Sunday, November 30, 2008

Scars on the Fingers

When I was in class 12, music made a place of its own in my mind space. Sashi had again given me the audio cassette Savage Garden and funnily enough the same thing which I had disdainfully discarded in class 11, left an indelible mark on me. It was the beginning of my obsession with music. 

As with everyone else, after a few years the next thing I wanted to do was to play a guitar. But the good old unsure me, saw no chance of that happening. To begin with, I hadn't known one person in Calcutta (or anywhere for that matter) who used to play a guitar or even knew how to play it. And oh yes, I was too much of a good boy in my adolescent years to even think of asking my parents for money for anything other than buying Raj comics initially and those terrifying M.L.Khanna type of books later. I gave up my strumming pursuits in the consoling knowledge that it is something which an average boy just didn't do and that there was no expiry date to it like completing my engineering degree. Besides, I didn't actually believe that I can come even close to doing something as cool as playing a guitar. A few years later, we went to Munnar one weekend. It was the first trip we had taken after coming to Kochi and we played Rang De Basanti all throughout. Moving at 70 kmph, in the serene Idukki valley at the crack of dawn is a heavenly experience in itself and if there is a just released Rang De Basanti sound track to go with it, it can take your mind to a different world. It was in one such moment of madness, realisation, whatever that one particular note of the Paathshala (Be a rebel) made me decide that I should learn how to play guitar.

I came back to Kochi and enrolled in the weekend guitar classes at Kala Bhavan which was a charitable organisation that taught music for peanuts. For four consecutive Saturdays, I braved kilometres of intense sun to go there and gave up. I didn't learn anything there, found guitaringquite difficult and mysterious and didn't quite like the teacher. I gave up in disappointment. I was wrong, in hindsight I should have given at least some blame to the teacher. His speech was unclear, his body-language was indifferent as he seemed to have no interest in teaching (now that is where the entire problem begins) and he had scolded me for a stupid thing! I forgot about guitaring but the hope never quite left my mind and I was aware of it. I just knew that someday somewhere I will again get a chance. 

As fate would have it, I did manage to find a guitar teacher in Montevideo an year and a half-later (how I found him is another story, just know that it wasn't quite easy). His name was Miguel, he was said to be a guitar-prodigy. The day I met him for the first time, I was shocked. He was younger to me and had a wide-grin on his face! He took me and Maneesh to his room upstairs and asked us which song we would like him to play. Now, this was impressive : ) and yes, in stark contrast to my previous experience. I told him to play quite a few tracks, he played them all and played them damn well. What satisfied me the most was that he was happy to teach and happier to play! I decided that I am learning from him, come what may. Well, Maneesh backed-off when he realised that we"ll be on our own and there will be no Latin girls learning along with us, but I started. The very next day I went and bought a Stagg guitar (and a Proell gig-bag) from a shop near the Intendencia and started going to Miguel at his grand house in Beyeruth every few days. All I wanted to do at the end of it all was to play at least something of One Last Breath or Here Comes The Sun. I had two or three months in my hands. 

I learnt the basic chord positions and tried practising them at home everyday. It wasn't easy. When I pressed the strings strongly with my fingers, they would hurt. It would pain a lot to hold it for even a minute at stretch. Now before this, I hadn't imagined that something as trivial as pressing some strings can inflict pain. Anyway, it was physical pain, I took it and kept practising. The next class, Miguel showed me how to change chords and make a melody. When I came back and tried practising it, I was defeated. I would try endlessly, but I would just not be able to change chords seamlessly, not even supposedly the easiest of chord transitions. I tried for a many days, but made no perceptible progress and just didn't understand how will I ever play anything at all. But I kept practising and one fine day, all of a sudden, it happened. I was able to change the chords  and go from A to G to E to D. Next hiccup was playing my chords when a person sitting next to me was singing the song or playing a different arrangement. It just wouldn't happen, as my mind would repeatedly lose track of my chords. But in time, that too happened. Every new lesson repeated this cycle till I was left with no more time in Uruguay and by the end of it, I had learnt a fair portion of a lot many songs along with some basics of guitaring.

I returned with scars on my left fingers, they had stopped hurting anymore and I just didn't mind my calloused skin. I had been able to start with what I had wanted for a very very long time. I still can't play a F chord properly, cannot tune a guitar without a tuner and know almost nothing about the theory. The maximum I would rate myself as an amateur guitarist is 1.5/10. But I am living this dream of mine and the scars make me happy : )


P.J. Murphy said...

Great story! I think as you've seen, persistence paid off, and will always continue to do so.

The sore fingers, and the limited range of chords will soon be a thing of the past, so long as you persist and don't let your earliest experience put you off.

Every guitar player has been through all of the frustrations and almost given up, but after weeks, months, even if it takes years, they look back and wonder how they managed to get from those early clumsy, clunky stages to being really able to play guitar.

There are many resources on the internet which can help you, free or subscription guitar lesson sites and a bunch of sites with guitar songs in either 'tab' or 'chords and lyrics' format.

I'd consider it an honour if you would visit my 'chords and lyrics' site and hopefully find some songs which are suitable for your current abilities, and many more to aspire to.

The site is PJ's Guitar Chords and Lyrics , it's been around for almost 10 years and has had over 14 million ( hopefully satisfied! ) visitors.

If you like it, please pass the word around.

I wish you the very best of success in your quest to be a "guitar player". If you put the effort in, you will always be glad that you did, it is something you will have for a lifetime.

Best regards,

Srikant said...

I like the passion drive.....all in life is passion!!keep going buddy!!