I was 6 the first time I laid eyes on it. It sat in the corner and seemed to glow. I knew that’s what I wanted. So, I told my parents.
And instead of that beautiful classical guitar that Dad had sitting in the corner, I got piano lessons. Oh, there were a myriad of adult reasons behind me not getting to play the guitar right away. “Your fingers are too small.” “The people at the music store said you should play piano first.”
But no. I come from a long line of stubborn Irishmen. I was not giving in. Fine! Do your worst. Make me go to the lessons. But you can’t make me practice!
And that’s what I did – more accurately, that’s what I didn’t do. I plucked on that guitar the best my little 6 year old fingers would let me, while continuing to ignore the piano.
At 8, I tried again. This time, I got my guitar lessons. With two years’ worth of random plucking under my belt, I grudgingly worked through “The Modern Guitar Method” written by some guy named Mel.
The main problem here was that Mel’s method was modern in 1950. I was taking lessons nearly 30 years later. “Tenting Tonight,” the old Civil War classic, was not really inspiring me.
So lessons were dropped, but the random plucking continued. I was either 9 or 10 when I tried lessons again. With pretty much the same result. I was really becoming displeased with this Mel guy. I wasn’t sure who he was, I just knew he had trouble with the English language – specifically the word “modern.”
Again, lessons were dropped. And, predictably picked up a couple of years later, after another couple of years of random picking.
So here I was at 12 or 13 with loads of random plucking under my belt and a couple of haphazard years of “modern” guitar with Mel. A book that, regretfully, I still had in my possession.
I thought of a different tact this time. I had the book. Apparently, wherever I went, I would be forced to use the book. So why not just put myself through the book? That was it! I was a genius! Except that the book was still terrible and far from modern.
It was 1985 and I was coming up on my 15th birthday. All I wanted was a guitar. That was it. So my parents grudgingly went out and purchased another guitar just for me. And Mom lowered the boom. “You have to pay for lessons yourself!”
No problem! I started digging through bookstores and music stores. I grabbed every book I could grab. When I was 16, I was driving. As soon as I had the license, I got a job. As soon as I got a job, I got guitar lessons.
Not a local Joe on the corner this time. I went to an actual music store. And was promptly given a copy of Mel’s book. Grudgingly, I gritted my teeth and worked through it. After book 3, I could take Mel no more.
Cleverly, I found a way out. I told my teacher I wanted to do it right and learn Classical Guitar. He wasn’t too sure about me having that kind of discipline. I wasn’t sure about Mel book number 4. We compromised. I learned Classical.
I was introduced to Matteo Carcassi. Not literally, of course, as he had been dead for nearly a century before I played the guitar. But his guitar method lives on. I absolutely devoured this method.
To be clear, it was a ton harder than Mel Bay. But I got it. I could tell where it was going and knew that if I kept it up, I’d be playing really well. The exercises weren’t boring. They sounded like music! Imagine playing music that sounds like, well, MUSIC! Here was something Mel never really grasped.
From there, I went insane (I’ll admit that it was a short trip). I grabbed everything on guitars that I could find. Sheet music, books, anything. My friends started asking strange questions like “Why are you taking your guitar into the movies with us?” and “Why is your guitar sitting next to you? You are in a restaurant!”
Then two things collided that seemed to cement my style.
First, I discovered the long-lost art of Progressive Rock, thanks to the Neo-Prog movement of the 90s and second, I discovered Richard Wagner.
I sat down one day and forced myself through a Wagner piece. I had never seen that many Time Signature changes or Key Signature changes in my life. I was in love! As I sat and listened to my beloved Prog Rock, I heard the same changes in those songs. I became fascinated.
No more short songs in single keys. There was a musical world to explore and I was packing up the mules and moving out.
What was the point of all this? All of us have a musical journey inside us, go and find yours!