Guitar Days

A question from the gallery:

Aside from fake Dylan songs, how are you doing with your guitar?

My correspondent is asking about my tenor guitar, which I’ve had for about nine months now. As a partial answer, listen if you dare to the following musical clip, which features me both singing and playing guitar.


As the other part of the answer, I would say that I’m progressing along but I’m not there yet, “there” being the ability to play popular songs without messing them up too badly either by not knowing the basic chord forms or (in particular) screwing up the strumming pattern. The latter is a particular challenge for me and the thing I work on the most; it’s especially hard when you’re singing along as well, since your brain has to do two things at once. It helps that I strung my guitar the same as a ukulele, so I had a head start on the chords, but tenor guitar is less forgiving than the uke when you screw up, and I screw up frequently. So: A work in progress.

That’s okay with me. I really enjoy playing with my guitar and I’m happy about slowly but surely getting better; it’s fun to see and hear myself improve as I go along. I’m not pursuing the guitar with fervor, in the sense that I have to play every single day, or relentlessly pushing myself to get better and kicking myself if I don’t. I play a little most days and a lot on the days when I feel like it, and some days when I’m busy it sits in the corner. Naturally that means my improvement is going at a slower pace than it could be. But, eh. I’m playing to enjoy myself, not to become a professional musician.

And in fact that’s one of the things I like about it: It’s a creative thing that I do for the enjoyment of it and not anything else. I’m not planning to cut an album or start busking for change, and I have a pretty good idea that my level of talent on the guitar will stop somewhere short of “genuinely excellent.” My actual goal for the instrument is to play for myself songs that I enjoy. Once I get to that level, anything else will be a bonus. And getting to that goal is enjoyable in itself.

So: Coming along, not there yet but getting there, and enjoying myself as I go. Which is enough at the moment.

(P.S.: Yes, I still play my uke. It’s fun too, and easier to take around.)

22 thoughts on “Guitar Days

  1. Jesus, John. Overachieve much? Not satisfied with being a great published science fiction author, you also have to be a quick study on the guitar and a pretty competent singer as well? If you start painting, I just fucking give up.

  2. When I played guitar I was satisfied with being “surprisingly adequate.”. In other words, it was a good thing I can sing.

  3. A creditable, musical effort, John Scalzi, and pretty good cover on the Liverpudlian accent, too. ‘o)

  4. Bravery is a commendable trait in a science fiction writer.

    I tell my kids that if you are not afraid to sing or lead singing, in public, there are few things in a democratic society you need fear. In other societies, yeah, it might get you killed – but here it gets you admired for chutzpah. Look at it this way: it will only keep getting better and better.

  5. FWIW, I find that even though simultaneously playing and singing requires the brain to do two things at the same time, it seems to be two different parts of the brain. I find it hard to learn both at the same time but if I learn each separately it’s easier to combine the two. And once I do, I can sing the part while I’m doing some improvisation with the playing. I play bass, not guitar, but it has the same number of strings as your tenor guitar and uke.

  6. Your singing’s getting noticeably better. You must be doing exercises? More diaphragm, less lung; be the woofer, not the tweeter. Also, a good trick is to pop your ears before singing. Equalizes pressure and gives you a better read on your own voice.

  7. You seem to realize it’s a journey, rather than an objective, John. Keep at it. Took me a few years before I got any good at blues harp. It’s still not ‘quite there’, and I hope it never is. The fun is in the reaching.

  8. And not too shabby on the song! Really picked up as the song progressed too. Good, good. I liked it.

    John, or anyone else who does music and likes recording for upload, what would you suggest for a basic setup? What sort of apps and equipment? I play diatonic harmonicas (basic blues stuff), miking them through a Green Bullet into a Line 6 Spider guitar amp. I like the different effects I can get through this guitar amp and the green bullet is perfect for cupping in my hands while playing blues. What I want to do is just basically record for upload. I have an idea of what to do, but thought it best I get opinions from those who’ve already been doing this sort of thing. This thread seemed perfect for posing the query. Any suggestions would be great.

  9. Huh. When I spent a couple of years trying to take up the guitar, the strumming patterns were the ONLY thing I picked up pretty easily. I was barely adequate at consistently getting the chords right without buzzing an extra string or two, and I never, ever got any better at getting from one chord to the next in any sort of appropriate time frame. I was reasonably happy with the first thing, could live with the second one, but the last one made me pretty much give it up when it became clear I wasn’t getting any better at it no matter how long I did it. Oh well.

  10. I actually think that was good!
    On another note, that song sounds like it would fit perfectly in a Katamari game…

  11. You’re never done learning to play the guitar, John. You just buy more guitars. You’ll be just fine. Your wife, on the other hand, is going to want to know why you need another one.

  12. Good for you, John. I’m re-relearning the guitar myself; played off and on for 30 years and never got any good. I’m doing better now than ever before–but I STILL have trouble quickly making a D chord.

  13. Uke! Iz cool. And if you play like Iz Kamakawiwo’ole, I’d buy some of that too. Here’s a great song for you: Hanohano Wale No Na Cowboy, “Glorious are the cowboys.” There’s a bit of Hawaiian-style syncopation in the second line that makes this a memorable song for any small gathering of friends. Translation note: pipi as in pipi stew = beef stew. Just say ‘em real fast.

  14. I think you sound more than a little like your fellow Ohioan Robert Pollard, which is no faint praise. Maybe it’s the accent, maybe it’s the lo-fi arrangement, but it’s definitely good.

  15. As someone whose day job is busking, you really don’t have to be very good to go out there and do it. Sure, you might not make very much, but if you have the free time and the desire to go hang out in a public space with your instrument, you can make lunch money and sometimes more.

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