I was turning 30 – the age of anxiety. Neither young nor old, I was at the intersection of settling down and feeling jaded. One evening after work, I walked into a music studio and signed up for guitar lessons. I’ve never looked back since then.
I knew very well that I was rather too old for music lessons, but the thought of being able to make music brought me so much joy – that’s when I understood: I didn’t have to set myself any exorbitant goals. All I had to do was keep playing guitar.
Yet I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought of quitting on this guitar journey. It’s hard enough for adults to take up an instrument, with hurdles such as an aging brain, and a busy schedule for those who have a full-time job. Skipping lessons, or practice, is not uncommon. Where music demands innate talent, one could find it a challenge to compensate the lack thereof. On my own journey I’ve witnessed a handful of people quitting, either because they were talented enough to teach themselves, or because they’d had their share of setbacks.
Much to my embarrassment, my guitar teacher told me that I was his longest standing protégé. I thought I must have let him down, but he consoled me, “Most people would quit after three to five years. That you persevere despite your nine-to-five job is really impressive,” But I’d rather be chastened than defeated. After all, hard work is paramount to mature students – it is especially so when it comes to learning an instrument.
There is no shortage of things to master or memorise: a tension chord follows a chord; one fretboard follows another. For someone like me who’s used to playing with fingers, the use of a guitar pick could feel like a huge step back and take quite a bit of adjusting. For every hurdle overcome, there’s always another waiting to be challenged. Having seen enough of my struggle, one day my teacher gifted me his Jim Dunlop 0.6mm pick, and said, “Thinner picks are easier for beginners; their flexibility allows you to strum hard without much resistance from the strings. But please remember: the thickness of the pick should not matter to a good guitar player,”
Founded in the 60’s, Jim Dunlop is a proud specialist in guitar accessories from picks to pedals. Take their industry-standard picks, which come in a full spectrum of styles. First released in 1981, the Tortex is made of Delrin, which is highly durable with great memory and just the right amount of flexibility for a snappy, fluid attack that’s bright and crisp. It comes in six degrees of thickness ranging from 0.5mm to 1.14mm. With only a 0.1mm difference between each type, the Tortex series represents the full spectrum of sound quality. The one I have is the Nylon Standard Pick in grey, which bends easier than the Tortex. The sound is less clear and defined, but what it lacks in sonic texture, it makes up for in flexibility for strumming. From thickness and shape to flexibility and size, a little difference goes a long way to influencing a player’s style and technique.
“I can play more freely with this new pick!” I don’t know where that naivety came from, but I probably should be glad that I’m not a quitter, so that at my lowest, I can still turn to my guitar. On nights where I’m not feeling myself, or when I’m exhausted from thinking, the guitar in my hands feels even more real. It’s not pre-recorded music; it’s music that’s alive, that’s comfort, emanating from the amplifier – from me.