At the end of each day, this never fails to lift my spirits, no matter what state I’m in.
A couple years ago I set these goals for myself: Learn to play the guitar by age 30, learn to sail by 40, learn to fly a plane by 50.
In September, I started trying to learn the guitar at home, with the help of Justin, who has a whole beginner’s course free online. Justin is great, and it’s people like him that make the internet a wonderful place to learn almost anything.
But after learning the basics, like proper posture, guitar anatomy, and then a few chords, I realized that I wasn’t getting very far for the same reason I don’t take online classes (after the first failed attempt) — I learn better when there’s a real person teaching me, who can answer my questions and whose earnest face and enthusiasm drive me to work harder. I didn’t even have my own guitar. I was borrowing a friend’s. I had no picks. It was time to get serious.
So I bought my own guitar, an ebony Epiphone Hummingbird, and, since all significant things deserve names, I named it Ennis, after the town in County Clare, Ireland, where I heard traditional Irish music for the first time. It was kind of a life-changing moment. I think I sipped a Bulmers as I listened. The Hummingbird was on Justin’s list of recommended products for beginners, where the most important thing I learned is that when it comes to guitars, what you pay is what you get. Passing up the $100 guitars and investing in a slightly more expensive one was definitely worth it, because as soon as I strummed my new guitar, I thought, ‘Wow, I sound good!’ Justin had a great point in that if you get a guitar that doesn’t sound good, then you don’t sound good, and when you don’t sound good, practicing just isn’t fun.
When I was looking up some guitar stores, I found the New York City Guitar School, on whose website ‘Are you an Absolute Beginner? Check out our Absolute Beginner classes!’ was a pretty compelling argument. Then I read the reviews on Yelp, where people wrote all these things about how friendly the staff is, and how after ten weeks they’re able to play real songs… plus, the school is literally just around the corner from where I work, and the prices were very reasonable.
Back in September, when I had told my project manager that I was trying to learn the guitar, he’d said that he wanted to learn, too. I hadn’t expected this — a dignified, well-respected VP and father of three, he hadn’t struck me as someone to take up an instrument for the first time. But when I told him about the guitar school just around the corner, he signed up with me. So for ten weeks, we went every Monday at 6:30 pm to our Guitar for Absolute Beginners class, taught by Austin, who’s very enthusiastic, and really great at explaining theory and techniques. Watching him tune a guitar is amazeballs. And they really are as friendly as all those people said! The class was loads of fun, and we also had great classmates (each class is capped at six students).
Before the last class, some of my classmates and I were sitting in the waiting area, practicing Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here,’ which we were supposed to perform at the end of the lesson for anybody who happened to be around. Some other students, who were also in a beginning class, but had only had three classes, said to each other, ‘Oh man, they can play real songs, and we’re just beginners…’ to which we said, ‘We’re beginners, too! You’ll sound like this in seven weeks!’ That was a great moment.
The class ended last week, but two or three weeks before that I’d already signed up for the next one, Guitar for Near Beginners, at the same time with the same teacher, but at a 10% discounted rate for returning students. It doesn’t begin for another week and a half, so I’ve been tiding myself over by learning a couple new chords from Justin again, and finally being able to sing along to some songs as I play, which is a real challenge. Some songs I can play so far are ‘Blackbird’ by the Beatles, ‘Walk On’ by U2, and ‘I Don’t Know’ by Lisa Hannigan.
It’s a strange coincidence, but there are at least two other people at work who are also learning to play the guitar. My project manager thinks that it’s because work is stressful, and I think that there’s truth in this. But I think it’s more than music’s ability to help us relieve stress — the best thing about music is that it can make us feel alive. It helps us connect with others, as well as our own emotions. This seems to be a theme that keeps coming up in my life lately, including this video that many people posted today:
One day I would like to revisit the piano and trumpet, though how one practices the trumpet while living in New York is beyond me.