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An Old Dog Learns A New Trick – Playing Electric Guitar (Part One)

Yamaha Pacifica 112V Electric Guitar

Part One — Why Is An Old Guy Learning to Play Guitar?

Have you ever wanted to do something creative in your life, but always had roadblocks in your way? That is the case with me learning to play electric guitar. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when some of the best rock bands ever were recording iconic albums, and I still love the music of that era as well as a lot of newer bands. I’m a middle aged man — almost 62 years old — and I’ve decided that it’s finally time to learn guitar. In this open-ended series about my adventure, I’ll write about teaching an old dog (me) new tricks (playing electric guitar) with a special emphasis on how technology is helping.

If I ever get to the point that I’ll want to record my music, I’ll have Josh Sularski’s new Rocket Yard series on Pro Audio to point me in the right direction. Josh is a musician and audio engineer, and his experience is being highlighted in this set of articles that describe building a home studio.

The Big Question: Why Now?

Why didn’t I learn guitar as a kid or younger adult? Too little money and time. I learned to play the clarinet in elementary school because my parents had bought my older sister that instrument…and then she could no longer play it because she was getting braces. Lucky me — I got the hand-me-down instrument, along with no lessons and absolutely no desire to play. I guess I should have stuck with it; one of my friends and band-mates from that time is now a popular and successful jazz musician.

The author (left) and friend Steve Tikal performing in 1974 at William C. Hinkley High School, Aurora, Colorado
The author (left) and friend Steve Tikal performing in 1974 at William C. Hinkley High School, Aurora, Colorado

I got interested in guitar as a high school student when a friend of mine started playing an Ovation acoustic guitar and we sang together as a duet. At the time I was saving up money for college, so even buying a cheap acoustic guitar was out of the question. Add to that the fact that I was singing in our high school concert choir, acting in plays and shows, and trying to impress girls, and there wasn’t a lot of time available. Next came a four-year stint in engineering school and working jobs for tuition, so I had even less time to think about learning guitar.

My guitar hero Pete Townshend of The Who in 2007. Photo by Ian MacIsaac 3/9/2007 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
My guitar hero Pete Townshend of The Who in 2007. Photo by Ian MacIsaac 3/9/2007 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Fast forward to adulthood. Suddenly I had an important job, first as an engineer, then a manager, then running an IT department. In my spare time, I was doing a lot of writing, maintaining a house, running a bulletin board system and then a series of websites. I was still fascinated with rock music, but more as a listener and concertgoer than as a performer. I had friends who had bands and played gigs, so I recorded and edited videos for them. 

Over the past couple of years I have been looking for a new pastime, and it occurred to me that learning guitar was finally within my reach. I have the money to buy equipment, time to practice, and several reasons to want to learn to play. But is it too late in my life to learn? Many experts on aging actually think it’s a great time for “senior citizens in training” to start playing an instrument.

Destroying Myths

A 2016 article on Connolly Music’s String Ovation blog shot down four common myths about learning an instrument as an adult.  The key points of that article: 

  • Adults can bring all of their life experiences to play when learning an instrument, and music stimulates all areas of the brain — particularly those associated with memory. 
  • Adults get to choose what instrument they want to play, which adds desire to the goal of learning. Adults also have the self-disciple to practice and succeed that many children don’t .
  • There are a lot of training options available now, including the one I am going to use — Fender Play. It’s an iOS app that lets students learn at their own pace and master a lesson before moving on.
  • Music helps to reduce stress and gives you a mental workout that enhances other areas of life. For adults, learning music regenerates cognitive skills and can improve your mood.

There you have it — the reasons why an “old guy” like me is going to learn guitar. I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to play The Beatles’ “When I’m 64” when I’m 64! In my next installment of the series, I’ll discuss the equipment I decided to buy and the method of online learning I’m embracing.

If you’re a wannabe musician like me, I’d love for you to join me on this journey and hear about your experiences in the comments.

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Contributing Author
Steve has been writing about Apple products since 1986, starting on a bulletin board system, creating the first of his many Apple-related websites in 1994, joining the staff of The Unofficial Apple Weblog in 2008, and founding Apple World Today in 2015. He’s semi-retired, loves to camp and take photos, and is an FAA-licensed drone pilot.
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  • Good for you, Steve! I wish you perseverance and patience. It can be frustrating getting started as an adult. As an experienced professional you’re used to quickly mastering concepts related to your field. Learning to play guitar will be humbling. Give yourself permission to be bad like you haven’t been bad at something in a long time. Enjoy the little victories and keep plugging away.

    You might think about using GarageBand to make a recording of what you’re working on at the end of every week. When you get frustrated, listen back to where you were three months ago. When you hear how much progress you’ve made, you’ll be inspired to keep at it.

