I Play A Mean Kazoo

Saturday morning, after crossing the river for doughnuts at the best damn doughnut shop in Portland (hint: it’s not Voodoo but rather a little hole-in-the-wall place on NE Alberta called Tonalli’s that has a killer buttermilk bar, among other offerings), the kids and I were driving around the ‘hood, scouting out garage sales as we often do on weekend mornings. There weren’t many – probably thanks to lousy weather and the fact that it was a holiday weekend – but we did find a couple. At our first stop, there was a guitar for sale.

I’ve wanted a guitar for ages, and I’ve been on the lookout for an inexpensive used one. This was a full-sized Burswood acoustic guitar in very good condition with just a few minor scuff marks. Amazingly, they were only asking $20 for it. I have never found a guitar of this quality for less than $60, and I’ve been searching for a long time. So, I did the natural thing.

I walked away.

“That’s a really good price,” Audrey said on the way to the car. She’s eleven, and even she knows a good deal when she spots one.

“It is, huh?” I replied, stopping dead in my tracks. I don’t have a lot of money these days – hence my hesitation – but my wallet was crammed with fives and ones, and after all, I have been wanting one. So I retraced my footsteps, nonchalantly picked up the guitar, gave it the once-over, and then announced “I’ll take it!” and handed over twenty bucks before they could change their minds. A smile played at the corners of my mouth as we drove away, and a Bryan Adams song flitted through my head as I realized, I got my first real six-string.

The mere act of owning a guitar made me feel instantly cool. I was suddenly in good company with many of my heroes. Kurt Cobain. Jimi Hendrix. Eric Clapton. Springsteen. Dylan. What boy (or, umm, 42 year old guy, in this case) doesn’t dream about playing in a rock ‘n roll band? Plus, let’s face it: chicks dig guitar players. For the record, I am open to having groupies. There’s only one slight problem, one possible hitch in the rock ‘n roll fantasy.

I haven’t the faintest idea how to play it.

Growing up, I was never musically inclined. I could play a mean kazoo, but beyond that…nada. However, I never really tried. And musical ability runs in the family – my grandfather played saxophone in the Army band, and my mom and various aunts and uncles all played instruments. Plus, there’s the whole right brain aspect of my personality. I tend toward the artistic and creative side, by far. So I’m hoping I can teach myself to play guitar fairly easily. Learning to play was, in fact, one of my unwritten New Year’s resolutions for 2011 (along with “getting a goat” and “making out with Jenna Fischer,” neither of which is likely to happen, I now realize).

So easy a monkey could do it? Shut up. (Courtesy of acousticguitarblog.net)

So yesterday, I fired up GarageBand, the super awesome and versatile software program for my Mac that includes, among other things, a basic guitar tutorial. I sat down and watched while Tutorial Dude Tim taught me how to properly hold the guitar and to tune it. All you’ve got to do is pluck each string and the built-in tuner tells you to tighten or loosen them until you’ve got the right pitch. Thank GOD…I wouldn’t have the faintest clue how to tune a guitar otherwise! Then I learned about the various parts of the guitar, like what the little knobby things are (note to self: stop calling them “little knobby things” if you really hope to land groupies), and how to properly hold a pick. Then came the fun part: positioning my fingers around the fret and strumming an E chord. I had this stupid, cheesy grin on my face and had to resist shouting,


Hey, told you I was a newbie at this guitar stuff. Don’t make fun of my excitement. My initial thought – other than I hope chicks also dig bloody fingers because, man alive, playing makes your fingers hurt (something which Tutorial Dude Tim says is natural and will go away after a few weeks of practice…yes, weeks…) – was, hmm…this isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. 

And then I got to lesson 2 this morning. Suddenly there were chord diagrams and G chords and C chords and chord progressions, and Tutorial Dude Tim was infuriating me by making it look simple. “You’ll want to switch chords quickly, in one fluid motion,” he intoned, his fingers flying across the neck of the guitar effortlessly. “Slow down!” I shouted at the computer, still trying to figure out how to make the first three fingers on my left hand stretch enough to fit in their proper positions, which I kept promptly forgetting anyway. I would finally get them in the right spots on the C chord, and then he’d switch to the G chord. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the simple strumming pattern I’d memorized the day before – down, down, down, up, down, up – was replaced by something much more complex. Down, down, up, down, up, down, sideways twist, stand on your head, juggle apples with your third hand while chewing gum and reciting the alphabet backwards. I began to despise Tutorial Dude Tim. I was hoping I might be an idiot savant, but sadly I suspect I’m only half right.

