Archive for November, 2011

5 Tips for Buying a Child’s Guitar

November 30, 2011

A friend of mine recently posted to Facebook, saying he was looking to buy his 8-year-old daughter a new guitar for Christmas, and wondering if anyone had suggestions.

Having been asked this question many times, I thought I would share a bit of what I’ve learned over the years.

I’ve played for more 20 years, taught for more than 15, and have seen many students come and go. My recommendation for starter guitar would be an inexpensive one, with a case, a strap and a guitar stand. And I cannot stress enough the importance of replacing the steel strings with nylon ones.

1. Buy Inexpensive. An inexpensive guitar is just as good to learn on as anything else. And you’d be surprised how fast a young kid can accidentally punch a hole in a $200 acoustic guitar. And anyway, getting familiar with the physical feel of the instrument, and developing fine motor skills is what’s important first. And that takes time. If your child likes playing, after a few years she’ll develop a better ear and will probably want a finer instrument, which then it makes sense to invest in one. But until then, I don’t see any reason to pay any more than $30/$40 dollars for one now while she’s getting familiar with the feel of the guitar. Plus – spending less on the guitar itself now allows for the accessories I list below. It also leaves some room in the budget for a few starter lessons, which I also highly recommend.

2. Get a case. Getting a case does a few things. First, it teaches the importance of caring for and protecting the instrument – a good lesson to learn on a $40 instrument, rather than a $140 one! Second, it makes the guitar mobile. And really, for those who love it, guitar playing is a lifestyle. Having a case allows her to take it with her camping, on vacations, or a weekend trip to Grandma’s. Those times away from home and away from the mundane – on the road so to speak – are some of the most developmentally rich experiences for a young aspiring musician.

3. Get a strap. A strap is good because at that age, kids still enjoy performing. And that’s a huge part of the learning curve. Having a strap gives her the chance to stand in the living room and perform a new song for you. She’ll love it – almost as much as you will. Further, a lot of learning is by imitation. While she’s practicing, in her room for example, if she has the means to stand up like she’s on a stage performing for a crowd, that will certainly help build a good sense of confidence.

4. Get a stand. A stand is paramount. In my younger days as a California beach bum, my room mate had a guitar stand with a 12-string acoustic on it next to the sofa. Everyday when I’d come home, I plop down on the sofa, and habitually pick up the guitar. Sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. In either case, it afforded me daily practice. It wasn’t forced or formal – it was just part of my daily routine for about two years. Musically, I developed more in those two years than I did prior or since. Looking back, if the guitar had been in the case the whole time, I never would have played as often, if at all. But it was right there every day, resting gently on the stand saying, “hey, play me!”

5. Replace steel strings with nylon. The reason I advocate the use of nylon strings is because steel strings hurt. And they really hurt in the beginning, where a player logs a lot of hours on the guitar. It takes time to develop ability and time to form calluses – and it’s painful in the meantime. About 75 percent of the people I know who have tried and failed at the guitar, many of which are adults, have given up simply because of this fact. It hurts. Nylon strings are much softer and easier on the fingers and allow them to build up resistance over time. For a kid, there is nothing more repelling than a task that is both technically difficult and physically painful, as learning to play a guitar with steel strings is.

To cut to the chase, here’s a good starter guitar kit on Amazon.com for example: Guitar Kit

If you look midway down the page, they list the “Frequently Bought Together” package that included the kit, a bunch of picks, and a stand for little more than $40. If I was in the market for a kit for a 5-to-10-year-old child, I’d consider something like that. Whatever you decide, take note of the length of the guitar. The one listed here is 38″. I probably wouldn’t want to go too much larger than that. Good size for an 8 year old, and still leaves some room to grow into.

And hopefully, from the moment they unwrap it under the tree, that growth will last for years to come.

Americans are hungry

November 18, 2011

Americans are hungry.

Worse than war, wherein countrymen bind together against a common enemy, hunger pits brother against brother, mother against child. It erodes neighborhoods and rips at the fabric of society in destructive ways that war cannot.

Americans are hungry. Not for food (some are) but for things. We hunger for this, and we thirst for that. What is it that we hunger for? We want it all. Perhaps not, but we want too much. We all hunger endlessly.

It’s been said that Earth can provide enough for man’s needs, but cannot provide enough for his greed. I would say in our case, rather than greed, it’s hunger we face; an endless hunger for things. And it’s breaking us apart. This is undeniable.

We consume assiduously. We justify this, for consuming the things we desire brings us happiness.

Yet it’s also been said that the two greatest disappointments in life are not getting what we want, and getting it. For only after we get the things what we want, do we long for yet something else. It’s an endless wanting. At what point does it end, this wheel of wanting and acquiring?

And in this pattern of desire and acquire, we use, waste and damage an inexorable amount of natural resources, and it’s killing our natural world. This too is undeniable.

