[I'm learning to play the guitar, going through 30 Days of Rocksmith. Here's how it started.]
“Starting is easy. Finishing is hard.” It feels like that quote has been around my entire life. Like something my grandpa would’ve been told by his grandpa. But no. It’s from a 1990’s dot-com success story, a man named Jason Calacanis.
I’m guessing this easy-to-start, hard-to-finish pearl of wisdom has existed in some form or another since Ancient Greece. I’m not, however, digging for the etymology of the phrase. I’m just using it. Because learning to play an instrument is getting hard. I’m on day five. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve barely started. There's such a long ways to go. If learning guitar is a marathon, then I’m just now shuffling across the starting line.
I’m good at starting things. I’m also good at giving things up. But I chalk that up to “knowing my limitations.” I don't like to expend energy on stuff I can't finish, so I end up not starting a lot of stuff. Gotta respect a man that knows himself well enough to know when to quit, right? I’ve always felt that knowing when to make an entrance is important, but more important is knowing when to make an exit.
It’s baloney excuses like those that’ve always kept me striving for 2nd place. I’ve never wanted to be in 1st. You can only get taken down a peg if you’re at the top. So I’ve always aimed to be second best. I can hear the crowd chanting in my head now: “We’re #2! We’re #2!” Settling for mediocrity is something I'm #1 at.
In addition to those (like I said) baloney excuses, I’ve always enjoyed starting things. Rather, I love the beginning of things more than the ending of things. I have three or four novels I’ve started, none of them getting much past chapter two or three. It would be more realistic to say I’ve started short stories more than novels, though I've finished neither. Also, I have a dozen sketch books laying around the house, too, each of them having maybe three or four drawings each. And back before smartphones handled everyone’s calendar needs, I used to buy a new dayplanner every few months. Obviously not because I’d run out of calendar pages to fill out, but because, like I said, I always enjoy starting something new. Even if I was starting the same old thing over again.
So, that’s what I have to push past now, with learning to play guitar, with Rocksmith. This is that first look, that first blush, that always gets me so fired up and excited, but then dies out so quickly. In Rocksmith, I’ve gotten 100 percent on Shifting 101 and Sustains 101. My Slides 101 lesson has inched up to 75 percent completion. Even the Bends 101 lesson, where you have to push a guitar’s strings up or down to get a guitar's country twang, is pushing past 50 percent (and I couldn’t even get any love out of that lesson the first hour I was messing with it).
But now I’ve hit Rocksmith’s first real boss battle for me. Legato 101. It’s an intro to hammer-ons and pull-offs. A hammer-on is when you get an additional note out of a string by bringing your finger down on the string without playing the string again. Or something like that. I can’t tell you what a pull-off is, exactly, because I’ve already given up for the night.
So here I am. Staring at Legato 101, which sits at 0 percent. Because I’ve tried for some 15 or 20 minutes and can’t seem to land a single one of those hammer-ons accurately. And Rocksmith, oh-so-patient Rocksmith, isn’t going to hand it over for free. It’s getting close to my bedtime, so I’ll accept defeat for tonight. But this has turned into the equivalent of staring at a “You Died” screen over and over in, say, a game like Dark Souls.
But, in the meantime, I’ve figured out how to read some of Rocksmith’s menus a little better. I didn’t realize I could click into little mini-lessons that exist in the Learn a Song pages. Take Def Leppard’s still super fun “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” I was straight going into play the song. But, beneath it, in small writing, are the words “Rocksmith recommends.” And there are checkboxes down there. They say things like, “Review this Sustains 101 Lesson.” (That’s a great idea, Rocksmith. I should review that, now that I know I can click on you and I’ll be navigated right back to that Sustains 101 Lesson.) Rocksmith also recommends that I play Gone Wailin’, one of the 8-bit made-up video games in Rocksmith’s “Guitarcade.” I know, good name, right? And there’s also a recommendation that I “Riff Repeat This Intro,” which lets me play one section of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” over and over, rewinding that particular section multiple times, so I can really nail it once I get to that riff in the actual song.
Good stuff, Rocksmith. Wish I would’ve clicked on those mini-lessons a little sooner.
But look at me. Saying “a little sooner,” as if my progress is completely stunted now. Let me take this moment to remind myself: I'm only on day five.
I’ve been reviewing those earlier lessons on my own. Simply because, well, for one, I like starting things. And I like recapturing the start of things. I love that love-at-first-sight feeling, and doing whatever I can to bottle that up and reuse it continually. It can’t be done. Not really. But I try.
One example of me doing this—the rebottling of something new—is with Destiny, the science-fantasy first-person shooter from the guys who made Halo. Destiny has been out for a year now. I could’ve hit the level ceiling at any point within the past 12 months. Instead, what have I been doing? Replaying the first six or seven levels, over and over. And over. I’ve started a dozen titans and warlocks, and even more hunters. I’ve taken every character class through the Old Russia levels, up through the strike against Sepiks Prime. Once I’ve done that, I’ve deleted the character (never higher than level seven), and started a new Guardian. Every time, it seems, I’m trying to recapture that new-car smell. That smell is long gone, but that’s just me: I’m apparently the kind of guy that does that.
So that’s what I’m not (not!) going to do with Rocksmith. I’m not going to get to Legato 101 (Sepiks Prime) and just start over. I’m not going to level up my warlock fingers, and then quit when I hit hammer-ons and pull-offs, just so I can backtrack to Shifting 101 and start over with a hunter. Or a titan. I know, it’s not a perfect metaphor.
The best lesson I can learn from Rocksmith today is, to not be myself. Don’t be that guy. Starting is easy. Finishing is hard.
So let’s finish this. Or, well, let me put that in perspective: Let’s take it one day at a time.
[Stay tuned for more 30 Days of Rocksmith: previous]