About a year ago I picked up a guitar for the first time. I was convinced that I could practice hours a day and be an expert in no time. After a day of playing, or more aptly, trying, I realized that learning the guitar was going to be a slow, and agonizing process. The image of a gang of alley cats collecting at my windowsill and my family wearing industrial strength ear plugs comes to mind. Something had to change. Family communication had struck an all-time low and more importantly, I’m not a big cat-person. So I put aside the tabs written in what appeared to be a WW2 code transcript, ceased the butchering of “Smoke on the Water”, and embarked on my journey.
The unique thing I found about the guitar is that I could only pick up so much a day. The marginal return after about half an hour was almost zero, all the while the sores on my fingertips were getting exponentially worse with each chord. But that’s what really appealed to me. Not the excruciating pain (ears included), but the inherent long wait I was facing. Here was something, and I assume my theory fits for most beginning guitarists, that took more than hard work, but patience. Struggling through a practice session wasn’t enough. Half the battle was waiting for the brain and muscles to respond with improved coordination.
Without a veteran musician to guide my practice, I threw together a few exercises and riffs to develop my skills. I honestly had no idea if I was even headed in the right direction. Evidence of hope finally arrived in the form of the B chord. The first time I heard it’s semi-muted, yet distinct sound it was as if I had just mastered a Hendrix solo. Here was an open door to a whole new level of guitar. Shortly after the first time I attempted the chord, I immediately began looking for a shortcut. But as I continued my research it became clear that it was a necessary skill. I worked at it for weeks until it finally just clicked. I wasn’t missing anything, and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It just took persistence to attain the particular proficiency.
A year later, my patience has already paid off. Learning the guitar has been like growing, in that the quotidian gains are so minute they go by, for the most part, completely unnoticed. I found myself asking “am I really getting anywhere with this?” But at the end of a given year I can stand against the measuring stick and see concrete evidence to the contrary. I believe that the greatest rewards in life take the longest to earn. If anyone could learn the guitar or another language in a day, it would take away from the accomplishment. That’s why I believe in patience. And if there’s one other thing I believe in, it’s that my family should have kept those ear plugs…I just got a new harmonica.
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