I’ve got a few days off between gigs so I’m staying with my friend Kara Barnard, one of the best multi-instrumentalists I know. She could blaze through a hot blues solo and balance her checkbook at the same time. As we talked this morning I noticed her hands and had her hold them out. I placed my hand next to hers and saw that her fingers are a good half inch shorter than mine; her hands are rather ordinary looking. For every person who’s told me “I don’t have the right (insert body part) to play the guitar/mandolin/whatever,” I want to show them a photo of Kara’s hands and slap on a recording of her playing the top off her guitar.
I know, it seems like there should be some magic formula, right? The right genes, the right instrument or the right size hands but all that stuff isn’t that important. If you really want to learn an instrument, you can.
I became a better guitar player because I kept writing songs I couldn’t play. Find your motivation. Maybe you’d like to play songs for your friends to sing around a campfire? Or you want to make up songs with your kids? Play music for your church? You won’t become Eric Clapton in a week but you could probably become his younger cousin twice removed who plays a pretty decent version of “Stairway to Heaven.”
You only need fifteen minutes a day for practice. More is better, of course, but our bodies learn by doing a little every day. One long practice is never going to do the same for you. You don’t join a soccer team then expect to only play in the games. You’ve got get out on a regular basis and run around after a ball. (Can you tell I’m not a soccer player?)
Don’t give up
There will be days when it feels like that F chord will always sound like crap. Push through and keep doing it. Eventually you’ll get there. It also helps if you have a good teacher to tell you if you need to change your hand position or alter your practice routine.
If you think you’re going to suck, you will. Be positive and don’t let one rough practice get you down. Celebrate with each accomplishment, whether you’ve learned “Stairway to Heaven” or just how to change between G and C without stopping.
I’ve had students who did well simply because no one told them they couldn’t. Think of what you can do instead of what you can’t do. Mark your progress. Yeah, that blues lick may be kicking your butt now but remember when you didn’t even know how to hold the guitar?
Sure, I know there are folks with physical disabilities who would find playing an instrument difficult if not impossible. There’s often a way to work it out.
I had a student who played a left handed guitar because the wrist on his left hand couldn’t bend like it should. He could still hold a pick and strum so that’s what he did with that hand.
Django Reinhardt played all of his guitar solos with two fingers because his other two were damaged in a fire; he’s still considered one of the world’s great guitar players. Dolly Parton plays guitar and banjo with glamor length nails. She tunes the instruments to an open tuning (already a chord without pressing down any of the strings). To make different chords, she lays her left index finger flat across each fret and moves it up and down. Ricky Skaggs is a guy with big meaty hands who plays the poop out of a tiny mandolin.
The first chord to “Stairway to Heaven” is Am. So get started.