I think there must’ve been a point when I had the above realization when first starting out on guitar. Looking back over the years, I can see where that might have come from – and where it still comes from.
See, it’s about control, about being in control of something. About being in control of anything actually, because of how out-of-control life seems sometimes. And I don’t mean out of control like going over the edge or losing it; I mean, life just goes and most times there’s a feeling of helplessness, of a lack of power to affect things, to change things, to make things happen. Out of control. Out of my – our – personal input.
I think the first time I felt in control, was, interestingly, not when I first plucked a guitar string and caused it to make a sound. It went back before that. There was a time I used to race bicycles; not the Tour de France sort of racing, but simply going fast. And not in competition against anyone. I’d walk my bike for an hour or two up this mountain road (I wasn’t strong enough or devoted enough to ride up the hill to test my endurance and my fitness), and when I made it to the parking lot of the scenic lookout at the top of the mountain, I’d wait a few moments to cool off and catch my breath, then start back down this sweeping, fast, curvy, two-lane paved highway to the bottom.
Luckily, though it was well maintained and paved, there was little traffic, so the road was most times wide open; a single car passing by perhaps every five or ten minutes. I’d try to time it so no cars or bunches of cars were passing by, then would start off, just to see how fast I could go on the downhill straights and around the fast, sweeping turns. I believe the road was called Round Top Drive, and though it was only 2.7 miles long, it was all downhill and fast. That was the whole point.
But more to the point was the fact that I was in control. If I messed up, I could get injured really badly. These were the days before good guardrails and having to wear bike-helmets and padding, and there was the real possibility of crashing over the top of the low, white-painted wood guard-railing and sliding a couple hundred feet down the mountainside. But I was in control. It was my skill, my barriers – seeing where the point was where I’d actually scare myself and pull back.
Two hours of walking my bike up the mountain, followed by two or so minutes going back down as fast as I could. But those two minutes were worth it. And it wasn’t just adrenaline; it was the focus, the idea that it was just me doing this. Coming up against my own personal barriers, using my skill, my own daring, and knowing that whatever happened, it was up to me. It was completely and utterly stupid, but for those two or so minutes, there was total focus, self-responsibility; my choice, with nobody telling me I had to do it.
Optional fright, but being ‘in the zone’ as I later learned it was called, was like nothing else.
Fast-forward a few years and enter music.
I can do this. I’m making the sound. I’m deciding to do it, to work at it, to repeat it till I get it right. No parents telling me to practice; in fact, one of them disapproving of the whole I wanna be a rock star thing. But it didn’t matter because this was something I could do.
Like pushing the ragged edge with my little 3-speed standard bicycle (didn’t even have a 10-speed with the down-curved handlebars), and seeing 45 mph on the cable-connected speedometer next to my nose as I leaned down tight.
I delved into the guitar and music in general. I don’t want to go so far as to say music became an obsession, but there seemed no limit to this huge, vast realm of music; my own burgeoning skill being the only thing holding me back. It was fascinating. It was mathematical to someone who was poor at math. It was a goal.
Of course it became frustrating, but even then, it was still mine. Mine to achieve or to fail at. My responsibility. Under my own control. I think that was the attraction, the force behind the untold hours of practice, making mistakes in my routines, learning better ways, listening, playing along with LPs, playing scales, recording myself on reel-to-reel tape recorders.
Okay, so maybe a touch obsessive. But it was my own obsession. I only wished I had started earlier. I found I could hear things in my head that I wanted to bring out, to play, but I couldn’t. Another frustration. But then there came the idea of learning music, being able to jot it down in standard notation, and eventually that happened – with me majoring in music at the local college.
Mine. This was something I wanted to do for no other reason than to do it for myself.
I think the hardest part was, after learning how to learn, was patience. With myself. There’s nothing worse than getting impatient with yourself, and I was totally guilty of that. And still, at the end of the day, even the impatience was my own – to deal with.
Then, years later, after all the work, and my starting to play professionally, I met up with another roadblock: I realized I wasn’t, and had never really been ‘talented.’ A small point perhaps – especially after working really diligently at it for so long – but there was a certain point, beyond which I could no longer progress. I could write songs, put pieces and parts together, knew about voice-leading and voicing of chords, various ‘feels’ and styles, music theory up to Webern and Schoenberg (not in depth, but in an introductory, comparative way), and got an appreciation of Early Music – John Dowland, Gregorian Chant – Crumb and Cage, as well as Satie and Bach. But I found I would never be like them. Not at any level even closely approaching them.
This also I had to finally own. It was mine as well.
It didn’t stop me from going along my own personal path however; being as good as I could be, even with the limitations.
I think maybe that’s the whole point….
If you ever need a hand with something or have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.
Fingers On Strings