I’m improving all the time

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It sounds better than ‘I am getting better all the time’ but whichever way I look at it there has been a vast improvement over the years. I am writing about my guitar playing in case you were wondering what I was getting at. Many years ago when I first started to work as a qualified person I found myself working in another town. At lunchtime I often found it relaxing to wander around the shopping centre and one day came by a music shop, that is one selling musical instruments. In the window several guitars were on display and one in particular caught my attention. I dreamed about owning it or one like it but at that time I couldn’t play an instrument of any kind. I pondered whether I should get the money together and buy the guitar on my next visit but for some reason I rejected the idea. Later in my life I was to regret that decision to some degree. Years passed by and I found myself working in a church on alternate Sunday mornings with young children. The year was 1990. I had a small guitar at home which I had collected from somewhere and I had been tinkering with it on occasion but still couldn’t play it. It wasn’t a proper guitar, really only a toy but it could be tuned reasonably well to make an acceptable noise, almost! I decided to teach myself a few guitar chords for I had it in mind to play some songs for the children who had no live music on Sunday mornings. After a couple of weeks and three or four chords under my belt I decided to take the guitar to church and the children and I, with the help of other members sang a few simple easy to play songs. It turned out to be a great success so every other week there I was leading the children in worship songs. Over the next few months my repertoire grew, I bought a proper instrument and I could play quite a few simple songs reasonably well. One morning as we were singing with the children the leader of the church music group came into the room to see what we were up to. Actually he had come to see me. After the meeting he approached me again and asked me if I would like to join the church band. Well I was flattered for I didn’t think I was that good a player but he told me that my capability was less important than my willingness to give it a go. The following Sunday, when I wasn’t on duty with the children I sat in with the musicians for the Sunday morning service. The lead player of the group, a lovely girl called Susie (Susanna) told me not to worry but to play along if I thought I could manage but if not just sit out the songs I felt were too difficult. She was a very experienced pianist who played her own electronic organ and occasionally her flute if she wasn’t playing lead. She was also an accomplished and excellent singer who sometimes performed solos for the congregation. Almost every week she would pencil in the chords in my hymn book and I would pen over them later. It made playing the hymns much easier for me as I am not very good at reading the notes! We played mostly contemporary Christian songs with just a few hymns by comparison. I learned so much whilst I was in that band and I still have most of the songs we played in my personal collection. To make playing easier I condensed each song to one or two lines just writing the chords in sequence so if I could remember the tune, playing it was easy. My knowledge of chord shapes grew and I was able to play most of the songs I came across with just a few exceptions. After a couple of years in the band I was encouraged to lead the congregation occasionally. This was done on a rota basis and there were three of us doing that, myself, Susie and a guy called Nick who was a very accomplished guitarist. To those who told me, it appeared that I was good at leading the congregation and people suggested I might do it more often. Obviously I couldn’t do that but I did enjoy standing there with guitar in hand singing and leading the congregation. I stayed with that church until 1998 so was in the band for eight years. However I left the church a couple of years before my transition which was in 2002 but a couple of years after leaving the church I left off playing the guitar for five years and didn’t pick it up during that time. Realising I missed playing the guitar but finding myself out of church life I took up playing for my own pleasure. The only music I had was that which I played at church so I concentrated on those songs. That encouraged me to learn many more chords. I bought some pop-music song books including many by The Beatles which again resulted in learning yet more chords. Whilst I was a member of that church band I began to write some songs of my own, at that time all Christian songs. I found it very easy. not because I was composing the tunes but because they simply popped into my head, they flowed like water from a tap. The words came just as easy too but for many years I was already writing poetry anyway which helped. In 2005 having not picked up the instrument since 2000 I began once more to play. Since then I play almost every day for an hour, sometimes longer if the mood takes me or I’ll play more than once in the day depending on what else I am up to. I am no professional of course but I can say that I am improving all the time. Mostly I play with a plectrum or pick but I can play some finger-picking style. I am finding that the more I play the more songs I can play from memory which is handy but I still need to expand my repertoire some more. I am also finding that I can play some songs just by ear but the hardest thing with that is getting the key signature right. Nothing is worse than a song played or sung in the wrong key! Some songs lend themselves to be played or sung in more than one key and I have fun transposing them from what is written down on the song sheet! It takes experience to be able to transpose whilst playing but I have come a long way since I picked up that ‘toy’ guitar in 1990. The instrument I now use is my Fender Capistrano acoustic, a lovely instrument and a joy to play. I have included a picture of it on the right. To those with a discerning eye there is a capo clipped to the top of the machine head. It is a handy place to keep it for when I need it, although I mostly tend to play barre chords there are times when it is far easier to use the capo. If you click on the image you will enlarge the photo. I think it is a wonderful thing to have music in your heart but to be able to play for yourself is something special. It takes practice though!

Shirley Anne

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9 responses

  1. Hi Shirley Anne

    I think music is a wonderful accomplishment to learn and you did well to pick it up later in life which is never easy. Like sports, the earlier you try something the better, but you have shown yourself to be very strong to practice which is also what it takes. I commend you. Well done!

    Hugs Tina x

  2. Thank you Tina. There is only one snag though, my fingers are worn out! LOL. You know it is hard to discipline one’s self, to stop procrastinating and make the effort. This applies in every situation doesn’t it? I suppose it was an inner strength that spurred me on although at times I didn’t think I would get as far as I have and many times I didn’t feel like practicing at all!

    Shirley Anne xxx

  3. Hi Shirley Anne

    Yes we all get older, lol, but the great thing is you will have some self-made music to comfort you/ fill your time/ give enjoyment to others. Music is fantastic to bring people of all ages together. I do regret being tone deaf and not learning a note. So I do envy you, but recognise also the hard work that went into it.

    Hugs Tina x

  4. Nice guitar! I’ve been leading worship at various churches over the last several years. It’s an awesome feeling to be used by God to point the way to the Savior through the music we play and sing. I’ll have to blog about my two Martin guitars I own. One is acoustic/electric that I use to perform and record with, the other was handed down to me by my father before he died.

  5. Hi Lori. I had no idea you played too! Yes it is (or was for me) nice to be used by God in this way. I used to really enjoy the experience. Most of the time the band played in the church building but one summer the church hired the theatre in town for a few weeks and we played there inviting the public to come and listen. I also got involved with street work outreach and the band played out in the open.
    So you have two Martin guitars, maybe you could post a pic. In my house there are about six instruments, the Fender, a Yamaha accoustic (nice sound), a Yamaha electric, an Encore (accoustic/electric (an Ovation copy), another accoustic, a Spanish accoustic and even a small Mandolin! The Encore is totally black and has a round back. It’s the one I used most at church. I once had a jazz guitar, a very heavy instrument which I gave to someone in the church who liked it and who was learning the guitar but couldn’t afford to buy one. These days I play the Fender.

    Shirley Anne xxx