[I'm learning to play the guitar by committing to 30 Days of Rocksmith. Here's how I got started.]
I heard something weird in the car today during my morning commute. There was a strange sound I was unfamiliar with. Despite the fact that my vehicle is from 1992, it runs like a champ, and I’m intimately conscious of the different shakes, rattles, and rolls it tends to put out. All of them are accounted for. None of them are cause for concern. Except for this new sound I wasn’t used to at all.
Then I realized what it was: I’d tuned into a rock station on the radio.
I can’t recall at this moment what band was playing. The DJ didn’t hop on between tracks to tell me who it was. To be honest, it’s unlikely I’d recognize the name even the DJ had said it anyway. But there I was, not just tilting my ear toward this rock song, but listening specifically to the guitar-driven riffs. Even after this short period of time with Rocksmith, I could discern the guitarist’s hammer-ons from their individual picking. I could finally appreciate the finger-on-fret sound from the guitarist pulling off a slide or a quick series of fingerings.
And the fingering was just nuts. I’m not even certain I liked the song that much. I probably wouldn’t recognize it if you played it for me again. But during my morning drive--in that span of time where I finally clicked on that last radio station button, the rock station button, the one I never click on because, honestly, I don’t have the healthy appreciation for rock music I’d like to have--I listened to the rock radio station. I might even tune in again. Who knows. It could be wild.
When I got home after work, I plugged my guitar into the PlayStation and fired up Rocksmith. I navigated straight to Lessons and, as usual (or, as “usual” as any habit I could’ve possibly formed within a week and two days), I reviewed everything I’ve learned so far. Shifting, sustains, slides, bends, legato, chords, tremolo, yadda yadda.
Tremolo is hell, by the way. That’s when you’re picking up and down rapidly on a string. Gives it that surf rock kinda sound. The Lesson even says that tensing up is your worst enemy when it comes to tremolo. Gotta chill. But somewhere between looking back and forth between the guitar and the TV screen, I tensed up. It happened again and again. I couldn’t keep the subtle movements subtle. I couldn’t keep a lid on what Rocksmith calls the “economy of motion.”
Learning is hard. Admittedly, every single one of these Lessons is difficult the first several times I tackle them. I’ll see a three-fingered chord heading down the note highway, and I’ll just start yelling, “What is this? Is this even remotely located within the realm of possibility?”
And then I’ll give it another shot.
And, eventually, I’ll get a piece of it. You know, like how you “get a piece” of a deer you’re hunting, and you shot it, but really you just grazed it, and it’s running, and you’ve lost sight of it, but it’s leaving a little blood-spackled trail for you to follow, and you see it on a grouping of leaves here, or on a riverside rock there.
Maybe that’s not the perfect analogy if you didn’t grow up in the part of Oregon that I grew up in, but you get my point. For all of these Lessons, there’s an unruly part of my brain that yells at me and tells me that this is unreasonable, and why are we doing this, and whatever. Then, eventually, I do get a piece of it. Then another piece. Eventually, I’m pushing past it to the next Lesson, looking at how I got 100 percent on it, wondering what the big deal is. That was easy enough.
Until I start the next Lesson and start shouting inside my head about the incessant learning curve. I take a deep, calming breath. I sit down to journal the day’s experience. Then realize, Oh, it’s only day nine. You’re doing fine, Randy. In fact, you’re doing great. You’re not great at playing guitar, no, that’s not what I’m saying to myself. But I’m doing great at learning guitar. There’s no reason I should’ve made this much progress already. But Rocksmith vigorously wiped all the dust off my guitar, and it’s hard to put it down every night.