Why (guitar)?

I started learning guitar almost three months ago.  Since shortly before getting it through today, I’ve shared with a few friends, family, and coworkers of my desire to learn to play it.  The reactions have been interesting – mostly pleasantly shocked and baffled and often followed with a hesitantly and awkwardly,  “… ok … um… Why?”  I soon realized how powerful that one-word sentence is, “why?”  I can’t always figure out the asker’s motivation behind knowing the answer and am not sure what surprises and confuses them about my desire to learn guitar.  What is it about the guitar and/or me that seems so incongruous to them?  

Why is the guitar such a weird one for many of them to imagine me playing?  It is a very common instrument.  I can go to Costco and choose between beginner electric and acoustic versions.  It isn’t that annoying of an instrument to have a beginner plink out horrible sounds on, it’s rather quiet compared to a saxophone, violin, drums, or trombone. Is it something about me – my age, lifestyle, or introversion?  First though, let me give you my answer and maybe that will help me figure out why I am asked this question.

During my early teen years, my brother got into guitar and I was interested in it.  The drive for me to play it though was to be more like the rock stars of the time and wanting to play like them.  It wasn’t to create, but to maybe feel the awe of the fans like they did.  I forgot this desire once I got into high school.  Photography had started to cross-stitch its way into my heart as well as girls, band, and impending adulthood.

In college I was introduced to Pat Metheny, a legendary jazz guitarist by my History of Jazz professor.  I could listen to Methany for hours, regardless if it was on a car trip, studying, or making out.  I didn’t fall in love with the guitar then, but felt close to the music.

When I was thirty-one, I got to know a great classical guitarist that volunteered to play at a memorial/fundraiser for a local animal shelter in honor of my mother-in-law who had passed shortly before.  It was an emotionally exhaustive time for all and the musical vacation from it was much needed.  I became mesmerized watching his hands, hearing how he created, bent, soothed, coaxed, and demanded music out his guitar.  After the concert at the reception I asked him how long it would take for a newbie to learn to play.  He gave me some estimates for someone that isn’t studying it full time and the levels or abilities an average student hits along the way.  By the end of the chat I knew I wanted to learn to play guitar… someday.  

Another instance of the powerful draw to learning guitar came in a cold and rainy autumn in Vigo, Spain in 2004.  I was working there for a few months on a company project with my friend Jim.  He had been playing guitar for a few years and wanted to get a good classical Spanish guitar.  We went to this little store that was filled with guitars. While helping Jim select a great guitar, I felt that spark to learn again and talked with him about guitars for days.

Since then, I’ve flirted with the idea of playing guitar.  I’d hear Jack White, Pink Floyd, Lenny Kravitz, and others and feel the guitar call to me shortly to be replaced by something happening in life or photography, restoring a truck, or other sirens’ songs seducing my time again.  

Every once in a while I’d get the temptation and would even look at what was available for beginners (the short answer is for around $100 and up you can find something and as with anything, the more dollars, the better the quality).  I talked to coworkers and friends that play about getting one and they encouraged me, but I still didn’t take the plunge.

Starting two years ago, I started to phase out of photography.  Photography is cyclical for me, I will go very intensely into it and become obsessive about it until something in me says, “Take a break.” This has happened three or four times over the past three decades.  During this recent break I tried learning oil and watercolor painting last fall.  I really enjoyed it, but it didn’t fill that need to learn and create.

I saw a roots rock concert last fall in Sonoma and the guitarists were amazing.  I loved how they flowed their playing in and around the lyrics to make a perfect creation of expression.  The sound of the instruments went to my heart and I could feel it.  

Shortly after 2015 rang in, I started thinking about life and the New Year.  I am not a big fan of resolutions, giving things up for Lent, or other disciplines like those, but it is hard not to think about what 2015 should hold for me.  I asked a friend about what a beginner guitar should start with and decided to get one. Why had I suddenly made the decision? Time.  It was not only time to do it, but time itself.  If I had started playing back when I was 31, I would be fifteen years better at it.  I suddenly felt I had lost a lot of time not doing it and don’t want to realize at 61 that I had lost 30 years.  I don’t have that many fifteen-year chunks left.  It had been a time-journey to get to that moment to start learning guitar. A little over a month later, Jim and I went guitar shopping again, this time in Reno for an acoustic one.

Since the day I got my Martin, I’ve practiced everyday I am home.  While travelling for work and family celebrations I’ve missed playing. I feel it is a new phase and integral part in my artistic life.  I quickly learned I am no Clapton, Cash, Hendrix, or Segovia on the strings.  This is going to take Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Regardless, I now know it was time.

So, let’s get back to the question of “why”.  Almost everyone I told is very supportive and positive, especially after I shared my answer. A few have thought of getting back into studying instruments they’ve stopped playing for decades and one or two want to start a band.  Their question could be them reflecting on their own desires to try something new or get back into something they miss.  

Maybe my issue with the question isn’t about them asking, but points out that I hadn’t fully expressed in my own beliefs why and convinced myself either.  On the other hand, maybe I should take the advice I once got, stop overthinking things and just be and do.   Time is ticking and the strings need picking.