Every so often I get together with an old friend who brings back memories for me of sitting around a campfire in southwestern Colorado many years ago. In my mind, I can still see and hear my dad and a neighbor playing guitars while the rest of us sing along. My seven-year-old self thought it was the greatest sound in the world.
I soon learned a few chords on my dad’s guitar, enough to play along with my cousin on some Beatles songs. A few years later, flush with money earned mowing lawns, I bought my own guitar, the “friend” that I still meet up with regularly. I took a few lessons, but mostly I learned on my own by ear through hours of practice with my friend. I’ve since added other guitars to my collection, but my old friend is still the sentimental favorite.
My friend and I have played around campfires, in talent shows, at church services, and in jam sessions with other musicians. We played for my wife on the mountain where I asked her to marry me. We played for my daughters when they were toddlers and then played along with them as they grew older and learned to play their own instruments. All these memories are ingrained in the wood and tone of my old friend. Most of the time though I just play for myself and maybe our dog, although I’m not sure if she really listens.
One musician that I used to play with told me, “You can’t think about your troubles when your mind is thinking about the next note in the song.” Whenever I’m feeling down or stressed, I pick up my friend and play some of the old songs. I think about my dad and family and friends and home. For me, playing guitar is the best therapy for a busy life in a chaotic world. A 45-minute session does wonders for the soul.
Music and brain expert Alex Doman says, “Music engages your brain’s reward system, releasing a feel-good neurotransmitter called dopamine – the same chemical that is released when we taste delicious food, see something beautiful or fall in love.…Music has real health benefits. It boosts dopamine, lowers cortisol and it makes us feel great. Your brain is better on music.”[i]
April is International Guitar Month, so there’s no better time to pick up a guitar and play or listen to someone else play. Catch a local live show, or listen to a playlist of great guitarists. If you hurry, you can still see the guitar exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, ending April 17th. Whether playing, listening, or just admiring the artistic style and innovative functionality of a guitar, you’re bound to end up feeling better. You may even make a new friend or renew an old friendship.