Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Perhaps it’s not so much teaching this old dog some new tricks as much as it is refreshing memories of old ones. I was maybe 11 when I originally took guitar lessons. I remember it being hard. It was hard on the fingers of my left hand. You use the non-dominant hand to press the strings against the frets to make the chords. It’s tough on tender fingertips. I remember it being frustrating because I was playing an acoustic guitar, and even at that young of an age, I wanted to rock out and play electric guitar! Acoustic wasn’t cool, man.

When you start out, you learn chords. At least that’s the way a music teacher teaches. My cousin and I took lessons from an older woman who also taught our older brothers, both my cousin’s brother and mine. Mrs. Nicloy taught guitar and piano. I want to say I took lessons for a couple of years, but it might have been just for one. I don’t recall now. I remember we would sit in this lady’s house, and she would pick out the notes of the melody on her guitar, and we’d play the chords. She’d teach one of us first and then the other one’s lesson would follow. We eventually graduated to playing songs, but they were hard, too.

I remember playing in a recital, and I don’t recall being nervous. I remember painstakingly picking out notes of a song. I can’t remember now if this song was the one I learned or if it was the one that my cousin learned, but one of us played “Lemon Tree”. Trini Lopez had a hit with that song in 1965, and trust me, our acoustic version of it sounded nothing like his hit. It was notes slowly picked out by a kid on guitar. At the time, we were frustrated with our music teacher’s choice of songs. I’m sure “Lemon Tree” was cool to Mrs. Nicloy, but it was no “Smoke on the Water”. I should have stuck with guitar, but I didn’t. I wanted to play electric. Acoustic was boring, it was hard, and my mother let me give it up.

Not too long ago, my boss bought herself an acoustic electric guitar, and she began to teach herself to play using an app of some sort. I thought that sounded like fun, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘why not me?’.  When my boss gave me an Amazon gift card for administrative professional’s day, I knew what I wanted to get.

I bought myself a beginner’s electric guitar set. It didn’t cost me anything with the gift card, and I thought it was good enough to start with and see if I could do it again.

The first thing I noticed is that the electric guitar is much lighter than the acoustic, even though the acoustic I had at the time was a cheap mostly pressboard model my parents had purchased. I did play my brother’s vintage Gibson for a while. That was a guitar that was handed down through the family, and it was a beautiful, old antique that I wish I still had today. After I married, my mother ran into financial issues (and decided not to tell anyone), and she sold the Gibson without telling me for $800. I wish I had known. I would’ve helped her out financially, of course, and I would’ve liked to have had that Gibson today. I would’ve kept it, even if I hadn’t played it. I would never have sold it.

I noticed also that an electric guitar is confusing. It does play, of course, without the amplifier, but you need the amplifier to give it volume. I won’t pretend I know what the switches, whammy bar, knobs and pickups are for or what they all do, but I’m going to learn. And when I get better at it, I just might buy a better guitar. For now this one is good enough to use to refresh memories and learn.

My guitar, unfortunately, didn’t come with instructions. You would think that a beginner’s kit would have an instructional booklet of some sort that would explain what each feature of the guitar and amplifier did. I had to figure out what to plug in where. I thought at first it wasn’t working until I realized (duh) that I needed to turn the volume knob on the guitar up.

I downloaded a guitar, bass and ukulele tuning app on my iPhone, and that works great. It made tuning the guitar fun. The app listens as you pluck the string, turning the peg and when you reach the correct note, it gives you a green checkmark.

Don’t laugh, but since I’m going to go see Alice Cooper in September, I had recently purchased a t-shirt from one of his guitarist’s website. When that shirt arrived (from Sweden), it came with a postcard advertising a website and a month’s worth of free lessons from said guitarist. I went online and watched and took the first few lessons. It was fun!

Maybe it’s because I’ve done this before, but it wasn’t particularly hard to get started. He teaches at a pretty basic level, and that’s good. I need to start slowly and remember how to do all of this. Maybe it’s because I think it’s a hoot to learn from one of my favorite musicians, I don’t know. Anything that will keep me going back and keep me practicing is a good thing.

I don’t think I’ll be starting a band anytime soon, but if I could play a few riffs or a few recognizable songs, sore fingers would make it all worth it. I’ll let you know how I make out.

4 thoughts on “Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

  1. Rock on! I never had the chance to learn how to play any instrument, but I did get an electric keyboard a few years ago and was tickled when I found a few familiar melodies online and was able to (somewhat reasonably) play them. Not the correct way, mind you… and forget about playing the accompanying bass notes. My hands don’t want to work independent of each other…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I took a couple of keyboarding courses a few years ago and had the exact same problem! I could do one hand or the other, but I couldn’t play two different things with each hand at the same time. I felt so stupid. I couldn’t get my mind to master it. Guitar seems easier because the right hand picks or strums while the left hand does the more complicated moves. I’m hoping the more advanced stuff comes as easy to me. Having someone show it and explain it helps, too.


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