Music Changed My Mind


During my childhood, I always kept a few albums and a record player in my bedroom. I even sang in choir during grade school and junior high. Still, music never really played a fundamental role in my life. In fact, it took decades before music changed my mind.

Looking back, I realize that I kept letting one thing – a guitar – escape my grasp. On some long-ago Christmas, one before I was even 10-years-old, my parents gave me a kid’s cowboy guitar. I can still see the orange-like color of that guitar’s body, with a rope painted along the edges. I strummed it some, made some awful sounds, and soon stopped even reaching for it.

A couple years later, my parents gave me a real guitar, and I started taking lessons at a local music store. I’d go in once a week, where the instructor picked out simple notes and gave me things to practice before the next lesson. Usually, I only grabbed that guitar once a week, mostly right before going to see my instructor. So in lessons, I hit wrong notes, if it could be called that instead of noise. I failed to remember one chord from another, and never really got to a point of naturally placing my fingers on any chord. I could slowly and painfully pick out the melody to a very simple version of a children’s song, but that was it. After about six months of lessons, I stopped going and left my guitar in its case. Eventually, I gave it away to a friend with far more interest in a guitar than me.

Picking at my brain

As my interests turned to sports and academics in high school, guitars rarely entered my mind. I finished high school, went to college, earned a Masters degree and then a Ph.D. – all related to biology – and music continued to play little role in my life. Nonetheless, I always wished that I knew how to play an instrument. In the back of my mind, I wondered: What if I’d kept taking guitar lessons and actually practiced?

That question lingered on my mind for decades. The older the idea got and the older I got, that question picked more at me. By 1998, at the age of 39, that question rumbled around more than ever. I felt like I was missing something, maybe missing out on a different world. I don’t know why this thought kept mingling with my guitar past, but it did. At the same time, I felt a little old to learn something that seemed so magical to me.

One day, though, it felt like time to put the question to the test. I bought an inexpensive acoustic guitar, and found someone who taught guitar lessons from her home. I arranged one. Sitting in her living room, I heard really nice guitar music coming from another room. After a few minutes, the guitar teacher opened a door, and out walked a little girl who seemed smaller than her guitar. Oh wow, I thought. Maybe this is a crazy idea! Still, I followed the teacher into the practice room, and clumsily pulled out my guitar.

As I got settled, the teacher asked: “Have you played before?”

“I took some lessons years ago,” I said, “but, really, I don’t remember anything.”

“Well, let’s start with that,” she said.

Picking with persistence

And that’s where I started. I learned how to hold the guitar, and I got to where I could slowly pick the strings with my right hand, not doing anything with my left hand. I plucked out simple quarter-note patterns – picking one open string and then another, working my way across the notes: E, A, D, G, B and E.

At the start of my second lesson, my teacher asked: “Do you know how to read music?”

“Not even a tiny bit,” I replied.

So, she gave me a simple book on music theory, and said, “Read this.”

I read that book. Then, I’d look at notes on a staff and try to play them. I practiced every day. I started listening for the guitar playing in songs. I started buying CDs. I read guitar magazines.

After about a year of guitar lessons, I moved to another state. That year didn’t make me much of a guitar player, but the lessons and the hours and hours of practicing taught me to read music, play quite a few chords and even fingerpick some songs.

More than music

Even with 14 years of playing guitar, I remain a total amateur at best. Still, my guitar stays out in a corner of my office, and I play a little bit most days. I’d say now that I can play an instrument, at least enough for my own enjoyment. But I never expected how that would change my mind.

Not surprisingly, playing a guitar amped up my interest in music. I enjoy listening to it much more. It even seems like I can hear it better, or at least it sounds different. When I listen to music now, I feel more of a connection to the notes and the rhythm and the riffs. Music touches me now in a way that I never expected.

Some of the other mind-changing results, though, really surprised me. For one thing, time with my guitar always relaxes me. I slip into playing the notes and keeping the rhythm, and the challenges in my daily life disappear, at least for that period of time. And after playing, those challenges seem, well, less challenging. It even turned out – most unexpectedly of all – that playing a guitar made me better at unrelated things, like shooting a basketball.

Most of all, this entire experience taught me some important lessons about life:

  • When an idea keeps popping up in your head, explore it
  • You’re never too old for a new adventure
  • Adventures taken in one part of your life can enhance others
  • Small steps can take you places that you never imagined.

I might never know why I bought a guitar in 1998, but I’m so glad that I did. Music really did change my mind.

Do you have nagging ideas that you should explore?

Photo by hugochisholm

26 thoughts on “Music Changed My Mind”

  1. Your post reminds me of my wish when I was younger that I could play the flute. I did play in the band in 6th and 7th grade but the teacher selected the instruments the student would play. He chose the clarinet for me. Sometimes I will get a pang of regret if I see a flautist on TV.

    Another connection I feel towards this post is my love of photography. Since I was a teenager I’ve loved taking photos but never took classes. Now I’m in my late 40’s, I purchased a DSLR last year and have been working on teaching myself manual mode photography. I’m going to submit some photos for a local contest but more importantly I’m getting such satisfaction from finally being artistic and true to myself.

    1. Great work on chasing that love of photography, Sherri! I’m not sure that we ever gain more satisfaction than we get from being true to ourselves. Enjoy every bit of that!

