Guitar Playing Progress

Important Guitar Discovery

After spending a lot of time researching and purchasing several different types of costly finger picks and thumb picks, and after spending several short sessions trying to play a few simple notes as best I could figure out from a beginning fingerstyle book, I have made a very important discovery.

I was interrupted recently during a practice session here in Japan. I tried to continue the fingerstyle exercises in the book while we spoke, even though I wasn’t sure if I was really doing what was intended by the author.

Stunned Satisfaction!
On a whim because of my distraction, I decided to pop off the finger picks and thumb pick I was wearing and I made an attempt to play the same exercises with my finger tips. The result was stunningly satisfying.

It was not a ‘quality of play’ stunned satisfaction I felt; It was just a much more pleasurable and emotionally gratifying experience.

I instantly realized how much more I love being able to touch the strings with my right hand instead of touching them through plastic finger picks.

Of course, it makes it easier as a beginner to find the strings if I can feel them, but this felt so good I knew I could not let this sensation go anytime soon. I have not put the finger picks back on since that day.

Perhaps in the future I will try finger picks again when I have some guitar dexterity. With some modification and trimming, Alaska Piks (no ‘c’), which I didn’t like the fit of as much as the Freedom Picks I was attempting to use, have the potential to provide a finger pad contact point while still simulating the effect of having longer nails.

Fingerstyle is for Fingers
But for now, I HAVE to play fingerstyle with my fingers. It feels so much better and I feel so much more connected to the guitar.

I had been avoiding starting my fingerstyle study efforts with bare fingers because I thought it would involve maintaining unpleasantly long and manicured nails.

Now that I realized I wanted to play with no picks, I was left with uncertainty about how I would proceed. Could I just use the pads of my fingers or would I really need to grow out super long nails?

Perfect Timing
Already on my calendar for a day just a few days after my ‘touching the strings is good’ epiphany, I was scheduled to meet for the first time and have a lesson with internationally renowned champion fingerstyle player Shohei Toyada who has taken up residence in Kyoto.

In my next post, I will write more about my first meetings with Shohei, but what I wanted to add here is how perfect the timing of this first meeting was. I discovered that though Shohei has long nails, they are not super long like I have seen on some other guitarists. He says he plays using the nail as an accent to his fingers’ contact with the guitar strings and not as the primary plucking surface.

It turns out that it may indeed be possible to be an accomplished fingerstyle guitarist without freakishly long, ‘burdensome to all other aspects of life’ fingernails. Eureka!

-Kin’en

New friends I met at a dinner party a week ago in Kyoto invited me to their home for an introduction to guitar and dinner this evening.

Hands on with a Real Guitar
The soon to be groom of this couple is an accomplished guitar player and has been playing for 10 years. He allowed me to play his Martin Acoustic and G&L Electric before his fiancee got home from work and joined us for dinner. We had a tasty meal in their home after the painful guitar session.

My First Chords
I was shown 4 chords: E, A, B7, and B, all of which I am likely to forget soon without a guitar to practice them on. The main thing I took away from this ‘introduction to guitar’ evening is that guitar playing is a physical challenge.

Guitar Athlete
As much as playing the guitar is a musical and skill challenge, it is indeed clearly an athletic challenge. To achieve my goals, I now understand that in many respects learning to play guitar is going to be like learning any other physically challenging activity.

I must embrace the physical nature of this pursuit and think of it as a mountain to climb not only for the summit, but more for the simple pleasures and satisfaction that come from the journey.

The Good Stuff
I suspect that as much as I may want to become a capable and highly proficient guitar player, many years from now, some of my fondest memories of my guitar journey are still going to be these times now when I was struggling to play just a few chords.

I am sure the best guitarists in the world still consider learning and progressing to be the best part of being a guitar player. They are athlete musicians always trying to improve and it is why they are so good.

There may never be a more concentrated period of learning and knowledge absorption in my guitar journey than this very moment.

Right now as an absolute beginner, my guitar journey is likely as good as it is ever going to get.

I really like that thought, because I can identify the same truth from other challenging activities I have pursued in life. Upon reaching the initially imagined goals, I found it was the journey I cherished, not the act of standing on the target.

Japanese Word of the Day
Itai (いたい) – pronounced ‘ee’ as in eek and ‘tie’ as in necktie. 
It means ‘ouch’ or ‘it hurts’.

I will confess I wailed, “Itai!” more than a couple of times tonight as I attempted to maneuver and hold my fingers in position for painful and often unsuccessful attempts to create chords.

