The guitar can save the world. I know this because the guitar saved me, and it can save you or members of your community too.
A Kid Without a Guitar
I grew up in Exeter, PA, a modest coal miner’s town nestled on the banks of the Susquehanna River. While the winters were frigid, springtime brought the cherry blossoms to bloom, and the waterfront would be aflame in wild pinks, rich ambers, and waxen ivory. My family—like most families living in the rust belt—was a humble one.
As a kid, we didn’t have enrichment activities at our school. It was either football or bust for most kids, so most kids chose bust spending their evenings glued to the television set playing games like Super Mario Brothers or Mike Tyson’s Punchout. As they got older, many of my friends and classmates traded in their Nintendos for more dangerous distractions like alcohol, oxycontin, and heroin.
Over the years, I lost a lot of friends, family members, and classmates to the opioid crisis and suicide. Without anything bigger than themselves or their valley to believe in, people lost hope.
How many cherry blossoms denied their bloom? I have no idea, but most everyone I know from my old hometown has been touched by this type of tragedy. Most everyone I know has lost a son, a daughter, or a friend to drugs or suicide.
A Guitar Discovered
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “What the h*** does this have to do with the guitar?”
Well, I wasn’t much different from the rest of my friends and classmates: I still suffered from the same vague sense of hopelessness. With no ambition to excite me, I could have easily slid down the same slope of despair, but I was one of the lucky few. I quit college at the age of 22 and hitchhiked across the country, eventually making my way to San Francisco.
It was there that I discovered the guitar, and it was like falling in love with life. At that moment, I understood the awe and the terror Moses must have felt as almighty God spoke to him on Mount Herod. Holding that blizzard pearl Fender Stratocaster in my hand was pure transcendence, and I would never again descend into despair.
At the age of 26, I didn’t care that I was living in a residential hotel room like a pauper. I didn’t care that I owned exactly one cup, one spoon, and one jar of protein powder because I found the guitar, and the guitar was saving me.
A New Type of Hero is Born
Learning to play the guitar taught me how to dream, it taught me how to dedicate myself to a project larger than myself, and it taught me how to be a success.
While I must acknowledge the history of rock stars falling victim to the same type of drug use, depression, and early death as my friends and classmates, I am re-imagining what it means to be a guitar super-hero in the twenty-first century.
Guitarists like Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai embody the modern guitar super-hero. What I see in them beyond their talent is their poise, their perseverance, and their commitment to sharing the guitar with the rest of the world.
In my vision, the modern guitar super-hero is less about virtuosity of skill and more about the virtuosity of soul compelling him to leverage his talent as a tool for social change. The modern guitar super-hero is less about the quality of the gear she uses and more about the quality of the message she is sharing with the world. The modern guitar super-hero is less about the size of their social media following or the venue he can fill and more about the impact he can have on young children in his community.
Join the Super Team and Save the World
My name is Brian Parham, and I am searching for guitar instructors, music educators, artists, musicians, teachers, and parents who are passionate about the guitar and want to change the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Parham is the founder of the Rock Dojo in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches hundreds of kids between the ages of 6 and 12 years-old to play, perform, and compose their own original music on the guitar in after-school group guitar lessons. He’s also the author of three guitar method books including Guitar for Kids: Rock Dojo The Complete Belt System.