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  • Writer's pictureJeff Kerr

Old Dog Learns New Trick

When I was eight years old, I told my mother I wanted a guitar. At the time, nobody was cooler than the Beatles. Maybe if I had a guitar, I’d be cool too (Sorry, Ringo, I guess I couldn’t see you behind John, Paul, and George). I recall wandering a music store gaping at those magical instruments. I ended up behind the counter admiring the ones hanging on the wall. A store clerk shooed me away before I could do any damage.

Unfortunately for me, my parents had just purchased a piano so that my sister could take lessons. Boom—I found myself taking piano lessons too. The explanation Mom gave was that if I learned piano, I’d find it easier to learn other instruments later. I smell the influence of the piano teacher.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Mom had given in and bought me a guitar. Would I have learned to play it? Debatable. As much as I wanted to be cool like the Beatles, I had a greater desire to play center field for the Houston Astros. Alas, the Astros never called.

I quit piano lessons at age 14. My dad told me I’d regret it. I sort of do. How much fun would it be to play piano? But I don’t regret it that much. What I regret is that, as a kid, I never had the chance to learn guitar.

A few years ago, I attended a Grand Ole Opry show at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. One of the performers was an 11-year-old boy who had been playing and singing for a couple of years. Watching him took me back to that music store and wondering what it would be like to play guitar.

Someone had given my son a cheap guitar. Already proficient in piano and trumpet, he had no interest in playing it. He gave it to me. I found an online course and began learning the basics. I already knew some music fundamentals from piano lessons.

After a few months, I realized that online courses weren’t enough. I needed a teacher. I found one, a very patient guy about half my age named Chris, who agreed to take me on. When he asked me what type of music I wanted to learn I said, “I don’t know. I just want to learn to play.”

That was three years ago. I’m still not to the point that I tell people I can play guitar. I do tell them I am learning and getting better. Chris has taken me through a variety of playing styles, including chord strumming, Travis picking, claw hammer picking, and Carter scratch. I can’t claim to have mastered any of them, but each lesson gets me a little closer. Will I ever be a good guitar player? Maybe, maybe not. Am I enjoying myself? You bet. In the meantime, Paul McCartney’s job is safe.

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