Guitar Trials: The (Few) Ups and (Many) Downs of a Late Bloomer

Early Guitar Dreams

Why didn’t I learn how to play the guitar until I was almost 24 years old? For starters, there were two of what I like to call “moments of life altering procrastination.”

The first being when I was about 11 years old and my Dad bought an Ovation acoustic for the house. Coming a musical family, most if not all music related purchases were communal, but I had expressed interest in learning to play. The only problem was it literally hurt my fingers to press down on the strings. After a few attempts that ended in inflicting pain on my hands I conceded that I was doomed by genetics to not be able to touch a guitar.

The second being the emergence of Guitar Hero II when I was a freshman in high school. I got my PS2 copy a week before January midterms (a questionable choice in hindsight) and played that game so much I actually experienced hallucinations where I would see the buttons in moments of everyday life. I was able to live out a fantasy by playing along with an incredible soundtrack that included “Message In a Bottle,” “YYZ,” “Killing in the Name,” “Sweet Child O Mine,” and “Carry On My Wayward Son,” to name a few.

All told I spent countless hours of my high school years in basements playing along to various editions of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Since I was able to be a guitar god through video games I had no need to pick up the real instrument.

There were a few attempts during college to again learn guitar but only a few basic cowboy chords ended up sticking. When I got the job at a nightclub where most musicians play all basic rock band instruments, I thought this was finally the opportunity to be able to play.

Or so I thought. Between the challenges of acclimating myself to a new job and city, the fact that the nightclub band included two well established guitar players, and the challenging repertoire we rehearsed, there just wasn’t much in the way of chances for me. But at the start of 2016 I decided I would try and learn anyway.

There’s a reason why ages 9-16 are the sweet spot to learn musical instruments. There’s enough available free time to dedicate towards many hours of practice, but there’s also the sweet naiveté of not realizing just how much you suck at the beginning. At 23 needless to say I was realizing all of the suck! I also struggled with bridging the gap between my developed musical IQ and being a novice on a foreign instrument. Most online learning sources I sought out spent too much time on fundamental definitions of chords, scales, rhythms, etc.

It wasn’t until I was several months into the learning process that I started using the Yousician app and finally began noticing tangible progress. The app was able to customize a learning plan that focused on my weaknesses through a diagnostic test I took. It was absolutely key. Ironically the playing part of Yousician isn’t all that different than Guitar Hero.

Almost two years into officially playing I now can contribute a handful of guitar songs at my nightclub job and fake my way through a few others. The regular platform to perform accelerates the learning process and the weekly payoff chances do wonders for self-motivation. But the stakes are also higher and that means my slip ups are often on full display for several hundred people. As someone who craves humble pie in order to stay inspired, learning a new instrument provides a regular dose and then some.

But it’s worth it. So many people reach an age where they think music has passed them by. They have their “moments of life altering procrastination” and never go back. And the older you get, the harder it is to start. But from first hand experience I can say confidently that it’s never too late. I would rather completely forget to how to play a song in the middle of a show than live my life wondering why I never tried in the first place.

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