Guitar Lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music

A work in progress.

Beginners guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music.

Over ten years ago I inherited a guitar from my sister when she replaced it with a new model for herself. Every so often I’d take it out of it’s black case and haphazardly strum, making up songs, taking out joy or aggression in the strings. But, mostly, it’s sat collecting dust in my closet because I really had no idea how to play.

My guitar, Otis

I’ve always wanted to be able to play the guitar though. I’m absurdly jealous of people who can pick one up and play and have alway imagined carting a guitar around while road tripping and having little hootenannies around the campfire. (Yes, yes I did just say hootenannies.)

Guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music.

Once, a few years ago, Mat tried to teach me chords. He wrote them down on a piece of paper and, for maybe a couple of weeks, I practiced. But I could never remember where to put my fingers, and it always took a ridiculous amount of effort to switch from one chord to another. And, so, I quickly gave up.

Since I had planned to be back in Chicago for at least two months, I decided to actively take the first step and sign up for Guitar 1 at Old Town School of Folk Music. And so, every Monday morning for the past eight weeks, I’ve been lugging my guitar, Otis (as christened by my teacher), to Lincoln Square for lessons.

Guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music.

After eight weeks of learning chords, of practicing “the exercise of champions,” of learning that Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually, I can, actually, play a guitar.

OK, so I can’t play it well, you won’t be seeing me playing Aragon any time soon, but I can play you the slowest version of Jingle Bells you will ever hear. And I no longer require a drummer to do a solo in between my switching chords. And that, my friends, is something.

When my class played “We’re Gonna be Friends,” in front of all the levels at graduation on Monday, I felt proud. And happy. And when I saw all the other levels of guitar perform, I felt excited to continue learning.

Guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music.

Since “Learn to play the guitar” is on my life list, I posed a question to my friends asking when can I actually cross it off. I mean, on one hand, I can totally play songs on a guitar. On another, I’m afraid that if I cross it off I won’t have the motivation to keep going, to be able to play beyond strumming the basic chords in a rhythm. And then there’s the fact that how good you are is totally arbitrary. So, if I don’t cross it off now, when can I cross it off?

My friends had a lot of opinions:

If you can play guitar on the street and get money from people (pity donations don’t count), you can cross it off the list. Jeff

I think once you can read either music or tabs and play them without having someone show you how. Jen

Also acceptable is being able to play along with the radio or something w/o any written music. Keep going until you’re truly outrageous. Sid

Never cross it off, that’s just the way music rolls. Jeremy

How about cross it off once you can play your top 5 dream songs. Carrie

Guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music.

No matter what the definition was of constituting knowing how to play the guitar, everyone seemed to believe that I wasn’t quite ready to cross this one off my life list. Not yet. And I agree. Just like with surfing, I’m learning, but I still have a ways to go.

Guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music.

And so, I will keep practicing, and keep learning. And some day I will feel confident enough to cross this one off of my list. I would really love to move on to the next level at Old Town School, but, since I’m planning on leaving the country again next month, that will have to wait for the future. Maybe, though, I’ll be able to find some hot South American guitar teacher abroad. Hmm…I like that plan already…

Guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music.

Learn to play the guitar is number 5 on my life list.



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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Josh
    October 13, 2013at9:51 pm

    Hope you’ve kept on playing…

    I agree with Jeremy’s take on your bucket list any guitar.


    P.s. I’m starting guitar 1 on October 28 ! Yes !

  • Dominic Fraser
    October 19, 2014at10:45 am

    Good to know that you are on your way to become a good guitarist and I have only one suggestion, “Keep Going”. You never know when success will come. 🙂

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