A few months ago I posted something about learning to play the guitar. It was on June 18th 2020. In all honesty, I didn’t start on that day, because I decided to first go on Camino de Santiago (which, in hindsight, proved to be a very good decision). But a few days after I returned from the Camino, on August 23rd, I started my practice.
Today marks exactly 4 months since I embarked on this journey and there are no signs that I will slow down. On the contrary. The video above is just a short rendition of Silent Night, combining chords and fingerpicking. I chose something short for this anniversary (under a minute) because it was easier to practice and record. I can do reasonably well some longer pieces, but this one also felt appropriate for this time of the year.
Now, let’s do a small recap.
That will pretty much summarize my first 2 months. If you search the internet for “guitar finger blisters” you will get answers ranging from “2 weeks” to “a couple of months”. Alas, I was on the “a couple of months” side with this one. A few reasons combined – starting on a steel string guitar, thicker chords, a lot of time put into it from the very beginning, without breaks to allow for the blisters to harden or cure – filled my first two months with excruciating pain. Until I was able to buy a classical guitar with softer, nylon strings, all I did was just sheer discipline, a lot of pain and occasional bleeding.
What Guitar Type I Am?
I started, obviously, with chords, and in the first few weeks I was able to learn all the chords that didn’t require barring. I started to do some strumming and began to learn some very simple songs. But as I was progressing on my journey, I realized I like fingerpicking more. I started to look into classical, Spanish (including flamenco) and some covers of songs with just modern fingerpicking and basic chords. I decided, after I got my second guitar, that I will continue on the fingerpicking area (which doesn’t mean I will stop practicing chords). It’s way, way too early to tell which way – like classical, flamenco, or something different – but I feel like this area is more enjoyable, at least for me.
A Few Numbers
On average, I practiced about 1 and a half hours per day. I divided the practice into 3 main time chunks: morning, after lunch and evening. I practice 15-30 minutes in the morning, after my usual routine (yoga, shower, etc) and just before going to work. This part of the day is dedicated to scales and finger mobility exercises, predominantly, but I put enough playing into it as well. After lunch I practice around 30 minutes, mostly playing, trying to work on my mobility and musicality. And in the evening I try to also learn new things, like new songs or study musical theory.
I know about 20 songs right now, most of them very simple melodies. By songs I mean fingerpicking versions of some songs, like the one in the video. I still struggle with chord changing and strumming.
Like any other man who went down this rabbit hole, I fell prey to the usual adrenaline rush which requires you to have at least an acoustic amplifier, an electric guitar amplifier, some recording interface and at least an electrical guitar (on top of the acoustic and classical) which, to make things even worse, I decided to put together myself, from a cheap DYI kit I bought on the internet (and made it look like it was a present for my birthday, which, technically, it was).
Apart from this, I also have chords sets, picks, capos, etc. The whole thing. I’m literally not the man I used to be.
One of the major reasons for getting into this was – just like in starting ultra-running – psychological. Specifically, my intuition was that, by playing the guitar, I may create more harmony between the left and the right part of the brain. At times, my emotional and rational parts tend to act a bit too independent, so to speak. So, engaging both hemispheres in a process which is supposed to create harmony should make them work better together, that was my assumption.
I am incredibly happy to tell you that yes, it looks like I was right. There is a certain balance, more space before and inside an emotional experience. I’m sure it is related to this practice. It may be just the fact that I am learning something new, something which includes creating harmony, something “artistic”, but it may also be related to my assumption about the correspondence between left / right hand, and left / right parts of the brain.
Also, for as long as I remember, I had a small finger trembling, which wasn’t related to any physical problem. I can control it if I focus only on my fingers and in 99% situations isn’t manifesting at all. But in the 1% of the situations it manifested it was a bit annoying. I’m happy to report that this is almost gone. Not even in that 1% of the situations it appears now. Looks like forcing my fingers to learn new ways, new rhythms, helped them “fixate” in a more stable shape.
Where I Am Now
I can reasonably make and play all chord shapes, but I still struggle with changes (didn’t practice strumming much, to be honest). I can do moderate finger picking and I feel like I advance faster in this area, so I will focus on it. I can finally do some barre chords, the infamous F and B – and also some weird ones, like for instance those from Spanish Romance – but I can’t hold them very long, nor do I have at least 80% accuracy (meaning I can “nail” a barre chord from the first time, without fingers readjusting, about 50% of the time, one in two). I can read notes and tabs and I am familiar with a few scales (minor, blues, major, aeolian). I play only on a tuned guitar and I am close to be able to tune it by ear (I am still using external tuners now).
So, basically, I’m just a beginner. And that’s a very good news: it means there’s a lot of terrain still to be covered.
And, at the end of this year, I am certain that learning to play the guitar was by far the most useful and important thing I did in 2020.