Old Dog, New Licks

It happens frequently – a more “mature” person walks in my store, eyes some guitars or banjos and asks sheepishly, “Do you think I can learn to play?” We’ll call this aspiring but intimidated musician Joe.  The story usually goes something like, “I tried once to learn by myself,” or “My family can all play” or “I’m retired and I’ve aways wanted to play.” Can an old dog like Joe pick up an instrument and learn new licks? Absolutely. As with any endeavor, there are advantages and challenges with picking up an instrument in your later years. How Joe  approaches the learning process will make a big difference in his success.

Joe can learn to play because, simply put, anyone can. Some folks have a natural awareness of how the system of music works and they seem to just

“get it.” For the rest of us, the system can be learned with a little guidance and some time spent in practice. Joe may never become a rip-roaring blues king, but he can learn to strum through his favorite songs and pick enough to play with other local musicians. Little kids learn to play.  Busy folks learn to play. Bored folks learn to play.  Folks with special needs learn to play. Joe can learn to play, too.

Even more so, Joe can become a good player because as an adult he is aware of what the instrument should sound like. However, this same awareness can be his stumbling block, too.  Younger students come to lessons and just play, often unconcerned about a string that’s buzzing or a strum pattern that’s not just right. Joe will be more aware of mistakes and may allow these mistakes to discourage him. What should Joe do? He should work hard to make his playing sound the best it can while remembering to enjoy the process. If something doesn’t sound right, he should play through it and keep going.  If he’s aware of what needs to be fixed, he will fix it with guidance and practice. Joe shouldn’t throw the baby out with the buzzing string.

Joe is also more likely to be faithful in practice than younger students. His mom doesn’t have to push the issue. Homework and spring sports don’t get in the way.  No doubt, Joe is busy but he is the master of his schedule. Joe works hard for his money and pays for the tuition himself, so he is very self-motivated to learn.

Learning to play an instrument will give Joe a wonderful escape from the stresses of life. Playing for the squirrels on the back porch will help keep his fingers limber and his mind sharp. By learning to play, Joe may discover a hidden talent or simply accomplish a long-held goal. He’ll find that it’s fun to play the standards as well as holiday songs or old hymns and spirituals. An investment in learning is an investment in the quality of Joe’s life.

Our town is full of talented musicians and music teachers. At Beans & Strings, we teach Monday through Friday from early afternoon until late in the evening. We offer lessons in acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and piano as well as banjo, mandolin and ukulele.  Whether you learn from our instructor team or from your next-door neighbor, give music lessons a chance. Any old Joe can learn to play!

Eric Foster-Whiddon owns and operates Beans and Strings LLC with his wife Vanessa, with whom he has four wonderful children. Eric has been playing guitar for 18 years and has been teaching others to play since 2001.

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