I Started a Rock Band This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 8, 2012
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I had no lessons, no tutors – just me, a six string, YouTube, and a pile of expectations. Alone in a cold, empty basement in a small town trying to figure out how my heroes did it, grasping for the easy way out, I searched for any clues or hints that would help me learn. Nobody within three miles knew anything about playing the guitar, what to learn first or even what each string was called. Except my distracted uncle who only played bluegrass, I was the only one in the family who had ever even attempted to learn an instrument. Despite these challenges, the thought of being on stage playing the same music Slash, Sinister Gates, Green Day, and Brad Paisley played kept me playing.

After a couple of months of trying on my own, I was actually getting somewhere. I worked out some simple songs, but the problem was I didn't want simple. I wanted to play the awesome rock music the greats played.

My first real song was “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N Roses, and even then I only learned enough for people to recognize it. I was looking for approval, but every time I played for others they expected more, as if it were easy. They didn't realize that every time my fingers touched the strings, it felt as if needles were piercing my fingertips. They didn't know that when I first started, practicing literally made my fingertips bleed. I walked around with callused fingers and cramps in my palms from trying chords and positions that were much too advanced for me. Every time I ate with my hands, I tasted the metal of the strings on my fingertips.

I became frustrated and almost quit a number of times, but like many great guitarists before me, I reminded myself that girls thought guitar players were hot. Suddenly, my fingers didn't hurt as much, and I pushed through.

When Christmas came around, I was again on the verge of giving up because everything I played sounded wrong and flat. But that all changed on Christmas morning when I unwrapped a beautiful dark blue pearlescent Ibanez electric guitar. That moment I knew I was hooked for good. For the rest of my life, I would have G.A.S. – Guitar Acquisition Syndrome – a condition my friends and I made up. I wanted to buy every guitar I saw.

After Christmas my grades dropped because I was playing constantly. It was hard enough as an ADHD kid to pay attention ­­in school; now every little sound, beat, or rhythm somebody accidently tapped with their foot or pencil was the start of a rock song I someday hoped to write.

Even when I was little my mother had told me I had a good sense of rhythm, but it became a curse – one that I both loved and hated. On one hand, it distracted me from school. On the other, it added to my guitar playing, helping me learn strum patterns and reading guitar tabs faster than most ­beginners.

So what did I do? I started a band with a couple of kids from school. Both of them were good friends I had known forever. My bassist was my best friend and neighbor who helped me form my dreams as we played Rock Band on the Wii for countless summers in my basement. Little did we know, back then, that soon we would exchange our plastic guitars for the real deal.

He was a perfectionist when we played video games, demanding every note be correct and making it a competition. The same was true for real guitar playing except I encouraged him to play bass because I was already hooked on six strings, and we needed a bass player for our nameless band.

My other friend was a drummer in the school's marching band, and was a beast. He could listen to a song and re-create the beat in a matter of seconds; all that was holding him back was our limitations on the guitar and bass.

We were missing a singer, but nobody at our school sounded good with the rock sound we had developed. A kid named Joey sang with us for a while. He challenged me, which I thank him for, ­although I had no idea that what he was doing was actually good for me. We argued a lot because he always was trying to impress some girl, so the songs he picked were ridiculously hard on guitar. He knew I couldn't play them but proposed them anyway.

“It's easy to play the guitar. Just do this,” Joey said as he gestured with his hands, completely serious.

“If it's so easy, then here,” I said, handing him my guitar I knew he couldn't play.

But he was a good singer – as good as any high school singer – and one of my best friends in the world, so we worked hard to learn songs that he could sing.

Now our problem was getting recognized. Nobody knew about us until we played at our school's talent show. We got a 39 out of 40 from the judges. As I hammered out the last note and let it ring, I scanned the crowd and saw a mix of awe and excitement on faces as they went nuts. The feeling I had at that moment is indescribable. After pouring all our hard work into the song, they all loved it.

Looking back, I realize with pride that I did ­exactly what I set out to do: I started a rock band in a small town where nobody knew how to play the guitar.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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