Lesson One

where the magic happens

“You should probably cut your nails if you want to continue.”

His stubby ones are barely visible below callused fingertips.

I realize learning guitar isn’t going to be easy. Or pretty. Goodbye feminine nails I worked so hard to grow out.

Like trying anything new, I weigh the costs and ask how badly I want this.

“Practice half an hour each day, and you’ll have calluses built up by next week’s lesson.”

Yeah, I’ll get on that right away.

“And retrain the muscle memory in your fourth finger. It wants to go straight but it needs to bend so the chord sounds cleaner.”

I look at the troublesome finger playing D major, stuck straight as a pencil with no sign of arcing. Old and set in my ways, I doubt how much practice will help. My fingers resort to their former positions like good students.

“Save your money and teach yourself,” my brother had said. I had tried that, but teaching myself isn’t helpful when I’m teaching wrong.

I didn’t know there was follow-through in guitar like in basketball. I didn’t know to wrap my hands tightly around the neck like gripping a baseball bat. Heck, I didn’t know playing guitar was so much like playing sports, the fingers curved like a body over a high jump bar.

Practice makes better. How badly do I want to be better?

I remember I am finished school, worried my brain’s glory days are over and are now starting a gradual process of decline. I remember a university professor asking, “Which of the arts most powerfully and universally conveys human experience?”

The class was mute. When we finally answered, we said theatre. There are wrong answers in the humanities by the way. The professor said no. Music. Who are you?

Tonight I am taking scissors to my nails.