I’m at a point in my life where things which were once difficult are no longer difficult. They have the same steps they’ve always had, but the guy I see in the mirror has less trouble with the steps.
Music’s one of those things that’s reached a new level at this stage in my life. I’d always enjoyed music, like most of you, (in fact once in awhile I run into to someone who claims to not like music, and I simply don’t know what to do with that) and certainly listened to plenty of it. Even wound up with a fairly large music collection.
But still, there was more one more mountain to climb, and about eight years ago started taking music lessons, guitar, here in town at Dawson Music with Louis Dawson (who deserves a column of his own, and will get it in due time). Like most of us I’d taken lessons as a kid for a little bit: Piano because my Mom thought it’d be a good idea, and trumpet later because I wanted to be the next Herb Albert (kids, ask your parents). All that, of course, was long lost to memory by the time I sat down with Louis and started banging away.
It wasn’t easy for either of us. Teaching a guy in his fifties at the time to do something which requires eye-hand coordination is a challenge, and being a guy learning a new eye-hand skill in his fifties is, well, also a challenge.
And now, the secret to playing music: You got to practice every day. If I had followed that “secret” earlier in life you’d know me as the editor who can play the piano and trumpet. But there you go, some things take longer to learn than others, the “secret” being one of those things.
The second secret, and I’d already understood this going in, is that in the process of learning things your first efforts aren’t going to be very good. You have to accept that. You appreciate what it is you’re undertaking - you have a taste for music for example - and that taste has to confront the tuneless efforts of someone just learning how to work an instrument. With that you just have to acknowledge your initial work isn’t going to be that good. (Some of my early newspaper columns? And no, I’m not going to tell you where to find them, are so off it’s a wonder the ink can even stick to the paper. But I digress….)
So: Practice and acknowledge your first efforts won’t be as good as you want them to be.
But third, the real trick, is how you see the guy in the mirror, how you see yourself. In my case “I’m a musician, I’m not as good as I want to be but I’m practicing and will get better” was a more-or-less standard internal mantra and, sunufagun, eight years later and I can hold my own. It was important not to put myself down. So it’s not “I’m really bad,” but “I’m getting better,” see?
But let’s take this a bit farther: I can still learn things. I’m nothing special all-in-all, but with what you just read, it’s no secret. You can do things, you can be things, you can still learn things.
And know this: What you tell yourself is what you become. You are what you say you are. I kept telling myself I could do this, that with practice it would turn into something presentable, that I had to tolerate the learning process and here I am, a guy who plays music.
It’s easier than you think - that’s the real news. The first time I was handed a guitar, Louis had to tell me how to hold it, what to do with my hands. It was hard, it was awkward, my fingers didn’t know what to do. Now, tonight as I write this column, I just finished playing with some friends across town. I had to hold the guitar right and do stuff with my fingers. It was just as complex as the first time I held a guitar, but it was no longer hard. I’d done it enough where it was fairly straightforward. It has the same steps it’s always had, I’m just more used to taking them.
The guitar, you see, as in life.
Speaking of which: Some of us are meeting this weekend to play music on the square in Clinton. C’mon by, play along or listen. We’ll get there at 9 a.m. and stay ‘til noon. (And when you get done, swing over to the park for the Pate-Housley benefit there.)