Monday, March 31, 2008

In theory, theory and practice are the same . . .

In practice, they aren't, as Yogi Berra noted.

Less than one week into the guitar lessons, and I am frustrated as hell. Oddly enough, the fretting doesn’t hurt my fingers like it did some twenty years ago when I was studying classical guitar with nylon strings rather than steel. Well, as I said before, I suck at this. What is maddening is that I have never sucked at a musical instrument. Practice wasn’t practice so much as playing. They gave me a recorder in the 4th grade, and I could play all the songs in the book by the next day. I was hooked from then on. In the 7th grade, I got to join the band, I think because Gran-Gran had played clarinet and sax by ear and surely considered music one of the most important things in life. Anyway, the next band day, I could play most of the book. The teacher gave me an extra book to play around with. I never got good at piano, mainly because we didn’t have one at home for the most part, but I could either play it by ear or practice the hell out of music. I guess I have a knack for sight-reading. But chords I do not really understand. I’m thinking maybe I should go back to the classical guitar along with the acoustic and read up on this music theory for the guitar in a book I bought recently.

Kaye, a good piano student who also plays the clarinet and recorder, assures me that music theory will make practice positively fascinating. Maybe, but I like to know why I’m doing something – what’s the core truth behind it all. Just like any other discipline, perhaps more obviously, a real study of music is making order out of chaos. I noticed that the three fields I studied (Math, Computer Science, Medieval English Lit) all try to do the same thing, which is to make order out of apparent chaos. I call that quest for meaning religion. Talking about religion gets me into all sorts of trouble, though, so don’t mention this comment to anybody.

My whole right side hurts, and the only excuse for it I can come up with is that I’ve been holding my body in an unfamiliar position and there are screws in my neck on that side, making it less flexible than it thinks it ought to be. I figure I can overcome it, but my teacher may be dismayed by my lack of progress.

My frustration is partly at my incompetence, to be sure, but, as I say, I don’t get it. It’s just “put your fingers here and strum. This is called a D chord.” One of everybody’s first questions is “Why?” I got frustrated as a teacher over this phenomenon. I wanted them to take whatever I told them on faith, given that you have to start somewhere, and they wanted me simply to pour my knowledge into their ears. Having been on both sides of the desk, or lectern, I realize that most of the onus (at least on college students and beyond, and, ideally, before) is on the student – the teacher can’t do much beyond provide direction and carrots and sticks.

I know I gave out a disproportionate number of sticks in my stint as a teacher. I’d do things differently now.

Well, I guess I’ll drag out the classical guitar, so I can feel some semblance of competence, and then be happier to practice chords.


Udge said...

Re your whole right side hurting: I would advise you, if I may so presume, to take that more seriously than you seem to do. It shouldn't hurt to play guitar; if it does, then your posture or your movement is wrong. Don't overcome the pain, resolve its cause. You'll be all the happier for it, trust me (former violinist).

And do remember that it's supposed to be fun :-)

Snark said...

I am going to look at folk guitarists in action, since my tendency is to (a) hold the guitar in a classical position, (b) adjust for my teacher and (c) adjust for what feels right, or least wrong.

I think the frustration is in part that I am middle-aged instead of nine and that I know so much guitar music that I really like, as opposed to (at the time I was learning them) the recorder, clarinet, piano, etc. I got my music off the radio when I was little. Either that or listen to Sesame Street/Captain Kangaroo records.

I have to believe that forty-somethings can learn things. I'm just barely (or almost?) grown-up, for Pete's sake.

Terry Schafer said...

Hey there bubba.
I agree with udge, your body shouldn't hurt to hold the guitar. Talk to your teacher, he/she should help you figure that out. If not, find another teacher, or go to a doctor. I've been teaching for many years and I always try to get to the root of a problem.
I specialize in adult beginners and you hit it on the ain't nine years old! You learn differently and it can take longer, more practice. Most adults have a limited amount of time so you have to know where you are going before your take the steps. If you want to play classical guitar, find a classical teacher and study that. If you want to learn some songs and sit on the porch and strum, then have your teacher find an easy song for you with 3 chords and learn them along with some strumming.
I hope this helps.

Snark said...

I will talk to my teacher tomorrow. I don't want to give up classical, but right now, I'm trying to learn folk. Classical I just need practice, really. It's just that the rewards aren't the same. I mean, I want to play "St. James Infirmary" or something. :)

Will Kriski said...

I understand your frustration. I'm an experience rock guitarist playing daily for 26 years. I recently went back to college to study jazz guitar and it was frustrating - I didn't agree with their teaching methods - way too much theory, very intimidating atmosphere, etc.
But the frustration doesn't help the practising. As much as possible you need to be in the present moment, consciously practising to be most effective. Focus on the daily routine and trust that you will get there.