August 20, 2012

Tuning Up

Music has been an important part of my life. I played piano and clarinet as a youngster. Then, my career in radio meant music 24/7 for almost 35 years. If you are ever in a trivia contest about hits from the 60s-80's call me. I can name that song in 3 notes.

But, somewhere along the way, well before my satisfying retirement started, I stopped making music. Playing records and hanging out with artists was fun, but wasn't particularly creative. Playing a 45 single on the radio isn't quite the same as playing the song. So, a few years ago I picked up a used acoustic guitar and started teaching myself the basics. I was able to play Christmas songs for the grandkids and a few Beatle tunes for my own enjoyment. But, I'd always get to a certain point and stall. I couldn't figure out things like finger picking or second position on my own.

I finally decided I should take some lessons to get me over the hump. Reader Chuck shared how much taking some lessons did for him; he now plays in an oldies group on weekends. That isn't my goal, but getting past my personal roadblock is.

I think this is correct for the D chord
So, a few weeks ago I started taking once-a-week lessons. My teacher, Kurt, is probably 25 years my junior, but patient and supportive. While teaching myself I developed some bad habits that I need to lose. My 63 year old fingers and tendons are rebelling against the stretching needed for certain chords. I have to look at chord charts more often than I think I should. When playing the melody I mistake the 4th string for the 3rd string much too often.

But, I persevere. My goals are modest: play well enough for personal enjoyment. If a family gathering would benefit from my version of Yesterday, then I should be able to comply but I am really playing for me. Unlike previous attempts, though, I am not comfortable getting to a certain point and stopping any growth. I will likely take lessons for two months and then stop for awhile to get a solid grip on what I have learned. At that point I hope I have the self discipline to take another month or two of instruction to push me to the next level.

It is true: when you pay someone for lessons the amount of practice time increases and the desire to not embarrass yourself is real. Having Kurt check me out every Wednesday afternoon and give me a new challenge for the next lesson is keeping me near the guitar. My finger callouses are coming back.

My parting words for you: take on a new or abandoned creative challenge as part of building your satisfying retirement. No matter how full you think your days are, or how overflowing your calendar seems to be, a creative outlet really needs to be part of your life. Guitar playing may not interest you. So, how about writing, journaling, sketching, or painting? Can you build a bookcase or end table? Can you take some wood and make colorful birdhouses? Do you sew quilts? Can you re-decorate a room to make you happy? Can you help your grandkids learn the basics of budgeting?

Creativity is a word that covers virtually anything you do during the day. The exciting part is finding a new or better way. The important part is keeping your mind active and yourself challenged.

Now, if I can just finger the F chord properly......

15 comments:

  1. "So, how about writing, journaling, sketching, or painting?" I enjoy all of those activities and just included working on the pottery wheel. I had never worked with clay before and now find it very addicting. You might say that I'm the jack of all trades, but master of none - but that's OK. I enjoy the creative process immensely. Have also dabbled in crochet, knitting (learning new stitches recently), and quilting. Besides spending time with family and friends, there's so much to do that I find it hard to understand how anyone can be 'bored'.

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    1. I have always been fascinated while watching someone who can take a clump of clay and turn it into ...anything! Good for you. I agree that anyone who is bored just isn't trying to find an interest.

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  2. I love music but I'm not musical. I'm a pretty good artist, though. I've been taking a watercolor class this summer and it's giving me a challenge but I'm enjoying it. I normally work in oils or pastels because years ago when I tried watercolor I hated it. It's backwards, which I find very difficult. In any case, I totally agree with you about paying someone to teach you and not wanting to disappoint. It's the nudge I needed.
    b

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    1. "Watercolor is backwards." Interesting...what does that mean? I know my wife used to like watercolor but she says it is really tough to do well.

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    2. It's backwards in that the paper is your highlight. You have to start pale and build up color but know where you want the highlights. It's not impossible to 'remove' color but it's tricky without damaging the paper.
      I'm getting the hang of it, but not always enjoying the process. ;)

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  3. I've mentioned before that I started violin lessons at 58. I had never played any instrument and didn't know how to read music, but I had always loved classical music. It was my intention just to be able to play for my own enjoyment, but I ended up setting higher goals. At 60, I was playing with a community symphony orchestra, although I was by far the worst and least experienced member of that orchestra. I'm so glad I did it. Within a few months, I was hit with an autoimmune illness that robbed me of much of my mobility, including my ability to play fast and accurately enough to continue with the orchestra. However, at 62, I can still play for my own enjoyment and teach my grandchildren a little when they come to visit, and I better enjoy the music I hear, knowing more about it. I long to play with the orchestra again. That probably won't happen, but I still have never regretted beginning lessons.

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    1. Playing for my own enjoyment is my goal, too. If I can pick up a piece of music and play either the melody or chords I will be happy. I'm still trying to teach my 4th finger to move when I want it to.

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  4. Good for you! When do you go on tour of the Northeast?

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    1. Maybe I should post a few songs on YouTube. If it goes vital, who knows.

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  5. Yes, that is a D!!!! Good job, keep practicing.

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    1. You'll notice i didn't try an F. That continues to elude me.

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  6. What about a new martial art? I just started kung fu. From a black belt in taekwondo to a white belt in kung fu. Keeps me humble. Remember to bring your guitar next time you come to Portland!

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    1. I've leave that to you. And ,yes, I'll bring the guitar next summer.

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  7. Good for you, Bob. I just got in from time at our family camp location in Vermont. People love to hear me play the banjo (contrary to what many banjo jokes would have you believe) and most don't appreciate (or need to appreciate) the many hours I (lovingly) spend practicing. Lots of agonizing sessions eking out an understanding of the musical needs or just training my fingers and mind to "get it". What I really mean to say is, stay with it. It is amazing how, after really struggling with some technique or fingering for several lessons, how it all suddenly (?) comes together.

    It is a major joy of my life to be able to share music with loved ones. You go, guy! :)

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    1. Listening to a banjo played well is quite an experience. The speed at which a typical banjo piece is played is just amazing. That takes real dedication.

      Memorizing chord fingerings, struggling a bit with second position, and making smooth transitions from chord to chord (G to D...wow) continues to occupy my time.

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