The 30-Day Challenge #2: Learn The Guitar

ELLE's Debbie Black dedicates a month to learning to play the guitar

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I do not look like this with a guitar.

My fingers hurt. The tips of them are hard, calloused and numb but I don't care because "no pain, no gain" – I can now make not entirely displeasing noises on a guitar.

When deciding which instrument I would pick for my 'Learn an Instrument' 30-day challenge, I figured the guitar was something I had always wanted to be able to play but never learnt and sort of thought I might have missed the boat. I had tried my hand at a few different instruments in my youth – the drums, the violin (my poor mum) and the piano but I didn't persevere with any of them. Would it be possible to learn an instrument in 30 days?

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I borrowed my friend Natalie's son's guitar – I didn't think it would be an issue to practice on a guitar built for a child, that was until I attempted to and remembered that I have actual monkey arms and massive hands/fingers. This wasn't going to work. I decided to bite the bullet and buy one of my own on Amazon – half price, £50, done. While waiting for it to arrive, along with a pick (or plectrum), which I also didn't have (I hilariously attempted to make my own by tracing the dimensions off a printout over an expired debit card – it wasn't ideal), I used the child's guitar and started off by giving myself some basic theory lessons found either via Google or on YouTube.

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I also downloaded some apps on my phone – notably, Yousician, ChordBank and Guitar! These are actually really great apps to use when starting out learning. It was all going fine until I realised I hadn't really made much progress and two weeks had passed. I knew where my fingers needed to be for basic chords but I wasn't really getting anywhere with being able to play a song. I decided it was time to pay for a lesson.

I got in touch with London Guitar Academy and met with James Stratton, who has been privately teaching students for 20 years (as well as some celebrities, including some members of Take That!) for a lesson. I was very nervous but I didn't have too much time to think about anything as James launched straight into asking what it was that I wanted to be able to play and how to do it. Before I knew it I was strumming to the tune of Wonderwall – quite amazing! The instruction and guidance that James gave me over this 45 minute session saw huge improvement in my playing over the next week before I met with him again for one more lesson, just for good measure.

I practiced and practiced and practiced. Granted, sometimes my fingers were in so much pain that I could only manage 20 minutes, but other days I would be playing for two hours. There was only one day that I completely forgot – I thought I had played in the morning, but it was actually late the night before (all the days were merging into one) – so I made sure I practiced for double as long the next day. I can't ever lie about these things. I messed up.

There were highs (being able to play recognisable songs) and lows (snapping my high E string three times – that sh*t hurts. And is annoying.). But I can play songs! On a guitar! I can look up a song I really like and play it by reading the chords above the lyrics. The guitar sits next to my bedside table now, and once I'm finished all of my other challenges, I will be picking it back up again.

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