Around age 9, I got my first guitar. Like most kids in the 90s, my parents took lessons in a grungy basement where a dude with long, stringy hair wearing a Metallica shirt taught me scales from a Hal Leonard beginning guitar book. The lessons didn’t make sense to me and I struggled to progress. Learning a new instrument, like all things that matter, is hard.
After I quit the lessons, I shifted to what I’ll call “unstructured” learning. This meant playing along with random songs, picking out melodies I heard in my mind, and generally just messing around with a guitar. This method didn’t yield progress faster but it was more fun. Most importantly, I stuck with it.
Then after 23 years, a new instrument appeared on the horizon of my life. I started to play in my wife’s band as a bassist soon after getting married. I still remember the first show I played at a dingy, smoke-filled, roof-top jazz club in Kentucky. A couple hundred people were packed in to hear the band. I got up on stage and set up my newly purchased bass and amp. My training at this point had come almost entirely from watching this YouTube video of Jaco Pastorius teaching a course called Modern Electric Bass from 1985. I think I watched it about 10 times in the days leading up to the show.
Being on stage in front of strangers was exactly like most people imagine: uncomfortable. As I looked out on the audience, every face seemed to be saying “who is this guy and why is he up there?”. “Struggled mightily” might be the best way to describe my performance that night. It was three of the longest hours of my life. I’m honestly not totally sure my amp was plugged in the whole time. And that was probably for the best.
When I look back it’s hard to understand why I wanted to keep doing it but I think there are two big reasons. The first is Anna. I wanted to be with her as much as I could and playing in the band one way I could do that. The second is the idea of overcoming a challenge. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this thing.
Last night, we played a large show in an outdoor park in front of around two or three hundred people. On the drive home afterwards, I reflected on how fun it was to be on stage playing bass and singing backup. I had the honor to share the billing with my father-in-law, the best guitar player I know. I was just to the left of love of my life. I watched my kids dance and roll around in the grass. I was thankful. Stick with it.