rachel elizabeth

Formerly Known as Fern

"A dream that you'll never want to wake up from."

-Razmataz Magazine

Bonding with Your Instrument: A Case Study

I have a confession.

I bought a new guitar at the end of May and it’s taken me until now to bond with it. If I’m being honest, I’m still a little wary of it! It’s been causing me some not insignificant grief.

Before I went on tour with Sarah Farthing, I had the bright idea that I should trade my guitar in for a new one. I had just had my first Saskatoon newspaper interview and was riding high on those feelings. Adrenaline is so powerful. You guys. I went for it. I walked into the guitar room at Long & McQuade and found one within 5 minutes. I was immediately drawn to it, in that hippy dippy sense of…yes, this guitar was made for me! Done, sold. Bye, old guitar that constantly gave me feedback on the low end!

Now, I shouldn’t betray the amount of thought I actually put into this decision. I’d been thinking about finding a new guitar for months. My Martin was by far the nicest I’d ever owned, but I was outgrowing it as a gig instrument. I probably could have done more work to figure out how to make it work for me. Instead, I decided that my relationship with it had run its course and it was time for something new to reflect the progress I felt I had made over the past couple years. I was all like, "Listen up, world. I changed my band-name and I’m going on a tour and I’m going to buy (* cough * finance) this guitar for myself, so THERE!"

Totally pretty reasonable, right? In hindsight, I wish I would’ve bought my new guitar sans trade-in. It would’ve given me time to gradually shift instruments, but cost was also a factor. Although financing CAN be pretty affordable, it also means more interest and longer payment terms. I felt too nervous about committing to the full tag, so I traded-up.

It really is a beautiful guitar that plays nicely, but my biggest regret is not taking the time to get to know its amplified sounds before playing it live. Every instrument has its own quirks, qualities, limitations, and strengths. It requires work to figure these things out and really make an instrument yours. I chose to learn this the hard way by fumbling through a few songs at my first show on mini-tour with Sarah. The sound and feel of the guitar was much different through speakers and in front of an audience, as opposed to practicing at home. I did my best to work through it all weekend, but it was frustrating nonetheless. I really should have known!

I didn’t want to admit to myself that this experience left a bad taste in my mouth. Like many, I can be a stubborn, petty perfectionist sometimes. If I can’t do it perfectly the first time, why even bother? I know it’s ridiculous, especially considering that my work is far from perfect. Regardless, the sentiment tends to manifest itself as avoidant behaviour. After tour, my guitar stayed in its case a lot of the time. I re-focused on writing songs for the piano. Motivation to get to know it, low.

It’s continued to be low for most of the summer. As I’ve been finishing up my writing project, the level of uncertainty in my life has increased tenfold. Some things haven’t worked out the way I expected them to (touring all summer? Nope!) because I’ve had difficulty staying focused. I haven’t had such a rocky foundation in awhile, and when you’re already an anxious person, this is a pretty big deal. I’ve had to accept that it’s a two steps forward, one step back kind of year. All I can do is keep working and not punish myself too badly. Plus, normal humans take breaks. I keep forgetting that those are totally normal. Anyway.

Recently, my situation has become more stable and I’ve been able to work more on my solo stuff. It’s not that I didn’t play ANY guitar, I just wasn’t coming up with anything I really liked, in any sort of consistent way. A couple weeks ago though, I had a moment of inspiration on a day my keyboard wasn’t set up, so I reached for my guitar instead. Maybe all I needed was time, but we had a *moment* where something clicked. The next night I was playing the song that came out of this moment, a sombre finger-picking jam, and it started to storm. Like, hail, wind, the whole deal. It was magical and reminded me that a) I made it rain, awesome. b) if i want to keep writing for guitar, I need to work to get over this hump of not connecting with my instrument.

It’s also worth mentioning that jamming with someone else has really helped me bond with my guitar. I recently started co-writing with a good pal of mine for a different project; when we finally jelled as a team, my solo work also improved. So, it you’re stuck on something, anything really. Try working with someone else! You might just figure some stuff out and form a badass team at the same time.

So, there you have it. I finally got to know my guitar better and will continue to figure it out. It feels really good. I’ve committed myself to more regular/structured solo guitar jams and I feel pretty positive about the results. It just took longer than I wanted it to. Obviously, it wasn’t so much about the instrument as it was about me. What a shock!

I mean, whatever, who cares, music, or whatever. Just keeping it chill over here!

Has this happened to you? Do you think I gave too much space to something that’s totally normal? Would you like me to talk more about the logistics of choosing an instrument?

Feel free to comment below.


**Disclaimer: I absolutely don’t believe that you need to spend a lot of money on an instrument to be a good musician. I’m still a bad musician with a nice instrument most days! You don’t need to buy a $3000 vintage guitar. You may want to or be able to, but I don’t think it’s a requirement to being a serious musician. That being said, as you progress as an artist, especially one who plays live, you might start to feel like you’ve outgrown your instrument. I think that’s normal. Quality is important, regardless of the brand and cost snobbery that exists in all art related things. I also believe that it’s ok to treat yourself to something that reflects your personal growth! Just, maybe don’t do it on an adrenaline high.**