I was 11 when I saw my classmate Mark play the guitar. He held that instrument like a jewel. He strummed it with the innocent right hand of a child. His fingers were like rubber when he pressed them against the strings.
I’d drool at how he played those chords. Mark would lead us to the heart of worship. I looked forward to our music classes even though I couldn’t sing that well.
At the age of 20, I enrolled for a three-month guitar beginner course at Kampala Music School. I bought a guitar. I’d have a one-hour session per week. My teacher – Aggrey taught me my first three chords: A, E and D. I learned the transitions.
“You should practice daily,” he said.
On the strings, my fingers felt like they were on a blunt knife. I got the chords wrong many times. My hands felt stiff. The tips of my fingers got sore. I couldn’t strum the strings right. My shoulders ached.
I’d play “God is so good” all the time. That was my practice song. I’d practice those three chords like my music career – if I ever wanted to take that route – depended on it. I assessed my progress by how easily I could play those chords. My roommate at hostel got tired of hearing me play the same thing everyday he took a jab at me.
“You play that same thing all the time. Is there nothing else you can play?”
I didn’t know anything else.
I learnt two more chords: G and C. My fingers didn’t take too lightly to these additions. My brain couldn’t process the movements. I’d keep my eyes on the fretboard – that long thing that the strings stretch along.
I broke strings when tuning my guitar. I asked Aggrey to help me replace the broken strings. Then I started playing without looking at the strings. My reflexes adjusted and the movements of my fingers started to feel natural. I moved on from Kampala Music School and turned to YouTube. I learned to play worship songs from Paul Baloche’s acoustic tutorials.
I added more chords to my collection. I made headway. I saw how much progress I’d made by the things I could do with those strings. It felt satisfying.
Occasionally I’d play in church. I’d play for friends. I’d play for myself. I’d play at home when my mother hosted prayers.
I kept working on my vocabulary of chords. My muscle memory of progressions and transitions grew. I learned some aspects of Jazz Guitar from Bukko, the instructor who oversaw the Alliance Française de Kampala Guitar Club.
But at 25, when the struggle to define what I wanted to do or be in life kicked in, the hustle to build a career and make money started taking a toll on me. I practiced less and less. I stopped learning. I stagnated. I lost motivation. Then I slipped.
Although I can still play the instrument, I’m not as good as I was in the years of my early-mid 20’s.
Do I need a new spark of inspiration? Maybe.