I Promise Not To Pavlov The Guitar

  Ok, it’s been four weeks, four lessons, and practice every day now.  Me and the guitar are getting along just fine.  I’ve learned how to play (and read) E, F, and G on the first smallest string.  In case you don’t know, you twang a string over the sound hole with a pick with your right hand while sometimes pressing down in a certain place up on the fretboard (neck) with a finger or fingers on your left hand.

  Similarly, I’ve learned how to play B, C, and D on the second string and G and A on the third.  It is very helpful when the particular bit of music under assault is recognizable.  So far I can conjure up stuff that sounds like Jingle Bells, Au Clair de la Lune, and Love Me Tender.  It’s fun.

  However, last week I started to try and learn a ‘cord’ and it has been frustrating.  To (try to) play a cord you strum several strings in quick succession with the pick while (usually I think) holding down one or more of them with your left hand.  It has proven difficult because I have a tough time positioning one finger to hold down a string without touching those around it. 

  It sounds awful if you don’t get it right.  Terrible.  It’s  like when you’re splitting wood, overshoot, and the axe handle thuds the log. First time in this process for which profanity was required.  Dog got up and hid.  Another beloved (but long departed) canine member of the family was smart and learned to hide whenever I touched my tool belt – confident that f-bombs were sure to follow.  I promise not to Pavlov the guitar.

  Saving grace might be Beethoven.  A few measures (lines) of The ‘Ode to Joy’ from his 9th Symphony was the first music I confronted with this new (to me obviously) technique.  Was reminded of what brought me here in the first place.  What is it in this simple arrangement of a handful of notes that this fat fingered near sexagenarian can work out well enough that his spirits lift and soul rises?

  Ludwig Van was fifty-four when he wrote it and had been deaf for ten years.  At its premier, thus unable to direct, he sat by the stage facing the orchestra counting time.  Upon conclusion of the performance contralto Caroline Unger had to step forward and turn him around so that he could see and accept the wild acclaim.

  What is it about music?  In what dimension can one, unable to hear, strum a heartstring with such pervasive and profound reverberation?

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