Do you know what it feels like to get something so right?

I am learning to play the ukulele. I’m sure you’ve gathered that by this previous post, and this one, oh and this one too. But what I’ve yet to speak about in my blog, is the fact, that while I am learning to play the ukulele I have virtually no musical background to speak of. I won’t say none, I did learn the tinwhistle for a year in primary school. But at the time I could never even vaguely comprehand standard musical notation, and so learned to play, to a reasonable standard, a very simple, even very limited instrument purely by ear.

Tuesday of this week past was an odd day. I spent much of it trying to script out a burlesque act, or at least what I think would make a fun one. While I did that I chatted with someone special online. But after everything else was finished I pulled out my ukulele, loaded up the .PDF’s of my sheet music, and started to practice.

I’ve developed a love for playing a certain style of renaissance music. It has very few strums, but instead uses a lot of multi-string plucks, and intricate finger style play. It gives the sound of the ukulele a wonderful harp-like quality. And I simply adore playing in that style. Though admittedly, I do usually play any style of music rather badly.

I’m not a natural musician. I do have fairly a decent sense of rhythm, and timing. But I still find reading standard notation extremely difficult. If you struck two notes I couldn’t tell you what either of them were. Often I’d even be hard pressed to tell you which one was higher or lower. But I’ve worked hard over the last few months, and while I still can’t read standard sheet music proficiently, I can understand enough to know how long a note should be held for. How intensely it should be played, and what tempo is required for a given segment. This added to the tabulation method of writing music, at the very least allows me some small chance of occasionally hitting the right notes, in the right order and in the right way.

So Tuesday I practiced for an hour or so. Worked my way through my scales, as well as the various pieces of music I play during each practice session to stretch out my left hand, and improve my accuracy. Then that done I then went on to the internet to see if I could find something new to try my hand at. After all, there’s only so many times you can play “Moon River”, “Scotland the Brave” or “Hall of the Mountain King” before your brains start to melt.

Well, after a little while I found a random piece of 17th century guitar music. Lot’s of double, and triple plucks, only a couple of strums, those nice and relatively simple. In short, ideal. Now before that day on finding a new piece of music, I’d almost always headed straight to YouTube to find out how it was supposed to sound. But Tuesday I decided to see if I could read through the mixture of notations a few times, and then play it cold. So that’s just what I did.

I picked up my ukulele, and for about two minutes Amanda simply vanished as a conscious being.

There’s a thing that happens when you type a lot. You reach a stage where you no longer think at all about where each of the keys are. You just think and type automatically. It took me years to reach that stage as a typist. But these days I can, and often do type like that. To me that feels like the words flow from my fingertips like a stream of water.

Playing that piece of music on Tuesday. Cold, having never heard it before, felt similar. I read the music, I plucked each note in turn, performed the strums with surprising ease. The fingers of my fret hand seemed to know how to position themselves just right. The fingers of my plucking hand felt like they were dancing over the strings. It all felt right. But I never once thought about what I was playing. I read written music on the screen, and audible music came from my hands. No thought, no consciousness involved.

When I’d finished the piece, and after I’d gotten over a really odd feeling of shock at it being finished, I went to YouTube.

It wasn’t a complex piece, and I imagine for any accomplished musician it would have been laughably easy to play, but to my utter delight I not only played it well, but very nearly perfectly. I held a couple of notes too long, things like that. But it was the first time since I picked up a ukulele that I felt I was actually moving to a realm where I can someday describe myself as a musician. Not just a player of an instrument, but an aspirant musician.

But the best part was how it felt. Touch typing like that feels like water flowing. But that feeling can’t compare to this. When you type, and screw up you hit the backspace, nothing is lost, it’s a natural thing to quickly repair the fault, and move on. When you pluck a musical note, that’s it. There’s no way to ever force that genie back into its bottle. So playing that well for once, using the full limits of my present musical skills, didn’t feel like anything that flows.

No, it felt like flying, and I want to feel it again.

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4 Comments to “Do you know what it feels like to get something so right?”

  1. I think it is safe to say, no other blog out there is like yours. 🙂

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