Tag Archives: musical mondays

Musical Mondays: 1/30/2012 edition

Last time we met here for Musical Mondays, I had won a college talent show (okay, amongst maybe 10 people, but still). But I basically stopped playing guitar for four years after that. What happened?

Well, I was busy. I turned 21, for one, and was henceforth compelled to conduct tons of anthropological research on the drinking establishments in Geneva and then Atlanta. I’d pick up my guitar once in a while and try to play songs that I’d known, or songs that I wanted to learn. Without real diligence, though, it’s hard to get better. An hour or two every few months will sustain one’s knowledge of chords, but you’ll never improve if that’s all you play.

Then, I fell in love, and that makes you want to sing! So I started playing all the time. Well, that’s an exaggeration. But let me elaborate. On one of the first nights that I met and hung out with Xavier at his house, the guitars came out. (He has a few). His awesome friend Jenny (hi Jenny! I think you’re reading this!) and I started talking about Bright Eyes. I remembered that I used to know one of their songs, so I grabbed one of the acoustics and began strumming a hackneyed rendition of “First Day of My Life.” I’d been drinking, so I even had the courage to sing a little. It was rusty, of course, but fun. The guitar was eventually turned over to someone more worthy of its noise-making potential. Hoping I’d be hanging out with Xavier again, I started practicing more so we could play together the next time.

Now, Xavier is a talented musician who can play pretty much any instrument and sings really well. He’ll play in front of assembled groups of people and actually impress them. When we are out in public and he ends up playing, people like to joke around and ask if that’s how he got me to go out with him. And I always say, “Nope! He actually heard me play first.” But he did play me lots of lullabies in the beginning of our relationship, so now when he plays, it’s hard not to fall asleep.

So that brings us to the present. I’ve been spending a lot more time with guitars, and singing too (but that’s strictly a private hobby, as I am petrified to sing in a serious manner in front of people). It’s really fun to have someone to play with. We ‘jam’ at home at least once a week. My current guitar focus is trying to work on my fingerpicking and developing a few more strumming patterns, since I seem to play every song the same way.

I’m also learning the basics of piano. My idea was, if I can learn the basic theory behind it, it will help me with understanding guitar as well. A couple of weeks ago I learned the major and minor chords, as well as the 7s. I’ve been practicing those hard. The hand stretching is funny. When you first start playing guitar, stretching your fingers all over the fret board is overwhelming. But then you get used to it. Stretching your fingers for piano is a completely different ball game! For each chord, you’re supposed to hit four keys at once. For instance, if you’re playing a C, you hit the C, E, G, and then the next C key. My little hands can barely stretch over to play the second C without hitting B. I keep telling myself that little kids can do this so I should be able to also. I’ll get it eventually, but in the meantime, it’s something to keep working on! It’s also challenging to learn how to play chords with both hands. I’m very used to my guitar, where my left hand plays chords and my right strums or fingerpicks. Piano seems like a very dynamic instrument. I’m enjoying it so far, though!

Musical Mondays: 1/23/12 edition

What happened to Musical Mondays last week? It was a holiday! Martin Luther King, Jr would not have expected me to update my blog on his birthday. He would have appreciated much more what I actually did, which was take a page out of my Jewish upbringing to enjoy a day of Shabbat-like rest. Where did we leave off? Oh, yes, I was nine years old and had just been cast as an afterthought in my school play. I guess I always was the kind of kid who had the urge to perform, but at that point, I lost interest. If we had school plays in middle school or high school, I don’t remember them.

However, I did develop a bit of a musical itch when I turned fourteen. After I begged for a while, it was decided that I would take guitar lessons at a local music school. My nana bought me an acoustic guitar and I began my weekly lessons. This went on for a couple of years. It was fun! Instead of learning tediously, by learning how to read music, I basically would bring in songs that I wanted to play and my teacher would show me the chords. If I brought in a CD, we’d play the songs together, me fumbling to change chords, him jamming with his eyes closed in a fit of musical ecstasy that completely prevented him from noticing or caring that I had no idea what was going on.

My teacher was a nice guy, and I can’t say he ever did anything inappropriate, but he was a little weird. I always thought so, but he proved it with one incident that occurred maybe a year into the lessons. I had gone to the mall with Lindsay, one of my best friends, and we were walking around when we spotted Creepy Guitar Teacher with his family. Being fifteen and socially awkward, I kept the contact to a minimum: we waved at each other awkwardly, then went on our separate ways. At my next lesson, he couldn’t wait to talk about how we saw each other. “Who was the friend you were with?” he asked.

“Lindsay,” I replied.

“Well, Lindsay is a very attractive woman,” he told me. Yes, Lindsay was very pretty – she still is! But at the time, Lindsay was 15 years old. A girl, not yet a woman. Definitely still jailbait.

