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On Muscle Memory and those Callouses that Never Go Away August 7, 2014

Filed under: Guitar,Music — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: ,

I’m not really sure what happened yesterday. I was sitting on the couch, enjoying a day off, when all of a sudden a force beyond my control took hold of me. Before I knew it, I was hurrying downstairs to pull my Dad’s old Gibson guitar out of its case.

I haven’t played in over a year. Life got in the way. And I was never a great guitarist anyway. I’m better acquainted with the art in theory than in actuality. I understand the chord shapes and a little bit about harmonics, but not enough to impress anyone other than a neophyte. Still, that’s enough to be getting on with… or at least enough to cover the fact that my singing is worse than my strumming.

To my surprise, the instrument was still relatively well tuned and, to my even greater surprise, I remembered how to get it back into tune! I strummed a few chords, then a few more. I played with some picking patterns and struggled to remember the B flat chord that was missing from my progression. After tuning my voice to the guitar (an art far more complex than tuning the guitar, itself), I began to belt out a few of my favorite songs.

The disconnect between my voice and my hands was immediately evident. My hands appeared to know exactly what they were doing. My voice didn’t. I sang my off-pitch rendition of a song which shall remain nameless (I couldn’t remember the lyrics, so I was making up my own as I went) and my fingers picked out the baseline as though they’d known it forever.

Curious as to the extent of this muscle memory, I abandoned the song and shifted the guitar to a position appropriate for the classical version of the instrument. It had been my attraction to Celtic music which had originally drawn me to the strings and I wondered if I could reproduce one of the complicated tunes. Sure enough. There it was. Complete with the expressive dynamics with which I had originally endued it. My hands remembered the song even though my head didn’t.

They say that music is the last thing to leave a person as their mind begins to fade. I don’t know whether there’s research to back the idea or whether it’s yet another anecdotal “fact”. What I do know is that I hope it’s true. I hope that somehow, some way, I never forget the soundtrack that has accompanied my life… even if I forget my life, itself. I hope that my fingers will always find the right notes, that the lyrics will always make sense (even if they aren’t the proper ones), and that those callouses on my fingers will never go away.

I trimmed the nails on my left hand and filed the nails on my right. Then I played until I could see the pads of my fingers beginning to bruise and blister. I didn’t want to stop. I never should have stopped in the first place.



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