Confessions of a Middle Aged Guitar Student
I won’t tell you how old I was when I started taking guitar lessons and taking guitar seriously, but I was bald and my belly entered a room before I did. Not that there’s anything wrong with that as they say. I think I chose guitar as an instrument because it was curvy, I could hold it close and there was no chance of it yelling at me for not taking out the trash.
Like most amateur guitar players, I started out with a steel 6 string guitar that I played for many years. I quickly learned that you could play most popular music using only 3 chords. It didn’t take long to master Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville”, which was enough be able to call myself a musician and brag to women that, “yeah, I play the guitar….” and enjoy whatever comes of that conversation.
When I felt that I’d mastered the Jimmy Buffett catalogue, I wondered what it was like to play at more notes than you find on the 3rd fret, so went on the hunt for a guitar teacher who could show me how to play more like Eddie Van Halen and less like Eddie Munster.
After some internet searching, I stumbled upon fingerstyle guitarist Richard Gilewitz who, like me, lives in Citrus County, FL. Citrus County, FL is a place where a person might say, “Citrus County? I think I got lost there sometime on my way to somewhere else.” I never asked Richard why he chose Citrus County as a home base, but it must have something to do with the similarities to New York City, minus the big buildings, things to do and about 8 million people.
During my first lesson, I brought my 6 string and Richard asked me if I knew anything about TAB. I said, “Tab? I’ll pay you after my lesson, thanks. Or are you referring to that soda drink that tastes like chemotherapy?”
After Richard explained what TAB for guitar was, I was hooked. It was like paint by numbers and I didn’t have to learn actual standard notation notes. Hey, even I can figure out that my 3rd finger needs to go on the 9th fret of the 1st string by reading this stuff.
Richard used to work at a NASA contractor, which I think explains why his scientific mind approaches music as problems to be worked out, like puzzle pieces. Find the difficult passage and map it out, write it out, clap it out and then play it out.
During my first couple of years, I have to be honest. I rarely practiced. I was hoping I was going to be a middle aged guitar prodigy. I could get all the reward with the least effort. But when I did practice and the music sounded like it did on the radio, then I created a new email address for myself, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once I found a steady day job and had some extra money, I decided to explore a new instrument. I wasn’t a big classical guitar music fan, but I loved the rich, lush and warm tones that came from a classical guitar. So I bought one.
And then, something unusual happened. I started practicing. I discovered Richard’s guitar teacher, David Walbert, who arranges amazingly complex and beautiful popular songs. I was playing classical arrangements of songs that I loved—the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul and Mary, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Bread, on and on.
Since I started practicing, my goals have changed from playing to an audience of one and a dog, to possibly playing out at nursing homes and hospitals and funerals or generally anywhere that people can’t run away screaming.
My 3 years of guitar lessons has led me to this conclusion. I think it takes time to discover the right instrument, the right arrangements, the right teacher and the right songs before you can find the right inspiration to do more with your music than playing the 3 or 4 songs you know over and over again. All the stars have to be aligned before you master your instrument and put in quality practice time and get the right guidance from a teacher who you click with and who you get along with. Learning music is a journey and a destination. And it’s never too late to start.