Dyspraxia and playing guitar...
I was late-diagnosed with dyspraxia and ADHD in 2018 and that diagnosis explained soooo many things that had puzzled me all my life. Like, for example, why it was SO F*CKIN' HARD for me to learn how to play guitar and why I never managed to become a really good guitarist who was just comfortable with his instrument! For years, I would beat myself up about it and just assumed I was ridiculously untalented. To the point that I gave my guitar away because I didn't believe I could ever play it at a level that would be satisfying to me.
After learning more about dyspraxia I was able to identify and address issues I hadn't even known existed and I have come further as a guitar player in the past two years than in my entire life before that! I want to share some of my experiences because I would hate for other guitar players out there to go through the same excruciating self-doubt and physical and mental pain that I went through. So here's my story.
I was always a clumsy kid. Knocked my head, ran against stuff, always took the corners too tight. In first grade, my teacher wrote in my report card that my "fine motor action" wasn't "fully developed yet". I kept scoring awful grades for handwriting all through elementary school. I could either write neatly OR write a longer text. A combination of both was impossible. Arts and crafts were a disaster - I could not cut a straight line for the life of me and if I had some kind of crafts assignment, my mom would mostly end up doing it for me after I threw a fit or two. As I got older, I learned how to compensate for some of this stuff - in order not to knock stuff over and hurt myself all the time, I just had to concentrate really hard. To control my handwriting, I just had to press the pen to the paper really hard. Handy-crafts could be easily avoided. I lacked the attention span for that kind of stuff anyway.
1988. Skateboarding was NOT a healthy choice for me!
When I was 8, I first wanted to learn to play guitar. I took my dad's (grown-up sized!) acoustic guitar to a guitar teacher. I was tiny when I was eight! I could not get a single chord to sound right. I was not taught how to tune the thing. I was given a tuning fork and told that that's what you use to tune a guitar. Yeah. So that first endeavour ended in frustration with me plucking away on single, out-of-tune strings (I did write two songs like that though!).
Contemplating my bad initial guitar experience...
I tried again when I was 13. This time for real! I was heavily into music by now, Sabú and I were starting our first band and writing songs! I needed to play guitar! So I taught myself a bunch of chords and went from there. I read that my heroes practiced until their fingers bled. So did I. I spent hours playing guitar. But here's the thing - I progressed insanely slowly! And I could not understand why! What was I doing wrong?!
Me at 13, singing John Lennon's "Well, Well, Well" and accompanying myself on my dad's old Ibanez Jazz guitar (wish I still had that thing!).
Well, when I learned more about dyspraxia, I realised what one of the main problems was: I struggle to control the intensity of how hard I press stuff. This is an issue with writing as well, where my hand will start to hurt because I'm applying so much pressure to the pen. With the guitar, it meant that a) I'd be in pain because I would apply too much pressure and b) I'd never get into a smooth flow because I'd be pressing the strings down so hard that any change would be really clunky and a huge deal. My motions also would be far too huge and therefore take too much time and also be imprecise. Another thing that's really hard for me to control is the general intensity of motion. So, for example, I would really struggle with clean slides or bends because I wouldn't be able to control the intensity of the motion. All the while, I was just struggling so hard and applying so much pressure that I was totally tense. That led to me not being able to comfortably fall into the rhythm and made my playing rhythmically unclean. And as far as dynamics go: I would always play everything at intensity 10, because I could not play softly...
An unhappy but determined guitarist. Me at 18 years old.
So all through my youth I was trying to navigate all these problems while on top of it all being under immense "coolness" pressure and wanting to be taken seriously as a musician. I developed a huge inferiority complex around my guitar playing - and I was mostly playing in a three-piece, so I was the only guitarist! And the tragedy was that I loved playing guitar. Or: I loved the idea of playing guitar. But when we went on hiatus in the year 2000, not having to play anymore was - sadly!- a huge relief.
On stage in Hollywood, 1997. Live gigs were always nerve shredding - singing AND playing at once made things even harder! I would have needed 100% concentration on my playing - if that wasn't possible, there was no way I would not fuck up at some point...
Now that I know about my dyspraxia, I am finally free from this idea that it's somehow my incompetence that has stalled my development as a guitarist. Learning about some of the typical issues around controlling the intensity of pressure and the "size" of motions has helped me address these issues specifically - I now know what to look out for and I can anticipate problems and react accordingly. I now absolutely love playing and I'm extremely proud of some of the guitar work I've done on our two latest releases. I'm not queuing up to be the next Eddie van Halen but to me it's just an amazing change to be able to do what I'm doing now! I look forward to the years to come and to ever more improvement!
Recording some groovy rhythm guitar!
Maybe most importantly - the knowledge that there is a physical reason for my struggles has relaxed me mentally and that means that I now don't struggle with falling into the rhythm anymore - I can actually groove now!
I hope this could provide a little bit of an insight into what a guitar-learning journey can be like for someone with dyspraxia. If you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to hear from you!