In a fit of hubris, I decided two weeks ago that my Old Town School of Folk Music's Guitar 2 class felt too much like kindergarten — and Bloom's "gentle yoga" felt more like "yoga for narcoleptics" — so I had myself transferred into the next level. You know, the one that assumes students already have a handle on all the Guitar 2 chords and can play them without fumbling around the fretboard like a stiff-fingered moron.So I showed up to class on Tuesday, my mom's massive old acoustic in tow, feeling like a head-of-the-class rock star. I knew we would have a substitute, which I thought would be a good opportunity to get up to speed. He was late, so I greeted everyone and positioned myself as the alpha girl musician by starting a conversation as we assembled our stands and arranged our chairs in an awkward horseshoe shape. I dropped my pick through the sound hole.
Then the sub sauntered in. Looking like a hot mess. Dragging a borrowed guitar with the school's name scrawled into the body and a plastic cup full of what I'd like to assume was whiskey and Coke, he was completely unfazed by his lateness. "So," he mumbled. "Your teacher said you guys played…'Hound Dog' and 'Hotel California' last week. Let's play 'em." He made us put our song sheets down and just…feel it. Oh, lord. And then he got cocky and started to show off. The rest of the class sat there, slack-jawed, in awe of his talent. But if there's one thing I hate, it's teachers who use the class I'm paying for to learn to play as a stage in front of a captive audience, which they use to show off the fact that they're already better than I'll ever be. This isn't the first time it had happened, but this guy was so grungy, so apathetic and so…ugh…that I just could not handle him. And when I just couldn't play the Elvis-style riffs he was teaching the rest of the class with a good bit of success, the bile and rage just bubbled up to my throat. I was furious with his couldn't-care-less attitude and could not fathom how I — a girl who's been playing piano since elementary school and singing even longer — couldn't grasp this brute's technique. And I nearly burst into tears when we moved on to "Hotel California," a song I hadn't even heard before. Yeah, sue me. It just wasn't coming. The sub and I didn't come to blows, verbally or physically, but man, I was ready to spar. And he knew it.
By the end of my class, I was pretty sure everyone else (who had found me so charming when I struck up that initial conversation) thought I was a raging, petulant bitch. And… I kind of am.
I took my time putting my guitar away and sang to myself after the other players had filed out of the room to hit the jam session. I had my head between my legs when the teacher came back in with my photocopied music. I mumbled an insincere thank you and got up to collect my things. "Are you OK?" he asked. "…………" "Is it guitar or something else?" No! Someone is showing genuine concern for me; this is my weakness! Cue tears. I sighed. "I just… Music runs in my blood, I swear. I've been doing this forever, it seems, and I just…can't get guitar down." He asked how long I'd been playing guitar. (Three months, if that.) He showed me a little theory and how different chords' fingering structures matched up and formed patterns — I was mostly confused but touched that he was attempting to teach me something. Then he told me to snap out of it. For the first time in recent memory, I actually didn't get defensive when told to calm down. "Guitar is for stupid people," he said. "I'm serious. And whatever you do, don't ever fall in love with one." (Admitting that he was shooting himself in the foot when he told people that.) "I've actually been talking to a guitar player lately," I said. "But I think he's an exception to the 'stupid' rule: He's a lawyer!" As soon as the words escaped my lips, I realized how stupid that sounded. We both laughed and eventually commiserated over the fact that we've both made hopelessly romantic, foolish choices about people we'd connected with online. We sat together for probably half an hour, and I left feeling silly for how I'd acted but so much better overall. I still. don't. get. the Elvis, but at least I'm not putting the guitar down forever.
His advice to me: Get a new guitar with steel strings (and prepare for some pain). Quit worrying about it not making sense; stop beating myself up for not being "good enough"; try to forget all my attachments to the music I'd learned in the past. Hang on to the passion I have. And, in his words, "Get off the fucking Internet and play your fucking guitar." Words to live by.