When I was six my mother sent me to piano lessons. The teacher soon told her I wasn’t ready. Two years later, I was. I took lessons until, at fourteen, the teacher told me there was nothing more she could teach me. Don’t get excited; I was sooo not a virtuoso.
I mean, early on I wondered how could I be expected to play songs I’d never heard. They were a bunch of black dots on lines on paper. I understood how they corresponded to the piano keys, but that didn’t tell me what it sounded like. Learning a new song meant playing it rather stilted the first few times through. Was it supposed to sound stilted? Where was the feeling? Time signatures and tempo markings meant nothing to me. Whole notes, half notes…yeah yeah, count this many beats. Whatever…
I needed to hear the music, to feel how it went. So, the teacher always ended up playing them for me, then I just copied her. Eventually, I was allowed to move beyond the John Thompson series. I got to bring in sheet music. I brought in stuff like Star Wars themes and Hooked on Classics and Journey.
My listening pleasure was all over the place, huh?
But I’d heard these songs. As I learned I could properly recreate these melodies, my confidence grew. I even dared to add a note here or there if I thought it made it better.
Some sheet music belonged to my older sister, however. Like, Stairway to Heaven. I didn’t know this song. It was a bit before my time, but it was available and as I perused it one day I discovered near the end it had these enormous chords scrawled across the bass and treble clefs like a mad challenge. There seemed to be more notes than I had fingers.
I goofed around with these chords, hearing how they worked together. The progression had endless melody possibilities; my brain rocketed through options and I tried this and that, relentless as a toddler with pots, pans, lids, and a pair of wooden spoons. Willing to improvise, I changed up the order of the chords. Before I knew it, I was carried away with a newfound harmony. I felt it deep in my soul.
I pounded and banged on that piano like there was no tomorrow. Harder and harder, faster then slower. Slam, slam, slam. I gave it every chord on the page, reversed the order, doubled up in some places, made a trilling triple in others, or zipped from one to the other and back again. It all flowed together, in key, and I was rapt, feeling The Awesome Power of the Chord!!!!!
Then my sister left her bedroom and slammed her door. **insert the sound of old stereo needle scraping across vinyl record** “WHAT are you playing?” she demanded. (Imagine her doing an impression of Professor Snape despite this being long before there was any such character as Professor Snape.)
I’d stopped playing when her door slammed. “Um…Stairway to Heaven.” I pointed at the sheet music.
“THAT is NOT Stairway to Heaven.” She sniffed and returned to her room in an offended huff.
Much to her chagrin, I played that sheet music my way every day until I was immune to the power of those chords.
Not long after, I decided I wanted to be in a band. I thought I’d start with a bass…guitars had more strings, smaller strings, and intimidated me. I poured over musician equipment catalogs, drooling over basses. When it came down to it, after I’d pestered my folks for months, my dad bought me an electric guitar and amplifier. I remember: the guy we bought it from lived in a trailer park not far from our home. He was selling his guitar to buy a one-way ticket to L.A. He was going to be a rockstar.
The guitar was a candy apple red Peavey Razor.
I played the hell outta that thing. I took lessons from a local music store, from a real rock n roll player and he let me improvise and didn’t scold me for it. I learned everything AC/DC ever did because it all kicked ass. I learned Lita Ford because everyone said I should since I was a girl. I learned everything I could, mostly by ear. I could hear it on my boom box, so I could feel it.
And I could literally play “power chords” all day….Mwahahahahaha!!!
I eventually sold my Razor and replaced it with a B.C. Rich Ironbird.
Somewhere in there, that bug bit me.
I was gonna be a rockstar.
(Yeah. This is me at 17 with my big hair, my spandex and guitar #2: a B.C. Rich Ironbird.)
By the time I was a junior in high school, I was the lead guitarist in a band. We played everything from AC/DC to Metallica with the Runaways, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Kiss, Guns-N-Roses, and Anthrax thrown in. We were the house band for a local bar. We opened for the strippers on Thursdays. Being that we were underage(the drummer and I were; the rest of the band was 21+), we had to vacate the building before the dancers could take the stage.
I LOVED being in the band. There is no feeling in the world like being on stage in a darkened venue with the stage lights warming your skin while you make music with your band mates and the songs come together just like they’re supposed to and people applaud afterward….
Eventually I sold the Ironbird and replaced it with a standard B.C.Rich strat shape in pearl white. THAT was the guitar I was playing the night I nearly got electrocuted. Yup. I got lit up like a Christmas Tree.
Being set on your ass in front of a packed house(including your parents, friends and teachers from your high school), having your body surging with high voltage while your scream resounds through the PA system…that really has the power to change your mind about being a rockstar.
I recovered from the shock and we returned to the stage and re-opened with this:
With my recent return home, the drummer and I have reconnected. Hopefully someday soon, we’ll be playing the local bars again—sans any unintended light shows. ;-D I can't wait! Does this mean I still haven't grown up?
I hope so.