Wow. These days it's more like - what can I play this year that I couldn't play last year? The answer to that question is usually something that is considerably more complex than what I was attempting back in that first year, which is gratifying. But that gratification is a deeper feeling that the pure joy and excitement associated with discovering the fundamental and important basics of guitar playing.
Remember the first time you could make the stretch required to get a clear sound from a first position G Major chord? And the big, dark sound of a full E minor? And wow, did they sound good going back and forth between the two. "Wait a minute, that sounds like.... !!!" And the journey begins.
That's not to say it was easy. Far from it. If you were struggling with a cheap guitar that seemed to resist every bit of downward pressure your poor fingers could exert it could be frustrating to say the least. I do have to say however (at the risk of sounding like some cranky oldster) the beginning guitarists of today have a multitude of choices in decent, inexpensive guitars, as compared to what we had back in the 1960s. That Kay archtop you see in the picture belonged to my friend Beth and while it was step up from my Stella, I recall it sounded pretty....um, shall we say, unremarkable. These days a beginner can find a decent imported guitar with accurate intonation and OK sound for somewhere between $100 and $200. Back in the 60s even a Stella or a Silvertone sold by Sears was a $40 or $50 guitar and was often a total piece of junk.
My point is - there is no reason for a beginner to struggle with his or her guitar any more than is necessary to gain the amount of strength and calluses to press down the strings of a guitar with good action. I can tell you this. I have seen bad instruments do more to discourage people from playing than all other reasons combined.
I'm often asked two very simple questions by people considering taking up the guitar: Is it hard to do? And how long will it take me to play something that sounds like something?!
Of course, it is impossible to answer that question with certainty but here's what I say. Compared to just about any other instrument, you can be playing the type of music you want to be playing in a shorter amount of time the guitar. Most of my students are strumming out the accompaniment to simple songs in a few weeks. This assumes they aren't too shy about at least humming along. There's the subject of another blog entry!
After that the real fun begins. Those weekly discoveries begin to happen and with those discoveries comes the urge to play more and more. Which of course means that progress is that much faster.
See what I mean about wishing I could do that first year over again? I know that I'm a way better player than I was back when Beth and Barry and I sat in the grass on Ram Island, eating sandwiches and playing Dylan tunes and soaking up the all too brief New England summers of our youth. But I know that I'll never be able to recapture the joy of discovery of the basics of playing the guitar. If you're at that stage, I'm envious!