Return of the Guitar: Students turn to self-taught skills with new free time

Several students have used their extra free time from distance learning to self-teach themselves a new skill: playing the guitar.

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Photo by Wally Stearns

Rachel Gauer and Wally Stearns

Since March, the pandemic has kept people inside and away from some of their favorite activities. Many people have since adopted new hobbies, from woodworking to embroidery to picking up an instrument. By far the most popular choice for new musicians is the guitar. Guitar sales have skyrocketed since mid-March, and the enrollment in online lessons and views on tutorial videos has seen a similar increase. Many students at our school have picked up the instrument since the beginning of quarantine.

Senior Ethan Falkenberg has always had an interest in learning to play the guitar, inspired by a friend who self-taught himself using online resources. Because Falkenberg is normally involved in multiple sports and his job, it wasn’t until quarantine began when he could devote time to his passion

“I always kind of wanted to [self teach] and I thought it’d be super cool for me to do. So when I had more time, I just decided to go for it,” said Falkenberg. 

Falkenberg’s new hobby has persisted since he first began in March. His consistency has been essential: Falkenberg notes that since he began he has been able to practice an average of 1 hour every day. His secret to his high practice frequency is multitasking:

“Because we’re doing distance learning I’m always sitting around at my desk and my guitar sitting right next to me. I often just pick it up and play it a little bit,” said Falkenberg.

Like Falkenberg, Senior Gavin Kjeldsen also had an interest in learning to play the guitar prior to the COVID-19 quarantine and used his new free time wisely:

“I’d always wanted to get a musical instrument, but just never really had the time. I [decided to learn to play the guitar] would be a productive thing to do with COVID in quarantine,” said Kjeldsen.

In addition to playing the guitar, Kjeldsen also finds himself singing along with his music. The sonic combination of both guitar and vocals has been significant to Kjeldsen, and keeps him motivated and invested in the instrument. 

The most exciting part is when I can sing a song and play it perfectly well and I can feel that click,” said Kjeldsen.

For Kjeldsen, this chemistry is only attained when the songs he practices have significant meaning to him. Throughout his musical journey thus far, Kjeldsen has experimented with different songs to learn and to cover in order to find ones that speak to him on a personal level. Kjeldsen describes his typical criteria for the songs he covers: 

“I really don’t like music that’s just made just to sound good. I prefer a message to the song that actually has an important meaning to it. [For] a lot of the songs I play, I’ll change the lyrics to make them more meaningful to me. I combine my story or how I’m feeling with the original artists’ lyrics,” said Kjeldsen.

I just had so much time and I decided, I can’t stay on Tik Tok. I can’t do it. I have to do something else.”

— Natalia Farias Maldonado

Senior Natalia Farias Maldonado, who has plenty of instruments in her house, simply could not find anything better to do during the early quarantine stage: 

“I just had so much time and I decided, I can’t stay on Tik Tok. I can’t do it. I have to do something else,” said Maldonado. 

Throughout Maldonado’s learning process, she not only learned about the instrument; she also gained new knowledge about her own motivation and way of thinking. Maldonado shares her insight and advice regarding her own experience with motivation and practicing: 

“I don’t have as much patience for myself. I like to be good at things, even when I first start them. But I’ve learned that practice really does help a lot. You just gotta keep doing it. Because eventually you’re going to get better, but you can’t be lazy about it. You have to practice the right way, or else you’re gonna get into some bad habits,” said Maldonado. 

Additionally, Maldonado reveals that she has benefited emotionally from learning to play the guitar, as it has become a positive outlet for her to find peace: 

“It’s really calming and kind of distracting, because I’m only focused on [playing] and focusing on the mechanics of it since I’m still learning. It’s a really good distraction and outlet. Sometimes I cry while I play guitar, it kind of helps.”

The guitar has proved to be an irreplaceable staple in American culture, a cultural symbol that resonates within each and every one of us. Everyone has had some form of exposure to the guitar, whether they play themselves, they have a relative who plays, or they have a friend with an old acoustic under their bed. Perhaps with the global quarantine comes a revolution for the instrument. As mainstream music strays further and further from guitar-based sound, it seems likely that an influx in guitarists could spark a new musical movement. In ten to twenty years, who knows what music will sound like? One thing is certain: the guitar is here to stay.