In the summer of 2002, when I was thirty two years old, I walked into a Daddy’s Junky Music Store (a now defunct New England-based musical instrument retail chain) and purchased an Alvarez dreadnought style acoustic.1 It had a warm, rich sound that made it a pleasure to hear (a sound it continues to deliver to this today). The salesperson demonstrating the guitar noted that Alvarez Guitars had been around for some time and had garnered the respect of amateurs and seasoned guitar players alike.
With a new guitar in hand, I figured I should search for a guitar instructor and dive into lessons. But before seeking out an instructor, I already was imagining myself doing jam sessions with other guitar players. I even had a mental picture of my own five-person band, including a bass guitarist, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a percussionist. Perhaps my imagination was running a little too wild. That’s only because I had considered guitar playing to be the most serious music endeavor I’d be undertaking since performing in a community chorus in my early twenties.
Here’s what actually came of this undertaking. There was only one guitar lesson. The jam sessions never happened. And the thought of my own band remained a mental picture. I came to realize that there were priorities that were already set in motion that I felt I couldn’t simply ignore. And I felt that adding the task of learning guitar to the list of existing commitments was going to be near to impossible. I had to settle for the notion that my dream of becoming a seasoned guitar player would remain a dream.
By my early forties, I had a family and felt a bit more settled in life. I no longer had considered guitar playing a serious pursuit. At least, that’s what I was trying to convince myself to believe. I kept telling myself, “It’s not going to happen at this point in my life,” despite my continued love for, and fascination with, the guitar.
Up until that point, the time I spent with my guitar involved picking it up, from time to time, to strum a couple of cords or to attempt to play simple, short melody. The mental image of jamming with others snuck up on me once in a while. There were a couple of fleeting moments, up until that point, when I felt that, perhaps, it was worth trying to make time to take the guitar seriously and, perhaps, I would learn at least one cool strumming technique. In those moments, I had put into my DVD player a Learning Guitar or some other similarly titled CD or DVD that was, otherwise, sitting on the shelf, collecting dust. Those fleeting moments usually lasted a week or two. It was during my early forties, however, when I suddenly found myself becoming determined to learning this instrument. Why the devotion at this point in my life? Let’s just say that my eldest son, who was just a little guy, lit the fire I needed to get motivated.
How the Fire was Lit
My first born was a 20 month-year-old in the autumn of 2011. He was attempting, on more than one occasion, to play my guitar after he discovered, on his own, that the strings produced a musical sound. Little did he know that banging the strings and guitar body was an inappropriate way to play and was more likely to damage it than produce a melody.
I kept my guitar on a guitar stand in the bedroom where my wife and I slept. It was near the entrance where it served more as an aesthetic showpiece than as a musical instrument. My son’s attention usually was drawn to the instrument upon entering or leaving the room. Every time my son attempted to reach for the guitar, I did my best to explain to him (knowing that he probably would not understand) that it needed to stay on the guitar stand. One morning in early November (that same year), he grabbed the guitar neck and started banging it against the wall. The cringe I felt with each blow the guitar took to the wall is something only other owners of a musical instrument would be able to appreciate. In all fairness, my son kept it on the guitar stand. It was obvious, however, that damage to the guitar would likely still occur. His wall banging ceased as soon as I gave him a firm reprimand.
Immediately following the reprimand was a brief period of silence. My son was sitting on the bedroom floor, giving me a surprised look typical of a toddler, as if to tell me, “What just happened?” I paused and looked at him. I then looked at my guitar and walked over to it. I picked it up, checked if there were any damages, plucked each string to see if it was tuned, and looked back at him with a smile. I then sat on the bed and stated, “I think you meant to do this,” and started strumming chords. I figured it made more sense for him to observe how to use the guitar instead of envisioning myself waiting for the next time to cringe before giving him a reprimand.
As I began to strum, my wife, who walked into the bedroom, asked my son, “Are you listening to papi play the guitar?” My playing was mediocre. But my son looked wide-eyed toward the guitar and then to me. He stood up from the floor and walked toward me. He seemed to be amazed by the sounds it produced. I certainly was amazed that I was using the guitar mostly as a showpiece than as the instrument it was intended to be. It became obvious then that I would gain more mileage with my son by making a practice of modeling the appropriate use of the guitar.
