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Goeun Park: Attempting to learn guitar, overcome musical shortcomings

“Can you hear it?”

Half convinced that my lungs would hinder my hearing, I would hold my breath. I’d try to tear the sound apart like I would peel an onion, layer by layer.

But no matter how hard I listened, I couldn’t pick out the guitar melody or the flute section or the rhythm. I never could.

For a long time, I blamed my shortcoming to simply being musically disinclined. My tone-deaf ear was a genetic defect…and so was my excessive indulgence in America’s Top 40. That’s how it worked, right? Those who can, do. Those who can’t, make playlists on iTunes.

To an extent, musical ability is indeed an inborn talent. Several years ago, the University of Helsinki concluded that genes seemed to be responsible for 50 percent of talent. That leaves the other 50 percent to…well, me.

I won’t lie — I didn’t try very hard to sound pretty. I spent most of my time in band class either making faces at friends or feeling very awkward when the people sitting next to me said friends caught me in the act. I played the clarinet like a certain grumpy squid on television.

(Meanwhile, my terrifically talented roommate did band justice in high school and now she plays the clarinet stunningly. She’s too fabulous for words.)

Music has never been a focus in my life. Certainly, I’ve appreciated it. Admittedly, I’ve obsessed over a band or two. I have a rough idea on how music is supposed to work — sound waves travel through space in certain pitches to invoke sound.  Different sounds are assigned whole notes, quarter notes, and the like to measure time. Follow the notes on the staff and ta-da: make music!

Of course, it’s not that simple. If I could, I would pull an Ursula from the Little Mermaid and steal people’s voices. Then I could serenade all the stray cats in California and become the ultimate cat lady. I would never have to worry about a Halloween costume ever again.

Fantasies aside, I’m becoming newly acquainted with music. Let bygones be bygones; I have shed my hooligan ways.  I am now armed with a guitar and sheer willpower to make it work.

It’s ambitious stuff, trying to make something out of nothing. I don’t know enough about the guitar to imitate sounds but little by little, I’m churning out hazy moods.

A combination of one high string and one low string sounds like bells. Another combination sounds like sunny days and coffee shops. That’s how I’m starting to make music.

So one of these days, the instrument won’t feel heavy on my lap and my fingers won’t fumble over the strings and everything will sound like it’s meant to. And it’ll be a great day.

(One last thing: The DLHS fall musical opens this week! You, dear reader, MUST go because it’s guaranteed to be fantastic. You’re also probably not moping halfway across the country so you have no excuse. Go, go, go!)

Goeun Park graduated from DLHS and attends college in California.