Learning Electric Guitar in Middle Age: Part One

Why is a 61-year-old learning guitar?

I grew up with rock and roll. Although I’ve always been a fan, I just never learned to play the instrument that I loved hearing the most — the electric guitar. In September I turn 62, and perhaps this is my “mid-life crisis” kicking in, but instead of a trophy wife and sports car, I’m going with music (it’s cheaper!). This is the first part of a series that I’m writing about my musical journey and learning how to play electric guitar, with a focus on how technology is making that task easier.

Why didn’t I pick up guitar when I was younger?

I have two excuses as to why I didn’t learn when I was younger: when I had the time, I didn’t have the money and when I had the money, I didn’t have the time! I did learn to play an instrument (poorly) in elementary school. My sister wanted to play an instrument so the folks got her a clarinet. Soon after starting to learn that instrument, she got braces and the orthodontist put the kibosh on her playing a woodwind. Yours truly got the hand-me-down, but I had no real desire to play the clarinet, nor did my folks want to pop for lessons. In retrospect, begging my parents for lessons may have paid off, as one of my grade school bandmates is now a successful jazz recording artist.

The “Singing Steves”. That’s me at left, with my friend Steve Tikal and his guitar at right.

The “Singing Steves”. That’s me at left, with my friend Steve Tikal and his guitar at right.

Fast-forward a few years to high school. I found that I had talent as a singer, and a friend of mine got an Ovation acoustic guitar so we sang together while he played. I enjoyed the music but my parents wanted me to focus on a “real career”, so my money went toward saving for college. Time was at a premium in high school as well, as I was singing in our concert choir, acting in plays, and all of the other things that high school kids do – except for studying.

Next came four years of engineering school. During that time I thought I had an inexpensive way to get a guitar; a company that made string instrument kits had an acoustic guitar kit that I bought, but my skills as a luthier were horrible. The guitar was virtually unplayable and ended up being kindling.

Then came the whirlwind of adulthood: marriage, an increasingly demanding career, and tech hobbies like running a bulletin board system and websites. I’ve always loved rock, but not as a performer — instead, I amassed a big music collection and went to concerts. Some local friends had bands, and I used my tech skills to record and edit videos for them.

Pete Townshend of The Who at the Verizon Center in Washington DC, 3/9/2007. Public domain photo by Ian McIsaac.

Pete Townshend of The Who at the Verizon Center in Washington DC, 3/9/2007. Public domain photo by Ian McIsaac.

So why now?

Maybe it’s the realization that there are fewer years ahead of me than behind, and that a lot of life’s dreams are now unattainable. At my age, I finally have the money to buy equipment, time to practice, and the desire to learn. Any ego that I had in my youth is gone; I’m just going to learn to play for my own satisfaction. One more thing — my guitar hero Pete Townsend also has a balding head, gray beard, hearing aids, and tinnitus, so playing guitar gives me one more thing in common.

Can an old guy learn to play guitar? Well, I found a great 2016 article on Connolly Music’s String Ovation blog that shot down four common myths about learning an instrument as an adult.  The key points of that article: 

  • Adults can bring all of their life experiences to play when learning an instrument, and music stimulates all areas of the brain — particularly those associated with memory.

  • Adults get to choose what instrument they want to play, which adds desire to the goal of learning. Adults also have the self-disciple to practice and succeed that children don’t.

  • There are a lot of training options available now, including the one I am going to use with my new guitar — Fender Play. It’s an iOS app that lets students learn at their own pace and master a lesson before moving on. I’ll also be trying and reviewing the very portable Jamstik 7 and its companion apps.

  • Music helps to reduce stress and gives you a mental workout that enhances other areas of life. For adults, learning music regenerates cognitive skills and can improve your mood.

What’s next in this series?

In the next part of this article series, I’ll talk about the decisions I made in choosing instruments for learning as well as the methods and apps that will be coaching me along the way. Several pieces of hardware and those apps are getting full reviews soon.

I hope to include video of my progress once I’ve made it to the point that I can actually play a song without stumbling, and I’ll keep writing — albeit less frequently than at first — about my successes and failures.

If you’re also over 50 years old and you’re learning an instrument for the first time, send me a message as I may want to share your experiences as well.

Now excuse me — I have to go tune my guitar!

Many thanks to these manufacturers for their assistance:

This article was originally posted here