[I'm learning to play the guitar by committing to 30 Days of Rocksmith. Here's how I got started.]
“Daddy, can you do Learn a Song?” my five-year-old daughter asked. Lessons first, I told her. Then I can go to the Learn a Song section, kiddo. But Dad has to warm up first.
That’s something I’d forgotten about when it comes to learning an instrument: the warm-up time. My learning-an-instrument days are so far behind me that those memories belong to a different person. I’d played alto saxophone from grade school up through high school. I even took it with me to Navy boot camp after that. They play musical instruments in military boot camp? Yes, “special” performing divisions do.
I’d started playing at nine years old. My best friend and I had agreed beforehand that we’d both learn trombone. But, for some reason, I’d changed my mind, asked my parents to rent a saxophone instead of a trombone, and neglected to tell my best friend about the switch. On the first day of grade school band practice, he pulled out the agreed-upon trombone, while I pulled out a traitorous sax.
Despite the hurt look in his eyes, our friendship survived.
I’ve lived three more lifetimes since that nine-year-old first picked up his Kenny G Machine. And it’s been an entire lifetime since that 20-year-old put it down after boot camp. Well, left it in the trunk of a taxi cab, riding from a Mississippi airport to my Navy technical training school just after boot camp graduation.
Regardless, even though it’s been decades since I’ve touch a musical instrument, I’ve always considered musicianship to be a core part of who I am. I wouldn’t brag about it. Wouldn’t lie about it. But if you put a gun to my head, I’d say, Yes, I’m a musician. But as the years got on, making that claim, no matter how private, started feeling disingenuous. Not genuine. Not lying perhaps, but not being honest either.
I’d bought learning DVDs. In-laws handed me chord books. Coworkers offered guitar lessons. YouTube became my last-ditch effort. And then there was nothing. But I’d heard about Rocksmith, and that latched onto my imagination. No, I never caught onto Guitar Hero or Rock Band. In fact, I’ve only picked up a plastic instrument on one occasion. And, sure, it was kinda fun. I liked it. For its own reasons. But I’m not here to learn to play music-rhythm games. I’m here to—once more—unlock that musician that I know is core to my character.
When going through a so-called midlife crisis, some people buy an expensive car, some turn sports into a religion, some get a hairpiece. Whatever. I bought Rocksmith. I dusted off a guitar. And I’m having a blast with it.
But Randy, you say. You’re only 36. You’re a long ways from a midlife crisis, bro. And maybe you’re right. (Unless I only live to 72, and at the rate I’m hitting up the In-N-Out Burger, that’s a possibility.) So, call it what you will. It’s possible this is a midlife crisis. But I’d like to think that I’m heading off the “crisis” part of this. I simply had a conversation with myself, asking what do I still want to be when I grow up. And having that conversation with myself doesn’t sound like a “crisis,” in my opinion. Perhaps it’s a midlife “reevaluation.” There. That sounds less cliche. Or maybe I’m just deflecting the truth a bit.
So, as my five-year-old watched, I warmed up with the lessons I’d already put some time into. Rocksmith does its best to slow your roll, making your progress gradual, asking you to review certain lessons from time to time. But I review more than even Rocksmith asks me to. I’ve done a bang-up job of firing up Rocksmith every day this past week, but, let’s be honest, I’m not some teenager that can pour hours and hours into a singular activity. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Well, unless it’s for video games, but I digress.) So, my daily practice has been in the 30-minute range.
That’s okay. It’s less than the length of a grade school band class, but we weren’t playing continuously at those times. There’s a lot of stop-and-go. My block of time, however short, is continuous, so I think the lessons are sinking in nicely.
After my warm up, I flipped through a dozen easy choices in the Learn a Song section. I watched my five-year-old’s face to see if she liked the song or not. My eyes about popped out of my head when she started bobbing her head to Joe Satriani’s “Satch Boogie.”
“That one,” she said. I said, “No.” Why is Joe Satriani even in the supposedly low-difficulty section anyway? That guy’s an animal. So, I moved further along the list and grabbed “R U Mine?” from the Arctic Monkeys. One of my favorite bands, back when I was, as a listener, having something of a British rock revival in college.
I tripped my way through the track, which sounds like a somewhat stutter-stepping romp through a dark English pub, and somehow pulled off a few notes. My daughter was quietly, politely unimpressed, though. As soon as I was done, I asked, “Should I give it another shot? Should I try again?” “No,” she said. “Never mind, Dad. You need more Lessons.”
I couldn’t agree more.