Go play your guitar!"
"But Mom, it's out of tune."
"Then tune it!"
"I don't know how."
"Look in your book. It shows you how."
"It's too confusing. Can you tune it for me?"
"Don't you see I'm busy?"
The day I stopped playing, my mom and I had another spat about tuning the guitar and practicing more. She must have been really stressed out so when I begged her to tune my guitar, she yelled, "Ask me one more time and I will smash it over your head so that you have nothing to whine about!"
There are parents who are supportive of their kids' musical inclinations. There are parents who don't allow their kids to even say "quit". There are parents who would love it if their kids would just stick to their instruments and lament their desire to quit. There are parents who don't care. Well, my mom scared me away from the guitar. I forgot how to play and always resented her threat. Maybe she was just mad and didn't mean it, but I would pick up a guitar and just agonize at the memory blank. I had been able to play this thing but now I could not make music.
Ironically enough, my mom would tell people "I play guitar, but my kids... no." It was the same attitude she had towards speaking Spanish. It was something she felt was unappreciated. Mom blamed laziness on our part but looking back, I must say she was unsupportive.
In my sophomore year, there was a special writing week and we did prompts in my English class. One of them involved going into the art room, going to a stack of magazines kept in the corner (they're to serve as inspiration or reference for art students). We had to write a prompt based on any picture. I found a picture of a guitar and immediately thought of how I had learned guitar and forgot because my mom's harsh words made me shy away from the instrument. I wrote that story and when I got my English journal back, My teacher had written: "Start again!".
So I decided to do just that. I asked my mom to teach me some basic chords (the Spanish way, Do, Re, Mi, etc.) and she did if she had the time. It was hard to stick to it though because these lessons happened once in a while and though I knew the chords, without any songs I couldn't really apply them. My recollection of this knowledge also began to fade. The only chords I could say that I knew for certain were Sol (G), Mi (Em), La (Am), and Re (D), thanks to the song Manos Abiertas which feature them.
I officially became a born-again guitarist when I attended community college. At the start of the fall semester, there was a sign-up sheet for free guitar lessons. I signed up for the first slot. My lessons took place every Thursday at 4:00. My instructor, Mr. Peek, is a good man if you get to know him. He sure was generous to volunteer teaching music lessons to college students for free, after all. I managed to look past his somewhat unkempt appearance and disorganized habits and just appreciate his skill, generous spirit, and fascinating background. I thought the guitar he played matched him so much. It was an acoustic with the gloss removed in the front (he had bought it second-hand in that condition), exposing the dark rough wood of the instrument, making it look antique. It was just like him, rugged-looking, but with a strong and sweet sound. Sometimes, he would go on an intriguing tangent about some musical history or about his old country, New Zealand.
I liked to think that I was one of his favorite students, coming to lessons each week on time if not early, practicing the material over the summer (though my track record wasn't perfect). That way, I wouldn't have to relearn it (it wasn't uncommon for some of his students). Additionally, I sang along. "I love it when my students sing. Not enough do," said Mr. Peek. Since he appreciated it, I decided to always sing during lessons. Almost every week, I learned to play a new folk song, and sometimes some classical guitar pieces were thrown into the mix. He told me that I have a great voice, that I'm a natural singer. It was encouraging.
Many of the other students, especially most of the freshmen when I was in my second year, were musically inclined. It was the peer pressure factor at its best! I wanted to play more music in order to join in whenever they met in the reading room for an "indoor bonfire". This one time, some of my music nerd friends and I walked into Professor Franks' office and started jamming out to the stash of American spirituals and show tunes in his many songbooks (Though he specializes in philosophy, Professor Franks is an M.A. in music). It gave me more occasions to practice. I wasn't playing my guitar just so I could show Mr. Peek what I had studied, playing lesson to lesson. My motives at the start had always been to finish what I began years ago, to recover and further develop a skill that would make me look smart and talented. Now, I was playing music to share it with others and to join in the fun. I realized that's what we learn instruments for!
Even out of community college, there are occasions to spend time with my peers or at least other young people who just so happen to have musical skills. Seeing my friends bringing guitars to events gives me the urge to play. I've borrowed their guitars, asked them for a turn, though I don't play as well as they do, especially without the paper indicating which chords to use then. Rather than letting myself get discouraged, I take it as a sign to play more on my own to be prepared for any sing-along.
I brought the guitar to my sister's friends house last summer when her parents invited my family for a barbeque. I wasn't sure what my family would think of me bringing the guitar and playing around non-relatives. Would I be told "No, put that away," if I offered to play a tune? So I set it down, took a seat on a lawn chair, and decided not to play unless I was asked to. "Play? You'd like me to play something?" I asked as if surprised, but I'd been hoping that Mr. Zapp would ask. I started with my latest-learned song, "You Are My Sunshine", then moved onto "Country Roads". I almost expected backlash when I got home, an "I don't want you being a show-off" from my mom or "you embarrassed me around my friend," from my sister, but that never happened. In fact, the very next time we visited the Zapps, I didn't bring the guitar and Mr. Zapp said, "Aw, no guitar? You should bring it again next time."
I am determined to always remember how to play. I never want to say that I "played" guitar, placing my skills in the past tense again, having to admit that I'd lost the knowledge. I want to always keep it in the present. The music isn't played just to satisfy my own or relatives' egos but to just experience life and the company of others like I'm supposed to do. Mr. Peek set the example with his generosity in passing down the art. My music-nerd friends showed me by the way they came around with their guitars and voices to just lighten up any event or setting without shame.