Now I’ve never been a 50-something man who comes into regular contact with teenagers, but I’m pretty sure that if I was, I’d refrain from telling them that their friends were attractive.

From that point on, I decided that my guitar teacher was a creep and that I didn’t want to learn from him anymore. So I began dishing out attitude, becoming the epitome of a sullen teenager and pretty much refusing to participate in my lessons.

The good thing that came out of guitar lessons, though, was that I owned a guitar and began practicing regularly at home. I never got good, but I learned most of the chords and messed around with online tablature so I could play lots of songs. The down side was that I didn’t learn anything technical. Musicians have a working knowledge of their instrument. They have an ear for music, and can figure out how to play songs that they hear on the radio just with their perfectly tuned ears. They know scales, and how to make the seventh, and stuff like that. My only ability was to shift from chord to chord if I knew the names of the chords.

I picked up the guitar again in college, during one of our rowing team’s spring break excursions to Georgia. Someone had brought a guitar along. I’d grab it and strum the chords I remembered in no particular order, making up lyrics about my teammates on the spot and warbling them without any real tune. They weren’t mean or anything, just goofy, and everyone would laugh as I played, so I’d play more. My ego swelled as people told me I was like a female Tenacious D. My teammates encouraged me to enter the annual talent show with this skill. After some persuasion, I did. Sitting in the middle of a circle of teammates, I played random chords and went around the room to make up a verse about every single person sitting there. Surprisingly, I won. The grand prize was a pair of socks that said “I’m Awesome!” I wore them until they frayed and I had to throw them away.

After the trip, I put my guitar down again, and hardly played again until 2011… tune in next week to see why.

Musical Mondays: 1/9/12 Edition

This post is part of a new weekly series that comes as a direct suggestion from one of my best friends ever! Aly and I have been friends since we were three (or four, depending on who you ask). She is one of the coolest people I know. Although she is busy with studying most of the time, when we manage to get together we always have the best time. In fact, one of the best, most perfect nights out to ever go down in history was when Aly and I teamed up to wreak havoc on Tampa. If I ever run short on blog content and concurrently feel the urge to shame myself on the Internet, I will describe that night here. In the meantime, here is Musical Monday. (And Aly, thanks for the suggestion and for supporting my writing endeavors!).

My public music career got off to a rough start. The trauma begins with my first memory of multiple people hearing my singing voice. I was at the home of my childhood best friend, who shall go unnamed to protect her from public vilification (but her first name might rhyme with Sally). Our families had gathered for dinner, which was a common occurrence. On this particular occasion, my childhood best friend, who shall go unnamed (but her last name possibly rhymes with ‘house’) had a new toy. With the exception of a pet monkey, it was pretty much the best thing that a little girl could imagine: a karaoke machine. “Do you want to try it?” asked my friend, ‘Sally House.’ Of course! I could hardly wait while she set up the machine for me. I don’t remember what song was played, but when ‘Sally House’ handed me the microphone, I cranked open my jaws and sang my little ass off. Nobody had told me yet that natural musical ability was not something that I was born with, and I had a blast through the last note.

Imagine my confusion when ‘Sally House,’ laughing demonically, removed a cassette tape from the karaoke machine (this was the early 90’s) and scurried to the living room. Before I knew what hit me, my voice was booming through the house. ‘Sally House’ had secretly recorded my singing and was playing it at full volume for our families on the sound system. None of the parents had the heart to console the embarrassed child. They just laughed. And I never wanted to sing in public again.

(For the record, ‘Sally House’ is still the most devious person that New Jersey has ever produced).

The next public trauma came in fourth grade, when I tried out for the school play. “Pirates of Penzance” might have been a great musical production, had it not been offered in a New Jersey elementary school. No matter. Thinking that the critical reaction at the ‘House’ house may have been a fluke, I gave my all to singing in that rehearsal. When the list of roles was finally posted, I could hardly breathe because I was so excited.

At first, I thought I missed seeing my name because I was too hyper to focus on reading. It soon became obvious that that was simply not the case. I had been forgotten. In fourth grade. School plays in fourth grade were produced not to showcase talent, but for the sake of including everyone. Literally every single child in my class was included in the play, with their names listed as either a starring player or a member of the chorus. My name was straight-up omitted.

When I asked our music teacher why I wasn’t allowed to be in the play, I was quickly offered a consolation prize in the form of a supporting role in the troupe of dancing policemen. It was better than being in the chorus, but not by much. That play probably sucked due to poor casting choices executed by the fourth-grade music teacher, but I don’t remember for sure. It’s all blacked out. That was the end of my musical career. I gave up my aspirations for good.

How did I rise from a traumatic childhood where I vowed to never play music again, to this moment, the opening of my “Musical Mondays” blog? Tune in next Monday.