  • Hey Steve:

    I love that you’re starting to play now. I’m 62 also and have been playing since I was in 2nd grade. To that end, I think that talent is a myth, and that ANYONE can learn ANYTHING.

    To that end, I feel that playing an instrument to be one of the most satisfying endeavors one can do.

    Imagine NOT knowing how to play something on Monday, and with the desire, interest, and practice, BEING ABLE play it on Friday. I can’t explain the sense of satisfaction you’ll have.

    It’s very simple really. You practice, and you get better.

    You’re at the start of your journey, but I’ve been walking this road for 50+ years and here are some of the things I’ve learned about learning how to play an instrument.

    1. Learn how to hold the instrument properly. If you’re NOT using a strap, you should be. The guitar should be much higher than you think. Most rock guitar players sling the guitar low for performance to correspond with the sexual center of the human body. This is uncomfortable, and very bad form for your playing. Look at a picture of Robert Fripp in performance. He plays sitting down with a strap. This is the proper posture for playing. It’s very important for many reasons, the most being fatigue and pain in the wrist and hand.

    2. If you’re playing with a pick, make a fist. Point the tips of the fingers to the elbow and place the pick between the thumb and forefinger. DO NOT LET YOUR HAND TOUCH THE GUITAR WHILE YOU PLAY. This is a bad habit and will cause problems down the line.
    3. When practicing divide your practice in half. However long you practice, the first half should be for exercises, and the second half for play, experimentation, and repertoire.

    4. Don’t Make Mistakes. When you’re trying to learn a scale or part, play it painfully slow and perfectly. Increase speed slowly. Mistakes are learned the same way that good habits are learned.

    5. Practice, Rehearsal, and Performance are 3 very different things.

    Practice is personal time learning, getting stronger, and polishing repertoire.

    Rehearsal is practice for a performance. Essentially polishing the pieces of music to a very high level and practicing EVERYTHING that will be done in the performance from beginning to the end. Everything. Even walking onto the stage, sitting, and preparing to perform

    Performance is the act of playing music for an audience. And while you’re the one performing, there is a constant exchange of energy between the player and the audient.

    6. Have a very solid routine before you prepare to play. This should include, tuning, making sure you’re comfortable with the instrument on your body, and sending the concentration to your hands, wrists, arms. Much of this will become second nature once you’re playing awhile, but once again. Develop a good habit

    I know much of this stuff sounds high handed and obvious, but this early stage of learning is very important.

    Please contact me if you have any questions.

    And most of all. Have fun.

    And OH…..there is a piece of software that I just discovered called Anytune. It loads songs from your iOS library and allows you to loop them and slow them down. There’s a free version and paid version. It’s a VERY important tool in my toolbox, and especially when you’re working on repertoire, it’s super valuable.

  • Congratulations! I’m 63 and try to play for two hours every night. I love it. Learning songs, learning solos, and learning some finger picking. No rock star aspirations any more… lol.
    Fender Play is good but check out Justin Guitar, Marty Schwartz, Griff Hamlin and others on You Tube. Remember, you can always slow down the speed on You Tube. If you slow it down to half speed to learn songs and see how other players finger, you can stay in the same “key,” just an octave different which is not a problem. Anyway, just have FUN, that is what it is all about. Keep playing! Oh, and finally, thanks for calling 62 middle age! Hopefully we will still be around when we are 120!

  • Same here, altho’ I played some guitar in high school, but lost most of my ability in 45 years time. Thanks for the encouragement. (I use Udemy as my source of lessons today.)

      • Udemy is really pretty good. Inexpensive but thorough. I watch it on my Apple TV and it’s like a private tutor.

  • Hi Steve,

    Great article. I played the guitar when I was younger then, like you, life got in the way. However, I picked it up again a few years ago, and I’m kind of re-learning I guess you could say. I’m 61 as well but unlike you, I’m not an old guy :-) I’m actually pretty young for my age… I think?

    I even checked off a “bucket list” item by creating a small home studio in an extra bedroom and attempt to write and record my own songs. I intend to eagerly follow your guitar playing journey and wish you all the best! You can do this… just have a little patience and don’t give up.

    If you’d care to hear a sample of mine, check out DL Ferrier on YouTube. Not exactly taking the world by storm but I did achieve a life-long goal.

    • Hi, Doug – That’s so cool that you’re picking it up again, and even doing your own recordings! You’re giving me something to aspire to! I don’t feel that old, either – I keep thinking I’m an 18-year-old! :-)


  • That is a good decision Steve, you have all the right reasons for doing it, and the enthusiasm, which is really the most important part, I am sure you will have “When I’m 64” down pat very quickly!

    • Thanks, Paul! I’m hearing from a lot of people my age, all of whom are saying “GO FOR IT!” I definitely have the enthusiasm now, just need to build up the skills.