From Guitars to spreadsheets — the surprising connection

I had always toyed with the idea of becoming a musician as a schoolgirl, and in 2005, when I heard that Joe Satriani was coming down to Bangalore, my hometown to perform a rare gig, my interest was piqued.

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Joe wasn’t just any guitarist — Joe was the guitarist’s guitarist — the man who gave guitar lessons to Kirk Hammett, the guitarist of Metallica and to Slash, the guitarist of Guns N’ Roses. As a teenager, I had heard songs from both these bands and I liked what I heard.

Though I didn’t really know a whole lot about being a guitarist, everyone was raving about the man, and I wanted in — to be part of the in-crowd who understood the obsession about guitars. And I think that was what pushed things over the edge — I decided I had to become a guitarist to feel this for myself.

The first time I held a guitar in my hands was in the summer of 2006 — as wide eyed and impulsive as only a high schooler can be, I decided that it was finally time for me to take guitar lessons and fulfil my destiny to become the most awesome guitarist in the world — one that would surpass the likes of Satriani, Hammett and Slash (Yeah, really XD)

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And so it began — weekend guitar lessons, the rush of trying to squeeze in some hours of practice alongside studies and trying everything I could to get good at the guitar really fast.

12 years later, Satriani’s status as one of the greatest guitar virtuosos of all time still remains, largely because I decided to become a Chartered Accountant. You’re welcome, Satch! (LOL)

My fondness for the guitar, continues to stay on via the impromptu jam sessions I have with me playing Green Day songs just to blow off some steam when I’m stressed, but in all seriousness though, I’ve learnt quite a few things about becoming a better person and a better professional, by virtue of learning to play the guitar, such as…

Wear your scars and calluses with pride — The first thing I learned when I started to play the guitar was that the fingertips of my left hand were becoming increasingly callused from holding down the strings. The steel/copper strings aren’t exactly forgiving to your fingertips and you may even bleed from it, but the point is — this pain and toil — it’s the ‘good’ kind of pain, the kind that makes you stronger, the kind that builds endurance and helps you take on bigger challenges in the future.

Sure there were aspects of guitar playing that weren’t exactly pleasant, but they didn’t bother me a whole lot because I knew it was all part of the preparation for something that I wanted, something that I had chosen for myself.

So, like Winston Churchill says, if you’re going through hell, keep going! Temporary setbacks and pain points can all be used to build your strength as you grow as a person and as you rise through the ranks in an organisation.

Learn the rules, then bend/break them — As a beginner guitarist, you start off learning chord shapes of various kinds. One of my first assignments in guitar class was to memorise chords, learn the chords that are related to each other (i.e. the ones within the same ‘family’) and use them appropriately in the songs that were taught to us. While this seemed a little mechanical to do at the time and being asked to memorise something without fully understanding it can be a bit of a drag, I soon learned that the bigger picture started to fall in place once I’d understood the chords and the connections between them. Better yet, I could listen to songs and figure out which songs were deviating from the rules/family chords but still managed to sound fantastic all the same.

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Sure, entry level jobs can be demanding and require you to do things mechanically at times, but remember that you have to learn the rules before you can break them or bend them. So put your head down, memorise those chords/learn that workflow/memorise those process notes, because that will pay off with time.

Tune your guitar before you start playing, if you don’t have a tuner, use relative tuning you’ll be okay — Perhaps the most important lesson of all — it’s important to tune your guitar before you attempt to play anything.

While in music class, we’d have a fellow keyboardist play the right notes and align the sound of our guitar strings based on those notes, or we would use a tuner to get the strings tuned. I didn’t always have access to both while at home. In the absence of a tuner / another instrument, however, our teacher taught us to use relative tuning, where we’d set the tuning for one string on our own and tune all the others on the strength of that one string.

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I’ve learnt that sometimes it can feel like it’s hard to find your place in the world, or at work. Everyone around you might seem like they’re way ahead and that they’re marching to the beat of a drummer that you can’t seem to hear. But it’s okay — until you find a beat that you want to march to or invent a time signature that you want to keep playing, just conduct yourself harmoniously, try to understand what others want and ‘adjust your tuning’ in a manner that helps you both succeed. Not all of us land our dream job at the first attempt, and you can’t always tune your guitar right with just one little turn of the pegs, it takes a lot of listening, patience and course — correction, but just remember that it’s possible to work towards something even when there is a whole lot of uncertainty — there’s always something you can do, so just keep the faith and make the most of what you’ve got!

All in all, I think being a guitarist has taught me to keep my ears open to the music amidst the apparent cacophony of being a professional.

Happy World Guitar Day everyone!

Tag a guitarist in the comments section and let me know what you think of this article!

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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