As a singer, I’ve always liked the idea of learning to play an instrument so I can accompany myself. I’ve dabbled with the piano, and of course my tambourine playing is legendary (J), but I’ve never really got around to studying an instrument enough to get proficient.
I suppose it was inevitable that at least one of my challenges would involve learning a musical instrument, but I wasn’t expecting four of them! I’m tackling them in a vague order, and this is the first one I’ve completed. My friend Bronwen tasked me with performing a grade 3 (or above) piece of music on an instrument I’ve never played before. Grade 3?! Crikey!
OK, well, I’m determined to give everything my best shot so I picked the guitar as that’s the only straightforward instrument I’ve never played. I discovered there are some pretty funky songs in the Grade 3 songbook – classics like You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC, and Friday I’m In Love by The Cure – and I quite fancied bashing them out at a gig.
Guitar week one
I’ve met a number of guitar teachers over the time I’ve been involved with the music scene and running open mic nights, so I picked a teacher who lived near me and booked some lessons. We started with ‘Guitar Week One’, and I was off to a great start with all the excitement of a kid at Christmas.
Sadly, it was after my first couple of lessons that my Mum deteriorated and subsequently passed away. It was then another two and a half months before I even picked up the guitar again.
So, in May 2022, I started for real. For the first two weeks, I diligently practiced for 10 minutes every day and I surprised myself by really enjoying it. Once the novelty wore off, I struggled to find the discipline to practice every day, but I did give my trusty 6-stringed friend a few strums at least twice a week.
Now, I’ve got to be honest and say it quickly became clear that I would have to spend about a year and A LOT of money on lessons to get anywhere near Grade 3, so I adapted the challenge – with Bronwen’s permission – to learn a simple three chord song BUT I agreed I would sing and play at the same time, which takes a bit of doing.
In front of an audience
Some 11 lessons later, I decided to book myself a slot at an open mic night and just go for it. I had the song for this challenge sounding OK, and two others that I was working on. The key thing at this stage was to get out there and start playing and singing in front of an audience.
I was very nervous, but excited at the same time. I deliberately went to a night that I wouldn’t know loads of people as that would add more pressure and expectation. I played slowly, and missed a few notes, but I enjoyed it, people sang along and they donated money. That’s what this is all about –making myself have new experiences, entertaining people, and raising money and awareness for a really important cause.
I returned the following week to play the song again, alongside a couple of others, and it was much improved. I’ve lost my singing mojo again with Mum’s deterioration and passing this year, but somehow singing whilst playing guitar is much easier. I guess I’m concentrating on what I’m playing, rather than giving myself a mental bashing about the technical issues with my vocal performance.
Overcoming my confidence issues with singing is a challenge for another time…
Huge thanks must go to Andrew Scrimshaw from Richmond Guitar Workshop for lending me a classical guitar to practice on. As a complete beginner, I found this much easier to play.
(Main photo borrowed from the second week I played because we forgot to take any the first time!)