I made a promise to you folks two days ago that I would play my guitar yesterday … and I did. It had been so many years and I didn’t even know if I could remember how to tune it.
I smiled as I pulled out the guitar case from its shelf and undid the clasps. Am I really beginning again? Apparently so. There sat my friend with its strap laid tenderly over the strings.
In my hands now, the instrument felt right. “Welcome home,” it seemed to say. I resurrected memories of group guitar lessons in Ottawa in 1971 or so. And there I was last night, tuning.
Use the pitch pipe to get the right sound for the low E string. Place your left index finger in front of the fifth fret on the next string – the A. Play the two strings, one after the other. The two notes should sound identical. If they’re slightly off, you should feel a vibration in tone. If they’re right on, no vibration. Wow, it’s actually coming back!
Continue the process on the next strings. Strum them all with your flat pick. Be extremely happy when the sound is wonderful. Yes! Except for the fact that I couldn’t put much pressure on the strings with my fingertips, and that adds up to a buzzing.
Okay, so some of my chords were a buzz. The cool thing is that my fingers remembered where to go … C, F, G, D, Am, Bm, Dm and Em. Four major chords and four minor ones – I can play a lot of songs with just those beauties!
I used to bemoan that I didn’t know how to fingerpick, and that I couldn’t move my left fingers out of the chord shape to hit individual notes. Would I like to do these things? Sure. A guitar teacher could help me. But sitting here right now, it doesn’t feel important. All right. Then what is important?
1. I want to sing beautiful songs, ones that tell a story about life
2. I want other people to hear me sing them
3. I want other people to be touched by the stories, and to sense how they apply to their lives
I can do this. First, I need to create some calluses on my fingertips, so I can play for longer than five minutes. I have to learn some songs – know the chords, memorize the words. And I have to convince someone to listen to me. I can do this.
I started singing and playing last night … “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”. I loved my voice and I loved hearing the guitar filling in the tones. Was it performance ready? Not at all. But, to use a martial arts term, I had put myself on the mat. The guitar was on my lap. The words came out of my mouth. The chords moved with the words. Happiness.
I thought of John Denver, one of my favourite songwriters. He loved playing too:
This old guitar taught me to sing a love song
It showed me how to laugh and how to cry
It introduced me to some friends of mine
And brightened up some days
It helped me make it through some lonely nights
Oh, what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night
New friends are coming my way.