There are a lot of things on my mind, but I’m putting a few of them off. I know I mentioned I had some success converting a cheap right handed guitar into a lefty a few posts back, but I’m putting that topic off for now, since I want to tackle the crazy educational journey I’m going down with that guitar once I’m finished with it, and not in stages. Since I won’t be able to finish it for a few months due to the absolutely atrocious weather (which is, btw, ripping my hands to shreds, which adds a new level of fun to guitar practices), I’m not going to really discuss that just yet.
I’ve been spending as much of my time disassembling and reassembling that guitar as I have practicing actually playing – I will say that much, but I figure that’s okay: it’s all connected, and the sheer act of attacking it with all kinds of google advice (some good, and some exceptionally bad 🙂 ), has so far been really educational. But, I digress. I’ll talk more about that insanity in the spring or summer, when I finally have an instrument that may or may not actually be playable (verdict is still out!)
As for the lessons, progress has been slow and steady. I’m focusing a lot right now on the ‘Learn a Song’ section of Rocksmith, and still plugging hard at ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. I seem to find playing notes way WAY easier than playing chords, so hammering away at that one, which is all chords, but all fairly basic chords, with an easy to remember structure, I feel like is the best possible thing for me to be working on right now. I won’t pretend my progress is amazing. It tells me ‘keep practicing’ in it’s adorably sarcastic little tone quite a lot! But, even if Rocksmith isn’t seeing a lot of improvement, I am. My problem areas are shifting. The C chord is still a problem, but definitely getting better. The stretch is still a little much for me right now, but my fingers aren’t spending as much time on neighboring strings, and it’s starting to feel significantly more natural. It really rings true of how I felt about the D chord at first. I seem to have way more natural flexibility vertically than I do horizontally. G was never a huge issue from the get-go, for example, but C has been a headache. I can tell my fingers are gradually stretching out, though, and it is definitely getting easier, and ringing out clear more often than it was before.
The flexibility is also becoming apparent as I work on power chords. The stretch for my first power chord (F5) was nearly impossible, and it’s still some concentration to get my hand into that position, but now the concentration is about placement, whereas before it was about just getting my fingers to stretch across that many frets. Flexibility is still a bit wanting, but I’m definitely noticing a difference. I’m also noticing places I can ‘cheat’ with the power chords to make that stretch feel more natural. That’s probably not actually cheating, but by sheer dumb luck finding the right position for the index finger and wrist, but it sure feels like cheating when my entire forearm isn’t knotted up with tension just to get my fingers in the right place. Not to say I still don’t have issues with tension, but rather, that it’s getting easier.
I’ve learned that my hand gets tired before my brain realizes it, and that’s something I just have to learn to live with. It’s funny, because reading around the internet, I’ve read so much about pain in the fingertips, which I really haven’t experienced much of at all. There was a bit of mild tenderness early on, but my fingers haven’t really become sore. I had to switch from the extra light strings to regular because, well, that just happened to be all I had on hand when I needed to restring. I’d read that the regular strings would be harder to press down on than the extra lights, but I really don’t notice a difference – not sure why, or if that bit of reading just happened to be someone spouting nonsense.
In any case, I’m learning to accept that my practice can, and WILL deteriorate over time, and that sometimes that time is 15 minutes, and sometimes it’s 2 hours. Every day is different. What remains the same is that when my hand gets tired (before my brain notices), my progress halts or goes downhill. Whatever lesson I’m working on I start doing worse and worse at. Before, that got me really frustrated, but this week I’ve learned to see that as a sign to move onto something else, or call it a day. I can usually gain myself some extra time by sitting down and playing Harmonic Heist for a bit to release some tension. If I release enough tension that way, I can gain myself up to an extra 30 minutes of practice before progress for the day truly ends up in the shitter. If I don’t, then harmonics work as a really relaxing way to wind down and wrap things up.
While I’m not experiencing pain in my fingers, I am definitely noticing shoulder pain. Now that I’ve fixed the screwy strap lock on my electric (which seems to be holding up now that I’ve replaced it, and has stopped unscrewing itself for now), the pain is definitely less, but I definitely tire out faster standing than sitting, and that is all about my shoulder getting tired. I can only presume it’s me still not holding the guitar quite right. Tonight I went a really long stretch without having the shoulder issue, but then, wouldn’t you know it, put the guitar down for a few to get some more water, and I never seemed to find that ‘sweet spot’ on my shoulder again. I admit this is still a mysterious phenomenon to me that I do not fully understand, but can only hope eventually something will click that makes me feel like a fool for not noticing it sooner.
I actually think accepting the physical limitations as reality is possibly the most important lesson I’ve learned so far, understanding that the mind isn’t always ready to quit when the body has had enough, and there can be some crossed wires. I was getting really frustrated about lack of progress in previous weeks, and I realize now that all those times a lesson was getting harder the more I did it, all those times I was frustrated beyond reason that I wasn’t making progress…in all likelihood I was probably just tired. Now, if I notice progress on a lesson deteriorating, I move onto the next thing.
Working on the legato lesson right now, which I’ve got up to about 70% completion. I’m also fudging with power chords, which I think I’m at about 40% on. I’m not driving myself crazy like I was on slides and bends, and the reason, I think, is that it’s painfully obvious that where I’m failing on these lessons is all about speed and accuracy, and has absolutely nothing to do with technique. Slides and bends were technique issues, things I couldn’t figure out. This is different – my accuracy on the technique is way higher than my accuracy on the overall lesson, and I can see the places I’m getting hung up are places where my fingers and eyes aren’t quite keeping up with what’s happening on the screen just yet. Fine. No big deal. I’ll get there.
I found a good deal on a cheap dreadnought acoustic guitar, so I have that on the way, too, which I’m looking forward to fiddling with. I’ve never laid hands on a dreadnought-style before. When I was 14 and had that very brief stint of lessons (summer vacation, thanks), the guitar I was using at the time, I think, based on what I know now, was likely a 3/4 size classical. I definitely remember the nylon strings and classical body shape. I know it didn’t have a pick guard, so this will be a guitar style I’ve literally never touched before, and the reviews were really good, and man, as much as I love my electric, I’ve been wanting an acoustic, too. (I also want a bass, and a ukelele, and…and …. I just want to learn ALL the instruments, starting with things with strings, is that so wrong? lol.) I also snagged a super cheap mini-guitar for $8. Sure, I’ll have to change it to a lefty, but even then I should still be under the $20 mark. I figure a mini-guitar will be great for just carrying around wherever – the park, the beach, my mom’s house, etc etc…it’ll be a great little toy for stealing a few minutes of practice time in places that I might not want to tote a full-sized guitar. It doesn’t need to be amazing – just convenient. Increasing the amount of time I have a guitar with me will increase the time I’m likely to fiddle with that guitar, right? Right. And, it was cheap enough that if that theory doesn’t work out to be true, then no major loss.
So, I’ll have some new toys to talk about in the relatively near future, I guess. In the meanwhile, I’m just learning to admit when I’m tired and stop trying to force myself to keep going just because I don’t want to put my guitar down. It’s actually better to put it down for a while. I can always pick it back up in an hour once I’ve had some rest time, if I’m that compelled to do so, but trying to push through tired hands just makes them more tired, slower, clumsier, and gets me more and more frustrated at myself for suddenly being unable to do something that I was doing properly twenty minutes earlier.
Until next time, I’m working on what I can do, and accepting that I can’t do everything, all the time – yet. 🙂