Step one: Buy a guitar.
March 2, 2008 10:27 PM   Subscribe

What impressive new talent can I learn in a month?

The significant other is in Bulgaria until April. When he returns, I want to surprise him by casually exhibiting a previously unseen kick-ass skill. My first thought was to get learn guitar. Is it possible for a total n00b to become proficient in a few songs in four weeks? Would it make sense to choose an easier instrument, or stay away from music entirely? I'm up for anything. ASL, plate spinning, telekinesis...I was seriously about to drop the cash on SCUBA lessons, but our bathtub isn't deep enough to show off at home. Help me knock his socks off!

(By the way, my parents read Ask MeFi, so if you have risque suggestions, MeFi mail might be the best way to go.)
posted by roger ackroyd to Education (45 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Cooking! Nothing says 'welcome home' like a kickass meal cooked from scratch. And given a month, you could do things like learn how to make your own pickles and preserves, brew some beer (I think?), perfect the Hollandaise of death.. the list is endless.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:28 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by wsg at 10:31 PM on March 2, 2008

Jawharp. Easy to learn. Difficult to master. Sounds pretty cool at every level.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:38 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think you'll get the casual mastery thing you're looking for with the guitar in a single month. Cooking is a good idea, especially since there are some skills you could improve a lot in a month that would look cool. How fast are you at slicing and chopping vegetables? I bet you could get much better.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:49 PM on March 2, 2008

While I'm not typically a fan of jugglers, you could probably learn something like it in a month.

break a board with your hand?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:50 PM on March 2, 2008

I learned to drive when my SO was gone for 7 weeks. If you already know how to drive, that's out, but it was a huge and delightful surprise to both SO and my parents.
posted by crinklebat at 10:50 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

party tricks
become more handy
what skill should i learn?
courses you could take or skills you could learn with help include - pottery, photography, knitting, quilting, metalwork, woodworking, drawing, papercraft/bookbinding, printmaking....
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 PM on March 2, 2008

I want to surprise him by casually exhibiting a previously unseen kick-ass skill.

The first four things I thought of were all quite dirty.

That said, I bet he'd appreciate the effort.
posted by rokusan at 10:59 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

actually i got decent at guitar in a week. i was totally bored and i played something like 12 hours a day, because it was spring break and i was broke and stuck in my dorm while all my friends went places. i think it depends on your musical background, too--i had previously played piano and violin.

so YMMV based on your free time and experience. overall, i would say that time is more the limiting factor, because piano and violin aren't really that similar to guitar.

you could learn romantic music. awwwwww. :)
posted by melvinwang at 11:02 PM on March 2, 2008

Response by poster: The problem with cooking is that he's a talented chef. He's even taken a knife skills class. ...Also, it's a little on the practical side. I kind of want to startle him with something ludicrous, you know? (Although pickling would certainly add a new twist. I love the idea of him coming home to a kitchen overflowing with pickle jars.)

Breaking a board by hand sounds intense. I'll look into that.

The mouth harp – another good one.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:03 PM on March 2, 2008

juggling. 3 objects or maybe 4 objects are doable in a month.
posted by bigmusic at 11:14 PM on March 2, 2008

I've always been blown away when I discovered someone could do a standing backflip, even off a bench or other raised starting point. I always think, holy shit that dude/lady can do a flip whenever they want.

They say it's easier than you think.
posted by churl at 11:22 PM on March 2, 2008

If by "guitar" you mean standard pop stuff and not classical or flamenco, hell yes you can become proficient in a month. Particularly with sites like wholenote to get you through the basics like tuning. It's not a complex instrument, tablature makes learning songs instantly simple, callouses and muscle development take maybe three weeks, proved you get in a couple hours of practice a day. If you merely want to impress with sudden abilities, you could realistically pick a song, find its tab on the web, and get it down in a month.
posted by dong_resin at 11:30 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Snoopy jaw-harp
posted by hortense at 11:44 PM on March 2, 2008

Balloon twisting! You can usually find the balloons and an air pump at a good toy store.
posted by bettafish at 1:57 AM on March 3, 2008

Acro! Though you'll need a few friends to help. You could also try doing handstands and tumbles if you haven't already.
posted by divabat at 2:07 AM on March 3, 2008


but i just read bettafish's balloon twisting suggestion.