I even felt a new song titled Itai trying to flow from within. My left hand fingertips are unnaturally pink and unpleasantly tender as I type this entry.

At first I regretted that I did not record my first weak efforts to play some chords this evening with my little portable audio recorder I carry around with me at all times. I was caught up in the moment, enjoying my visit and to be honest, I completely forgot about this little website and my guitar ‘goals’ for a while. But that is not such a bad thing.

I will record a few of my early unskilled efforts soon enough.

Thank you Koichi for this great start on my guitar playing journey!

-Kin’en

“I plan to use the site primarily to share guitar progression observations, a few cool photos, a little audio
and to introduce some aspects of Japan that many people might not be familiar with.”

In The Beginning
Some moons ago as a result of a sudden decision to learn guitar, I started a personal journal online to document my guitar journey.

This ‘sudden’ decision was one that had been in the making since childhood. However, meeting new friends in Kyoto who were already highly capable guitarists prompted me to finally become serious about giving the guitar a serious go.

The Original Plan
I was about to fly back to the US for a few months and wanted to challenge myself to see what I could accomplish with a guitar while away from Japan. One of my motivations was my desire to play guitar with my friends when I returned to Kyoto.

Even before returning to the US and purchasing a guitar, I began sharing notes about my early research online and about my visits to the many guitar shops of Kyoto as I tried to figure out how I was going to get started.

I included a good amount of commentary about Japan since it is where I was living part-time (and for this year at least, almost full-time), while still keeping most of the posts guitar and music oriented.

Once I started practicing in the US, I attempted to document every minute I was playing and I kept detailed notes about every study resource I was experimenting with.

Failure
I soon found I was spending more time writing and slavishly detailing every moment of my practice time than I was spending actually practicing. That is largely presented now as an excuse for the microscopic progression I experienced during the few hours in total that I did practice.

I have many more excuses to toss in the hat for my lack of progress, including a scary back injury that put me flat on my back for several months. In the end though, none of my excuses are very good ones, and it could be said fairly that I failed in my short-term goal.

Though my initial progression was indeed miniscule, I did accomplish one simple feat; I didn’t given up.

From the Ashes of ‘Near Defeat’
It is important to document one’s practice regimen of course, and there might be some guitarists that enjoy perusing lists of minutiae from another guitarist’s practice routines, but the simple truth is that my main goal with a guitar is to learn how to play the darn thing well enough that I can begin using it as a composition tool. My mission is certainly not to teach the world how to play guitar (something I cannot even do myself yet).

I discovered in my failure that a website about me learning how to play guitar, that takes up so much time that it hinders my ability to learn how to play guitar, might not be such a good idea.

If there is some value in sharing the process I am going through, I think the most informative or entertaining posts I was writing were the general guitar topic explorations and research commentaries that might be relevant to new and progressing guitarists, along with a few stories of my personal experiences in Japan mixed in.

Those types of posts are relatively easy and fun for me to write and don’t require hours of chart creation or lengthy practice summaries that attempt to document and explain every single decision I am making as it relates to my guitar studies and practice time. On the original site, I was even trying to write mini reviews of all the online teaching resources I came across.

I will still share some practice overviews for those who might be curious. I need to document such things for myself anyway, but those posts will be brief.

The important stuff and all the guitar activities I am involved with will be evident here, but now I am going to write mostly for fun and to fuel my enthusiasm for progress. I plan to use the site primarily to share guitar progression observations, a few cool photos, a little audio and to introduce some aspects of Japan that many people might not be familiar with.

I will keep some of the original posts in this new incarnation of the site to provide a back story and so there is a base to continue from.

A lot of very interesting things are going on now in my guitar life as I attempt to get back on the horse. I hope my stories are of interest to other progressing guitarists.

What I Have Learned So Far
There are certainly millions of ways to approach the guitar, but if I have only 1 bit of wisdom to share about learning guitar at this point, it would be this…

  • Allow yourself to love playing. (even when you are terrible)

I am sure I will elaborate on this in the future, but the main point of it for me is that I find it critically important to focus on the pleasure of practicing RIGHT NOW, not only on the perceived greater pleasure I might experience once I have developed some level of proficiency.

‘Ganbarou’ to you and I both.
-Kin’en

First Kyoto Guitarist Japanese Word of the Day
Ganbarou (がんばろう) – Let’s do our best. :-)

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