When you first get to high school, one of the most freeing things is getting to choose your schedule a little more than before. You probably still have to take your math class, your grade level of English class, a science class, a language, and others, but you can finally choose some more fun stuff like guitar class. After I took care of my semester of gym, I jumped at the chance to try to become a rock star. My class was less than ten students, so it was almost like private guitar tutoring.
The first thing that I learned was that my fingers were not very quick. This was right in the generation of Guitar Hero’s popularity, so I wanted nothing more than to be a rock star with the finger dexterity to rip through solos and wow crowds of people. I was met with the stark reality that I was not a virtuoso by the time of my first lick. I was barely able to move my fingers to the right locations, let alone doing it in time with the song or any consistent beat.
Furthermore, my interest was in playing the songs that I loved from Guitar Hero on a real guitar. Or really just playing anything that was recognizable on a guitar. A major part of me wanted to play into the stereotypes that I had seen in movies, where a guy plays some chords on an acoustic guitar and all of the ladies swoon. This was not going to be achieved by playing the original ballad version of Scarborough Fair, not even the version by Simon & Garfunkel. Maybe it would have played better in the early 70s, but the women of the late 2000s were not convinced.
Guitar class ended up feeling a lot more boring than expected, as the teacher was more focused on technique than songs, which was something that I would realize much later as a blessing and not the curse that I thought it was at the time. I would constantly get in trouble during class for playing when I was not supposed to, especially focusing on songs that we were not learning in class. I was more focused on self-learning songs from tabs on guitar websites. But after ninth grade, I stopped playing the guitar. Maybe it was because the girl I wanted to learn guitar for shot me down or maybe it was because I felt like I would never be able to get good, I let myself stop playing.
Years later, it was a friend of mine that encouraged me to get started, one who was a private tutor himself. He told me that the problems I had attributed to bad fingers and genetic disadvantage were just problems with technique and I needed to practice. Slowly, I started to pick the guitar back up. Instead of jamming out right away, I searched for guitar tutors near me and found someone that could help me get back to speed.
We began with technique, but my teacher could tell that I was chomping at the bit to get to a song I recognized. He decided to start burying the lessons in music theory into our sessions by picking songs that exemplified certain skills. He used my taste in music as the guide, so I was only ever playing songs that I wanted to. I started out the same way, plodding through songs slowly and out of rhythm. But still, we kept at it. Instead of moving ahead, we kept returning to the same songs at different intervals. Between sessions, I could feel the improvement. Where I once had to think through the sequence of tabs, I was now moving my fingers on instinct alone. Sweet Home Alabama had been my target song, with the signature guitar riff that moves fairly quickly and requires some quick finger movement. On top, it requires you to switch strings not just with the hand pressing tabs, but also with the fingers doing the plucking. That is like patting your head and rubbing your belly. With practice, I got to the point where Sweet Home Alabama was a cinch, proving to myself that I was better than I thought and proving that the tutor’s private attention really made the difference for me, where my teacher never could.