So balloon twisting. Nothing quite says "Welcome back from Bulgaria" like a deftly twisted balloon. Al least that's what I've read.
posted by mattoxic at 3:12 AM on March 3, 2008

N-thing Juggling... if you're not a klutz, I can get you juggling 3 balls in a couple of hours. Four is a bit more difficult, then two in each hand, then three in each hand, then tricks, then partner and throwing flaming torches at each other. Great skill to have, hard stuff is hard, but you can pick up the standard three ball thing in a few hours.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:23 AM on March 3, 2008

How about Poi or fire spinning?
posted by meeshell at 6:07 AM on March 3, 2008

In one month you can get good enough at guitar to show someone how bad you are at guitar. Seriously. You’ll certainly be able to learn a few chords that you can combine into any one of eight billion songs but it takes a lot of time to learn how to play those chords cleanly. The reaction will not be “Wow, you can play guitar!”, it’ll be “You’re learning how to play guitar?”

Admittedly, I’m a pessimist that way. Someone else will tell you not to listen to me. They could be right.

You can learn to juggle in an hour. You can master it, move up to clubs, learn a couple of tricks and add a forth ball within a month. The classic Klutz book is all you need.

I learned to ride a unicycle in three weeks, though only enough to show how badly I could ride a unicycle. Also, I was sixteen and had lots of free time. This is a skill worth having.

You can memorize the steps to solve Rubix’s cube in a week. This will come in handy if you ever find yourself in 1985.
posted by bondcliff at 6:17 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Learn how to throw knives. It will be both surprising & terrifying, which is almost always a fine combination.
posted by aramaic at 6:24 AM on March 3, 2008

Unicycling? Possible to acquire basic competence with a month's regular practice.
posted by normy at 6:31 AM on March 3, 2008

I love this question! (and the suggestions...). It is the definition of romantic.

Possibly dumb you have any singing talent at all?

Could you master one kick-ass, huge wow factor song in the time?

A bit of professional training might work wonders in a month?

A mini aria (okay - a stretch too far - maybe!).

A song you both love with tons of lyrics?

(I used to able to do Ca Plane Pour Moi, once knocked a boyfriend sideways with that one - briefly!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:49 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

3 objects or maybe 4 objects are doable in a month.

3 in a month? As someone else said, that should take an hour or two. If it takes you longer than a day to juggle 3 objects it's time to move on.
posted by justgary at 7:35 AM on March 3, 2008

Along the lines of a guitar - but easy to master and impress others with - The Strumstick. I have one and I love it and it loves me. Easy peasy to learn - you can't go wrong!!
posted by Sassyfras at 7:58 AM on March 3, 2008

I play guitar and have to say that if you were diligent throughout the month (like 4-5 hours a day), you'd be pretty impressive by the end of the month. You're looking at spending a few hundred $ for a decent-sounding guitar, though, and if you're not terribly interested in learning to play guitar for its own sake, it'd be a pretty miserable exercise.

That being said, you can learn to solve a rubik's cube in an afternoon, and a lot of people find it impressive, if a bit nerdy. This is my favorite site to learn how to solve a rubik's, complete with interactive examples of the 8-or-so moves you have to memorize to solve it.

That's not the fastest solution, but if you practice, you'll be able to solve in under 5 minutes easy. You can move on to different methods if you want to go faster. When you can solve it one-handed in under 18 seconds, you're officially impressive.
posted by mamessner at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could always learn pi out to 250 places. That would be fun...

Seriously though, learn to juggle! It's awesome!
posted by mikeweeney at 8:34 AM on March 3, 2008

You can definitely learn to balance things in a month.

