Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Ad Infinitum

Part of being a musician is that I have to practice. I believe that if there is anything that you wish to be good at, the key is to do it frequently and with purpose. Whatever it is, with time and dedication, you will almost certainly improve. 
When it comes to my own routine of playing music, that means practicing every day whenever possible, whether I feel like it or not, while accepting the risk that I might annoy the people around me. As any parent whose kid was ever given a recorder could tell you, this is an unfortunate but often necessary byproduct of musicianship. At some point or another, you will probably piss somebody off. Not everyone will love you. This is music and this is life. Press forward. Do what you have to do.
I first picked up a guitar when I was sixteen years old. It stayed in the case for most of the next year, until I made a conscious choice to start practicing regularly. I never took lessons, but I had a good friend who was also trying to play, so we were able to learn a bit from each other. We challenged one another and ourselves to get better. I like to imagine that even Jimi Hendrix sounded like shit the first time he picked up a guitar. It's just how these things go. Skill is something you learn.

The first year or two of playing guitar were by far the hardest, but I am thankful that I did not quit. It could have been really easy to be discouraged. I started on electric guitar, and I still generally prefer it over acoustic. My first amp was a little 15-watt solid state Fender the size of a lunchbox. Once I was able to save up some money, I bought a Peavey combo amp that felt like it was made out of concrete. That thing was absurdly heavy and crazy loud, even with the volume on 3 or 4. I still wasn't very good, but I grew to really enjoy making noise. I was punk rock, minus the fashion statement.
My parents made me practice in the upstairs of the garage, which was separate from the house. Another friend of mine put a Frankenstein drum kit up there -- amidst the sawdust, corncobs and mouse turds -- and we played a lot of shitty songs composed of power chords. 
Then I moved off to college, where I sometimes set up my amp in the community room of the dorm where I lived. It was a good way to draw out the other introverted musicians, plus I really liked the acoustics in there. Other people were probably less thrilled about it, especially if they were trying to study while I noodled my way through some pentatonic scales and simple chord progressions.
Over the years, I have subjected many family members, friends and unsuspecting strangers to my unpolished musical meanderings. For a while, I was pretty terrible. So it goes. With practice, I steadily improved. I'm still no Jimi Hendrix, mind you, but I have gotten better. 
Meanwhile, anyone within earshot has had to hear me work out songs while I figured out how to play guitar and other instruments. I even owned an accordion for a while. It has been a long process for me to get to where I am today, which has not only required my own patience, but that of the people around me as well. For that, I am thankful.
Even now, songs seldom emerge from my head even close to fully formed. As such, there is a lot of figuring out the chord progressions, vocal melodies and lyrics as I go, which of course is far less pleasant to listen to than a fully written song that I have already rehearsed countless times. 
While my music might not be everybody's cup of tea, I am happy to report that I am no longer terrible. Not to me, anyway. Nonetheless, I'd like to offer a sincere apology and a wholehearted thank you to everyone who has put up with my daily compulsion to practice over the years. That includes my family, friends, neighbors, and random passersby. Some of you probably know these songs almost as well as I do. Some of you even heard them when they still weren't fully formed. 
For the many wonderful years that my two kids and I lived under the same roof, I sought to instill in them this idea that practice is part of being a musician, to normalize my routine in their eyes, so that they might apply this same level of dedication to their own passions, whatever they may be. At the same time, I recognize that they may very well have gotten tired of hearing me run through the same songs day after day, as likely did anyone else who ever had to live with me. Sorry about that. I hope you understand. I guess that makes us more or less even for the recorders.

A musician has to practice. To anyone who needs to hear it, thank you for putting up with me. As for everybody else, if you have a friend, family member or neighbor who is learning an instrument and/or writing songs, I hope that you will afford them the same degree of freedom to be terrible, at least for a while. Practice is the only way that we get better.

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