Striking a chord in the heart

How playing guitar changed my life

Jason Chu, Staff Writer

I was 5 years old when I realized I hated music.

It started when I brought home my first instrument, a brown Yamaha violin from the local music store. Struggling to hold the violin and keep the bow steady, I began to learn my first songs from the notes on my sheet music. 

Mr. Wang, my violin teacher, was not easy when it came to lessons. 

“Jason!” he spluttered, red faced, as I winced, playing — for what felt like the hundredth time that day — a high G on my tiny violin just a hair too long. “Haven’t you listened to anything I’ve told you this lesson?!” 

“Yes, Mr. Wang.” 

I stared at the ground, wishing with all my heart that I could disappear, that I could escape from the thoughts that all the hours of practice were spent only to face another hour with a discontented teacher. I resolved to practice harder again, to dedicate more time in the hopes that I would finally achieve the immaculate timing he desired. 

But I soon grew to resent the hours I spent with the violin — the repetitive scales, the songs that did not sound pleasing to my ears. Tired of being haunted by each eighth note, each daunting rest that seemed to appear out of nowhere on the music stand, I quit violin, deciding that chasing after the ceaseless beat of the metronome would not be a part of my life. 

About a year later, I stood in a music store — far away from the violins hanging on the wall — waiting for my sister to finish her piano lesson.

“Mom, this guitar looks cool!”

“Hmm?” She looked up from her phone.

“Is guitar as hard as violin?”

“Not necessarily.”

A few minutes later, I carried it home with uncertainty and hesitation — although I hadn’t touched the violin in a while, the unpleasant memories were still fresh in my mind. 

I decided that I would make learning the guitar my new project. Soon, I discovered that unlike violin, guitar was something that I could resonate with, something that was more relaxing, and I was no longer as difficult on myself. Perhaps it was because I had chosen the guitar myself, or because I no longer attempted to please a strict teacher, but this time, the sheet music was friendlier. The hours of practice brought smiles instead of disheartening comments. 

The guitar helped me fall in love with the language of chords and harmonies — the flow of notes that a piece of wood and strings could create. Whether it was singing, or simply creating a new fingerstyle arrangement, what began as a few notes each day soon progressed to long summer evenings spent with my guitar. 

My guitar became a refuge of thoughts and feelings, a passion that I could pursue at my leisure. When I wanted time alone, the guitar called for me. When COVID-19 locked us indoors, my guitar kept me company through lengthy hours away from friends. 

I no longer played to fulfill my teacher’s expectations, but for myself. The guitar had touched my heart. 

For me, the beauty in guitar is that it brings my mind away from the stressful thoughts of life and transports me into another world, one of beautiful melodies and chords. The connection that I can forge with my guitar is deeper than with any person. 

So, reacquaint yourself with the ancient guitar in your basement. Unpack the abandoned keyboard in the corner of your room. Even trying the violin your grandmother gifted you could change your life. And most importantly, play for yourself.