5 Pathetic Excuses I've Made for Not Learning to Play the Guitar (Until Now)

I've accepted a friend's offer to teach me how to play guitar, but I've spent the last 20 years coming up with really dumb reasons not to.
Publish date:
January 8, 2015
music, guitar, music lessons, excuses, singing

I love singing more than any other verb. More than writing, more than copulating, more than petting (my and other people's pets). I love it so much that I'm almost embarrassed to do it in front of people because it feels like a form of public masturbation. However, since it isn't a form of public masturbation and because I deserve all the happiness in the world, I'm trying to get out there ("there" being karaoke bars, practice spaces, studios, stages, and other non-shower-stalls) and sing as much as possible.

One of the ways I'm doing that is by singing backup for my friend Chris Q. Murphy at some of his gigs around New York. As I wrote about recently, I felt pretty insecure about "just" being able to sing while surrounded by more-than-just-a-hobby musicians, but I had come to realize that singing is, in fact, a legitimate contribution to a band, and something I do well and should be proud of. Singing is enough.

But that doesn't mean I have to just sing. I mean, why not try to learn an instrument that could increase the opportunities for me to get out and sing, and maybe even work on my own music?

So when my friend Colin came out to my last performance and offered me super-reasonably-priced weekly guitar lessons, I was like, "Hell, yes!"

Except it was actually more like a meek, "Really?"

That's because a million self-sabotaging thoughts and flimsy justifications of why I shouldn't try tornado'd through my brain before I managed to accept the offer.

See, exactly 20 years ago, I took a few guitar lessons — weekly sessions with about a dozen others, after-hours at an elementary school — before deciding it wasn't for me. But short of the expected beginner's finger pain and teen angst, it wasn't really not for me. I just let impatience and insecurity get to me; and now, full-grown thirtysomething angst was threatening to stop me from doing something positive for myself.

And the thing is, this isn't the first time I'd contemplated learning a few essential guitar chords after my vacated attempt two decades ago. It's just that I've had a handful of go-to excuses for not following through. Here are the dumbest ones.

I forgot how to read music.

The last time I played an instrument with any music-reading fluency was 1994, the last of eight years that I'd played the cello. People tell me reading music is like riding a bike, that it would all come back to me pretty quickly. But even if that's true, I only ever learned how to read the bass clef — no treble, if you will.

Not that attempting to improve upon my music-reading skills isn't a worthy project, but Colin assured me that it's more or less not even necessary when it comes to learning the chords that make someone a reliable rhythm guitarist.

And besides, Paul McCartney couldn't read music, and he can play, like, everything.

I prefer the piano.

When it comes to instruments that singers can play and not need any other bandmates, I've always preferred the piano over the guitar. When I first discovered Ben Folds Five and their guitarlessness, I was like, "Yeah! Fuck guitars! Who needs guitars? Piano all the way!"

But I don't have a piano, for one thing.

My parents bought me a decent electric keyboard when I was a kid, and when I showed a natural proclivity for figuring out melodies and chords, they offered to get me lessons; but for some reason, my dumb kid brain believed the only way to be truly talented at something was if you were self-taught. And so I became a "truly talented" singer who couldn't accompany herself on any instrument. Oh, the regrets!

However, even if I did give playing the piano a real shot, I might have found a huge hurdle in the form of...

My thumbs. They are clubbed.

I basically have two elegant big toes for thumbs. They're short, wide, and inflexible, and they make trying to play certain instruments even more challenging. Do you see Megan Fox playing the guitar? No, you don't, and now you know why.

I remember during my first guitar lesson as a teen, one of my fellow students said, "Man, my fingers hurt!" And the instructor assured us that a little pain and calluses are totally normal when you're starting out.

"Yeah, my thumb and wrist are killing me," I said.

The teacher looked at me like I'd said a fairy took a shit in my guitar.

"Your thumb and wrist? You must be holding it wrong." She investigated and couldn't find anything weird about my positioning, other than, "Awww, your thumbs are so small."

Little did I know, acoustic guitars have a slightly wider neck that their electric counterparts, and I might have had a more comfortable experience learning on an electric guitar. Luckily, Colin has both kinds, and after a quick comfort comparison, it became obvious that I was destined to be the next Joan Jett, as opposed to, say, the next Joni Mitchell.

I can barely play the tambourine while I sing.

Last year, while rehearsing songs with some coworkers for a fund-raising event, I was asked to play the same two notes over and over again on a mandolin while singing lead on Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." I could. Not. Do it. My brain felt like it was being torn in half.

I am in awe of people who sing while playing any instrument. Perhaps it comes easily to some, but to me, it comes hardily, which is not what hardily means, but I like how that sounded in my mind.

But that doesn't mean it can't eventually be like second nature to me. That's what practice is for. (Because baby Marci was pretty dumb for thinking true talent just happens.)

What if I develop a crush on myself?

Guitar-playing guys are so cute! If I play the guitar, who will I lust after?!

Oh, right. Drummers.

I'm typing this up with very little feeling in the tip of my left ring finger because I just finished my first lesson, and it was really satisfying. I can confidently play the G and C chords, and I got noticeably faster at transitioning between the two throughout the hour. It's been a long time since I've learned something for the sake of self-improvement and fun, and I forgot how uplifting it can be.

I'm planning to purchase a used electric guitar before the week is through so I can practice between lessons and maybe even get ahead watching some instructional YouTube videos (though lessons at Colin's place are probably better because cat).

Anyone have any affordable electric guitar recommendations? I've heard Squier guitars are a good beginner option, but if you know of any especially dainty-necked guitars, do tell!