Sunday, 10 May 2009

My First Guitar

From as early as I can remember I wanted a piano. (Yes, I know, I'm getting to the guitar bit in a minute, bear with me.)

I used to spend hours daydreaming about what it would be like to have a piano. I would play such wonderful music (without lessons, apparently). My fingers would fly over the keys and fabulous strings of music notes would wind their way out of the piano and go floating through the air and out of the room, the way they did in comic books and cartoons.. The music would be sublime of course.

I was magnetically drawn to any unattended piano I came across at friends' houses or at school, church or wherever. If I was lucky enough to be granted the rare boon of actually playing the instrument, I'd sit there tinkling the keys for as long as the protesting eardrums of the adults in the place would allow – I'd be in heaven.

Deep down, I knew we'd never get a piano at home: it simply would not fit into the house or, more realistically, my parents would not be willing to make room for it. There were no musicians in our family, so no tradition of home music-making. Music came out of the radio or the record-player.

So I started asking for a guitar on the grounds that it would be smaller and I might actually have a chance of getting one. OK, it wouldn't be a piano, but at least I'd be able to make music with it. So I started my campaign every Christmas, every Birthday.

Me: "Please can I have a guitar?"
Mother: We'll see. (Read: no).

Christmases and Birthdays came and went – no guitar.

I even included a request for one in my nightly prayers. Still no guitar.

Then one day....

It was a brilliantly sunny day as I recall, and my mother was due home from work imminently. My brother happened to be looking out of the front window as she arrived. I was hanging around somewhere else in the room. All of a sudden he started shouting "Mum's got a guitar! Mum's got a guitar".

"You liar!" I shouted back

Now you have to know this about my brother: he was (and still is) a real practical joker and I assumed that, as part of his run-of-the-mill sibling baiting, he was winding me up, just to see my face when no guitar actually appeared. After all, there wasn't a person in the house who didn't know how badly I wanted one.

I ran to the window and, sure enough, Mum was walking up the garden path with a guitar in her hand. A real guitar!

She had bought it for the princely sum of three pounds from a friend whose son had pestered for a guitar then, upon receiving it, had promptly lost interest.

Now it was mine.

I couldn't wait to be alone with it and practically floated upstairs to my bedroom with it in my arms. I got a nice soft duster and polished its lovely glossy wood and had its tuning pegs gleaming. I brushed nervous fingers across its six beautiful strings and listened as it sang softly to me. It had such a lovely smell, too – of wood and varnish. I could hardly believe my luck!

My guitar. Mine.

Of course, I had no idea what to do with it now that I had it. It would be some weeks before a cheap teach-yourself guitar book would be bought for me, but when Hold Down a Chord by John Pierce appeared (it's still on sale for sixteen pounds, I just checked), I was all set.

I practised and learned and got sore fingers and bum notes aplenty. I got by turns frustrated and elated and sometimes wouldn't pick up the guitar for years, but always went back to it sooner or later. I have become reasonably proficient over the years (in a three-chord strumming sort of way). It seems that, for all that I had a burning desire to make music and for all that I can hear beautiful music in my head all the time even now, I was no child prodigy and am, at best, an average guitarist (still HATE frickin' barre chords!)

Some thirty-five years on I don't have that old guitar any more. I donated it to a charity shop a few years ago. It was actually, I now know, a very cheaply-made instrument with a very dull sound that I wouldn't give house room to these days, but it was good enough for me to learn on.

Sadly, none of my music has ever quite matched up to the music in the daydreams I used to have. I've never seen any strings of music flowing out from under my fingers either, but I do love making music and I have that cheap old guitar to thank for that.

(PS I did buy a piano when I got my first job but, coming to it late as I did, was never very good at it, becoming the pianistic equivalent of the three-chord guitarist).


  1. Ah those old dreams. I took piano lessons for 8 years & all I really learned how to do was read music (a skill that comes in handy now that I switched to the Episcopal church from the Southern Baptist church - VERY different music there!) I was just joking with my dad the other day that he should have sprung for ballet instead of piano - then maybe I wouldn't have fallen & broken my tail bone last week!

  2. This is a lovely remembering.. I got my first guitar three years ago, as I've only been playing for four and before that I was borrowing the Ronald's. I love it and found it in a cash converters and got it for €80. we did some work to it and it's battered, but it's an old epiphone gibson thingy and sounds stunning! I love guitars but also wish I could get my head round the piano. A friend of ours left his keyboard with us to look after and I've managed to learn some chords, but can't get the independent hand thing More practise needed.. also; barre chords!..nnoooo..I refuse to play them. I also refuse to play most forms of B and F. I swear by capo'!

  3. I love to play piano, but the guitar eludes me...I think it has something to do with my left-handedness. My dad's left handed and he taught himself to play upside-down and backwards...


  4. @Bug – Reading the dots is a very useful skill indeed. I can read music, but can't play straight from the music the way some people can. I have to learn a piece by heart if I want to be able to play it. Hope the tail-bone gets better soon.

    @Watercats – If that's how you sound after just four years then I can't wait to hear you at thirty, you're good! Capos do indeed rock! The independent hand thing does take a while but I find it's like a kind of rapid switching in my brain between the two hands, attending briefly to one, then to the other. I'm sure this clumsy method accounts for my appalling lack of fluidity around the keyboard.

    @Viewtiful_Justin – I'm left-handed too but I play a standard guitar (fat chance of ever getting my hands on a left-handed guitar back then, it was hard enough to get an ordinary one). Have you tried a left-handed one?

  5. You just reminded me of the guitar I have in storage and have been meaning to relearn how to play! lol XD I like to believe I was pretty good in a I can only get 3 quarters past 'ode to joy' type of way. lol.

    Seriously, that was like my only song.

  6. I tried guitar once. Found a teacher on a bulletin board and learned how to read music. Never learned how to play guitar though. Sold it at a garage sale. Now the boys have a piano and lessons. Love hearing them practice.

  7. We have two guitars in our house and nobody can play them. Every time I threaten to get rid of them, both Hubby and Jo throughs a fit and promise to start learning to play. For about a week the books come out and I have to live with the most gawd-awful sounds eminating and then it gets guiet again until I threaten again. Think they (or I for that matter) will ever learn?


Without your comments, I am but a wave without a shore...