Things to Consider When Buying Your First Guitar

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and learn the guitar! Congratulations! Perhaps an early daunting prospect in this venture is actually purchasing your very first guitar. It’s easy to be a little unnerved by the high price tag carried by even seemingly “middle-of-the-road” types of instruments. Many newcomers to the guitar are not quite reassured they will have the perseverance to stick with the instrument and justify the initial sticker shock of their first guitar. I have had many beginner guitar students come through my studio for guitar lessons in Surrey and Langley, and I thought I would share a few bits of advice for those looking to purchase their first instrument.

First things first, we have to ensure that the instrument we purchase is playable. Guitar is a very mechanically challenging instrument, especially when we are getting our start, so we want to make sure the instrument is not going to ‘fight’ us as we train our fingers to create music. Being at one with your instrument is such a liberating feeling, and becomes very difficult to unlock if we are playing an instrument that is not comfortable to play. It’s for this reason, that I generally don’t advocate going extremely cheap on your first guitar. It may be tempting, for example, to purchase an acoustic guitar for $50 from a department store, but this will not aid our learning process.

I would suggest that a beginner avoid purchasing a used instrument, unless they have a very experienced player who can accompany them to check over the guitar before purchasing. There are a lot of finer details that we want to ensure are in check when purchasing a used guitar – they are quite temperamental instruments – and these details are going to be very difficult to spot for someone new to the instrument. If cost is prohibitive or you/your child are not 100% sure guitar is going to be for you, I highly recommend renting your instrument. For example, Long & McQuade ( ) has some great monthly rates for very nice instruments available.

Try to shoot for an instrument that is visually appealing to you. It’s likely that there is an artist that inspired you or your child to learn guitar. Wouldn’t it be fun to play an instrument that resembled the guitar that this artist plays? Think of you/your child’s favorite rock, acoustic, blues, or jazz guitarist. Yes, established artists play high-end instruments, but chances are there is an entry level option with an equivalent visual aesthetic crafted for someone just like you! A perfect example would be the Squier ‘strat’ or Fender Stratocaster style guitar. A common beginner package is a complete kit containing an electric guitar, small amplifier, and accessories usually for only a couple hundred dollars! Brands such as Yamaha have great entry-level models of Acoustic guitars as well.

These are my main thoughts for beginners looking to purchase their first guitar, or purchasing their child’s first guitar. If we’re able to purchase or rent a guitar that is playable, in great physical condition, affordable, and one that we can get excited to play, we are already on the fast track to success on learning this great instrument!


Seven Best Songs Of Seven Minutes Plus

“Hey you, don’t make it bad” was unnecessary advice for aspiring musicians, but record companies also once insisted, “Don’t make it longer than three minutes.” If it exceeded much beyond that length, a song had no chance of becoming a hit.

Fortunately, The Beatles shattered that theory exactly fifty years ago, when they scored a huge hit with a song that ran twice that long. “Hey Jude” had a running time of over seven minutes, yet it still managed to reach number one and stay there for a record eight weeks.

In the fifty years since Paul McCartney wrote that long chart topper, many songs running well over that traditional three minute mark have become big hits. In fact, one that ran longer than eight minutes even hit number one a few years after “Hey Jude.”

Not only does “American Pie” by Don McLean have the longest running time ever for a number one hit, but it contains a record number 980 words in its lyrics. That total is more than three times than that found in “Hey Jude.”

Here are seven of the other best tunes that play longer than that now fifty year old classic by The Beatles.

Cowgirl In the Sand by Neil Young

Checking in at over ten minutes, this track from Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere is highlighted by several guitar jams.

Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin

Even though this standard from Led Zeppelin IV never made it to number one, it has become more well-known than either “American Pie” or “Hey Jude.”

Desolation Row by Bob Dylan

Robert Zimmerman always had a lot to say through his songwriting, and he uses over eleven minutes to make his point on this closer from Highway 61 Revisited.

I Just Sit There by Sonny Bono

His only solo album opens with this fourteen minute track, which criticizes everyone from politicians to movie stars to The Beatles.

Danse With Me George by Ambrosia

Chopin and his romance with author George Sand was the inspiration for this criminally underrated epic from the group’s second album, Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled.

Us And Them by Pink Floyd

Anyone looking for the dark side of the moon could wait for it while listening to this psychedelic single, which runs nearly eight minutes.

Deacon Blues by Steely Dan

When Donald Fagin says “Sue me if I play too long” in the last verse, he falsely assumes that someone would find this Aja hit’s length unacceptable. Most fans wish it went on even longer.


Benefits of Music for Seniors

It is generally acknowledged that musical activity can have beneficial results for seniors. These benefits come in different forms for different people depending on their circumstances.

“Music Therapy” is one well established method of helping people with physical and cognitive disabilities caused by conditions such as dementia. “MT” as it is referred to, often involves relatively passive activities like listening to music under controlled conditions. But it can also involve singing, drumming or tapping, and playing other simple instruments like the harmonica.

Research has shown that the soothing effect of music leads to better social interaction and often helps improve communication skills where they have been impaired by such things as stroke, or been the result of some other injury or sickness.

For what we might call “ordinary” seniors, music is often used in retirement communities and senior centers in the form of special musical entertainment, sing songs and even dancing classes.

Participants are encouraged to engage in singing, clapping, and dancing to old familiar standards. This type of musical experience provides pleasant and enjoyable social interaction, a valuable bit of physical activity, and a jolt of positive emotional stimulation.

Can seniors benefit from playing musical instruments?

