Sep. 9, 2018

The Beginning of my Journey

I have had a guitar in my house for many years now, since my Father passed away, and I was left with his little, worn out Espana guitar. I don’t think I really had a good look at it until today. It has beautiful inlay, I think the trim around the top and bottom of the body is likely made of ivory. The fingerboard is a burled wood and has markings where his fingers would have pressed against the strings...half are nylon and half are of them is broken now and it is badly out of tune, but I still love it and will treasure it forever. From what I’ve been able to find, it was made between 1967 and 1973, when the Espana brand was bought and produced in Finland for a while. I had taken it in to be assessed a while back, and they told me it was not worth restoring, and from what I’ve read, it is what some would call an ‘everyman’s’ guitar. I know it went everywhere with him, and I am proud to have this small item of my father’s to remember him by. It has a special corner in my music room and is on display next to my piano. I’ll tell you why I took a closer look today, in a minute.

Today I began my Second Year of University for Music, at the age of 53, I am now well into pursuing that Degree that I should have gone after over 30 years ago. I am a singer, and am finally able to call myself that after years of thinking I shouldn’t, wouldn’t measure up, couldn’t possibly merit this title...and yet here I am, now with 6 CD’s under my belt, numerous performances, and a real confidence in my ability to make a pretty and meaningful sound...finally. First Year went by and I did all the requisite things, but I stuck to singing as my Major and I didn’t play an instrument. Piano seemed the logical thing to do, so that I might some day be able to accompany myself in some lighter fare. It’s rare, as rare as a unicorn I’d say, to see someone accompany themselves in a Classical Art Song piece, and I have always wanted to sing more popular, jazzy music, and play the piano for myself. I am inspired by the powerhouse ladies, the Diana Kralls and Sarah McLachlans of this world who seem to be able to do it all. I enrolled for Piano for Non-Majors this year, was accepted, and promptly, the class was cancelled. That is how I found my way into a guitar class. This should work just fine, now that I’ve also switched to the Jazz Vocal stream!

I have two other guitars here, one that belonged to my son and is a tiny, red, electric guitar, and another acoustic, which is autographed by none other than Jon Bon Jovi himself, and I don’t dare put a fingerprint on. I picked up the little red one and tried to learn some chords before our first class ~ it fit nicely into my arms and against me, but our class is for acoustic guitar so I knew I had to leave it behind. A gracious friend gave me her Fender, a standard Dreadnought design, and I brought it to class with me, also after trying a few chords at home. I soon realized, and my teacher confirmed, that this guitar was too big for me. It felt extremely uncomfortable under my arm and it made me feel very clumsy! As soon as I held the teacher’s beautiful Classical guitar in my hands, I knew what I needed. This is what prompted me to look at my father’s guitar again ~ I so wish it was playable and that it could accompany me on this journey!

~ ~ ~

Our first class was full of young, keen faces, some experienced guitarists returning for 3rd and 4th years, and some, like me, who knew virtually nothing about the instrument. We started right at square one ~ identifying the parts of the guitar. I am now familiar with the head, tuning keys, the neck & fingerboard, frets, the Nut, the Bridge, and names of strings from E to A, D, G, B and E again. We came up with ridiculous Mnemonics to help remember the order of the strings, my favourite was
Elephants Always Damage Grass Before Eating. A close second after this though, was Electric Appliances Destroy Government Bureaucrats Easily. :)

I already have two books, similar to one another, that are the first ‘how to’ guitar books, and I’ve found an App online that I can learn along with too! The books begin by teaching you the notes on each string, so I have gotten to know where to find E, F, and G, and can pick out the first few bars of a weak ‘Ode to Joy’. The App takes you right into learning chords, so I’ve tackled D Major and A Major and have toggled a bit between them. It is quite tricky to figure out the fingerings and to move between them without losing rhythm!

Today we discussed Tablature (Tab) and Chord Box or Window diagrams and how to read them. I will still likely mix up my 1st and 6th string for a while until I can orientate myself properly with my grip. We also reviewed what the numbers and letters mean, relative to our fingers on each hand, and why one hand has letters and the other has numbers.
The left hand is the Numbered hand for fret and string position, and the right hand is the one we strum or pick with, and it is notated by Letter names that follow a Spanish tradition of nomenclature:
Thumb: is labeled with a P for Pulgar
Index Finger: is labeled with an I, for the word Indice
Middle Finger: is labeled with an M, for Medio
Ring Finger: is labeled with an A for Anillo which means ring
Baby Finger: is not generally used on this hand, but can sometimes be given a “C”, for Chiquito, or ‘little finger’.

The left hand Numbering is a simple 1, 2, 3, 4, beginning with the index finger. The thumb will rest nicely behind the neck, in a support role.

I know I need to take it slowly and not think I’ll be playing Cinema Paradiso in one week, haha! What are my hopes and fears? My hopes are that I’ll be able to read Tab and crank out a few chords easily enough over the next few weeks. My fears... vary between worrying about making what I do sound musical and nice, and stumbling through the lessons a step behind everyone else. I do think this is one thing that I will have fun practising and won’t think begrudgingly of the time I’ll spend trying to learn.
The one thing I know for sure, is that the strings need to be strummed or picked with conviction! I will strive for some good resonance.