  2. I love this! I started learning to play guitar about five months ago, at the age of 35, after many years of thinking about it. It’s slow but enjoyable progress and you’re right Mike, you do forget about other stuff while you play. Music has long been an important part of my life, and the pleasure I get from creating something that sounds even vaguely like a favourite song is incredible.

    I’m also going to pay attention to other thoughts/ideas that keep popping into my head. Keep on rockin !

    1. I know just what you mean about “even vaguely,” Carol. It’s great the first time you pick or strum something recognizable. Then, it keeps getting better. Enjoy!

  3. I think my drawing is your guitar. Never seemed to have taken to drawing as a kid, never was great at it anyway so putting time in seemed silly. Had awful art teachers that didn’t really encourage art and my parents didnt see much interest so… it just stayed an elective.

    As an adult, drawing kept popping up for me and I started looking into art books, started making a point of sketching every day and following along with youtube videos. While art will never be a profession for me, it relaxes me and makes me feel good. Totally worth it.

    Thanks for the roundabout encouragement.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Serena. It’s great for us to enjoy and explore things that we know will not be a profession. I sure know that about the guitar for me! Still, we all benefit from hobbies that make us feel good. Happy drawing!

  4. I came across your post in my ‘guitar’ category in Zite, and I really enjoyed reading it. Having had what feels like a lifetime interest in the guitar (severely interrupted by family and career responsibilities) I turned back to the guitar a few years ago and can only reinforce your message! Picking up and playing the guitar is an amazing therapeutic experience; I find it mood changing – for the good! I’ve written about my experiences on my blog and if you go there, you’ll see that I now compose and record music as well. I have to make it clear that I have no ambition to seek fame and fortune out of playing a guitar – which is just as well! What I compose and record is purely an outcome of picking up a guitar and messing around and getting a phenomenal buzz if something seems to work. So, musically what comes out may be rubbish, but its my rubbish, and I get a great deal of satisfaction out of doing something creative. Interestingly, my background is in science (chemistry) and technology – not necessarily ‘creative’ disciplines, and one of my other great interests is photography (an uncanny similarity with some of the other comments on here).

    What does intrigue me, particularly with music, is just how it works, why does it have such a deep and emotional effect on us? The sheer fun in making music justifies all of the hard work in trying to overcome our biomechanical limitations.

    It was a real pleasure to come across someone who gets it; perhaps we should form a virtual band ☺

    1. So good to hear that you are enjoying your guitar so much, John. When you mentioned the emotional effect, I thought immediately of Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. You might enjoy that book. Also, I think that this post is triggering a virtual band of sorts already, just by bringing us all together with our ideas. Thanks for joining the “band”!

  5. Great post, Mike. I’ve been a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumetalist for years. I’ve gone slightly in the other direction, playing less music and writing more. However, I still play most every day and I occasionally buy and experiment with new instruments to keep things fresh and keep changing my mind.

  6. wonderful post
    music is one of the fastest ways to change the mood
    i believe should make the right choice of music instead of listening to what’s popular
    thank you : )

    1. To get that fast mood change, we really should listen to the music that’s the right choice for us, Farouk. I keep different song lists for adjusting my mood in different ways. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Wonderful post. I just bought a ukelele and this inspired me to really pursue my new project to learn to play it. I’m doing it by self teaching, so it’ll be a hard road and I know that once I learn to play it, it’ll be very fulfilling, so it’s a road worth taking. Even now, with just simple plucking, the music it produces puts me in a great mood, how much more if it were real composed music?

  8. Great post! Following your heart and pursuing your dreams is a great idea at any age! There’s a quote I like that says “It’s never too late to live happily ever after” and I think that applies to all aspects in life. If you want to do it, go for it! It may be hard but it will be worth it

    1. Great points all the way around, plus a really great quote. We often must take on hard work to reach the good things in life, but you are so right: It is worth it!

  9. Nagging ideas to explore? Absolutely have ’em. I read this site daily for a while and then somehow drifted away. No idea why I clicked back on today or why I chose this particular post, but I’m glad I did. Time to start listening to the nag a little closer. Thanks!

    Music is a huge part of my life and my family. Not all are masters at the craft; some are. But we all have a love and an appreciation and it is part of our daily lives. It is a wonderful gift. Glad you picked up your guitar again!

    1. I’m glad that I picked up the guitar again, too. :) I’m also glad to hear that you plan to listen to your nagging ideas a little more. We never know when an idea is absolutely one not to be missed. Enjoy your listening!

  10. Your article touches me, as I’m struggling to learn the fiddle/violin. I have wanted to play for years, and my husband bought me one (albeit not a great one) for our anniversary a few years ago. I had shoulder issues, and maybe a fear, so therefore a mental block, for awhile, and let it sit. Always, always it was in my mind. In the meantime, my sister went behind my back and got one and went ahead and took lessons, etc., and that led me to another mental block about it, anger with her. Finally I have gotten to the point where I’m renting one and have taken a couple of lessons, and just those few lessons really made me see that I could do it, but with a new job for the hubby where we travel all of the time, there is yet another block to my success! It just seems to me that everything keeps getting in my way.

    I really liked reading your article because it shows it can be done, especially if I just pursue the dream!! I hope so anyway. Thanks for the good piece.

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