Listening to music can be emotionally stimulating, but it is a relatively passive activity. Can seniors benefit from being more actively involved in making music – by, for instance, singing or playing a musical instrument?

Of course it depends a lot on the senior, and on the instrument. Many seniors have physical limitations that make fingering a violin or a guitar almost impossible. But those same people might benefit from participation in a drum circle.

Participants in activities like this quickly get involved in making music, having fun, even dancing, chanting, and singing.

As Shannon Rattigan of says,

If a facilitated drum circle is presented properly, in a matter of 10 minutes everyone can be playing a drum rhythm together… The key to it is setting the right tone that this is going to be playful and fun. You can improvise, play around, and just have a good time. Like we did when we were kids.

Can this be done with other instruments?

Again, it depends a lot on the senior and on the instrument.

Many older people have played a musical instrument when they were younger, and stopped playing when family and work intervened. I often read on music instruction forums comments from older guys (most of them seem to be men) who have picked up the guitar after it sat in the closet for 40 years.

Yes, 40 years! That is not an exaggeration. I am an example. I played the guitar and trumpet in my teens and twenties, and didn’t actively pick them up again until I was in my 60s.

The incentive for me was the opportunity to teach some of my grandchildren a bit of what I knew. And that led to many opportunities to perform with them at family gatherings. And of course that has resulted in the joy that comes with watching the kids become talented musicians in their own right.

The point is, it is possible to dust off old talents if the circumstances are right. Reviving old talents and playing in a small, informal band with friends or family is one possibility.

A retirement community seems like the perfect place where a group of people might get together to make music together in a more structured way – say as a singing ensemble or a little band.

An enterprising social director in a seniors community might even form a larger band – using regular musical instruments or simple ones such as whistles, harmonicas, and a variety of percussion items (drums, tambourines, shakers, wooden blocks, etc.)

Playing traditional musical instruments

Is it realistic to think that a person who is 70 or 80 years old might continue to play a traditional musical instrument like a keyboard, guitar or trumpet? Or could he or she learn an entirely new instrument – a keyboard, for instance, or a banjo, harmonica or even a saxophone or guitar?

Again, it depends on the circumstances a person finds herself in – in particular, her physical limitations. Many aging people have lost flexibility in their hands. They may have a sore back or hips that make it difficult to sit in positions required by some instruments. And often an older person has difficulty seeing or hearing.

If none of these things are holding a person back then why not go for it!

But there is always the question of motivation

Learning to play an instrument like a piano – even in the most basic way – has real benefits. It provides enjoyment, mental stimulation, and a sense of accomplishment. And that may be enough incentive to get you to take on (and stick with) a project like teaching yourself a musical instrument.

But playing for your own enjoyment is often not enough of an incentive to keep you going. Playing a musical instrument, or even singing in a small ensemble, almost inevitably involves the opportunity to perform for others – usually friends, family or fellow community residents.

In other words it is often just the prospect of performing for others that keeps musicians going. Taking music lessons when you are a child almost always involves a “recital” every now and then to display what you have learned. Without the recital practicing starts to seem pointless.

There is no reason to think it should be any different for a senior. My father played his violin in church for at least 50 years, and it was those “performances” that kept him interested in playing. When his faculties started to deteriorate and the invitations to play dried up, so did his interest in playing at all.

It is performances like this that provide the incentive to become better and to learn new material, or for an older person, to hold on to the skills they developed earlier in life.

So I would answer “Yes” to the question “Can a senior like me learn a new instrument?” It will give you enjoyment as well as mental and spiritual stimulation. And it will give you something meaningful to do with your time.

But don’t keep it to yourself. Play for friends and family. Join a group or form a band. Have fun being a musician, and share the joy with others.


Ten Song Titles That Could Serve As Brief Weather Forecasts

For Midwestern folks like me no part of the local newscast is as anticipated as the weather forecast, but it usually ends up being the most unsatisfying segment as well. Even though they always greet us with smiling faces, seldom do the meteorologists offer us mild temperatures with clear skies.

Instead of the smiling weather experts, the forecast would be more palatable if the news stations chose music to represent the weather conditions. There are a multitude of songs that represent the different types of climates, such as Mr. Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra for the beautiful days that are so rare in the Midwest.

Here are ten other popular songs that could be used to represent the weather forecasts.

Cloudy by Simon and Garfunkel

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is the album that spawned this laid back classic, which leaves one with the feeling that Paul Simon wrote it while lying on his back in the middle of a big green field.

Stormy by the Classics IV

Its beautiful melody belies the adjective that serves as the title, undoubtedly the most recognizable in the pop band’s catalogue.

Sunny by Bobby Hebb

Back in 1966 this hit was ubiquitous, and amid that tumultuous time its message of gratitude and joy was likely most welcome.

Cold As Ice by Foreigner

One of many gems from the self-titled debut album, this monster hit describes a girl but could very well work for a January weather forecast.

Heat Wave by Martha and the Van Dells

Passion is the cause of the rising temperature in this doo-wop tune, which could also be the name of a mid-August trend in the atmosphere.

Misty by Johnny Mathis

Most likely, this pop standard would be used for a morning edition of the local news.

Windy by the Association

This hit might suffice for a breezy afternoon, yet it could also leave you with a craving for a double cheeseburger and a thick chocolate shake.

Rain by The Beatles

John Lennon penned this hit around the time of Revolver, only to see it carried on the compilation album called Hey Jude.

Snow by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

The alternate rockers scored a hit with this wintry track from Stadium Arcadium.

White Out Conditions by the New Pornographers

A.C. Newman and Neko Case share the vocals on this title track from the indie band’s latest album.


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