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Playing the guitar is nothing new to me. For the past decade of my life, my fingers have danced along the sturdy neck of my six-string. However, each time I pick up my hollow acoustic, my fingers caper to the rhythm of a new song. Recently, I have devoted my free time to learning the infamously difficult tune of John Mayer’s “Neon.”
When I create a tab (short for tablature, which involves deciphering guitar music) for pre-recorded songs, I begin with my ears. This process requires me to immerse myself in the music. With “Neon” I work to pick out each subtle note that backs Mayer’s soothing tones, from the open E string at the beginning to the rake technique employed to close out the song. The process of stripping down music in this fashion might seem like madness to some, but there is a method behind it. I allow my ears to explore each sound thoroughly before deciding on the best note to assign in its place. The process repeats itself in a frustrating but rewarding manner until, sitting before me, is a completed tab.
After my ears have done their job, my fingers take over. They must perform like a group of multi-sport athletes, particularly with a piece as complex as “Neon.” As the song begins, the guitar’s neck becomes a track; my digits sprint along the strings almost forgetting they are connected to one another. There is room for the acrobat as well – since difficult contortions and stretches of the hand are unavoidable in Mayer’s world. I cannot forget my right hand either, whose continuous strumming keeps the whole song going. These fingers are the swimmers whose repetitive strokes power the action occurring on the fret board. As with any competitive physical activity, there is pain. The steel strings dig into my fingers and leave admonitory marks in an attempt to discourage my continuation; regardless, I play. I do not give up on either my ears, which have worked so hard, or my desire to learn. I simply dig my fingers in deeper to the cool metal and allow the sounds I seek to flow from my fingertips.
I will admit, I am no John Mayer, nor am I his next in line. My rendition is flawed with slight blunders, stemming from mistakes such as misplaced fingers. Still, I pride myself on my self-taught ability to perform “Neon” simply because it is a reflection of my determination. I started with a desire to learn a song I had loved for so long and resulted with an overall achievement of my goal. When my fingers cried for relief from the sharp strings, I pushed through. When my ears stumbled over notes that were played seemingly on top of one another, I did not pause. As a result of my complicated rendezvous with John Mayer’s work, I feel both an unparalleled sense of accomplishment and an increased appreciation for music.
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