by Mellisa Mulia
Just as Sungha Jung played a complicated, elaborate piece on the guitar— one that he composed himself— I once again popped another Salt and Vinegar Lay’s chip into my mouth.
“He’s almost my age and so accomplished; what am I doing with my life?” I wondered before munching on yet another chip. As I turned back to my laptop, I noticed the untouched guitar in the corner of my room.
“Maybe I should start practicing again,” I thought.
I had no idea why in elementary school, the pear-shaped instrument (that I soon learned was called a guitar) sparked my interest.
During those years, I was stuck with the recorder. Sure, I could play “Twinkle Little Star,” “Mary had a Little Lamb,” and all those other nursery songs, but placing my fingers over the holes became too boring. I wanted something more challenging.
In fifth grade, I noticed that there was a guitar teacher at my school. It was strange that he only accompanied the music program and there were no students playing along with him. Wanting to learn the art of plucking and picking strings, I went up to him, determined to learn a new instrument, and asked if he could teach me.
The first problem was that I didn’t have my own guitar. My parents, who could not afford to spend money on a hobby I might abandon in the future, made a deal with me. As long as I recorded a small snippet of myself playing the guitar, then they would buy me one. A week later, after learning some basic chords and strumming patterns, I proudly showed my parents how much progress I made.
After getting my hands on the brand-new guitar, with a music stand and tuner, I spent every day after school, with five other students (who also decided they wanted to learn after seeing the large case I brought to school) and learned the basics. The first order of business was learning more complicated chords. I had relatively tiny hands at that age, and I struggled with one particular chord: the “F”. I had to press all of the strings with an index finger while simultaneously placing my other fingers on the corresponding strings.
For some reason, instead of producing a wonderful sound pleasing to the ears, I created a rather scratchy sound accompanied by six parallel lines imprinted on my finger because of how hard I pressed. Unless I magically strengthened the muscles in my hand, I probably could not do the chord in time for the concert in two weeks.
It was a good thing I put the practice time in at home with my new guitar. After hours each day leading up to the concert, I managed to nail down the chord and do my job as lead guitarist in the assembly.
Moving on to middle school, I no longer had a guitar teacher but was on my own. Wanting to keep playing and not let the guitar gather dust, I began to learn how to read tab music and follow tutorials online.
Tab music is similar to sheet music, except the notes are replaced with numbers to indicate where to put each finger. As I learned what the numbers meant, my ability to learn new pieces was enhanced. I stopped limiting myself to Taylor Swift songs and began to learn more advanced music.
In high school, I was sad to find out that again there was no guitar teacher in the music department. I continued learning by myself until I found out about Musicians United. Adrenaline pumping—I opened the door to A-21 to audition for the club where musical talent is encouraged and where I had the chance to play guitar for someone other than myself.
Stepping into that room was not only the beginning of my learning to perform while playing but was the start of a three-year journey filled with a constant struggle to overcome stage fright. With a childish, high-pitched voice that no one took seriously, I had never fathomed that I would ever be able to sing and play guitar. Yet, I challenged myself to do so, to fulfill my childhood dreams of being a musician. At the Winter Showcase, the first time I would ever show my skills to my peers, I managed to push the anxiety aside and began to do what I do best, strumming and singing.
The “F” chord was no longer an obstacle (in fact I began to challenge myself to compose my own scores and learn more complicated arrangements) and the fifth grade me would have been happy to see me on stage, playing something more than the basics.
Perhaps I am not yet as skilled as Sungha Jung who can compose his arrangements in a single day, but I will stick with my six-stringed pear-shaped guitar, continuing to experiment and improve.