I'm talking big things, like a step ladder on the chin. Or a torchiere lamp on the nose. Folding chair is also very nice. If you've got a strong neck, you could probably do a (lightish) living-room type upholstered chair. Start small with the yardstick on the palm of your hand and work up from there.

Do you have some really high ceilings in part of the house in which to show off this talent. Because this fails the "can't scuba in the bathtub" part of your question. Front porch circus?
posted by zpousman at 8:46 AM on March 3, 2008

As a shameless ukulelevangelist, I'm compelled to suggest the uke as a guitar alternative. It's got more of a novelty factor, although it's been getting increasingly trendy in the last couple of years. Many people find the learning curve to be a lot more forgiving than with the guitar. In a month, you can easily have several romantic serenades under your belt. And the initial cost outlay is much less painful.

Mahalos are a popular choice for beginners, and they come in different colors.
Fleas are another popular beginner uke, a few steps up.
My axe is a Hamano, reasonably priced and better than any other uke I've played.

Because of the aforementioned trendiness, there are a ton of learning resources on the internet. My current favorite uke blog is Uke Hunt (double entendre intended). Check the categories for "Beginners," "Tutorials" and "Ukulele 101." The fellow responsible has written a bunch of e-books that are probably worth your time as well.
posted by doift at 8:51 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You are adorable! I love that you want to learn something new to show him, but even more so you want to do it all casually, like "Oh these? I've always had these nunchucks."
Let me tell you what not to attempt, based on the people around me, and assuming you don't know how to do these things already: dressmaking or a playing a woodwind, particulary the tenor saxophone. These are practically sciences.
Without putting too much stock in its relevance, it might be fun to learn how to read palms, do calligraphy or seal envelopes with hot wax.
Or if you find you have little time to devote to practice, shuffling cards with a solid, quick bridge is totally hott.
Also, is it just me or is juggling lame?
posted by thebellafonte at 9:17 AM on March 3, 2008

I teach guitar, and I think you can become proficient on it in a month if you work hard at it and practice every day (and you buy a nice guitar that's easy to play). Almost none of my students do that, though, so very few are proficient after a month. Ukulele is a good suggestion, too.

Does it have to be performance-based? You could write a bunch of poetry for him, maybe a series of sonnets or something. Then you could do a reading.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:30 AM on March 3, 2008

You could easily learn to knock out a few different origami figures in a month.
posted by malocchio at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, so many great suggestions. I love the idea of him flying home from Bulgaria, wheeling his suitcase in the door, and me grabbing it and balancing it on my chin. He'd never see that coming. Ukulele is a strong contender. Handy for our next Hawaii trip. And one-handed Rubik's solving seems like a skill every adult should have.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:00 AM on March 3, 2008

Stunt driving! The simplest move is the reverse 180 getaway: Back up at 20-25mph, spin the steering wheel hard while hitting the emergency brake, shift to first gear while the car is doing the 180, release the e-brake while straightening the wheel and away you go. Surprisingly easy and very dramatic.

[That being said, find a safe place to practice, wear your seatbelt, and don't blame me if it something goes wrong.]

There are other fun car tricks, too, but they're harder. Drift turns, 360, etc.

Pick something that's useful for a lifetime.
posted by lothar at 10:28 AM on March 3, 2008

That being said, you can learn to solve a rubik's cube in an afternoon, and a lot of people find it impressive, if a bit nerdy. This is my favorite site to learn how to solve a rubik's, complete with interactive examples of the 8-or-so moves you have to memorize to solve it.
That's not the fastest solution, but if you practice, you'll be able to solve in under 5 minutes easy. You can move on to different methods if you want to go faster. When you can solve it one-handed in under 18 seconds, you're officially impressive.

