I’ve always loved music, from singing along in the car to the radio in the early 70s, so recording my favourite tracks on cassette, to learning to play the recorder and auto harp at Junior school, to learning to play clarinet at senior school.
I was never particularly talented at playing music. I never practised enough. Most of my clarinet practice was done on Sunday mornings when the rest of my family were at church. The neighbours would bang on the wall as I practised pieces by Beethoven and Schubert. It was years later that I discovered that their banging was actually due to the fact that every Saturday they bought a commemorative plate which they’d hang at 11am the next day. I also had an old piano for a year, but that had to be sold as the woodworm in it spread to the floorboards.
I enjoyed playing clarinet in the school orchestra – playing at outdoor events, and playing the musical score to the school plays. I didn’t progress as quickly as my more talented peers, but that didn’t matter, I was having fun.
After leaving school, I went to polytechnic and joined an orchestra there, I also bought a cheap acoustic guitar. But then I met my ex-husband. He wanted to spend as much time as possible with me and I enjoyed his attention and so stopped going to band practice. So at 20, I gave up playing music and instead just enjoyed listening to it.
When I left him, music was one of the first things I started exploring again. I bought some clarinet reeds and started to play some of my old pieces. A burglary at my flat meant the clarinet was stolen. I didn’t replace it, choosing instead to put the insurance money in an account for when a child of mine wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. Instead I bought a second-hand keyboard and a vintage bass guitar. The keyboard was fun. I could hit a button for a pre-programmed rhythm, and play along to that. I wrote a few songs of my own and perfected playing them. The bass guitar was used more for just playing along to my favourite songs on my record player. I was in my own little world writing and playing music, with only myself to listen to it.
But then I met someone else and lived with them. I felt self-conscious of the fact I wasn’t very good at playing music (their comments and laughter didn’t help), so I kept my love of playing to myself and once again, just enjoyed listening to music.
Last year I set myself the challenge of learning to play guitar. I can play a few chords and play a bit of lead guitar, but my fingers don’t stretch well, so anything using four fingers is a struggle.
A friend suggested I try and learn to play ukulele as the frets are a lot closer together, so just over three weeks ago I bought one and have played for at least 30 minutes each day since. My chord changes aren’t smooth and my skipping pattern finger-picking needs a lot of practice, but I’m getting there. I’m using Chordify to help me find the chords for my favourite songs and I’m really enjoying playing along.
It was also suggested that I join a group, so I had a look online and found a local ukulele group. I dropped them a message and they said that beginners are welcome. So, yesterday I went along to the group. I was very nervous, this was the first time I’d have played any musical instrument in front of anyone else for 30 years. That’s a heck of a long time of feeling that I wasn’t good enough to play with others. When I got to the car park, I sat in my car for a while taking deep breaths. I almost reversed my car out of its space to drive home. I manned-up and walked in. I was immediately welcomed and a seat was found for me at the main table next to the leader who handed me a book of the lyrics and chords they use.
As a group we decided on the set-list for an upcoming live event, and I was made to feel included and wanted when they asked me to be part of it.
We worked our way through the songs on the set-list with the others showing me how to play the chords that I wasn’t familiar live. It felt great to be part of a group singing and playing along to classic songs. I came away feeling I’d really achieved something, that my confidence in being able to play music had been rebuilt in that session.
Lots of practice this week – I’ve a gig to prepare for!