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The Wrong Instrument
cap, captain miss america
teaberryblue
In the third grade in my elementary school, every kid took recorder lessons. I remember these vaguely; they were fun but not particularly exciting to me.

In the fourth grade, you could elect to take a stringed instrument: bass, cello, viola, or violin. I took cello because I was told it was the closest to guitar. I enjoyed playing the cello, but I wasn't particularly good at it.

I remember my mother saying though that the wonderful thing about cello was that it always sounded beautiful even when I wasn't good at it.

In the fifth grade, I wanted to play saxophone. Oddly enough, this was the year before The Simpsons debuted and JUST before Bill Clinton decided to play the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show. The saxophone was about to gain notoriety, but I had no way of knowing that. I was one of five kids, and the only girl, who wanted to play saxophone.

I loved saxophone. I practiced all the time, and while I don't think I was ever stunning at it, I was pretty good.

I was good enough that, at the end of the year, when the seventh grade oboe players were graduating and there was no one else who wanted to play it, the band leader asked me to switch to oboe, because he was convinced I could learn it faster than the boys.

I really didn't want to, but I did.

I had a love-hate relationship with the oboe. It had been my favorite instrument when I was a kid, because of the duck in Peter & the Wolf, but it wasn't the instrument I wanted to play. It had a beautiful tone. I loved the delicacy it took to play it.

But, in all of this, I am starting to realize that I was never really taught music theory-- or at least, was not taught it in a way I could understand it. I was taught notes: how to read them, what the fingerings were, but not so much how to organize music in my head, not the mathematical part of it that makes music so ordered even when it seems chaotic.

When I was twelve, I picked up a metal fife, and started teaching myself to play that, too. Then I graduated to a wooden one.

At seventeen, I started teaching myself the harmonica. I never quite got the hang of playing specific music on it, but I was great at improvising on it.

We had a piano in our house. I never took lessons. But I would sit down and painstakingly plunk out notes to tunes. I could write music, and wrote quite a lot of music, but I didn't have the skill to perform it. And notation on a staff was always incredibly difficult for me, because dots on lines, when you're dyslexic, could be anything. I wrote my music out by the letter, my musical notation was a list of letters on a piece of paper, with lines underneath the notes that were meant to be held longer. The more lines, the longer you held it. It made sense to me.

I desperately, desperately wanted to be able to play music, but I just never felt like I was good enough. And not just oboe or another wind instrument: I wanted to be able to accompany myself. But I really believed it was something beyond my ability. Something I would never completely understand.

Over the past year, I've had several friends encourage me to try to find other ways to make music. On the computer. By using a voice-to-midi program. I toyed with this stuff a lot but didn't get super far with it.

Then, [profile] catfish23 put the idea of getting a ukulele into my head. She tried to get me one on Craigslist. That didn't pan out, and I thought, ah, well, I probably wouldn't bother with it, anyway.

About a month ago, I saw my friend Ellia's band play. Ellia plays the ukulele.

And I watched her play, and something just clicked. Three days later, I bought my ukulele.

Okay, I know, I know, I am talking about my ukulele about as much as most people talk about their children. But it's like I finally found the right instrument. It just felt...okay. Good. I picked it up and could play things. And understood, suddenly, the relationships between all the different chords, and the strings, and the frets.

I love this thing so much. And it's renewed my hope that I can keep learning all kinds of new things, even things I never expected I would be any good at.

I guess what I am trying to say is, keep looking for your right instrument. You might not have found it yet.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go play another song I wrote.

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We all learned recorder in grade three as well :D And when I was in the Victorian Children's Choir, we actually did a lot of theory there... not that I remember much!

I feel the recorder in 3rd grade is a weridly shared American experience. We all did and we all wondered 'why the recorder? this is weird.'

Actually I'm in Australia! So it's a worldwide phenomenon!

Really?! That is really interesting. Does make you wonder what is up with the recorder. I feel the need for a wikipedia journey

We all live under the iron fist of the plastic recorder makers association.

This is SUCH a wonderful and inspiring post and I want everyone to read it.

I tried the guitar and it was too big for me, so maybe I should check out the uke! Actually, my music-teacher-friend was starting to teach me it but then she moved to Canada, womp wah. It's really amazing how an instrument or type of music can just let latent musical talent fly -- I sort of had this with voice, when I switched from my private classical voice lessons to jazz. It felt like I had slipped into a perfect-fitting dress after a lot of awkward ones and one that felt like myself rather than me working on a skill that other people valued.

Aw, thanks! And yeah, I have pretty tiny hands, and I think that makes a big difference.

And woo, jazz singing! That's what I do. Although I never was made to feel like people didn't value that as much as other types of singing.

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