I came across a great article today that I’m going to share. I play guitar and sing very badly. But I do dig doing it. I’ve never really understood why as there is no real point to it – I’m never going to get better than this. As Woody not-so-kindly pointed out once (he’s good for that sort of thing), I’m a "campfire player". I play songs that are easy to play and easy for people to sing along with. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing (and neither was Woody, perhaps, but that boy always did have a way with words), but I’ve wondered a few times why I keep it up if I never improve. And then this article hit my Google Reader and made me happy.
I’m a crappy guitarist. In the 20 years that I’ve been playing,
I can’t once remember playing scales, and I’ve never sat down to
"practice". I still have trouble with F-chords, I have awful right-hand
technique, and my tempo has been known to swing from too fast to too
slow without ever hitting "just right".
I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
See, I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be a famous rockstar or even a semi-locally-famous folky. That realization freed me to stop trying to be cool and to just
enjoy playing, and to this day my guitar is the one thing I own that I
would consider going into a burning building for. Playing guitar has
stopped being something I do for everyone else (even if they weren’t
listening) and has become one of the few things I do simply for the
sheer enjoyment of it.
Everyone should have at least one thing in their life that they do
for no other reason than that they enjoy it. As it turns out, though,
it’s harder to do things for their own sake than it would seem! To be able to revel in an activity that you’re not all that good at and that you don’t care that you’re not all that good at, to strive for and embrace mediocrity in some area of our lives, that’s a hard thing for a lot of us to do.
But it’s worth it. Here are eight things I get out of being a crappy guitarist:
C) There’s no pressure.
If i never get even the tiniest bit better than I am right now, it
won’t matter. Nobody’s life, freedom, or even happiness depends on how
well (or poorly) I play "Rocky Raccoon". Whether I improve or don’t
improve is totally irrelevant to anything or anyone but me.
D) It creates a social bond between myself and others.
I’ve met thousands of other crappy guitarists over the course of my
life, and a few great ones. Being a guitarist myself creates a
connection between us, gives us something to talk about. Guitarists are
always giving each other little gifts — showing each other how to play
a tricky part of a song, teaching each other new chords or new ways to
make old chords, sharing licks and riffs with each other.
E) It creates a social bond between other people.
I carried an acoustic guitar
with me all over Europe for a year, keeping it under my bed in hostel
after hostel, carting it in it’s heavy reinforced case from town to
town on busses and trains, dragging it through the streets of Paris,
Prague, Budapest, and Amsterdam. And I’m glad I did.
Not just because playing in hostels and on park benches helped me
make friends, but because it helped the people around me make friends.
Once a roomful of travelers have sung "American Pie" at the top of
their lungs together (badly), the ice is pretty much broken. People
start interacting, because nothing can make them feel any more
F) I get immediate gratification.
I pick up a guitar, finger a chord, and strum, and music comes out.
What could be more rewarding? I play, music happens. Instantly.
And if I try something tricky, I can hear on the spot whether it
worked or not. If I’m trying to figure out a song, I’ll try all manner
of different things, until suddenly I hit the strings a few times and
the song I’m trying to learn starts coming out.
G) I’ve developed a new appreciation of music.
Because I’m always listening to music with an ear towards learning
how to play it, I’ve become adept at working out how the different
pieces fit together, and what makes each of them work, apart and
together.Aside from the increased formal appreciation of music, I’ve also
become much more appreciative of the work that a musician has to do to
make a song work.
A) Playing music creates mindfulness.
Guitar playing is, for me, a kind of meditation. There have been too
many time to count when, looking for a moment’s distraction, I’ve ended
up playing for hours. When you’re playing, your attention is (usually)
focused entirely on the here and now, the unfolding of notes and chords
into melodies and, ultimately, songs. This kind of mindfulness means
I’m living entirely in the present, even if just for a few moments — a
skill that most of us, with our crazy lives and hectic schedules, have
a hard time cultivating.
B) It’s relaxing.
Just listening to music is often enough to help ease the stress of
our day-to-day lives; making music is a thousand times more effective. The combination of
mindfulness and almost willful mediocrity lets me ease up on myself and
just be for a little while, clearing my head and soothing the tensions that build up over the course of the day.
C) It’s just for me.
Finally, playing music is something that I do solely because it
makes me happy. While I can share my playing with others, in the
end I play for entirely selfish reasons: because I feel like it.
What are you lousy at?
Everyone should be lousy at something they love. What do you
do that you simply don’t care if you ever get any better at it, that
you do just because it pleases you to do it?