Dorm life plays a big role in the socialization of young people. Forcing a bunch of students to live in extreme close proximity to one another teaches compassion, empathy, and, more than anything, that some people are custom-built to piss everyone else off. Every floor has a few, like the kid who decided its cool to walk around the bathroom buck ass naked or the one who has hysterical crying episodes in the hall a couple times a week. Then there’s that inconsiderate reprobate who’s constantly slamming some hipster piece of trash instrument and singing an Iron and Wine song off key in his worthless voice. That’s me, by the way, nice to meet you.
So maybe you can consider this a public apology to everyone in my building, but I’d rather you think of it as an appeal. I believe everyone in college (really anyone anywhere) should know how to play an instrument. It’s probably good for your brain, or something like that (SCIENCE!).
But more importantly, it is an endeavor that satisfies in a way that is difficult to describe. It can be a social tool, a ticket of admission to some rocking group renditions of Wagon Wheel, and it’s a hell of a lot more relaxing than making the rounds on Netflix.
Hopefully some of you are following me this far, but deciding to learn an instrument is like deciding to learn a language; there can be a lot of pain before there’s any gain. But soft, What light through yonder window breaks! It’s 5 instruments you can learn to play in a day! (Note: An upcoming article will argue that passing Shakespeare references in Forum articles ought to satisfy the Literature GE).
1. Tin Whistle
It’s a metal tube with six holes in it, but like Ben Affleck’s first on-screen role, its simplicity belies its great, unbearably toned potential. The tin whistle has been a mainstay of folk music for centuries, and, while many virtuosos can shred it like an Enron CFO shreds financial documents, the tin whistle is also famous for being easy to pick up and play. It also gets bonus points for being really huge in traditional Scottish music.
2. Strum Stick
Okay, maybe it’s easy to play some fantastic tunes on the Tin Whistle, but tootling that little whistle is probably going to make you look more like a Satyr than a Suitor. If you’re seeking an aesthetic effect as much as artistic expression, everyone knows that the guitar is the stereotypical lasso with which to rope you’re beloved’s affection. But the guitar also takes time. And skill. Fear not, thou musically uninitiated, for I give you the Strum Stick! It only has three strings, and a number of frets have been removed so that, no matter what you play, no matter how scatterbrained and incoherent your fingering pattern may be, it will always sound bright and happy. Perhaps there’s a way to make this instrument sound bad, but I haven’t found it yet.
Perhaps you’re into strumming, but portability’s really your priority. In that case, give into the urge and buy a ukulele. What it lacks in idiot-proofedness, it makes up for in good cheer and flexibility. Here’s the bottom line though: You can find a Ukulele here and the chords to the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow here. I just gave you the path to inner peace. You can thank me with luxurious gifts.
Less of a crowd pleaser and more of a finger teaser, the Kalimba is better suited for filling in the oppressive quiet of late-night study time than for jam sessions. Don’t take that to mean it doesn’t sound beautiful in skilled hands, because it does. What’s more, it’s hard to overstate the immense tactile pleasure of plucking the Kalimba’s little metal keys or the fun of putting together your own little tunes. Even if you don’t decide to order one for yourself, there’s no excuse for not trying one out at the Claremont Folk Music Center before you graduate.
5. Auto Harp
Look at your left hand. Does it have fingers? Good. Now look at your right hand. Can you move it? Good. Congratulations! You can play the Auto Harp. Most songs can be split up into chords, and, on most stringed instruments, you play those chords by placing the right fingers on the right strings. The auto harp says nuts to all that nonsense and uses buttons instead. Just buttons. It’s the equivalent of typing out a song. So follow along with me. Buy yourself an auto harp, then sit down and put it in your lap. Press the C Chord button and strum the strings. Now Press the G Chord Button and strum the strings. Now Press the C Chord button again and strum, and then finish off with a strum while pressing the A Chord button. That’s the chorus to Come Sail Away by Styx. Party on you crazy glam rocker you.