Learn guitar at an (relative) old age

I just turned 57, and my new project is to learn how to play guitar. After many failed attempts, here’s what seems to be working. And it only requires two pieces of wire.

In this other article, I told you how I learned to play the ukulele in a very short time, after having tried (and failed) to play guitar many times. In essence, the guitar has too many strings—or I have too few fingers. This is why a 4-string ukulele is so much easier to make it sound reasonable from the get-go. In this post, I’m going to to tell you an even simpler trick that you can apply to that guitar that you have tried (and failed) to learn to play.

Ready? OK, go get a couple of those plastic-covered twisty wire things that come with so many packages. Rubber bands work too, especially those made for hair work best because they are easier to put on and remove.

Next you go to your guitar and use the wires to tie together the 5th and 6th strings. Put one piece near the bridge and the other near the nut, so that those strings end up fairly far away from the others. You may want to loosen those strings first. Wrap the extra wire around the stings so you won’t hit it as you play, as in the pictures.

Presto! You’ve got yourself a baritone ukulele, or a four-string guitar which is the same, which is much easier to play than a six-string guitar. Many important chords only require one finger, and you don’t need to worry about touching strings that aren’t meant to be played. If you loosened the 5th and 6th strings as above, they won’t make hardly any sound if strummed.

An alternative, which I found works even better, is to pull the top strings to the side with the help of a regular paper clip attached to the sound hole. Put something soft under the jaws so you don’t mess up the finish.

You can use this setup to learn some basic chords (C,G,D,A,E, and so forth) using fewer fingers than in a guitar. Then learn to switch between them with some songs. Here’s a good source for easy classic songs. And here’s another. This may be all you need. What’s best, you can borrow someone else’s guitar and do the trick in a couple minutes without risk of losing a friend, and the materials are available everywhere.

Then, someday when you feel adventurous, remove the wires and try adding those extra fingers that you skipped. It will take some work but it will be a whole lot easier than trying to learn it all from scratch. Especially if you’re 57.

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