Alleviation Through Guitar

Icelandic band lead by front man Jonsi.

When I was young(er), I would see people playing instruments, especially guitar, and be transfixed. Even before touching one myself, I could tell that people playing were, in a way, in their own realm. I would see a couple of musicians making music together and think how spectacular it must feel to synchronize yourself through such a satisfying medium. However, comprehension and experience can be two different things entire. So, roughly two years ago, I picked up my sister’s dusty and neglected Aria classical guitar and decided I wanted to experience this for myself.

The most obvious place to get a footing in the never-ending trail of playing guitar is lessons. So, with my poorly tuned Aria and pre-callused fingers, I started searching for a teacher to introduce me to the world of guitar and take me under their wing like Sgt. Nicholas Angel did for PC Danny Butterman (if you just scratched your head with that last analogy, you have sadly never been graced with the brilliance of the film Hot Fuzz. I will sooth your confusion by stating that it is essentially the same dynamic as Mr. Miyagi to Daniel Laursso. Still scratching? Google is right around the corner). Upon finding a teacher, I began taking hour long lessons every Wednesday during the (home) school year. Like many naïve teenagers before me, the delusive idea of grandeur that accompanied me before actually playing guitar soon faded. No, Mike, you cannot even play the rhythm guitar for Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” yet, let alone the solo. Hammer-ons? Pull-offs? Just try hitting the high e string there, buddy. As much as we’d all like to be instantly exceptional at some things, you usually quickly realize that you need to spend a little time with something called practice before shredding up arenas with your God-like guitar skills.

Tom Gabel and the boys peforming at 2011's Warped Tour

So I went through the admittedly slow process of getting the beginnings of a grip on guitar. Now, two years later, I won’t even pretend that I have mastered guitar. No, I, like all players, am just standing on a step in the endless staircase that is guitar skill. From my experience, there is a barrier for each player when starting out. It’s the line between frustration that all you seem to be able to play is Yankee-freaking-Doodle for the umpteenth time and realizing you’ve practiced enough to actually play (some of) the songs you like (. . . maybe that barrier was just for me). You know, the reason you started in the first place. Once that line was crossed, guitar moved out of the tedious region and into the limitless territory of joy.

Guitar, over the short span of two years, has become not only a great way to pass the time, but more importantly a way to connect and escape as well. I have the privilege of being in a circle of friends that are predominantly musically gifted; be it guitar, banjo, bass, drums, piano, etc, my friends have it covered. So, I have had endless opportunities to have “jam sessions” in both an assortment of locations and musical set-ups. Whether in a friend’s bedroom or basement, family room or kitchen, or on a stage at Open Connections, playing to no one or a whole crowd, we find a way to make music. The beauty of it is that none of those variables really matter. What does matter is that feeling of connection and harmonization that I have found in no other form of social interaction. Even during the ebb of negative emotions we sometimes go through, I have sat down with a few friends and felt nothing but pure alleviation and joy while playing music. When something you are doing can make you laugh from sheer delight, it’s something worth clinging to.

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