Lessons

Loads of guitar chord diagrams, song tabs, technique videos are online.  It’s well worth investigating all these tools.

I’ve never taken guitar lessons.  I have no way of knowing if this was helpful or harmful to my development.  I think that I may have been able to progress quicker had I taken lessons, but I was intent on avoiding learning “licks” or “riffs”.  It was hard to find a rock guitarist who didn’t deal in cliches.

Some years ago I developed a love for 19th century string quartets – Beethoven and Mendelssohn in particular, and I decided I’d like to learn to play cello.  My parents bought me a cello for my 40th birthday, and I immediately signed up for lessons locally.  I found a young teacher who played the string family of instruments, and I took a few lessons with him.  The first thing he taught me was how to hold the bow.  There was a particular grip, and it seemed quite difficult.  The lessons went well, but I had to give them up and stop playing entirely, for the usual adult reasons: time and money considerations.

Greenwich house mapI returned to it years later, and decided to look for a teacher once again.  I had discovered The Greenwich House in my travels in Manhattan’s West Village, loved the neighborhood, and I decided to sign up there for lessons, hoping to be assigned a teacher who could guide me back into the demanding task of developing the techniques I had begun to learn years earlier.  I was informed that my teacher would be Sam Reiner.

S_ReinerOur first lesson was in a sunny classroom on a summer afternoon.  Sam’s first words to me were, “Guess how old I am”.  I guessed 72.  He replied, “I’m 91”, and proceeded to tell me his history.

He told me that in the 1950s he was the go-to cellist for recording sessions in New York, and that he played on Nat King Cole’s recordings, among others.  He told me about meeting and playing for Pablo Casals when he was in the service.  Casals gave him the name of his teacher in New York, and Sam studied with him upon his return from Europe.

Then we started my first lesson.  I told him I had struggled in the past with my grasp of the bow, and he suggested I just make it feel comfortable.   We played a few simple exercises together, and the lesson was over.  I don’t think I had more than 5 lessons with Sam in total.  Again, work and money got in the way.  But I never played so well as I did sitting next to him, even if he was simply listening.  I had never had the opportunity to play with and for someone like him before.  He simply radiated music, he embodied music, and he lifted up everyone with whom he played.  I can think of few other musicians who are that good, who by their presence in a group, or even in the room, elevate the performance of everyone around them.  I still can’t play the damn cello, but as a guitarist and singer I aspire to be like Sam Reiner, to become music itself.  Sam died in 2011, at the age of 98.

This is a sufficient reason to take lessons, to imbibe from that deep magic.  Seek it out.

1 thought on “Lessons”

  1. I love lessons… well, let’s say most of them! 😉

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