A memoir of learning guitar

Callie Fausey is a junior media studies major.

When I was 15, I got my first guitar. It was exciting, and I was thrilled to learn. However, life got in the way, and that old acoustic guitar started to collect dust — in short, I had underestimated the dedication that it took to learn a new instrument. When I started college, however, I regained the passion and motivation to begin learning again. Especially now, during quarantine, I have had more time to dedicate to music. 

While learning how to play the guitar, I’ve realized something: the most difficult part of learning a new instrument isn’t mastering all the chords, memorizing where your fingers go, or grasping how to perfectly replicate one of your favorite songs. Instead, what is most frustrating is overcoming your own self-doubt. As I’ve been teaching myself how to play guitar, I catch myself being unnecessarily critical of my growing abilities. Silencing that discouraging voice inside my head was essential, and once I did, the rewards were incredible.  

At the very beginning, everything was confusing — figuring out chords and trying to read tabs is like learning a new language. Even holding the guitar felt awkward at first, and when attempting to play a song, my fingers fumbled around the strings, not sure of what my mind was directing them to do. I was only recently able to transition between frets without having to double-check I was on the right one by counting them out in my head. When I first realized I was gaining some muscle memory and could navigate the strings a bit easier, though, I was ecstatic. It takes a while, but with practice, my fingers have started to fumble less, and I don’t have to try as hard to get them where I want them to go. 

I originally started off playing on an acoustic, just to start to get the hang of things. When I decided I wanted an electric guitar, I looked for one I could afford and could easily continue to learn on. I opted for a black Squier Stratocasters since they are good guitars for beginners that are pretty affordable. Right now, I mostly just play for myself; whenever I hear a new song I really love, one of the first things I like to do is look up the chords online and try to replicate it. Some of the easiest songs to learn are pop songs, but my favorite genres are more along the lines of alternative and rock, which can be a bit difficult to replicate.  

At first, my renditions sounded nothing like the original songs. It was a little discouraging, but something that helped me was trying to play along while listening to the songs. If I could just figure out the strumming patterns and the tempo, I could somewhat play along, and even if I didn’t have the chords or tab completely down, I would just play with the tempo, and eventually, my fingers would catch up with the transitions. The most important thing for me when I was first starting was being patient and reminding myself that I was still learning so it wasn’t going to sound perfect. I’ve been playing for about two years now, and I still feel like I’m in the learning stages.

The number of different terms and concepts that are out there can be overwhelming and a bit discouraging, especially when other musicians make everything look easy. When learning a new skill, it can be easy to slip into the mindset that if you’re not immediately perfect at it, there’s no point in learning it. However, the sensation of watching a skill develop before your eyes is an extremely gratifying experience, and it makes up for all of the challenges. 

While it’s easy to compare yourself to experienced guitar players and feel a bit hopeless, it’s important to remember that even the most skilled musicians were once novices too. This is something I have to remind myself often, as to not get bogged down in my own insecurity. In fact, I am lucky because I have friends who have been playing guitar for a long time, and who  are happy to help me learn the ropes or, well, strings. Having them help guide me through the process has been especially helpful. To boost my confidence and motivation, I reward myself for the tiniest successes. As long as I am patient with myself, the process always remains exciting. Any intimidation and uncertainty slowly fades away.

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