December 13th, 2011

Theorems of hobbies and music, random musings

Not particularly scrabbly content continues...

1.  A hobby is an activity that brings your imperfections to light so that you may loathe them, and by extension, yourself.

2.  Learning a musical instrument is the kinesthetic process of turning songs you love into songs you hate.

I started writing this post last Wednesday after I had my lesson on Tuesday night.  It's Tuesday again now, so I've had another week to gain perspective :)

I had played 16-odd bars of Ode to Joy perhaps 200 times in the 10 days leading up to last Tuesday, in addition to a lot of other songs.  I used to quite like the melody, but I've heard myself play it (badly) so many times that I was about ready to snap.  There's a lot to take in, and I found it pretty frustrating to know what I want to do but have some failing in:

-- fingering
-- picking
-- sight reading
-- thumb positioning
-- in general, tone.

I played all of my songs a bunch and then when I got to my lesson last week, I performed really poorly.  He played along with me a couple of times, and the aural feedback in my ear was something I wasn't used to, and I literally couldn't play a lick.  Everything was confused, and I made a ton of mistakes--performance anxiety in front of someone sort of seems what it was like, but I wasn't really nervous or anything.  I completely understand that I am paying this guy to hear my mistakes and have him suggest things to make it better.  I did get flustered, and skronked my way through 30 minutes.  He was really nice about it and of course I was disappointed that I wasn't able to show off the best version of what I could do, but c'est la vie.

Adding to this was that I didn't have a pick that was the same thickness as I'd been practicing with--all I had was some really flimsy thing that I honestly might as well throw out, so everything just was all goofy.  It's a mental note to get everything together so that I'm ready to go for the lesson.  Also, I find that it takes almost half an hour to warm up and really feel like I've got it together enough to play as well as I can.  After 75-90 minutes my left hand just starts to get too tired, so it's the classic inverted U shape for performance.  Tonight we've got an Xmas concert for the kids, so I won't get to warm up before my lesson, so I guess I'm sort of prepared for another skronkfest.

Just like anything, there are also good days of practice, where things feel more effortless, and bad days, where I can't do anything quite the way I want to.  My wife said "it's the practices that feel bad that you learn the most from."  I guess a lot of it is practicing the stuff and letting your brain rewire overnight to have your fingers do what they're supposed to.

Other things I've started to do:  

-- regularly have a metronome on when strumming and practicing my songs.  I hope this helps me develop my sense of rhythm rather than just becoming a crutch.  Time will tell, I suppose.
-- learn some scale patterns (just major and pentatonic) in closed positions
-- strum chords and practice transitions between them.  This is slow and painful.  My left hand gets pretty tired pretty quickly, but I figure even if I'm not achieving all that much musically, this has to be done over the period of weeks, it will help build up calluses, will make my hand muscles stronger in the exact range of movement that they need to be stronger, work on my rhythm, etc.  On goes the metronome and I go until my hand is too sore to do it anymore :)
-- work on some music theory worksheets in all my copious spare time
I miss being able to work on it over the lunch hour, like I used to be able to drill words for an hour.  That adds up to 200 hours of practice a year (ok, gotta eat lunch too, and could do that while hitting the space bar but not playing guitar) that is wasted.  Someone should invent something.

One goal is to get good enough by next December (that's a year) that I can reward myself by choosing a nice, expensive-ish acoustic guitar and choose it based on how well it plays for me, and what tones I like best.