Don’t ‘fret’ about picking up a new instrument

A student proves it’s never too late to start a new instrument even with no prior experience.


The first time I ever sang on stage for the whole school, I realized I had a passion for music. 

My interests didn’t extend much beyond musical theater, so I primarily listened to show tunes and participated in shows throughout middle and high school. 

But learning an instrument hadn’t crossed my mind. It wasn’t until a few months ago, when my boyfriend revived his enthusiasm for the guitar, that I was inspired to do something a little scary — learn an instrument.

It was difficult to pick up a guitar for the first time because I worried what my parents would think if they found out.  

Raised in a conservative, Catholic household, my dad saw rock music as morally wrong. I didn’t grow up with the revolutionary music of the late twentieth century. Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t listen to some of the classics, like Led Zeppelin or Nirvana, until two or so years ago. The first classic rock song I recall listening to  — aside from the Beatles — was “Light My Fire” by the Doors. 

Instantly, I became obsessed with every subgenre of rock: alternative, punk, surf, indie and classic. It almost felt like an act of defiance to discover all of this new music because my dad was adamantly opposed to the electric guitar or anything heavier than Fleetwood Mac. 

I was too afraid to ask if I could learn to play guitar as a child, since I knew my dad would say no, and I didn’t even tell my parents when I decided to learn as an adult. 

I started off by using one of my boyfriend’s four guitars — a hollow body Epiphone Sheraton — while he would play his American Stratocaster. After learning how to tune a guitar, he taught me the nine open chords, followed by power chords, strumming patterns, plucking, fingerpicking and other basic beginner techniques.

Despite years of singing, I didn’t — and still don’t — know how to read music, nor did I understand anything about notes, scales or keys. When my boyfriend explained it to me, it sounded like a foreign language.

We made an agreement; I would learn how to play a few songs decently before going to the guitar store and purchasing. I spent my summer practicing for the big day. 

Since starting to learn guitar, I have found that I appreciate music in a new way, picking up on small, yet significant details that used to go over my head. When I analyzed music in the past, as a writer and vocalist, I’d typically pay attention to the lyrics and the lead singer’s voice. The instrumentals would tend to fade into the background.

But now, I feel like I’m listening to a completely different song. It’s like watching a movie for the second time and noticing the little Easter eggs the director hid.

Lengthy breakdowns and convoluted solos in songs like “Hey You” or “Dogs” by Pink Floyd are much more poignant and thought-provoking when you scrutinize the lead and rhythm guitar, which tell a story without words. Songs like “Stairway to Heaven” can somehow sound more angelic and passionate than lead singer Robert Plant’s heavenly voice alone when you pay close attention to the intricate melodies and technique guitarist Jimmy Page nails with the double-neck guitar.

I’m proud of myself for accomplishing more in a few months than I thought I was capable of doing, and I have gained a new perspective on the composition of music and some rough calluses on my left fingertips.

By that point, I was ready to visit the guitar store.

After browsing for hours to no avail, I thought I would walk out empty-handed, until something else caught my eye — a polar white Mexican Stratocaster. 

As soon as I held her in my arms and played a few songs I knew well, like “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd and “Zombie” by the Cranberries, I immediately fell in love.

The rest was history. 

My biggest regret is not starting at an earlier age because I feel very behind the curve, and I have a lot of catching up to do. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that it’s never too late.

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