Find Your Passion: Learn an Instrument
by Michael J. Orr
Like many of us, I grew up in the era of Rock and Roll—from Chuck Berry to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix to Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd to Mötley Crüe and all the great bands in-between. Also, like many of us, I wanted to be a guitar god. When I was ten, my mother bought me a cheap acoustic guitar and signed me up for lessons. I hated it. The guitar went into the closet, and the dream died—or did it?
In the ensuing decades amidst college studies, work obligations, family obligations, and the busy life that I led, the dream remained—buried perhaps, but not quite dead. Then about five years ago, life began to change. My children grew up (mostly), and I began to find pockets of free time in my day (okay, sometimes just moments). Somehow, miraculously, the dream began to drift back into my conscious mind. But the idea of sitting with some young, pimple-faced guitar teacher at the local music store wasn’t an appealing thought at all.
Luckily what I discovered is that, in today’s world, there is a huge range of resources to get you to wherever you want to go musically. There are hundreds of free guitar instructional videos on YouTube, plus several pay-by-the-course streaming video lesson sites, such as GuitarZoom.com. And while I am writing about guitars, my revived passion, this applies to almost any instrument from drums to mandolin. The other thing I found is that the number of players starting in their 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s is staggering.
Dan Willman, a 68-year-old semi-retired pilot in Florida, told me about his journey: “My wife gave me a 1973 Fender Telecaster as a birthday gift 30 or 35 years ago, I took a few lessons but it ended up in a closet for a couple of decades. After she passed away, I was in deep mourning and came across the Telecaster. At that point, I was 66, and I knew it was either learn to play it or let myself rot away. I’m glad I chose this. Now I am addicted. Playing takes me into a happy place.”
Music has always been known to heal the soul, but learning to play might actually expand it. Steve Stine, who calls himself a Guitar Journey Motivator but is also the lead instructor at GuitarZoom.com, had this to say about players who begin their journey later in life: “Everyone should have a hobby that both gives them a challenge yet offers them a feeling of accomplishment. People 50 and older grew up when guitar was a very popular instrument which drove a wide variety of genres of songs that we all listened to on the radio. People now have the chance to reconnect with those songs as they learn to play.”
Why do people come back to music after all these years? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it comes down to doing something truly for myself after years of taking care of everyone else’s needs and reaching a point in life where I realized that feeding my soul was as important as feeding my body and my pocketbook. Three years ago, I knew a handful of chords and the intros to maybe a dozen songs. Today, I am not a professional by any measure, but I know in my heart that I have the ability to take on almost any song and, after a couple of weeks of learning and repetition, play all of it proficiently, including the solos. I am currently going through a bit of a David Gilmour/Pink Floyd phase and am playing songs that I never imagined being capable of playing.
Steve Stine has some final words of wisdom for any journey: “Always try to remember to feel a sense of accomplishment and try to enjoy the ride. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but you have to stay driven, inspired, and encouraged. Often, I have to remind people that actually learning to make actual music is important only if you remember to have fun doing it. Stop overthinking and just play!”
It is never too late to find your passion. Not into music? Stick around for parts 2 and 3 of this series. Whatever your passion, Dan Willman and I are living proof that old dogs can, in fact, learn new tricks.
Photo: Loudon Wainwright from everythingsundry & Media Photos: Jigs N Reels, UK