I second the Rubik's solving. I learned to solve one in two afternoons, and broke the 2 minute barrier a couple of days after that. It never fails to impress. For super solving search for Speedcubes on EBay, they're cheaper and much nicer to use than the branded ones. Or you could go all out and learn to solve a 4x4x4 or 5x5x5 cube...
posted by cholly at 2:21 PM on March 3, 2008

If you're musically proficient (and have a good ear!) you can learn how to Tuvan throat sing. It took me a little under a month to learn some basic throat singing styles, from listening to music (easy to find online) and from this helpful website.

Eventually it just becomes a matter of growling while you shower, listening carefully for those moments when the sound separates and you can hear those pure, dulcimer tones.

Combine that with learning guitar and you can do throat singing and blues, just like Paul Pena.
posted by mammary16 at 5:31 PM on March 3, 2008

Response by poster: Oh gosh, mammary16, I'm a huge fan of Genghis Blues. I blew out my vocal cords attempting to throat-sing long ago. But thanks for the suggestion!
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:54 PM on March 3, 2008

you could learn some cool martial arts moves. string em together right and it looks like you're jet li. or you could just learn to flip channels faster....your call.
posted by locoindio at 7:39 PM on March 3, 2008

Seconding whoever said one month is long enough to demonstrate that you're bad at guitar...

At one month (despite obsessive practicing) I could play a song or two cleanly, but only if they stuck to "E" and "A" chords. Everything else sounded bad. Five months later, NOW my wife is impressed. :)
posted by mmoncur at 5:12 AM on March 4, 2008

Origami (as has been suggested countless times by myself and others)! Learn how to make this right now. You'd be surprised how impressed people get (OMG YOU MADE THAT??!!1) and how outrageously easy it is once you learn the "trick."

Although it seems like from your SCUBA comments and some of the acro comments that you're looking for something a little I would imagine it's possible, through proper warming up and techniques, to do a full split and/or straddle (a sideways split) in a month ("Check this out!" and watch his jaw drop). Just be careful.

Juggling is good too. Start with beanbags or hackey-sacks - if you drop them they won't roll away.

That strumstick thing looks kinda cool as well. If anything it's an interesting topic of conversation just from the way it looks ("WTF is that??" "It's a strumstick, of course (plays tune on strumstick)")
posted by ostranenie at 4:33 PM on March 4, 2008

OH, I know! Learn to crochet. It sounds boring but it's really fun. It's easier than knitting, it's super-quick, all you need is the hook and some yarn, you can make ridiculous unwearable joke-clothes and iPod covers and stuff, and it's good for your hand-eye coordination. I suggest you learn from a real person rather than a book or video, so if you know any yarn ninjas, hit them up for some mad crochet skillz. And again it's impressive. There's something about taking a "1-dimensional" piece of yarn and turning it into a 2- or 3-dimensional object that's very interesting. (To me, at least; I don't know about all you people.)
posted by ostranenie at 4:39 PM on March 4, 2008

Also, is it just me or is juggling lame?

It's just you.
posted by ostranenie at 4:42 PM on March 4, 2008

I can't believe no one has suggested dancing yet.

I suggest dancing. Hip hop or breakdancing would be my pick, but there is something awfully elegant about making a tango look effortless.
posted by Lieber Frau at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2008

figure drawing in my opinion is a great one- just grab an anatomy book and practice on people you see around you. when he arrives home you can sketch him.

oil painting is also lots of fun, but more cash is required to get started.
posted by evalenza at 11:51 AM on March 24, 2008

Well, I'm late to the party, stumbling in via a serendipitous search for bathtubs. I was going to suggest perfecting your cocktail making skills and becoming conversant with the standards so as to be able to effortlessly concoct elegant drinks whenever you are entertaining. One of the time-honored gentlemanly arts, like carving a turkey, but one you're likely to have the opportunity to use with much more frequency.

But March has come and gone and the beau is long-since back from Bulgaria, so ... how'd it go? Did you master the art of balancing flaming rubik's cubes on your nose while strumming a uke? Or was a month not enough time to hone your skill to jaw-dropping performance-grade?
posted by mumkin at 9:00 AM on June 16, 2008

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