Looking Back: 1st Month

Several months before I committed to taking music lessons, I researched local musicians who taught guitar with music theory. I didn’t want to be taught how to play Stairway to Heaven, I wanted to learn the fundamentals of music theory so I could teach myself how to play songs and compose music. I wanted to learn the language of music so I could communicate with other musicians. I wanted a well-rounded music education to enable myself to read and write music, acquire instrument proficiency on the electric guitar, and compose and produce music. I needed a music teacher who possessed a professional music background and education. On a spiritual level, I wanted a mentor who would take me under his wing and impart his knowledge to me, much like the relationship between a Zen master and his disciple.

After a few lessons with Andrew, I knew I had hired the right person for the job. If you don’t like or the chemistry isn’t there with your music teacher, then move on and continue your search. You’ll know if you found the right teacher for you. Teaching music to adults requires a different set of skills. The dynamics are quite different for both teacher and student when the student is much older than the teacher. Older learners may not be as fast as they once were, but we are an experienced bunch. A lifetime of experience as a responsible human being carries its own set of credentials. We learn best when the teacher acknowledges that and imparts knowledge from one adult to another in way that the older student can appreciate.

Having studied violin and music as a youngster, I wasn’t totally lost on day one when I was presented with something called a pentatonic scale and three chords common in playing the blues. These materials were presented to me after a quick discussion of my music tastes, which included the blues, smooth jazz, classic rock and country western. The lesson lasted 30 minutes and felt like a lap around the race track. I demonstrated to Andrew that I could identify the parts of my electric guitar, tune it with an electronic guitar tuner, and fret a few notes. While the sheet music for the pentatonic scale and the chord charts didn’t look like hieroglyphics, they did intimidate me until I took them home to decipher their meaning. That’s when and where Music Theory for Dummies came in handy.

By lesson #4, I was concerned that I still couldn’t finger the assigned G7, C7 and D7 chords, however I had fewer problems fingering the single notes making up the G Minor Pentatonic Scale. My weak, arthritic fingers and small hands turned on the second-thought light in my head. I was worried and quite concerned that perhaps I hit a wall. “Fear not, all is well,” sprouted from Andrew’s mouth. March on and practice; be an adult about it, I instructed to myself.

After 90 minutes of AM practice, fingering chords are still eluding me. I can’t quantitatively say there’s any improvement in fingering the three chords today than yesterday. I’m going to devote my PM practice just to practicing chords. I can only guess that at my age even muscle memory takes longer. I think I’ll ask Andrew to devote our next lesson to form relative to playing chords. Playing scales is where I can absolutely detect improvement, and I can nearly play them without looking at the fret board. Chords are simply a bitch for me, at least for now. Perhaps it’s just going to take more time than fingering scales. Fingering a chord is one thing, but to gracefully shape another is an exercise in finger numbing frustration. I’m stubborn, so I’ll persist.

—Excerpt from my Music Journal

September 2, 2012