Four Months On: Learning the Guitar

In April, I wrote about beginning to learn the guitar through daily lessons with my best friend. In the past four months, the longest gap between lessons has been three days. Earlier this week, he flew back home, and we relived that gap of three days without speaking to each other. That break gave me an opportunity to think about where the last four months have gone musically, and all the things we’ve covered since.

My best friend and I messaged each other on WhatsApp fortnightly across my five years of law school. We never really spoke much over the phone, but the pandemic changed all that, and we’ve been speaking every day. Aside from the amount I’ve learned from him, the thing I’m most grateful for is the conversation we have each day. In a very strange way, the world placed us both in similar circumstances for a short duration – both away from our parents, desirous but unable to travel back home, figuring out living alone in these times. Daily conversation provided insight into who we were as human beings, and after 12 years living away from each other, it appears as though not much has changed between us at all. We’re both pretty much still peas in a pod, insofar as we struggled for about a week, recognized the need to develop a routine, and then set about creating that out for ourselves. It’s been a lovely reaffirmation of something I knew about our friendship already.

Turning now to the guitar, or broadly, musically.

The last four months have been really transformative. I started with the guitar just knowing I wanted to be able to strum along to songs I like listening on the radio, went through a phase – and a realization, that I could leverage the classical music I have learned to learn classical guitar as well, and finally, have reached a point where I just want to enjoy the instrument and continue to learn daily. Through all of this, my best friend, and teacher, has been the most supportive guide I could have asked for. At no point did he think I was grasping at straws beyond my reach. There have been points I’ve been over-ambitious, I think, but we’ve figured out how much time it takes me to learn a new skill with the amount of practice I put in, and we’ve amended expectations accordingly.

He’s also been incredibly patient with mistakes I’ve made and expressions of my thoughts about the instrument. We’ve approached lessons with the idea that I should be enjoying/playing songs all the time to learn more, and as a result, I’ve always been working on learning songs alongside the technical side of things.

The trip he took back home gave me the opportunity to sit and learn songs that I could perform for him, and this afternoon, I played a full song – with some out-of-tune singing, for the first time for him. It wasn’t too shabby, I was pretty thrilled, and more than anything else, for me – it was a really nice opportunity to look back at what we’ve accomplished over the last couple of months together. The song I sang, Kabhi Kabhi Aditi, has this wonderful line that says, gaana toh aata nahi hai magar phir be hum gaate hain”, which is basically, “I don’t know how to sing, but I sing anyway”, and that’s pretty much how I felt throughout.

Over the last month, what I’ve enjoyed the most is that the focus in our teaching-learning has moved onto the theory side of things. We’re covering scales and more chords now, and talking about more music theory, which has coincided with my own preparation for higher music theory grades.

On the piano side of things, I’m reasonably comfortable with what I’ve done in the last couple of months. Slowly but surely, I’m working towards a repertoire that will help a music teacher identify where I’m at in my piano journey, so when I’m in a single place for a long amount of time, I’ll be able to pick up from that level. One day I will give those examinations as well. I’ve been working on sight-reading a lot, and listening to classical music along with the orchestral scores, just to better understand how much is going on in a piece. It’s been very, very rewarding.

I can’t wait to see where I go with music next, and a lot of it is down to how much joy my best friend has managed to bring to me by making it seem effortless, enjoyable, and not something to be stressed out about at all.

Learning the Guitar

I received a guitar in May 2017, from a kind-hearted neighbour who was also left-handed, and heard about my desire to pick up the instrument. Being left-handed presents interesting challenges when it comes to certain circumstances: hockey is learned a little differently, as are all stringed instruments – and I had never figured out how to get around the entire need to have a different kind of guitar if I ever wanted to learn. My neighbour sorted out the dilemma, which then meant I didn’t have too much of an excuse. There was nothing stopping me from actively learning the instrument as such. I had the internet, a lot of friends who played the guitar, and the instrument itself.

However, May 2017 was the last summer I properly spent in this city – in my house. Since then life has been a little bit of a whirlwind, and I never thought I’d have the time to sit and follow through on one of these whims and passions at University. Of course, my piano lessons since January have changed my perspective drastically, but at the time I didn’t feel that it was worthwhile transporting a guitar to Gujarat. Leaving it in Bangalore meant infrequent access, so most of my desire remained intact but unperturbed and not acted upon.

I’ve had a penchant for portable instruments for a very long time. This stems out of the fact that the piano isn’t portable and largely relies upon the existence of a piano in a particular place to be able to perform. I’m not much of a performer – I dislike performances because I feel like my relationship with the piano stems out of more struggle than anything else, and it’s difficult to showcase that struggle through a performance of any kind. However, I feel like I would perform more if I had a portable instrument with me. In a circuitous attempt to rewire my brain, I told myself I’d learn a portable instrument one day. The guitar, the violin, a flute, perhaps? Or even a trumpet, or a saxophone. My love of instruments means I’d like to be learning new ones constantly.

This quarantine period has really been a boon for me. University not figuring out online classes has given me the time to practice my piano for a few hours and spend time on all of these new drills that I’ve learned over the past few months. Aside from that, my friends are also free – and my childhood friends have really rallied around me to help me out with this guitar learning business. They’re taking it really seriously, which means I’m spending time actually practicing properly as well. It’s gotten to a point where we discuss things about the instrument: on design and theory, aside from figuring out more practical mechanics and exercises to help me along on the journey. I find this really fascinating because these folks are people who have obviously played the instrument for years, but neither of them are teachers or anything of the sort – but they’re putting in the effort to understand things I’m struggling with and tapping into their own memories to help me improve upon these basic chords. It’s been about 10 days now, and we’ve covered so much already, I’m super excited about it all.

The other really fun thing about this entire project and involving my friends in it is that there’s a shared joy in sharing that knowledge they possess. It’s also given us a fascinating, fascinating way to connect each day. We catch up at the end of my day, and at the beginning of theirs, talk about what the past 24 hours have brought us – and then move on with the lessons. It’s fabulous.

Turning now to the entire performance thing. I realized this evening that I won’t actually get to perform the guitar as much because even though it’s portable and there are more guitars lying around than any other instrument –

my left-handedness means I’ll need to have my own instrument around at all points to play. The circuitous route hasn’t borne fruit for me after all.

All jokes aside though, hopefully I’ll be a little Paul McCartney soon. Or an Otis Rush.