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Music, art, love, & relationships should never be easy

June 14, 2010

I don’t know why I agreed to it, but I did. Actually, I take that back. I did it because it’s one of the few ways I know how to show the people around me that underneath the cold-hearted bastard they see before them, I do in fact care about them. So there I was, playing guitar while 60 school-aged children stare up at me and the other two people on stage. Halfway through the first song I begin to wonder if they’re actually enjoying it or just instinctively know to engage with whatever is on a platform in front of them. Either way, it at least looks like they’re having a good time.

The weirdest part for me is that I haven’t played my acoustic guitar in what feels like years. Bass is my instrument, not guitar. I remember that in my high school years I would play acoustic more often because playing bass by yourself (sorry, other bass players) can tend to be rather boring. However, that was several years ago now, and it took two songs into a three song set for me to realize just how out of practice I am. Bottom line: those little strings made my fingers all ouchie.

I couldn’t get the strings to ring out properly because they were digging into my fingers more than I was pressing down on them. Sometimes the only noise being made was the rattling of strings against wood. It was kind of embarrassing. The adults in the room have seen me play bass and know that (if I do say so myself) I’m quite good at it. They even somewhat jokingly refer to me as a rockstar, but here I was fumbling through some songs like I just picked up the thing a week ago. That’s when I thought, “Man, I wish this was easier.”

Wanting to make music easier reminded of one of those musician jokes that get thrown around a lot in band scenarios. Whenever someone hits a wrong note or hits it at a weird time, you’ll often hear them say, “Hold on, let me turn down the ‘suck’ knob.” This joke’s kind of evolved around the web to where I’ve seen a mockup of a guitar effect pedal called the Talent Booster complete with “suck,” “talent,” and “cover up” knobs to adjust levels of each to your playing. Nice joke, but the more I looked at some of the products available to musicians I began to realize that something like that really isn’t too far away. Gibson Guitars already makes a guitar that literally tunes itself, not to mention the ability of using alternate tunings by turning a single knob. Line6 is a digital effects company that briefly made a guitar that could sound like several different guitars in addition to sounding like a mandolin or 12-string guitar. If any of you have ever seen a modern recording session, you know that the drummer doesn’t really have to have perfect or even good timing, the guitars and bass don’t really have to have great tone, and vocalists don’t really need to sing on key.

All these thoughts kind of flew through my mind after finishing my three songs. It was odd, but I almost felt ashamed of myself for wanting the playing to be easier. That’s not how I felt when I started playing music at 14. Back then, I wanted to be awesome at doing this music thing, so I played past the hurting fingertips and occasional hand cramps until it didn’t hurt anymore. Had I lost that drive to be good at this one thing? As soon as that question popped up in my head I remembered who I am. I am a musician. I play music, and I am good at it. Just like any relationship, you can work on it or you can quit. If you do work on it, you’re going to go deeper with it. I’ve learned that every relationship, even those with an inanimate object require work to master.

As of this writing, I’m scheduled to again play guitar for that same event. Throughout this past week I’ve been practicing like I did when I was in high school. I want to sound good if for no one else but myself, because it’s the important things like music, art, love, and relationships that should never be easy.

This post was written by Matt Quillen. Matt plays bass for the band Moi. He also has a fantastic and well-kept beard.


One Comment leave one →
  1. June 14, 2010 10:18 am

    Doesn’t it seem weird that the further we get into the 2000’s the more and more we hear intense amounts of robotic sounding music? The notes imitate the times but, how do we justify such soullessness in rhythm? Such a strange future we have where everything is literally dictated by computer. Vox, geets, basses, & drums all form a laptop band…it’s kind of a sad thing and I have never felt more like a hick saying that. Hopefully recording companies and the people who buy the tunes will eventually see past such mediocrity and remember to give credence to the hands we were born with.

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