Today an old friend and I exchanged idea about new discoveries being made in science. To think there are deep mysteries still to be discovered – many of which could drastically alter our world as we know it – is immensely inspiring and exciting on a planet in peril. But man has a poor track record of using such discoveries of the world to better his situation in it.

And here, in the greatest nation in the world, and with the greatest potential in the history of man, we have a choice – each of us: To divide and conquer, chasing material happiness, or to conquer our own hunger and find satisfaction in living with less.

Everyone wants to change the world, but few are willing to change themselves.

If we were to put in an honest day’s work, and were mindful about how we spend our earnings, we could all earn enough to survive and be comfortable. But that’s not enough for us. We want more than survival and comfort. We chase material things that our culture has trained us to believe will make us happy. It’s not our fault. It’s not our culture’s fault. It’s just what has happened to us, and we’ve been this way for some time now.

What’s worse, many of us have fallen into the habit of living outside of our means. Worse still, there are institutions who cater to this and promise us material possessions right now, at a ludicrous and often impossibly higher price later. It’s not honest, but it’s not their fault. It’s not our fault. It’s just what we’ve become, voracious consumers.

But we justify this, because we think this or that purchase decision will brings us happiness. It might bring us momentary happiness, better described as pleasure, but this too fades, and we soon discover something else that if we could only get in our hands, would bring us lasting happiness. But it doesn’t.

This cannot go on.

It is fortunate that America, in tandem with much of the rest of the planet, is in the midst of revolution.

As with any revolution, new ideas emerge as dominant forces in society. Ideally, as we transition, we would do right to infuse family values into our societal structures.

For in the family, within the walls of our own homes, we seek to complete – rather than compete against – one another. We put our own needs behind the needs of our spouse and our children. And we work not for our own gain and happiness, but for their gain and happiness, which in turn makes us happy.

The ability of the human mind is amazing. But better still, the capacity of the human heart is endless. It is possible for us to care for others outside our walls, just as we care for those within. This we know as we have all learned to love and accept friends and neighbors – otherwise complete strangers – as family.

Albert Einstein, his life a testament to the potential of both the mind and heart, made many contributions to our world. Chief among them was this pearl of wisdom:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest; a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

In a single word: altruism.

By now, is widely understood and accepted that altruism is the richest source of lasting human happiness on the planet. But like any human ability, altruism must be developed. We have done poorly as a nation to develop altruism. Most of us have instead focused on “number one” and almost exclusively on individual monetary gain. We worship the dollar in America. This cannot be denied. And having been focused intently on currency, we have come to recognize the term, “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one)

But in our pursuit of money, the means to material gain, our nation has shifted toward “pluribus,” and far away from “unum.”

We are a nation of fragmented individuals. We started this way, and it has been thus ever since. But when confronted by a common enemy, and only when confronted by a common enemy, few nations spring to unity like the United States of America.

But I intuit that this century, unlike the previous, will not be a time of war against foreign enemies.

Our struggle will instead be here, within our own borders. And our greatest enemy will be ourselves – not each other – but ourselves.

It is possible that Americans in the 21st century will live free of war. Still, peace will not be achievable unless we are also free from hunger.

PRESS RELEASE: Parties Agree to Unconditional Peace Treaty

November 13, 2011

*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***

PINNEO HOME, Va. (Nov. 13, 2011) – After months of amassing a razor-sharp army and a crushing armada, and in spite of recent weeks of boiling tensions between the Bounty Hunter/White Knight Coalition and the Maniacal Horde Forces of Terror, we are pleased to announce that tonight after dinner, diplomacy ruled the day upstairs in Lego Land.

Narrowly avoiding a catastrophic Lego war, in which many ships, planes, stations and Lego people would have surely been annihilated, all parties agreed to a full and swift disarmament after Captain Silver and General Nautilus of the coalition called upon the once-evil Lord Blockhead to join them in peace negotiations and proposed an unconditional peace treaty and weapons elimination.

Accepting the terms with open but different colored arms, Lord Blockhead returned to Terror Tower aboard an air cruiser and commanded his ogres, skeletons and “mixed-pieces” army to shed and dismantle every blaster and bomb in possession, and return the parts to the Lego Common Bin. The same was done aboard the Bounty Hunter’s ship, the Ezra, as well the White Knights’ flying fortress, where all missiles and “special technology” weaponry was manually taken apart by trained technicians and put back into the bin.

“Months ago, Lego Land was a peaceful land,” said Silver. “It was not until we started building and stockpiling weapons – simply because of our own misunderstandings of each other – did the whispers of war intensify,” he said. He said with Lego Common nearly exhausted in the months-long pre-war effort, rebuilding would be impossible if war broke out.

“This marks a pivotal moment in Lego history,” said Nautilus from the deck of the Ezra, where the three leaders met to forge the treaty. “We hope that this agreement is everlasting, and that each Lego from this day forth will be used for good – for engineering and R&D – and for expanding the minds of children everywhere,” he said.