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-piece band, including a bassist, drummer, keyboardist, and 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 my five-piece 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
One day, at the ripe old age of forty three, I observed my oldest son, a toddler at the time, attempting to play my Alvarez. It became immediately apparent that damage to the dreadnought was the more likely outcome than him producing melodic sound. Interestingly, this encounter resulted in an epiphany.
What became apparent to me was that modeling the appropriate use of a guitar, since my son was showing an interest in the instrument, would be far more advantageous than giving him a reprimanded him if he reaches for it. Thus, it was this moment in my life that led to my decision to seriously commitment time to learning to play my six-string.
Learning at Forty-something
My renewed interest sparked the idea of immediately studying chords, guitar tablature of favorite songs, and strumming patterns, as often as possible. After all, 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 I made the commitment to truly learn the guitar, 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 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 😉
I have had the pleasure of jamming with a friend from work. I’ve also have had the pleasure of rewriting lyrics of familiar pops songs to sing humorous lines with co-workers while strumming along. When I play alone, my guitar has served as a form of stress-reduction.
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 a 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
This journey has 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, the 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 hobbies 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 involves the use of arpeggio on a nylon string guitar.
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