The Song Train
FAQ    Contact    Home

How I Learned to Play Music (Harvey Reid)

I started out banging on D and A7 chords and singing simple songs like a lot of other people. I had no ambitions, and would have laughed out loud had you suggested that I would become a musician. Somewhere in my early teens while looking for a baseball glove I stumbled on a $19 dollar guitar in the attic that my mother (who loves music) had bought at a post-Christmas sale at a department store. It was a black steel-string plywood model, with a white painted line around the body and soundhole, with very little tone.

My brothers and I passed it around, and tried to play the "And Away We Go" songs that were at the beginning of Alfred's Basic Guitar Instructor Vol 1 that was in the case along with a single-strap capo, a couple picks, and a pitch pipe.

Alfred 1zilchAway we gozilchJoy of guitar

None of us got anywhere until I got hold of "Joy of Guitar– 150 Folk Songs for 6 Magic Chords" at the local Toys 'R Us. This book spoke to me, because I was already familiar with Burl Ives' tender version of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," Peter Paul and Mary's rousing "Rock my Soul," the Beach Boys wonderful "Sloop John B," and Judy Collins etheral "Amazing Grace." And I knew a number of the songs in the book from elementary school music class like "Down in the Valley", "Skip to My Lou" and "Camptown Races" and so I immediately had a starting point and a repertoire of songs I had already internalized. I was motivated to spend long hours mastering basic chords because I liked the songs I was playing. I had enough songs to keep things interesting, and I was able to understand what a chord change meant, and deduce something of what it meant to play in different keys because the songs in the book were in the usual 5 guitar keys of C, D, E, G and A. And I was 12 or 13 and too young to understand "cool." And it did not hurt that in 1960 when I was 6, "Tom Dooley" was the #1 song on the pop charts. Folk music was cool in those days, and has not been for a long time.

My mother was a folk music fan, and we had a bunch of Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell Trio, Joan Baez, Burl Ives and Peter Paul & Mary records playing in the house when I was young. Unknown to me, I absorbed all of that music. My parents also had been into square dancing when they lived out west, and I had little 78 records of "Turkey in the Straw" and "Arkanasas Traveler" to play with. I looked around me, and saw "Blowin' in the Wind" which was the #1 song in the country in 1963 and I could figure out how to play it, I was rolling. It was the 60's of course, and Top 40 radio was filled with Beatles, Stones, Elvis, Otis, Motown, and I knew all of that music as I grew up also. I bought the Chuck Berry song book when I was 16 and learned to play a whole bunch of his songs, and they were very popular at parties. I loved Simon and Garfunkel, and "The Boxer" was one of the songs that got me going on fingerpicking. It was not hard to find Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson, Judy Collins, Eric Andersen, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger etc. etc. and then in the eartly 1970's I discovered what was then known as "underground" FM radio. Relatively powerful radio stations with much higher fidelity than AM radio were broadcasting a wealth of interesting music 24 hours a day, and I was lucky enough to discover WHFS in Bethesda MD, and got a tremendous education listening to old blues, bluegrass, R & B and and whatever else they felt like playing. Now that big-money interests have bought up the radio dial the only opportunity people have today to hear "out-of-the-mainstream" music is on satellite radio and internet.

There was no need for lessons, guilt, practice, frustration or any of that. I learned immediately how to get to the magic of music through simple songs I could bang out on the guitar, and the songs were well received by my friends. I had fun every step of the way, and was playing real songs from day 1. I did not try to learn a scale until many years later when I decided that I wanted to learn to play for real.

In retrospect, this is why I have designed The Song Train the way it is. Other musicians I talk with have generally had similar experiences.

© 2007-2017 by Woodpecker Multimedia