Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Maybe I found an instrument...

I've had a very difficult background with musical instruments. My first was the piano, coupled with literally the worst piano teacher in the world. How can you take 8 years of piano lessons and not know the three notes of a C chord? Mrs. Kottke, you deserve a swift kick, you stupid hag.

Next was elementary music (with the Flute-o-phone) and beginner band. I really, really wanted to play the saxophone, but my uncle played baritone (basically a mini-tuba); my parents pushed me into that instrument because they wouldn't have to pay the $12/month for an instrument rental. I hated it, it took up the first two seats of the bus ride home (making me Major Hated Man), and the mouthpiece was big enough to fit over my whole head. Not a fan.

Next up was guitar (a Christmas gift - basically, the guitar shown here), and another inept teacher. I wanted to strum like the kids at summer camp, and I had a teacher that wanted me to do classical style guitar. Didn't work out too well on my Eko steel-string guitar. And it made me hate guitar.

The next summer, I was wasting time by reading the classified ads at the back of Popular Mechanics magazine when I ran into an ad for "Learn Bluegrass Guitar". I didn't know what the heck they were talking about, but I thought that maybe it was the stuff I heard on Beverly Hillbillies. Of course, I was thinking about banjo, but the book I bought taught me a ton about playing the instrument in a way I could enjoy. I ended up becoming quite the hot bluegrass guitar player.

Of course, being a decent bluegrass player didn't really fit a 17 year-old man/boy's concept of cool. Bought an electric, spent a lot of time on it and got moderately competent on it. Wasted my early college time playing the instrument, then toured with a group and got twisted up. Once I'd decided I could be better, I decided to go to North Texas State to study jazz.

What a freakin' mistake.

I ended up getting phenominal technique, but I was about as musical as a log. I also developed a horrible case of performance anxiety, leading me to drop out of school, music and a social life. Years later, I started playing again, but it just never spoke to me again. With the "new" MIDI software world, I got entranced by synths, drum machines and effects boxes. It fit my technical nature, but there was just not the visceral playing experience that I craved.

A few years ago, our local church needed a bass player. I decided to chip in, bought a bass rig, and started playing. It was a revelation; I found that I could "hear" the lines I wanted to play (rather than calculating an appropriate scale/chord/mode combo), and directly play them without excessive thinking. I started playing with any band that would take me, and have done a lot of gigs over the last few years. People appreciate my playing in a way they never did on guitar, and I'm a face-full-of-grins every time I play the thing.

Perhaps, after all this dorking around, I finally found an instrument that provide a personal voice, is fun to play, and provides the social "in a band" sort of interaction I'd been looking for. So where was this thing when I was 17?


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