Learn These Four Chords

I was twelve years old when my father bought me my first guitar.  It was a pawn shop special.  Although, at the time, I don’t think I knew what that meant.  There was great music everywhere.  The Beatles Revolver album was blasting at the pool in our apartment complex.  The Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Donovan, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, and the Yardbirds dominated AM Radio. At the center of it all was the guitar.

My mother bought me an LP (long-playing record) with guitars lessons.  I’m also assuming there was an accompanying booklet with diagrams, but I don’t recall.  What I do recall was hearing a guitar sound 4 times and then the narrator on the record saying “learn these 4 chords and you will be able to play all the popular music available today”.  The quote might be inexact but the implications were clear.  If I learned to play G-Em-C-D, in that order, I would be all set.

The reality was quite a bit different.  The G-Em-C-D chord sequence, known as the 50s progression, would teach me to play songs that were ‘before my time’. “Earth Angel”, “Stand by Me”, and “Duke of Earl” had no place in my world.  I didn’t understand any of this at the time.  What my 12 year old self did internalize was that I had followed the instructions but hadn’t achieved the promised results.  It seemed too hard.

Yes, I could play those four chords but that in no way met my expectations for what it meant to play the guitar.  The learning objective for those who created the guitar lessons, if it was ever articulated, involved learning to play songs from the 1950s and early 60s.  No one told me that and I blamed myself for falling short. 

I was lacking context.   What if the LP guitar lessons had started out with the first couple of bars from “Stand By Me”, then played the 4 chords, and finally the narrator says, “You have just heard  “Stand By Me”; recorded by Ben E. King in 1960.  The 4 guitar chords we played after the song will form the building blocks for you to be able to play many of the most popular songs from the 1950s and early 1960s”.

At that point I might have thought “I don’t know that song and don’t really want to play songs like that”.  Then again, maybe I’d have grown an appreciation for music I had never been exposed to.  Okay, I was only 12 years old but you never know.  Although I eventually learned to play a passable guitar, I look back on a 1966 as a missed opportunity.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: