Well, I have learned things this week, but nothing that means I expect to be rocking out or learning songs any time soon.

Lesson 1: 

My fingernails grow at seemingly epic rates.  

Four days after I cut them as short as I could, I had to cut them again because they were really getting in the way.

It reminded me that the first time I tried this guitar thing, back when I was a kid, it was the end of my nail polish days.  Are my nail polish days over?  Well, it’s not looking too bad so far, seeing as this polish has been on since Sunday.

IMAG0251[1]

We’ll just have to wait and see, but I will definitely be keeping the clippers handy. 🙂

Lesson 2: 

I can kill a High E string like a pro.

In my defense, all three guitars in my possession are cheap, extremely old, and the strings match the guitars they’re attached to.  The youngest has been sitting in a closet for probably about 10 years, and the most frequently used? — more like 20.

How I killed the first E string: Stupidity.  I was trying to tune using Pitchlab, which is a very handy free android app for a beginner like me who really hasn’t developed an ear for what an in tune guitar is even supposed to sound like yet.  Of course, I will eventually learn to tune a guitar without the need of a fancy toy, but even then, it will be handy to use to check/quiz myself.

ANYWAY – I pulled up pitchlab, got three strings tuned amazingly on my cheap little backpacker, and then, when I was trying to tune the G string? yeah, I was turning the knob for the high E instead. Doh!  String murder: mission accomplished.

backpacker

SO, I hijacked the E string off of this pink atrocity:

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And gave myself a crash test in how to restring a guitar.  It isn’t pretty, but it’s functional. Practice required, and at the rate I’m going, I’m going to get plenty of practice in.

You’ll note the pink guitar is also missing the B string. Okay, fine – if you’re going to be all observant, let’s talk abut the pink beast.  This guitar I bought at least 10 years ago, and gave up my reinvigorated learning interest in about a week as the guitar just…completely sucks. I swore it was un-tuneable, and had about the same acoustic appeal of someone trying to kill a frog with a spork – lots of croaking, and none of it even remotely melodic or productive.  A decade later, my opinion of the guitar hasn’t changed much.  I did manage to get low E through G in tune – by some miracle of dumb luck, but juuust when I almost had the B string in tune? Yep, you guessed it; that one snapped, too.  I’m not sure whether to blame old strings or the guitar being an utter POS that I paid a whopping $5 for (really, for $5, what do you expect?), but since the E string I hijacked from it tuned just fine once I put it on the backpacker, I’ve got to think the guitar is at least partially to blame.

Back to the backpacker, that’s now also missing a B string, because that one snapped when I was trying to re-tune it tonight. Well, damn.

Guitar #3 – and the only halfway decent one of the lot:

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my 20 yr old Fender Squier.  It’s certainly not the fanciest guitar on the planet, but the only one I spent any real money on. That one’s missing an E string, too. This one I didn’t actually break (wohoo! For once, not my fault!). It was completely fine yesterday, and today when I picked it up the string just sort of, fell off before I even attempted to play anything. I didn’t even have the strap over my head yet.  It looks like the knob at the end of the string just sort of deteriorated off of the end of the string due to old age.  Okay, fair enough.  These ARE 20 year old strings.

Which leads me into lesson 3.

Lesson 3: 

There are an insane number of different kinds if strings!

I had to give myself a crash course tonight so I would have half a concept of what sort to buy.  I now have a general idea of how the different sorts of strings work, but still don’t necessarily know which sort are best for me. Not heavy, surely! But between regular, light, light-regular, super-light, super-light plus, slinky, super slinky…nickel-plated, solid nickel, stainless steel…my gosh there are a lot of options!  I admit I need a minute to process before I can quite make heads or tails of what’s going to be best for a person who really hasn’t got half a clue what they’re doing, though I’m leaning somewhere around nickel-plated light or regular as probably being a safe bet for a rookie.

I’m hoping to make a stop at Keyport Music tomorrow night if I can get there before they close, as that’s the only shop less than 40 minutes away that MIGHT carry guitar strings. Otherwise, I will have to order a stockpile of strings online, with lots of extra high E’s, because I’m flying through those damn skinny ones!

Hoping new strings will solve the tuning issues on the 2 crap guitars, but we’ll see how it goes.

Lesson 4: 

My hands are small, and my fingers are stiff.

This really should have been lesson 1.  It’s the very first thing I noticed picking up the guitar. I couldn’t stretch my fingers across 4 frets to do the scales on youtube if my life depended on it.

So, I did what any sensible person would do: I consulted google.  I looked for somewhere to ask about hand stretches to increase flexibility.  I found the guitar lessons reddit.

Now, I have very mixed feelings about reddit.  You’ve got this site that’s one half friendly and well-intentioned redditors, and the other half is basically the scum of the earth.

That said, I had a really good experience with /r/guitarlessons.  Everyone who answered my question was very friendly and helpful, and the answers were thoughtful and detailed.  I was directed to several different youtube videos and suggested dvds that would be of help.

So, a few times every day, I’ve been doing these:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSrfB7JIzxY

I’m still not very flexible at all, but it does seem to be helping. I can physically get my pinky into that 4th fret now, if only barely, which is something I wasn’t able to do a week and a half ago. My hands are still small, and still stiff, and still need warming up before I can attempt that 4 fret stretch, but it is physically possible now, though I wouldn’t call it easy, especially not on the uppermost strings. That said, it still counts as progress.

I also got suggested to work on the scales further up the neck where the frets are closer together until I have the flexibility, and work my way up.  That’s been helping, too.  I start closer to the body, and as my fingers warm up, gradually move away from it, to the more widely spaced frets.  I can’t maintain the stretch for the furthest frets for very long just yet, but with practice and plenty of hand stretches, I’m hopeful that I’ll continue making slow but steady progress on that front.

And, it would be remiss, after mentioning it in my first post, to leave out

Lesson 5:

Think of the clumsiest way to injure yourself with a guitar; I’ve got you beat.

I should have taken a picture of my split lip. I really should have. I didn’t, so now I can’t prove it happened, but ask anyone who saw me last week, and they will tell you my lip went from red to black to red again.

Now, how — you may ask — does one clock oneself in the face with a guitar? Well, it takes talent. A temporarily impaired sense of spatial relations doesn’t hurt, either.

Do you remember that puzzle ball that every small child is given? It’s a plastic ball with shapes, and matching plastic pieces to put through the shapes?

puzzle toy

(Do they still make these? I loved this dumb thing…)

Now, think about what happens when you try to put an oval through a star-shaped hole. Not much, other than a bit of crashing around, right? Right.

It happened like that.

See, I’m a lefty. You’ll note if you look above, none of these guitars are left-handed.  I can’t afford a lefty yet, and for various reasons I have decided not to learn righty (will discuss those reasons in a future post).  So, what I’ve been doing for now is practicing scales and tuning on righty guitars that are upside down. Seeing as I’ve already clocked myself in the face, attempting to learn chords and play upside down sounds like it might just be hazardous to my health, so I’m just working on the bare bones for the time being.

So far, so good, right? Right. Put the guitar strap on upside down, flip the guitar up so the strings aren’t facing my stomach. Play.  No problem. Got that down.

After practicing, take off the guitar. Do the exact opposite, right? Flip the guitar back down, then pull the strap over your head. Simple.

Oops. That’s where things went a little awry.  See, I didn’t do the flippy bit, and clearly seriously underestimated the size of my head versus the gap between the guitar body and strap.  SO!  I slammed my lip right into the pointy upper corner of the Fender.

…and spent the next ten minutes spitting up blood, followed by a half hour of holding an ice pack wrapped in a slightly bloody paper towel on the injury, followed by 4 days of my lip healing, and having to repeat the story of that genius move every time someone asked. Now I’m recording it here for posterity, so that I will never, ever live it down.

Nothing will stop you from repeating the same dumbass clutz move like having to repeat your stupidity to everyone you know.

It always starts something like this:

“What happened to your lip?”

“I’m an idiot.”  And, here’s why…

So, at the moment, I’m mostly learning through failure, but failure is also a form of learning.  Time to invest in at least three new sets of guitar strings, as I currently don’t have a single guitar in the house with a full set any longer.

Well, I guess that’s alright. I can practice scales (badly) even if I only have 4 or 5 strings to work with, in the meanwhile.

Next week, I hope to post something a bit more encouraging, or interesting, but for this week, I think I’ve learned enough.  If I learn any more before the week is out, I might end up in the hospital! 😀

Until Next Time, I’m singin’ the can’t-play-without-causing-bodily-harm blues.

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