Can an ‘Old Dog’ learn new tricks?
At the age of 59 I took the plunge and began guitar lessons to finally learn to play an instrument.
Well, that’s not quite true. I was always a tapper… my dad had played the drums and it came-out in me. He and I would tap along to music on the arms of an armchair, or a set of bongo drums.
Having spent a couple of years using the sofa cushions as drums and playing along to Top of the Pops, I was given a secondhand ‘Gigster’ drum kit (I was about 12 years old), and before I knew it I had angry neighbours either side of me.
As my abilities developed I found myself in a school band called ‘Tarot’ and heading for stardom… until I was about 18 and the band split-up.
Although I kept drumming something was missing. I wanted to play something that made a tune, something melodic. So, off I went to the local music shop and explained to the owner what I wanted and she sold me a nylon-strung ‘classical’ guitar and case. but that was not all… this was 1977 and the technology allowed me to buy a book with an EP (vinyl for you youngsters). The book was entitled “Learn To Play The Guitar In Three Weeks”. Hmm!
Anyway, leap forward 42 years and I finally decided to actually learn, but this time to go to a qualified teacher.
Now, music shops can be scary and intimidating places.
Often you’ll see someone in an Iron Maiden teeshirt shredding away while you look at a vast array of guitars (and they all look the same at this stage).
The first thing to keep in mind is that the guy in the Iron Maiden teeshirt is probably in there to keep out of the sun as he’d locked himself in his bedroom throughout his teenage years just practising scales and damaging his hearing.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the people working in the shops have BS detectors, so just be open and honest. Tell them you are looking for something for guitar lessons.
Think about what music you’d like to play before you get there and tell them. If they know your interests and level of knowledge they’ll be able to help you better.
Despite the hundreds of types you may see on the web, or in the shops, there are really two main options for learning:
And these can be further divided:
- Generally a solid body ‘Strat’ or ‘Tele’ shape.
- Slim necks and generally easy to press the strings onto the frets as they are closer.
- Requires some form of amplification
- Either nylon-strung ‘classical’ or ‘Spanish’ style, or steel-strung ‘acoustic’ style (folk and Country music)
- Hollow body and fairly lightweight
- Wider neck so less likely to press two strings at once
Electric guitars are generally considered easier to play, but this can then be limiting if you want to play acoustic later.
I was advised to learn on acoustic, and I believe this was the right choice for me.
Once you find some instruments that you like just sit and hold them. How do they feel to you? Take your time. Once you have a shortlist you can ask the staff to play it for you, in the style you like. Most good shops have accomplished musicians working there and will be happy to play something.
I’m not averse to online shopping, but I’m also a believer in supporting local businesses. That said, it is possible to make considerable savings online, and I’ll post some links at the bottom of this article.
Whichever way you go I would strongly recommend that you actually hold the model of guitar that you eventually buy, whether from the shop or online, as the feel is so important, and they are all very different.
Learning – Guitar lessons, or YouTube?
There are hundreds of online resources for learning an instrument, and the guitar is probably the largest sector. There are videos on YouTube, and the associated Patreon sites, as well as stand-alone courses. For me, though, I needed someone that would be able to watch, critique and fix my playing whilst actually knowing ‘me’ and how I learn, and this meant finding a local teacher.
I found my teacher by, nervously, asking in the local music shop, and the owner gave me a card for a guy that he recommended.
I made the call, explained my background and made an appointment. I said that I didn’t have a guitar and he was able to loan me one for the first lesson, and I subsequently bought it from him for the princely sum of £25.
My teacher, Karl, is the kind of person that likes to get to know the student, what they like and how they learn, and he had my measure in about ten minutes. Coming from an engineering background I focus on precision and understanding ‘why’ things happen as they do. And here’s the first lesson… if, like me, there is only a right and a wrong way to do something, guitar lessons will rid you of this obsession. Music is a release from precision.
Karl started me off by knowing what was what on the instrument and, pretty quickly had me playing two chords, D and A, followed by E. It was then down to me to practice during the following week; just ten or fifteen minutes per day. And, so, began the journey.
Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple because I have short, fat, fingers. that’s when I learned that there is no ‘right or wrong’ way to play an A major chord on guitar! 40-odd years of precision out of the window. It was difficult to accept at first, but I realised that in a lot of music ‘near enough is good enough’.
Karl made it very clear to me that nobody sits down to ‘work music‘. People sit down to ‘play music‘ – very different outlook to my original concept, but true!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can anyone learn guitar?
Pretty much anyone can learn guitar. Django Reinhardt was one of the most influential jazz guitarists of the 20th century, but only had two good fingers on his fretting hand.
Age is, also, not a barrier to learning, as long as you are enjoying the process.
Do I have to read music to learn to play guitar?
No. Learning the guitar is not an academic exercise, though learning some music theory as you go along may help to understand why things are done as they are, and can lead to a greaater appreciation of music styles.
What do I need to learn to play guitar?
Patience and an easy temperament are probably the main attributes.Frustration is normal and is probably why most people that start give-up. You will make mistakes… lots of them. It’s an inevitable part of learning a new skill. Letting frustration get the better of you will stop you acheiving you goal.
That and access to a guitar for practicing.
Conclusion About Guitar Lessons
Even at my age, there is still much to learn and much to excite us.
Guitar has added a new perspective on listening to music. In the past I would always pick up the drummer, and often the bass; however, with the guitar, all I heard was the lead, but there is so much going on in the rhythm guitar that I just, well, missed!
There are a lot of sources online, total courses, or just some YouTube ‘stuff’ but, for me, having a qualified teacher, such as Karl, has given me so much more.
I now listen to music differently; I now appreciate, rather oddly, The Beatles; I ‘get’ how music works, why chords work, why the guitar neck is as it is.
It’s not just about the music, either. Playing guitar has been shown to improve memory, obviously improve dexterity, and can help with mental health issues such as low mood, PTSD, and depression. Additionally, there’s ‘something’ about the sound vibrations resonating through the body that eases daily stress.
Whether it’s guitar lessons, or some other instrument, learning about music and an instrument is truly enriching. I highly recommend it.
My local guitar teacher Karl White – Guitar teacher near Bognor Regis
Yamaha F310 on Amazon UK – Modern guitars don’t have to cost a lot, yet still sound nice.
https://www.firsttutors.com/uk/music/ – I found six teachers on this site within a small radius of my home.