Learning at Forty-something
This experience sparked the idea of immediately studying chords, guitar tablature of favorite songs, and strumming patterns, as often as possible. Afterall, I was not getting any younger. Yet, I felt silly being a forty-something who was attempting to truly learn guitar. The guitar players I knew started in their childhood or teens. A few others I knew began in their early twenties. To find some solace in this pursuit, I began reading online articles about people who started playing the guitar later in life. One day, I came across an article in the blog, Guitarhabits (https://www.guitarhabits.com/10-reasons-why-you-are-never-too-late-to-learn/). It was quite inspirational and provided a perspective that resonated with my interest in playing the guitar. It indeed helped me to feel less sensitive about my age and more encouraged to simply learn how to play. Little did I know it caught the attention of my wife who had planned to fan the guitar playing fire that my son already lit.
When Christmas arrived, my wife surprised me with a present I did not expect. It was a gift certificate for guitar lessons at a local music school. It is one of the best presents I ever received. And it gave me no excuse for not taking my playing to the next level. I took several lessons before I decided to continue to practice on my own.
Health-promoting Fun for a Guitar Hobbyist
It has been several years since that November morning, an experience that resulted in several health-promoting outcomes. I now own three acoustic guitars (two dreadnoughts, one nylon string guitar) and an Epiphone Les Paul electric guitar. I have had the pleasure of jamming with a friend from work. I’ve also have had the pleasure of seeing my interest in the guitar spark a growing interest in my first and second born.
My oldest son, who just turned eight, has a youth-size acoustic guitar and a full-size Stratocaster-like electric, starter guitar. My six-year-old son (mentioned in a previous post) also has these two types of guitars. We’ll see if my third boy, who’s barely a toddler, jumps on the music bandwagon. His interest in banging small drums is certainly a positive sign 🙂
One exciting health-promoting outcome of this experience is that my sons and I have jam sessions. It is indeed a great way to bond with them. I enjoy seeing their eyes light up when they plug in their electric guitar and turn up their amplifier. They, of course, have much to learn on guitar but will certainly know much more by the time they’re my age if they continue to play. I anticipate that, with guitar lessons, their guitar skills will be far more advanced by adulthood compared to my current skill set.
While I am pleased that I can used my honed guitar skills to jam with my boys, I do not consider myself to be a seasoned guitarist by any stretch of the imagination. At best, I’m a guitar hobbyist. And I am pleased to say that I know how to play some songs. I usually use my dreadnoughts to strum certain songs and my nylon string guitar to do fingerstyle, also known as arpeggio.2 The Les Paul is a recent addition that brings me much delight. It has helped me to appreciate why many guitarists love the electric guitar sound, especially when it involves distortion or reverb 😉
Altogether, my guitar playing provides me with a sense of satisfaction. It is certainly a health-promoting way to stimulate the brain and engage in an fulfilling past time. According to the faculty at the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music at Kent State University, learning a musical instrument offers many benefits, including the strengthening of neural connections in the brain, building intellectual curiosity, fine tuning auditory skills, and developing creative thinking.
Putting Age Aside
My experience with my son and my Alvarez guitar that November morning taught me that age should not be a barrier to learning an instrument or any hobby that would provide a fun, fulfilling, and health-promoting way to spend leisure time. It was an experience that certainly helped me not to settle for a mental picture that only left me with the feeling that something was lacking in my life. Klaus Crow, writer for Guitarhabits, provides the following simple but revealing observation from his experience as a guitar teacher: “I know many guitar players who started out in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or even in their 70’s. And yet these players do an amazing job.”
Have you considered learning an instrument later in life? If not, I would highly recommend doing so if it’s an interest you’ve always had but never pursued. If you are someone who learned an instrument or other hobby later in life, please feel free to share your experience or thoughts in the comment section.
- The dreadnought guitar is an acoustic body shape that was designed by C.F. Martin and Company. It became one of the most popular acoustic guitar designs since it was introduced to the guitar world nearly one hundred and two years ago (https://www.martinguitar.com/about/martin-story/dreadnought-story/).
- Arpeggio is playing guitar by using your fingers to pluck the strings individually versus using a guitar pick (https://www.cordobaguitars.com/live-play-learn/play-fingerstyle-guitar/). A few years ago, I took a few lessons from a teacher who taught classical guitar, a specialized style of guitar playing that involve the use of arpeggio on a nylon string guitar.
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