ODY: 32/365. Night Class.

So there I was, learning to play with others. Sort of. Nine nervous grownups with that bright first-day-in-school blush. I even thought KW, our teacher, had a bit of a shine on, but he’s been doing this a long time. Maybe it was because he was distributing, in two piles of photocopied paper, his book. Ah, so this was a literary soirée, minus the canapés and the booze and, ah, staples. For me, it was a first chance to learn this new thing with people beyond my immediate gene pool.

There were nine chairs, nine music stands, and between them were six women and three men awkwardly hoisting their new best friends. We sat in a small basement studio in a northern capital city. A quick inspection confirmed that I was the oldest of the dogs here at Guitar Obedience School. (Wouldn’t have it any other way.) The hour went quickly.

It took a while to get the pages collated. KW’s amplifier had several ideas, few of which had anything to do with powering his little black axe, with which he hopes to be audible over our group’s acoustic cacophony. The cellar studio held a bizarre stew of tunings, and I knew that either I or the guy next to me was in a hopeless state. K shut us down quickly. “Let me give ‘em a quick tune.” Mine gave him a challenge, but he was pleasantly surprised that my crippled Dégas – “let me put it this way, they don’t make a high-end guitar” – actually made a decent sound once he’d cranked it about for a few minutes.

Not so with my near neighbour. “You have a bass guitar,” KW said. Twenty minutes later, he admitted defeat. “This is impossible to tune.” No wonder the hour went so fast. He talked us through some of the basics. I discovered that I’d even been holding the thing wrong, which is part of why my left hand has had so much trouble finding a way to make chords; the neck should be tipped upwards, but I’ve been perching the guitar on my right thigh so that it was quite horizontal. Oh. Okay, then. He reassured us: “You’re going to have a long time where you say, ‘Damn, I suck!’” He implored us to buy electronic tuners. He flew through a couple of chord diagrams to great passivity. (Calm acceptance of the familiar? Hmm. I’m betting on stunned incomprehension, but maybe that’s just me.) He showed us a little finger-picking sequence, showed us how to read the chord boxes on page 17 of his manual – thanks to my sons’ pencil diagrams and emails, I understood them; YAY! – looked at the clock, grinned sheepishly at us and said, “Bye!”

Oops. Later, the guy in the music store upstairs cheerfully pronounced my guitar “unplayable”, and explained to me that its ridiculously “high action” was not an expression of macho praise but a mark of how far above the frets the strings were. (I probably should have bought the Walden guitar they have on sale. It sounded JUST a little different than mine, and wasn’t one of the $2000 jobs.) When I walked out into the night of this Brave New World of Musical Education, I was a bit bewildered, but pleasantly so. Nowhere near catatonic, but I think some of my classmates were.

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