So, it turns out playing the guitar is hard work. My fingers are throbbing and every keystroke involving the left side of my keyboard is agony. Deciphering the chord diagrams is about as easy as explaining rocket science to my cat – in Latin – and I can strum about as well as I can pitch a perfect game in the World Series. However, mama didn’t raise no quitters – well, except for my shady brother (kidding there, Scott!) – so I’ll plow on, until one day I can play the guitar halfway decently.

I may be 80 by then, but hey, the blue-haired ladies in the retirement home will be tripping over their walkers to get a piece of this.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

30 thoughts on “I Play A Mean Kazoo

  1. Oooh good luck.

    You may do better trying to find some simple guitar tabs online that aren’t video tutorials that go too fast. Or see what’s on youtube. That way you can go at your own pace.

    Its something I’d like to learn to play too, so I’ll have to start keeping an eye out at guitar sales. 😀


    1. I agree. I’m definitely going to check out YouTube…Tutorial Dude Tim is moving much too quickly for lil’ ol’ me! Then again, I have ZERO experience with anything even remotely music-related, so there’s bound to be a steep learning curve here.


  2. You shold do like me. I pick up these busted up wood guitars all the time for $10 to $20 and stick a plant in
    the whole thing and hang it on the wall and it transforms
    the whole place into a Hacienda. I am now Mr Decorator. The sell for

    I pick up the most beat up guitars for $10 to $20 stick a plant in the hole hang it on the wall and the whole room becomes el casa hacienda. Sold a few for $75 and just can’t find enough trash pile guitars. So do the same with your guitar and everyone will call you Mr Decorator !



  3. positioning my fingers around the fret and strumming an E chord. I had this stupid, cheesy grin on my face and had to resist shouting,

    “I MADE MUSIC!!!”

    You GO, dude!

    I think it’s awesome that you went back and bought it because it was meant to be! I had no idea you could learn to play a musical instrument via computer?!? How cool is that?

    When I was kid, I took piano and clarinet lessons. I stopped taking clarinet (because the only thing I really enjoyed was putting it together and then taking it apart), but continued with piano.

    I wish I had continued as I got older because it would have really been helpful when I got into theater and began doing musicals. I can sing, but only by hear. I can’t read music, isn’t that strange?

    Good luck with your lessons, Mark!


  4. I am really proud of you for trying something totally new and taking initiative to learn it through a tutorial! Nice work.

    That being said, your fingers hurt? I’m going to ice my black eye and fractured nose now.

    You can send my care package of these better than voodoo donuts to:

    Jess Sassypants Bloggerstein
    2020 Walkdontrun Ave.
    Circus World, Wisconsin


    1. Ha. Unlike you, I did not bash my face into a wall…but that doesn’t diminish the sore fingers! LOL. And you read my link to the doughnuts article…there’s a time and a place for Voodoo, but sadly that doesn’t make it the best. Come out this way again and sample for yourself! My treat, even.


  5. Love this post Mark. Just yesterday as I was driving my car to my son’s new home listening to a cd I thought it would be so cool to have a guitar and learn how to play it.

    Go for it! You can do it if you keep at it. I might be able to learn how to play the guitar but the singing on key definitely does not come naturally even though I love to sing. Love to hear your enthusiam 🙂


    1. Thanks for the positive encouragement! And no, I won’t be singing, either. If I learn to play, somebody else can tackle that job. I’m fine being the Keith to my band’s Mick.


  6. I learned to play the first part of America’s Horse with No Name with my brother’s help when I was a preteen, but he never taught me the rest of the chords, so I’m stuck.

    I hope you keep enjoying your new guitar till you play a full song!


    1. My right hand is fine, thanks to the pick. It’s my left – when I use my fingers to press down on the strings of the fretboard to form chords – that is achin’ like a mo-fo.


  7. good luck! I have zero musical ability (I can play the radio with excellence and verve, but that’s about it!), so I’m impressed at even the attempt being made!


  8. Oh, Mark! congratulations on your new musical instrument! 🙂
    first thing you should learn is Kum-bay-ya!


    loved the post, and happy happy joy joy for you!
    Just don’t, you know…Kurt Cobain yourself.



  9. Congratulations on the new instrument – guitars are extremely cool and I trust you will have many happy hours of making music with it.

    My favorite thing about this post, however, is that you spelled “doughnut” with all of the letters included. I was beginning to think that I had just dreamed that it was supposed to be spelled that way.


  10. “That ain’t workin’…Maybe get a blister on your little finger…maybe get a blister on your thumb.” 🙂


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