The First Guitar Lesson
An Old Friend Returns
Tuesday afternoon, 3:00 PM…
Somehow I had managed to talk my dad into giving me a ride to my first guitar lesson. I was excited to get started, and more than a little curious (and nervous) about the face that went with the cute voice on the phone…
As I got out of the car, I did a quick inventory of all of the important things I needed – $4.00 – check… Guitar – check… “Every Good Boy Does Fine” – check.
That phrase had become my mantra over the previous four days. I had no idea what it meant, but I was determined to make a good impression on the girl who had asked me to remember it. (I had had a really bad experience about a year and a half earlier while trying to make a good impression on a girl in my class, back in Whittier… I remember it all too well… It’s a painful memory, and probably accounts for why I’m still a bit shy around women…)
(Begin harp music)
…Her name was Cathy… She lived just down the street from me, and we were in several classes together in the sixth grade. She was smart and I was – me. We didn’t talk much, but we had been neighbors and classmates since the fourth grade, and I thought she was kind of cute – she had blonde hair, a pageboy haircut, blue eyes behind, and framed by, some sort of tortoise shell looking glasses with fairly thick lenses. Though I didn’t quite understand why, I really liked her and wanted to get to know her better.
During class one day, we were instructed to form teams of two for some assignment or other. I was about to team up with one of my buddies when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and almost swallowed my tongue – there was Cathy – standing before me and looking all cute…
Our eyes locked, and for a short eternity, I was completely lost to all that was happening around me… My universe had suddenly contracted to the exact space in which Cathy and I were standing… There were no stars, no planets, no moons, no sky, no sea, no people… There were only her eyes, and I was immersed in those two pools of blue – It truly was one of those incredibly rare moments in life when time becomes completely frozen in its temporal tracks. And then she spoke… To ME…
She said “Billy, will you be my partner?”
My heart joined my tongue, stuck in my throat… I didn’t know what to say… I – I stammered, searching for words, just – just the right words… What were the words I needed at this exact moment??? Where were they? The words that would be etched in her mind for all time as the most perfect, the most wonderful, the most – the most – the most – perfect statement that anyone could ever deliver at this, the most perfect moment in my life, so far??
Search as I might, the words wouldn’t come… So, rather than say something imperfect, I did the next worst thing… Simply stated, I farted. It wasn’t of the great bull moose variety, mind you (I doubt it was heard in the principal’s office), but it was loud enough… I had heard it, she had heard it, she knew that I had heard it, I knew that she had heard it. And, worst of all, we each knew that the other knew that we had each heard it…
This, of course, broke the spell… She must have assumed that my flatulence was just my way of saying “No,” because she just turned away and found another partner.
It is still, today, the most humiliating moment of my life. And it’s also one of my great disappointments. My one chance with the girl of my dreams, gone in an audible puff of methane.
Fortunately, it was not long after this that my dad was transferred to Ventura…
(End harp music)
With this memory making its way through my mind, I carried my guitar to the front door and, after a moment deciding if I really wanted to do this, I rang the bell. A minute later the door opened and there she was… The person attached to the voice… Clearly this was NOT a first date, and I could stop worrying about any untimely releases of methane gas – at least from me…
She introduced herself and I did the same. I wish I could remember her name, but I, at least, remember mine, and I’m of the belief that one out of two is better than none out of one.
She was actually very nice and made me feel quite comfortable in her home. She led me to the living room and we sat, facing each other at about a forty-five degree angle, on two folding chairs. She had an acoustic guitar sitting on a stand next to her chair and a wire music stand positioned so that we could both see whatever might be placed upon it.
She said “Why don’t you take out your guitar and we’ll get started?”
I opened the case and extracted my Sears Silvertone Model 1457 electric guitar, and was pleased at her gasp of amazement… I could tell she was greatly impressed, and I knew that I had made the right choice of musical instruments.
Next, she retrieved a book from an end table near her chair and placed it on the music stand. She opened it to a page with a picture of a guitar fret board, strings labeled with their names.
Now I had seen this before in the pamphlet, and heard it on the instructional record that came with the guitar, and I was glad to start with something familiar. We went over that chart and she made me name and play each string a couple of times and in different orders.
OK, I had that down pretty well so we moved on. Time to tune…
She demonstrated the proper method of tuning the guitar. I had that part figured out already, too, but I paid close attention in case there was some trick to tuning a guitar that may have been left out of the pamphlet. There wasn’t.
She could see that I was already proficient in the tuning of a guitar so, again, we moved on.
She turned the page, and there appeared a couple of bars of music – you know, with lines and stuff.
This also looked familiar, but I didn’t understand it. She was pleased that she had found the limits of my musical knowledge and she proceeded to tell me what this all meant.
“Do you remember what I asked you to remember,” she asked.
“Yes, mam,” I replied. “Every Good Boy Does Fine.”
“Excellent!” She was obviously impressed with my memory.
“Here’s why I asked you to have that memorized before you came here today.” And she explained to me the significance of that phrase. It’s a mnemonic device – an easy way to remember things. (Another lesson in life.)
It seems that each of these lines represented a musical tone.
The bottom line was an E note. The next one up was a G, then B, D and F. Hence,
“Every Good Boy Does Fine.”
Then she showed me how they related to the fret board on a guitar…
Starting with the second fret on the D (fourth) string, she showed and had me play the E, G, B, D and F notes in that and various other orders. Over and over and over again.
I got that down, and we moved on down the page… This time, same lines but the labels were different. They were between the lines, and the letters were F, A, C and E… they spelled FACE, like what’s on the front part of your head.
She had me start on the third fret of the D string this time and put me through the same exercise with those notes.
Then my time was up for the week. She said, “Here’s your homework assignment for next week. I want you to practice what we went over today. And,” she continued as she turned the page, “learn this song.”
Mary Had A Little Lamb…
At least I didn’t fart…