Even though I had several guitars all around me growing up, and even an opportunity to take lessons if I so desired, I never actually started learning the guitar until I was in my earlier 20’s.
I always thought that learning the guitar, and understanding musical theory was some kind of boring school subject, or a naturally talented gift that people were just born with.
That was until I had what I call my “guitar aha moment” hanging out at a friend’s house one day. He wanted to practice some improvisation with a scale he just learnt, so he decided to teach me 3 easy chords to play as his backing track.
I was shocked by how quickly I could actually learn these chords, but even more surprised by how good I felt while playing and jamming with my friend. I felt so relaxed and at ease. it was like I had just taken valium or something.
From then on, learning guitar has become a really big part of my life. The more I put into it, the more positive benefits I am uncovering, and the more “guitar aha moments” I am having.
I really believe that independent of your objections to learning the guitar (no time, too old, not musically talented), with the right mindset and some self awareness, learning the guitar can drastically improve your life.
In this article I want to share with you the ways learning the guitar has improved my life, and the unexpected benefits it continues provides.
1. How Learning the Guitar Takes Me Away From Technology
I find most things I do these days is reliant on me having a wifi connection. Don’t get me wrong, I get really excited about technology, but I do worry that staring at a screen for 14 hours a day is not going to end well for me.
Even though I use my computer and phone for work, too often I find myself scrolling and swiping my way to unusual places unintentionally. It’s kind of similar to that feeling of arriving at work but not remembering anything about the experience of driving there.
So many times I have awoken from a technology coma and said to myself, “shit, I have just spent an hour doing this, I feel horrible.”
On the other hand, there have been so many times that I have awoken from a guitar playing coma and said to myself, “shit, I have just spent an hour doing this, I feel so relaxed and happy.”
Learning the guitar has giving me the opportunity to find small pockets of time during the day to step away from the screen and into the creative realm of music.
2. Guitar As A Meditative Experience
I know a lot of people shy away from the word meditate because they related it to religion or spirituality, but in this case l mean it as a tool for calming down the mind.
Like most people I’m sure, I find myself having endless thoughts which can quickly spiral and start to cause anxiety. This is my cue to take a few deep breaths and pick up my guitar.
Playing music involves the right amount of conscious and unconscious thinking which quickly puts me into a meditative, trance-like state. It requires just the right amount of concentration to stop me ruminating about current problems, but at the same time the playing is somewhat automatic and doesn’t require me to think.
Have you ever tried talking to someone while they are playing the guitar? They can’t really hold a conversation, but at the same time they aren’t fully fixated or needing to deeply concentrate on what their hands are doing with the guitar either.
I remember watching a documentary about the Buddha’s life. One of his realisations before he became enlightened came from watching a man tuning his guitar. Seeing the man playing out of tune, then adjusting the string to the right pitch became a metaphor for describing his meditation practice. The meditation was a way of “tuning” your consciousness into the right frequency.
3. Learning the Guitar As a Way to Promote Flow States
I’m definitely no expert on the science behind flow states, so if you have never heard about it go and check out the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, or more recently Steven Kotler and Jason Silva.
A flow state is when you sink into a state of super concentration on the job at hand, fostering elite performance, quicker information processing, and a feeling of heightened senses. In sports this might be called being in the zone or being on fire. Flow states are those moments when you feel unstoppable and no task is too difficult.
To get into a flow state you have to put yourself into a problem solving scenario with the right combination of difficulty for your skill level. Playing the guitar is a great tool for that as you should always be spending time on improving your skills and pushing through new challenging aspects of learning the guitar and improvising.
4. How Guitar Helps Me Learn
Don’t fall for the trick of telling yourself you’re too old to learn something new.
The way I see it, it’s when you stop learning and challenging yourself that your brain stops being able to pick up new things as easily. You gotta keep on learning and being curious to keep the brain in movement and ticking over.
The beauty about the guitar is that it’s a life long learning experience offering unlimited levels of growth and improvement.
5. Creating a Much Deeper Appreciation for Music
Like most people, I was conditioned from a young age to listen to music that was common with the other kids my age. I was never put into a position of musical self discovery or exploration.
Since playing and learning the guitar I have developed a huge interest in listening to different styles of music, with a newfound appreciation for the history and culture behind that particular genre and artist.
6. Kinetic Intelligence and Body Awareness
Hand coordination was something I never thought about until starting to play the guitar.
One thing that really separates us from every other animal species, and propelled our evolution, was our ability to perform delicate tasks with our hands. It became really interesting to me how quickly my hand and fingers would memorise positions on the guitar. Based on what I feel the next chord should sound like, my fingers automatically go to a specific chord shape without me even thinking about each fingers positioning on the neck.
Playing the guitar has made me much more aware of this kinetic relationship between my thoughts and hand movements, and more conscious of my body and posture in general.
7. Learning the Guitar, Dopamine, and Feeling Happy
As I mentioned above, playing the guitar can create sensations of euphoria, and inner peacefulness and well being.
Turns out that feeling is assisted by the release of the neural chemical dopamine, also know as the human happy drug. Biologically this chemical functions as a way of telling our body to do more of that thing. After having sex people, or hunting down a wild animal, we get a hit of dopamine, feel pretty good, and want to repeat that activity again soon. This is nature’s way of tricking us to to do the things required for us to survive and procreate.
If we also get a dopamine hit from playing the guitar, could that mean that there is some kind of biological purpose to playing and creating music?
8. Building Stronger Connections with People
Nowadays it’s becoming harder to do creative things with your friends and family. Most of the time when you hang out with the people you love, you are either watching a screen, eating food, or guzzling down an alcoholic beverage.
When you can sit down with a friend and do something creative together, it creates a really strong connection with that person.
Getting in a flow state, creating something from nothing, and getting all these hits of dopamine is so good, why not invite a friend?
9. How Guitar Provides a Medium for Expressing Creativity
We are all often inspired by our creative career choices in architecture, engineering, graphic design, marketing, only to discover that the romantic vision we had for our jobs quickly gets out weighed down by the analytical, creative crushing aspects of our jobs.
Learning the guitar is like opening up an new outlet that can provide you with a fun daily practice giving you an opportunity to get our creative hands dirty, in a way which your day job isn’t allowing.
Feel like creating some sounds that are uplifting and happy? What about something a little darker and melancholic?
Once you have enough skills to get into the creative zone, you will be surprised with what you come up with.
10. How Learning the Guitar Provides Feelings of Accomplishment
One misconception I had before learning the guitar was that I would only feel a sense of accomplishment, and start having fun playing, once I had started to really master the instrument.
Truth is, I felt a huge ‘win’ after the first time I picked up the guitar, and am constantly getting these positive sensations day after day. The guitar can be a rabbit hole for learning and understanding new ideas and concepts.
If you want to keep pushing yourself to learn and get better, this instrument will continue to give you challenges, and rewards for accomplishing them.
If you have always thought learning the guitar was something you could get interested in but have lacked motivation, I hope these 10 benefits can get you inspired. With very little effort, 10 minutes a day of practice, you will be surprised at how quickly you start improving.
Good luck, and please let us know in the comments of any other benefits you have been reaping from this amazing instrument.