Lessons, road-trip stops, and the nascent Guilderland Guitar Group

So much going on in my new-found world of music. Let’s have an update.

About three months ago, I had a crisis of confidence with my guitar playing. I was playing, but I had the feeling I wasn’t playing correctly. As my only in-person music teaching had been group lessons, I felt the need to get some actual time with a good teacher.

My favorite online guitar teacher is Lauren Bateman. She has a school in Medford, Massachusetts, which is close to where my daughter lives, so I conveniently scheduled a private lesson on a weekend when I was visiting the grandkids. Combining things when traveling is always good.

When I got to the school, I was amazed by how clean and bright it is. The wall color is, I kid you not, “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Orange.” The bright color and the ample lighting really worked well for me. How can you concentrate if you can’t see? I wish my own practice space was this well lit.

The teacher I had for the lesson — Lauren is so busy online that she can’t teach in private anymore — was a guy named Armand, who holds a degree from the Berklee College of Music. Armand was totally calm and professional, which is saying something around me, haha.

In only a half-hour, he showed me little things about my playing that helped so much. If I lived closer, I’d study with him, no doubt.

When I got back to Guilderland, I still wasn’t sure I was doing everything correctly, so I sought out a local teacher to get a second opinion. The thing with music is there are so many people who do it so well that you wonder why, if it looks so easy for them, it’s not so easy for you. At least that’s the way I look at it.

This time, my lesson was in a very cramped room in a local music store. I took out my guitar, tuned it up, and started playing.

After about three minutes, the teacher said, “Stop,” and then said this: “I’ve been teaching guitar for over 30 years. During that time, I’ve had many people walk through that door and, for one reason or another, I had to tell them that guitar was not meant for them. This is not the case with you. You are a guitar player.”

Wow, so great to hear that!

This gentleman showed me some very subtle alterations in technique that made a big difference in my playing but, more importantly, in my attitude and confidence. I should probably continue lessons with him, but I have so many great books and online resources to study from that, if I continue to practice, I think I’ll be fine on my own for now.

Speaking of practice, now that I am retired from work after 50 years, I have more free time, which is of course great. What is working for me now, and I would recommend this for anyone studying music, is to split the daily practice into two parts.

So what I do is a 15-minute morning session featuring warm-up, scales, strumming, and other purely technical exercises. Then I do another 15 minutes in the evening where I try to learn and play actual songs. Splitting the daily practice like this, if you have the time, helps make it seem less like a chore and more like fun.

Road-trip music

We just came back from a long road trip to visit my brother in Wisconsin. Thanks to my lovely wife’s extraordinary attention to detail and route-planning skills, I was able to squeeze in two really great music-related destinations that you should know about if you have any interest whatsoever in music.

The first place is the House of Guitars in Rochester, New York. It started out as a guy selling music equipment out of a dorm room in the seventies and is now a full-blown guitar lover’s destination.

There are two large buildings connected by a narrow stairway. The main building houses all kinds of musical instruments, mostly guitars, naturally. In fact, the walls are covered with the signatures of all the famous guitarists who have visited there.

They also have the world’s largest guitar amplifier, a Marshall, that has to be twice as tall as I am. As if all that weren’t enough, the other building has the largest collection of vinyl records and music CDs I’ve ever seen in one place.

It is just unreal and if you like to find old records or other recorded gems, this is, trust me, the place to go. I could have spent an entire day there, and I plan to return real soon.

The second place is Sweetwater in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This is the largest music retailer in the United States, and the sprawling campus is a must-see for musicians. It is so large it has separate rooms for every type of instrument, plus professional recording and production equipment, plus a music school and a full-service restaurant. The sheer amount of music-related activity that goes on there is astounding.

I had been traveling with a small acoustic “travel guitar,” which is essentially a three-quarters scale version of a normal guitar. It’s just easier to get in and out of hotels and restaurants with a smaller instrument (you never leave guitars in cars because the heat inside a sitting parked car can warp them).

As I was walking around Sweetwater, I couldn’t help but notice that they stocked Martin travel guitars. In the world of acoustic guitars, Martin stands alone for its quality and rich history.

Well, one thing led to another and I wound up trading and upgrading to a brand new Martin. It’s small but it sounds great. Having a quality instrument like this to travel with means I can keep up my practice when we go on the road. Hooray.

I have enough guitars, but I still lust after the Martin “Johnny Cash DX,” which is a reasonably priced replica of the original all-black guitar Martin employees made in secret for the Man in Black back in the day (Martin management until then had never made a black guitar).

I picked it up, asked for a pick, sat down on a stool, and, just like that, I was strumming and changing chords with ease. It was like magic, how good that guitar sounded in my hands. I probably should have bought it, but it’s always good to have something to wish for.

Guilderland group

If you’ve read this far, you just might have some interest in playing guitar. If so, then please join me on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. at the Guilderland Public Library for the inaugural meeting of the Guilderland Guitar Group.

This group is for local guitarists of all levels who want to learn and share tips and experiences about all aspects of playing guitar. Bring your guitar and be prepared to have a lot of fun!

Playing music after being a non-musician my entire life is awesome. I’m so glad I finally get to do it.