… of Practice making Perfect

We have established in previous weeks that I have ongoing issues with dedication. If one thing has ever made sense with this blog, it’s the title; something that just came to me in a “that’ll do” moment that has managed to define pretty much any project I’ve ever worked on, past, present and I assume future. A folder of draft emails and blog posts illustrates the ‘False Starts’ perfectly. So many half written posts about awesome experiences that should be easy for me to write about, but just refuse to have words form around them. Or at least words that I feel do those experiences justice.

The ‘Frustrations’ are numerous. Frustrations with my lack of dedication, my inability to start and finish a project, and a complete lack of faith in my own ability to do most things. This isn’t phishing, and it may or may not be one of those low self esteem things. It is what it is, which is the culmination of years of evidence that suggests that when I may be good at something, I lack the dedication required to move from may be good at to is actually quite good at. Of course the thing required to move between those two points is practice.

As a teen in the 90s I decided to take up the most teen in the 90s hobby I could think of and bought myself a pair of roller-blades. All of my friends were doing it – and yes before you ask, if all of my friends had decided to jump of a bridge I probably would at least consider doing it too because as a teen there is nothing more important than fitting in, and the feeling that perhaps you may not belong is one of the worst feelings ever, so yes I would at least consider jumping off a bridge an option because if I didn’t do it and everyone else survived, would I really want to be the kid that chickened out of jumping off a bridge? I don’t think so. Anyway. Roller-blades. The short version of the story is that I was very bad at roller-blading. Balance has never been strong with the Ampersand family, and any attempts to do anything besides skating forwards in a straight line were usually pushed down by crushing fears of falling over and hurting myself [1]. So, I would skate around in circles while my friends jumped up and off and over stairs and rails and curbs and all that exciting things you could spend hours watching people do on YouTube these days. I can proudly say that I never fell over roller-blading, mostly because I never tried to do anything apart from not fall over.

Skip to a year or so later, swap out some of that circle of friends with another, and replace roller-blading with another teen in the 90s hobby – playing guitar. My guitar was a second hand Fender look-alike made by a company called “Eston” and bought from a guy named Ben who I think is still alive and for a short time in highschool made my life hell until his friends left at the end of year 10 and he decided to stay on and complete year 12 and all of a sudden that meant we’re friends now? Anyway, he sold me his guitar which had so much wrong with it it wasn’t a bargain at all. The strings sat far too high off the fret board, and the bridge was this weird Floyd Rose knock-off that had lost its spring. So Ben had decided to remove the springs and fix the bridge so it didn’t move, which meant that to change a string you had to down-tune every string and remove the entire bridge. Despite this, I loved it dearly. It was painted red with a cracked black over-coat, so it looked like red lightning or veins were breaking through. It was weighty too, and with medium gauge strings it had an awesome low end. Drop D that sucker and it was a power to be reckoned with. Even through my tiny Peavey Rage amp [2].

I still remember the day I bought the guitar. I took my saved up money – most of which came from my Nana who was visiting at the time – to the roadhouse in Eaton where Ben worked, and picked it up, sight unseen. From there Mum took me to my friend Quinn’s [3] house, where he was going to give me my first lesson. After about thirty minutes of scales practice, I became impatient. Quinn’s intentions were great. He wanted to teach me properly, but it wasn’t sticking.

“Quinn” I think I said. “This is great and I’m sure very useful, but what about songs?”

“Well,” he replied – I assume, on account of I’ve forgotten most of this conversation – “With this knowledge you can play any song you like.”

“But Quinn, I don’t want to play Baa Baa Black Sheep and that sort of shit. I want to play actual songs.”

Quinn sighed. Realising he’d lost the battle, he proceeded to introduce me to the power chord and all of a sudden the curtain was pulled back and the Wizards I’d idolized for so long were revealed to be ordinary men [4] and women. The first song he showed me was Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit which became to me what Back in Black was to Cobain. I took my newly acquired knowledge and applied it to as many songs as I could. Deconstructing verses and choruses and trying to tease out recognisable phrases. Just enough to be able to play along with most of the song. And just as I was becoming bored with power chords, I was introduced to guitar tabs. Lunch money that used to be spent on comics went towards issues of Guitar World. Lunches breaks were spent in the library searching for our favourite songs, printing the plain text files on a dot matrix printer over a 56kbps dial-up connection [5] [6]. Tabs were traded in the school yard like basket-ball cards. Those of us who could invested in the books of our favourite albums and the rest of us borrowed the photocopiers at our parent’s work places. We marveled at the lead guitar from Pearl Jam’s Ten and the alternate tuning of Soundgarden’s Superunknown blew our minds. I bought a capo so I could play Mayonnaise by Smashing Pumpkins, and a slide to play Everything’s Zen by Bush [7]. I’d play as much as I could. I’d waste weekend afternoon in my room making noises along to Bush’s Sixteen Stone and Filter’s Short Bus. When Mellon Collie came out I tried to get my head around actual chords and half step down tuning.

