Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Finding the Melody


The other night I posted this picture on Twitter with the caption: "Too many notes."

That was before I had even attempted to play it. As some of you may know, I've recently started taking mandolin lessons. Learning a brand new instrument as an adult can be a humbling experience.

It's also rather embarrassing. I feel completely exposed practicing like a feeble-handed kid in front of my husband. Did I mention he was a music major?

I must be a glutton for punishment. Or my husband is. He probably didn't expect me to pick up a squeaky hillbilly instrument when he married me. I'm sure I seemed like a normal, northern, cosmopolitan lady.

I've been practicing this new instrument every day, for an hour a day. I practice until my hand aches. I practice until my fingertips burn. I have hardened callouses and the skin peels off. Sometimes I don't feel like playing but I drag the mandolin case out and my sheets of music.

Some nights, when I look at a new piece of music like Gallopede up there, I think I should just give up. There are too many notes. I'll never figure it out. Just who am a kidding, an adult trying to pick up a bizarre musical instrument when I already have more hobbies, activities, children, jobs, and social life than I need.

All of these voices of doubt play through my head and still I sit and stare at the notes. I don't close the book. I don't give up. I want to make music and feel joy in my heart. Even if I sound like a Suzuki Method player doing it.

The only way that's going to happen is if I just get in there and start plucking. Even if I hit the wrong notes. Even if I'm flat. Even if I have to decipher which three notes to play at once, or how to play a dotted quarter note before a triplet or what have you.

The other night after I Tweeted that moment of defeat: "Too many notes," I sat and I started to play through the piece. As I played, I found the melody and the notes were really much simpler than they looked. And I enjoyed playing it.

It's a reminder to me that just because something looks difficult at first, doesn't mean you can't do it. You just have to take it slow. Play it one note at a time and soon you'll find the melody.

Mando et mando.





Note: I wrote this a year ago when I'd just started the mandolin and never posted it. I'm still playing, but not particularly well. Though I must say, looking at the music for Gallopede now is laughable. It looks so easy and those notes look pretty sparsely scattered across the page. 

13 comments:

  1. Love your determination--and your willingness to tackle the mountain an instrument can be. Your mandolin is beautiful...

    Oh, and I needed to hear "one note at a time" today. Thanks.

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  2. I want to feel joy in my heart too. Thank you.

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  3. You are (literally) learning to read another language, y'know. Plus you're signing as you read it.

    Not something our stiff and rigid adult brains do easily.

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    1. No, it's not. But I've heard that learning new things helps keep your brain sharp and can prevent the onset of dementia and mental illness, etc. It was either this or crossword puzzles. ;-)

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  4. Last year at 33, I took up Tahitian dancing. I haven't danced since I was 6 in a tutu. I'm the only person in class who hasn't been doing it (or at least hula) their whole lives. Humbling is right. Downright terrifying. But also- really satisfying. It's been a while since I've taken this kind of risk and just jumped in. It's a good feeling to go out of your comfort zone as an adult. Great job, Mandy. The mandolin is a beautiful instrument, very cool.

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    1. I love that you're Tahitian dancing. I love that you're getting out of your comfort zone too. We basically both rock.

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  5. I feel like this post needs an audio file to go with it. :)

    We have this motto in the life coaching course I'm in about how you have to be willing to suck to get good at anything. It was sort of a novel concept to me, but it's so true. If I just keep practicing - even if I suck - eventually my callused fingers will start cranking out something beautiful. At least that's how I hope it works...

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    1. Point taken. I just wrote post and included some videos of my favorite mandolinists.

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  6. I feel the same about learning to speak French. I hope one day it will all open up to me and I'll feel the love I once had for the sounds before I learned they were conjugated verbs.

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  7. Mandy ,it sounds so hard, as if you are sacrificing so much,rubbing the fingers to the bone,working so hard,so much and everything must be done a certain way, Oh god forbid you skip a day without practice or you will feel like a failure again. Oh the humanity . And your husband was a music major in college. Wow, so was my sister.
    Just play it,Just feel it, use your ears, tap the feet and sway your body with the sounds you make . Its feeling the inside of your body vibrate in harmony with certain notes played,be a musician but develop a style , even an act. When you can play a few songs ,go to a train station or boardwalk at the beach and throw a hat on the ground and see what happens. Not the coins thrown but the magic you will feel . That would shift your perception , and that would release the dolphins in your brain... (endorphins ) :) Of course there are other ways to express yourself

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  8. Release the dolphins Mandy!
    I'm talking like a lunatic lol sorry

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