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Guitar Zero

Trey Reely | May 2014

    Have you ever started something, quit, and then many years later wondered how accomplished you would be if you had kept at it? I have often had this thought about playing the guitar. I took a few lessons in elementary school, but after my cheap guitar broke a couple of times, I lost interest, dooming the extent of my guitar knowledge to a few jazz clinics I have attended over the years. Despite this, I have had fine guitarists in my jazz bands, but I have always delegated their instruction to more experienced, talented peers or nearby university instructors.
    Despite this forty-year sabbatical, I decided a few months ago to start learning how to play the guitar again. As is my wont to over-analyze everything, I have paused to make sure that this latest musical endeavor is worth my time and not just a mid-life crisis.
    Several website articles geared toward today’s youth give the following reasons for learning to play. I thought it might be interesting to see how applicable they are to me.

To Attract Girls
    Recent research in Psychology of Music suggests that just carrying a guitar case can seriously boost the odds of women wanting you—even if they are total strangers. Studies show that women associate musical ability with intelligence, commitment, hard work, and physical prowess—and ladies associate all those qualities with your ability to earn money.
    I think I am past this reason. When my wife sees me with a guitar case, she worries more about where I am going to store it than anything else. On the positive side, she might find a gentle acoustic guitar solo by a warm fireplace more romantic than Morceau Symphonique on my euphonium.

To Rebel Against Your Parents
    Rebellion is a natural expression of individuality, but this is hardly a concern of mine now. My parents accepted long ago that I would not spend my time listening to Perry Como, Harry Belafonte, Andy Williams, and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Provide an Alternative to Sports
    This reason has more and more merit as I age. My 5K race times have diminished over the years. Guitar playing is something I can definitely improve on with age.

Improve Your Vocabulary
    Learning the arcane meanings of common guitar words like pick-up, bridge, gauge, stack, and shred has been an unexpected benefit. I can actually communicate better with a smaller segment of the school population: “Hey, that dude really knows how to shred on that guitar.”

Be the Life of the Party
    People are drawn toward guitarists in social situations. It is the guitarist’s responsibility to lead the campfire sing-alongs as well as make night club audiences gasp at ripping-good riffs or solos. I am not into the night club scene, but playing at a summer camp is a distinct possibility. Maybe if I’m lucky I can be the life of the party for my future grandkids (first one due this July) as we sing Barney and Raffi hits.

Improve Intellectual Capacity
    The idea that music makes you smarter has been around for many years and is still rather controversial. However, common sense suggests that the more I stimulate my mind with the guitar the better off I am bound to be. On the other hand, many great guitarists of the past were heavy into drinking and drugs, which was unwise.

Gain Discipline and Patience
    Practicing guitar has definitely required tremendous patience. My manly-but-slender fingers seem as chunky as King Kong’s when I try to play a chord, often unintentionally muting strings and giving every other note of the chord a dull thunk. My left hand is rebelling, obviously feeling that it is unfair to perform such contortions at an advanced age. It’s as if it is saying, “You leave me alone all of these years and now you expect me to do this? Forgetaboutit!”
    As I have struggled to maintain the correct angle with my wrist and fingers, I have gained some comfort and encouragement in the knowledge that famed guitarist Andres Segovia had rather small hands and stumpy fingers, if his YouTube videos are any indication.
    I have also developed a thicker skin. Students who walk by my office while I practice have reactions varying from simple curiosity to hilarity. Since when is there a statute of limitations on playing the guitar? I guess they interpret it as me trying to be cool, which I could understand if I were wearing a wildly colored, unbuttoned silk shirt with five pounds of jewelry hanging around my neck.

Relieve Stress
    Creating music can soothe the mind, calm tempers, lower blood pressure, and even reduce pain. I cannot say that I play well enough to classify my playing as soothing, but I am getting closer. I play a little blues now and even find myself moving my head in that passionate, gyrating motion real guitar players use.

Get a Physical Workout
    One article says that playing guitar strengthens your arms, fingers, hands, and even legs. I’m not sure about the arms and legs, but I can vouch for the fingers and hands. I can open a pickle jar much easier than in the past. I suppose my arms would get stronger if I did a few standing presses with the guitar before each practice session and jumped around the room like Eddie Van Halen while shredding This Old Man from my guitar method. 
    Fortunately, I have experienced other benefits not found in my research. I understand the rhythm section of my jazz band better and can even provide a helpful tip here and there. It’s also great ear-training for chords and intervals. I will have a guitar class next year that will replace a study hall I monitor now, and best of all, there are all sorts of guitar goodies I can get for Christmas from now on.
    The benefits of guitar playing make it look like I’m in it for the long term. The trendy number in education right now is 10,000 hours. Sprinkle in a little talent with 10,000 hours of practice, and I can become an expert. If I keep practicing till I’m seventy, I could be really good.