Please don’t tell me (as many people are want to do) that Nirvana songs are easy to play, because if you do, I might slap you in the face. For the past six weeks I have been trying to learn “About a Girl” on the guitar … and I still haven’t mastered it. If Nirvana songs are easy, then I must really suck.
The main problem for me is the power chords. My fingers really don’t like the power cord position. Part of the problem, I recently learned, is that my guitar has a fat neck. “You know,” my guitar teacher told me, “there are guitars with much skinnier necks that are easier for people with little hands like you.” Great. Wish I had known that when I was making my guitar purchase.
And, of course, my child-sized hands are the other problem. My guitar teacher has no problem stretching his fingers to reach the appropriate chords, but his hands are literally twice the size of mine.
So I’ve been doing “finger yoga,” and using a hand strengthener. I’ve been practicing power chords until I want to scream. And I’m getting better. Slowly but surely.
At my last lesson I was ready for the final step in learning “About a Girl”: the guitar solo.
“This is usually the first solo I teach people,” my teacher told me. “It’s really easy.”
Great. I was getting sick of people telling me how easy things were when they obviously weren’t easy for me.
My instructor taught me how to do the “hammer-on,” and the “slide.” “See?” he said. “Pretty simple.”
When I was a math teacher, I quickly learned not to tell my students that solving equations or graphing parabolas (or whatever it was I was teaching) was easy. Instead of encouraging them, this statement often had the opposite effect.
If I said, “don’t worry, it’s easy,” then my students would think, oh man, if this is easy, then I must be really stupid. I should just give up now. And a lot of times they did.
I had to learn to say, “this is pretty tough; it’s OK if you don’t understand right away,” or “this is really tricky, but let’s see what we can do.” When people feel like it’s OK to make mistakes, they’re more likely to try.
And I guess my guitar teacher understands this logic after all. Towards the end of my most recent lesson, he said, “it’s going to sound terrible, and that’s OK. Keep practicing. Plow through the mistakes. Eventually, your fingers will learn what to do and then you can worry about how it sounds.”
Good to know. Because right now it sounds pretty bad.
Of course, I can tie this to writing. Like learning the guitar, writing isn’t always easy for me, and sometimes I think that I must really suck. But we writers have to be OK with making mistakes. We have to keep writing, keep practicing, and worry what it sounds like later.
Writing is really hard. So is the guitar. But let’s see what we can do.