Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guitar Time

Have you ever wished you were a kid again and playing with your favorite toy that gave you pure bliss?  I’m sure mine would have been my Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels or spending hours up and down the sidewalk in my blue and white roller skates.  I think I may have found another activity for this young 34 year old.  For this extensive edition of Thursday Thoughts, I want to share my new found passion for learning to play the guitar.

I’ve been taking guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music for seven weeks now.  I must confess that I’m having a blast!!  I can still remember my first day of class.  I was so nervous since I had never officially studied guitar.  My friend let me mess around with his guitars in the past, but I was never taught.  I’m walking into this auditorium with this amazing Takamine my friend let me borrow while at the same time being scared out of my mind.  While I mingled with the other students, I found out I’m the only beginner so far.  Yikes.  Three of the instructors asked everyone who needed tuning done to stand in one of their lines.  I stood in Linda Smith’s line.  As she tuned my instrument, I told her I was very nervous.  She asked if I was a beginner.  I felt like a four year old attending kindergarten all over again.  I timidly said yes.  Linda said it’s common to be nervous, but you’ll have fun.  She even said I’ll be able to play a song by the time lessons ended.  What??  Was she crazy?  Now I’m in shock.  All I know is that there are two E strings on the guitar.  This instrument has more strings than my violin.  I’m assuming the strings on the violin are on the guitar as well.  I find out that the beginners will have class in the auditorium while the other students perform in classrooms upstairs.  Great!  They already have us performing on the big stage in the auditorium.  Talk about pressure and being in the spotlight.

My instructor is Bob Goins, a self-taught guitarist.  He’s a long haired, hippy guy who can fingerpick like no one I’ve seen.  Oh crap!  I’ve gotten way in over my head now if he thinks the seven of us are going to play that fast.  We go around and introduce ourselves, mention previous music experience and what song we want to learn how to play.  We have some former musicians.  Half the class wants to play some Blackbird Song by the Beatles I never heard of.  I’ve been educated now J  I say I want to play Sting’s Fragile, any Rodrigo y Gabriela song or Johnny Cash’s Hurt.  Big mistake!  This is not going to happen for a while.  What does happen?  I experience lots of pain from very sore fingers as we learn the A7 and D chords.  You know what?  I loved it!!!  It takes me back to my violin days.  Linda was right after all.  We ended up playing several songs with A7 and D chords along with an early introduction to the G chord.  We played Pay Me My Money Down, Jane’s Addiction and other songs I’ve never heard of.  It’s all about learning and having fun.

I’m like the eager child wanting to get home and play with a new toy.  I practice those chords and songs at home for another 90 mins.  I didn’t put two and two together and stop after my 2 hour group lesson.  I sounded horrible, but I still wanted to play and make it right.  I was back in my violin mode of practicing 1-2 hours a day at home.  Come Monday morning, I have nasty blisters on my fingers.  Nooooo!!!  I want calluses.  Maybe this is good?  I don’t know.  I get impatient and pop them all.  Don’t do that.  Eventually, that pain goes away and my fingertips start getting rough.  Not pretty to touch, but the strings don’t hurt as much now J 

Five weeks later, I’ve added a few more chords, tried a few strumming patterns and I’ve increased slightly in my chord changes.  I’m no-where near the speed I had on the violin, but I must be patient.  I even had my first trial and tribulation when I thought about giving up.  I opted to return the dreadnought Takamine to my friend so I could buy myself a guitar.  Guitar playing is serious.  I wanted my own baby.  After a two hour stay in Guitar Center and 7-8 guitars, I fell in love with a Takamine Nex GS430S Acoustic.  I read once that once you’ve played a Takamine, you’re hooked.  So true!  I played Yamaha’s, Mitchells, a Seagull and another Takamine.  Nothing beats the tonality and resonance of a Takamine. Once I get home with my new Takamine things get sour.  What I didn’t notice in the store, I now notice at home.  My friend who tested all the guitars for me immediately noticed that the neck was too small for him, but might work with me.  I’m on the small size and didn’t find a dreadnought that fit me well.  Comfort first!!  My Takamine is a little smaller than a dreadnought, but bigger than an auditorium/body concert style.  I sound horrible on the majority of my songs.  I can’t hit most of my chords.  The neck size really messed me up.  I had to come up with a new game plan.  During my 1 hour practice sessions at home, I spend 30 mins just relearning all the chords and the next 30 mins focusing on some of the songs featuring those chords.  By Saturday, Sahara (my Takamine) meshes with me perfectly.  I just needed a little adjustment.  Sunday’s class was my best practice yet.  I was even able to keep up with the teacher on Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart.  That’s my favorite song we’ve learned so far.  That will be the one I’m going to perform during my recital.

What’s up next?  Guitar 1 Rep of course!!  I’m advancing to the next level.  I’ve signed up for another 8 weeks with the same professor.  First I have to buy a finger exerciser machine since we’ll be dealing with some complex chords.  I’ve noticed that my fingers aren’t what they used to be. 

Even when I’m at lunch or commuting, I constantly think about my guitar.  I can’t wait to go home and practice.  When I’m having a crappy day, I look at a picture of my guitar I took on my cell phone.  Sad isn’t?  My guitar is like a new puppy.  Sahara brings a smile to my face and takes me to another place where everything in the world is good and innocent.  I believe all adults should have this experience no matter what age.  Have you found your bliss?



  1. That's cool that you've find something you like so much. I assumed that since you already new how to play violin, that you'd find the guitar to be easy to learn, but I guess they're quite different!

  2. Both instruments have strings. To me they are different for the most part. I didn't play with chords as much with the violin. We're used to individual notes. For my seven weeks of guitar lessons, we've only focused on chords. If I continue to the advanced classes and study finger picking style, we'll probably focus more on individual notes. The beginner classes are all about chords and strumming.

  3. Pretty much what I know about playing the guitar comes from watching the Frederick Noad lessons on PBS, and then attempting to play reading music from books (after 22 years, I can still only play two tunes straight through without having to consult sheet music!). I've not really kept up with the practicing in the last 10 years or so, so I'm pretty rusty (I do noodle around every so often)