I was thirteen years old when my parents marched in to the Ontario Conservatory of Music with me in tow demanding to speak to the manager. I had been taking guitar lessons for close to two years. My parents, who didn’t have much disposable income, had invested their hard-earned money in lessons, an electric guitar, and an amplifier, for their son who wanted to learn to play guitar.
My guitar teacher happened to also be the branch manager. He was prepping for our group class. He came out to greet my parents. He asked how he might help. My mother said they wanted to pull me from the course because I couldn’t play the guitar very well. They couldn’t see the return on all they had spent. My teacher pulled us into the still empty class. He asked me to sit at my usually stool and asked my parents if he could ask me a few questions.
He put a music sheet on the stand in front of me. I don’t recall which song it was. He pointed to various notes on the sheet and asked me to read them aloud, which I easily did. He asked me to play the song. I picked away and played the melody at hand with ease. He pointed to the chords for the song and asked me to play those too. I did.
He explained to my parents that I was easily keeping up with the class and had passed all the required tests to date without any issues. He explained how learning the guitar was a long process and it was important to manage expectations for a young teen. It takes a lot of work to become a good guitarist. It was a truth I didn’t realize myself. It wasn’t until years late that I’d come to learn how much work it takes to play the guitar like I wanted to.
My parents decided to let me continue taking lessons. They’d be patient.
In the end it was me who wasn’t patient. I hoped to be a better player. I had a few friends who had a more natural ear for music and put hours and hours of practice in. I didn’t. I’d force myself to practice 30 minutes a day three or four times a week. Half the time just fooling around. I didn’t see the results I wanted, with the limited practice I put it. It wasn’t surprising I lost interest.
After about six more months I decided on my own to quit. I sold my guitar and amplifier when I was sixteen to put towards a new ten-speed bike. Forty years later I’d go on an extensive search and purchased my guitar and amp back from its most recent owner.
My desire to play the guitar didn’t go away. When I was twenty-one, I bought an acoustic guitar. I loved the sound of an acoustic. I thought I’d give it another shot.
Much like my first go around, I didn’t put in enough practice. After about another year I wasn’t playing it anymore. Being the pragmatic young man I was, I sold it.
Fast forward another thirty years. The guitar bug bit me again. This time I decided to borrow a friend’s guitar rather than go out and buy one, only to have to sell it later. After practicing four to five times a week for three months I purchased a nice Seagull Solid Wood Series guitar.
In spite of buying a new guitar I didn’t keep at it beyond six months.
Fast forward another ten years, to six months ago. Over those ten years I’d pick up my guitar every once in a while and convince myself I’d stick to it, only to stop playing after a few months when the development I’d hope for didn’t happen. This time I told myself if I had kept playing from ten years ago when I bought my Seagull, I’d be much closer to being the type of player I wanted to be, maybe even better. I was getting older. I said to myself that if I didn’t stick to this guitar thing I’d never get there. And it’s something I want, bad. Time is running out.
On November 28, 2021, I made a commitment to play a minimum of four times per week for at least a half hour. I’m now on day 163 of playing an average of one hour per day. After 100 consecutive days I committed to reach one full year of consecutive days. On June 14 I’ll hit day 200. It’s become a daily routine. I always find the time to play. A few days I squeezed my playing in that last hour of the day. My wife has been supportive and that has been a great help.
The progress has been a lot slower than I hoped. But there has been progress. That’s the important part.
I’ve made a five-year plan.
If I had to measure guitar playing ability on a scale of 1 to 100, with the guitar icons like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix being 100, a working musician being 60 to 70, I hope to become at least a 50. Today I’d say I’m a 7. I was a 3 back in November. I have no dreams of being an 80 or 90. I don’t have that kind of talent, or time, to become that type of player.
I do have a dream.
That dream is to be able to play the acoustic and the electric guitar to a level I’m happy with. I have a dream to one day hold a small outdoor rooftop concert, a la Beatles, on my trailer’s sunroom roof for friends and family. When I combine that dream with my simple desire to play the guitar in my basement to songs I love, I have plenty to keep me motivated.
I’m sixty-three-years old. I don’t want to look back in five years, again, and think about what could have been. I won’t let my age stop me. In fact, my age motivates me. It’s a reminder of the finite time I have.
The picture above is me at twenty-one with my Fender 12 string.