And that was around the time it stopped. While my friends set their sights towards being able to play Metallica solos, I swam happily in the shallow end. They’d show off, playing through the solo from Pearl Jam’s Alive note by note. I was fine sticking to riffs from Gentle Art of Making Enemies. I plateaued, but I was  happy. Content. I had no dream of becoming the next Yngwie Malmsteen. I wasn’t even concerned with being able to pronounce Yngwie Malmsteen.

I still play guitar, but only very occasionally. And on those odd occasions I pick up my guitar [8], I still bust out the same songs I used to play in my bedroom as a teen. While I’ve picked up a few songs from more contemporary artists, like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire and Radiohead, I still find great satisfaction in playing Cherub Rock or Today or Little Things or Spoonman. Whenever I think about how far I could’ve come if I’d just stuck at it or applied myself a little more, I think about an interview I read with David Gilmore in the first guitar magazine I ever bought. I was never a huge Pink Floyd fan and I couldn’t tell you why I read the interview in the first place, but the part that stuck out to me, and has stayed with me since I read it:

“I have a certain style, you know, because I was given these particular fingers. They are the ones I got, and they are not terribly quick,” Gilmour holds out his hands, palms up, and splays his fingers. “There are some things they can’t do, and there are some things they do better than anyone else, thank God [laughs]. I can rehearse and I can practice for months, and I don’t get any quicker. I’ve given that up years ago. And I can’t be bothered with too much practicing, I’m afraid. I should, but I’m terribly lazy about it.”
Via: Pink Floyd Online

And I always figured “Well, if it’s good enough for David Gilmore…”

[1] Self here refers to either body or ego. The irony being I probably looked far more stupid standing around wearing roller-blades than I did falling over while trying to do something that wasn’t skating forward in a straight line.

[2] The Peavey Rage came at around Christmas time that year. Prior to that, I was using the head from a crappy practice amp who’s speaker had blown, and a friend from school had wired it up to a large speaker which didn’t fit in the case, so I had to balance the speaker against my desk and the bare wire ran up to the uncased head.

[3] It was Quinn’s Birthday ten days ago. Happy Birthday Quinn!

[4] Spoiler alert.

[5] One particularly memorable lunch time was completely wasted when Matt tried printing all Led Zeppelin’s The Battle of Evermore only to find once it was done, it’d been transposed for mandolin.

[6] I challenge you to find a sentence in this blog that ages me more than this one.

[7] And of course anything I could by The Afghan Whigs, but what set them apart from the other bands of their era was that their mixes were so dense. Where as it was relatively easy to pull at least a chord progression from bands like Bush, Green Day or the Pumpkins to an extent, The Whigs made it really hard to separate the lead, rhythm and bass parts from each other. Throw Greg’s voice in over the top and it became impossible for my ear to pick anything recognisable. It wasn’t till a few years later when I started chatting with other Whig fans that I started to figure them out and this happened.

[8] My current guitar is a blue Fender squire, which was provided as an insurance replacement when my old, red and black Eston was stolen from my house about eight years ago. The Fender is superior to the Eston in every way, and in no way was the Eston worth the same amount of money as the Squire, but I don’t have the same emotional attachment. And changing strings on the Fender is far too easy. Where’s the challenge? I miss my Eston. Her name was Betty.


Author: Mark Ampersand

Budding writer, connoisseur of fine popular culture and Batman fan.

One thought on “… of Practice making Perfect”

  1. I didn’t know you played guitar until quite recently! You keep all these talents buried. Probably next to my two-gig rap career. Aw.

    Fear of failure is something that everyone suffers from, some have it to such a crippling degree that they can’t pursue things that they’d like to and it sucks so much that it can take the enjoyment out of the experience.

    I’m one of those people that picks up something new and if I’m not better than the person who originally invented it within five minutes then I’ll give up and eat some** chips.

    **the local service station’s full supplies

    One thing, that as your friend I would love to share with you..

    Despite wanting to be better at things that I think you are already brilliant at, (writing, for example) I’d like you to know that you have mastered something that is worth more than you could imagine…

    The art of being a truly amazing man and a wonderful, wonderful friend. You’re a rarity, you’re damn special and you should be reminded of it often, good Sir.

    The voice that challenges you creatively may be loud and persistent but it has no chance against strength of the combined voices of those that know, love and support you in all you attempt.

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