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59 year old beginner

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Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1221

I don't think there's an easy answer to the Vulcan Death Grip. We've all done it, and as a teacher I find I have to mention it to just about every student. I take my cue on this one from Charles Gacsi over at Wholenote dot com - take your thumb off the neck and play a few notes or a couple of chords. Not only is it a lot easier than it sounds, but you get an instant feel for how much pressure is really required to get the strings down.

A :-)

Welcome aboard MW!
Here are a couple more 'death grip' points covered off in an earlier thread; they were a huge help for me:
Relaxing is a big part of it and sometimes it's not the easiest thing to learn. When you grip hard, and especially if you're getting your thumb wrapped around the neck (and if you can do that then your fingers are not short), you actually pull your fingers down and away from the fretboard and that makes getting the leverage to arch your fingers almost impossible.

A good test is to try to not feel the lower edge of the neck of the guitar (the side closest to the floor) at all along the palm of your fretting hand. If you have room to put a pencil or anything between your hand and the lower edge of the neck, then you should have plenty of space to arch your fingers.

Part of it may also be how you'rr sitting. Many people rest their guitars on their right legs (if they're right handed) and then use their left leg as a "wrist rest." This too makes it very hard to get your hand comfortably around the neck and to get good positioning. Sitting up fairly straight and not curling yourself up around your guitar, will help as well. Please understand that without being able to see you play there are a lot of minor corrections one might suggest.

If I remember correctly, you have a smaller body guitar, correct? You might want to try holding it in a "classical" position to get started. This is when you place the guitar on your left leg (if you're right handed) and preferable have the leg elevated slightly. There are footstools for this but a small shoebox is also about the right height. Sitting this way will automatically give you both the posture and the arm positioning that's optimal for placing your fingers on the fretboard.

Hope that some of this helps. Hang in there, though. You'll get through this before you know it and it won't be long before you're posting advice for someone with this very same question! :wink:



Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5582

Hi Mitchell,

First of all, congrats on starting guitar at the age of 59. Dom, the bass player in my band started playing bass, never playing any instrument before at the age of 54. He is 59 now, and I have personally seen him progress in the 3 years I've known him. He is often racked by self-doubt. But I can hear the improvement and always tell him. His face really lights up. And he's starting to get pretty darn good.

Playing guitar is very difficult for almost everyone. It is hard to be patient, you want to play like those great recordings or favorite artists of yours. But guess what? They had to struggle just like you. Maybe they started young, but I promise you they struggled. I know I struggled and still do. So, get used to that, that is how it is for everybody except for a very few natural players.

As far as relaxing, it is just something you have to pay attention to. If you find yourself feeling tight or holding your breath, remind yourself to relax. Pay attention to stress and tightness in your hands and ease up. Relax and have fun now.

There is no magic to guitar. And anybody who really wants to play can. The only secret is to keep playing everyday. You will not see your own progress, but others will.

Don't set unreasonable goals. You are not going to play your favorite Eric Clapton solo in 2 weeks. It took EC 40 years to play like that, it will take you a long time too.

Choose easy, simple songs at first. Pick a song with 3 or 4 chords with a simple strum. Just strum along and sing the best you can. You will find with regular practice you will improve a lot. You may not notice it, but others will.

Go to the Easy Song Database here. Find easy songs you are already familiar with. Just do your best to strum the songs and keep good time. Always tap your foot to keep time.

Just keep playing, that is the only secret there is. If you keep playing, you will get good.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis

Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 6348

one can keep the guitar under control with the right arm too. the forearm against the guitar is enough for me. I can completely let go my left hand and the guitar stays in position [sitting].
it isnt a death arm grip either.
learn to let go the left hand between chords. just a micron off the strings is enough. the muscles relax and you are ready to nail the next position. kind of like little breathes when downing the australian crawl.
take advantage of the longer sustain . I let the chord ring out and have the time to position for the next chord. (Pete Townsend ).

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 103

to a child the word PLAY means fun.... its the same word!!! 8)

man Bally, that was great.

Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 3709

Mitchell, that's great that your learning to play. Don't stress, enjoy it. You will get there when you get there. Have fun! I've been playing most of my life (well, 30 out of 46 yers) but us old dogs can learn new tricks. Holler if you need help.

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --

Honorable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 554

I also started late in life at the age of 51, now I'm 56 and still not a good player. Define your goals in playing. If your goal is to be a rock star you should have started about 45 years ago. If your goal is to be able to play fairly well, maybe jam frequently, do coffeeshop gigs or form a band I think you can get there. Learning is a one step at a time thing, with lots of repetition. Some days you'll sound like shit, some days you'll sound great. Be aware of what your doing on both kinds of days.
One more thing, at our age learning comes a little slower, don't let it get you down.

New Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2
Topic starter  

First, my mistake. I should have said: "Please keep up the good work ladies and gentlemen". I apologize.

Thanks very much for the replies. I'm confident they contain a lot of wisdom, knowledge and even empathy. They're now printed and saved for quick reference if/when I get frustrated again. I already know they are changing my approach to this new addiction.
My other addiction is radio control airplanes and I remember when I was learning to fly thinking, many, many times, "I'm not sure I have what it takes to learn to fly these things". Making a mistake with this guitar costs nothing, with those planes, a few hundred dollars per mistake. Now I teach others and have been known to show off just a little.

No, I have no aspirations (especially at my age) of being really good at guitar. But, I do want very much to be able to play on the back porch with my buddies (all self taught many years ago) and sing along. They don't play or sing very well but they do have a LOT OF FUN.
Thanks again, I really appreciate each of you taking the time to reply and the invaluable advice. It did sink in and will be very beneficial.


Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 3454

Greetings All.
Three questions I really need some help with if possible. But first, 59 years old, now retired,
Now, given the above, on average,my three questions.
At what point should it click?
When will it start to be fun?
How do you avoid applying excessive pressure on strings (especially when playing along with CD)? I've really worked to correct this one, with little progress.

Hi Mitchell,

Unfortunately, 59 is far too late to be trying to learn the guitar. :( You should have done what I did - and start at 58. :P Just kidding, I used to wonder if I'd left it a bit late, because it was all very stiff and slow to start with. I wondered if my fingers world ever get flexible or fast enough (Answer: yes and yes) or whether my brain would ever get the knack of remembering chord shapes or note patterns (Answer: yes and yes).

As to when it will click, that's harder to answer, because it's often more of subtle curve than a "click". If you could rewind to day 1 you'd find that quite a lot already has clicked. You do get a few little mini-clicks and "AHA!" moments along the way though. When will the "gee, I'm playing like a master" click happen? Well, not for a while yet.. :wink:

Well, that's up to you. I never got around to setting a "Fun starts at 10 chord changes, 5 scales and 7 songs" point. I'm not that patient so I made a point of having fun immediately. :D It varies for all of us, but fun for me meant experimenting and improvising, not waiting until I could play somebody else's song perfectly. Taking whatever I could do NOW - however small the kit of tools - and seeing what I could do with it. So as soon as I had 3 notes to play (which was actually inside the first minute) I started mucking about and having a bit of fun with them, trying to see what could be made with them (A surprisingly large variety of things as it turns out. The initial discoveries were very modest but I've been adding to them ever since. 8)

Excessive pressure?
This is mostly a matter of guitar voodoo. By some mysterious process that occured in tiny increments of experience I just slowly discovered how lightly I could press, and a part of this seemed to be learning where to press too. Also stuff like hand and finger angles, etc (which can flow right back to your whole posture). As other said, relaxing helps and not getting too tense in advance about potential mistakes. There may be rituals involving goat sacrificing that can speed it up, but mostly it seems to be about just relaxing, trying small changes, and doing a lot of playing. There are many things that you can play through that will alter your sound - amps, effects pedals, etc - but by far the best thing to play through is plain old experience, and the confidence it brings.

All the best,


Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 3454

My other addiction is radio control airplanes and I remember when I was learning to fly thinking, many, many times, "I'm not sure I have what it takes to learn to fly these things". Making a mistake with this guitar costs nothing, with those planes, a few hundred dollars per mistake. Now I teach others and have been known to show off just a little.

Aha! :D You already know all there is to know then.

I sometimes fly r/c helis (and muck around with r/c cars too) - and it's the same deal. When you first get those little sticks under your thumb you can't even steer a darned car in a straight line, let alone take a heli off the ground and cope with the disorientation of which way you're going in three different dimensions.... :shock: :shock:

But the brain s..l..o..w..l..y accepts the patterning, and your touch gets lighter... and lighter.... and freer... and freer... and then you crash the damn thing into a tree.. But, hey, it was a lot of fun! And next time you get 30 more seconds before you hit the tree. :D



Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 124

Dude let me give you some advice:

DON't EVER QUIT. Who knows, might save your life one day.

Prominent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 938

You do get a few little mini-clicks and "AHA!" moments along the way though.

I call these my eureka moments.

It's these little breakthroughs that keep me going. If I'm struggling on a particular technique I think back to one of my previous difficult moments like when I couldn't play a barred F chord for instance. I thought I'd never crack them and I'd just have to settle playing songs that didn't include barred F chords. When I did finally crack it it was an amazing feeling. It doesn't last long and you move on until the next "obstacle" rears its head. And you practice and persevere until the next eureka moment. It may take a while but you know it will come and when it does it's great.

It's these little progressions along the way that make the experience worthwhile.

Old Chinese proverb:

Even a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Learning the guitar is made up of many single steps. And of course a whole lot of fun along the way.

Enjoy the journey. :wink:


I've had a lot of sobering thoughts in my time.
It was them that turned me to drink.

Prominent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 779

Hi Mitchell
Welcome in the world of guitar playing.
I am also a not so young guy ( 57) and (re)started with guitars playing some years ago.
My goal with guitar is very similar to yours, to be able to play (and maybe sing) together with friends

Your analogy with RC controlled airplanes is not that stupid ( I myself fly RC Helicopters)
In the beginning you need think of every little stick movement you do, but after a while the eye to hand reflexes gets automatic and you only think about the next manouver you will perform. The same thing with guitar playing. In the beginning even the most basic chord changes and strumming needs constant thinking and fretboard eyeing. But after some time of playing the fretting hand muscles remembers the finger positions and the syncronisation between fretting hand and the strumming/picking hand gets better and better.

And I agree with you that a "crash"mistake with the guitar only sounds bad, but a "chrash" mistake with RC plane(and heli) can be costly and take while to repair.

Tanglewood TW28STE (Shadow P7 EQ) acoustic
Yamaha RGX 320FZ electric guitar/Egnater Tweaker 15 amp.
Yamaha RBX 270 bass/Laney DB 150 amp.

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 99

Hi Mitchell

As everyone has said - welcome to the forum. I started playing a number of instruments in my 50's and my kids wondered what on earth was the matter with me. I rather suspect that my wife thought I was going through some kind of male menopause but nonetheless she quietly supported me and I stated to twang away on the guitar. I say twang because no-one in their right mind could have called those notes I played music. Now 3- 4 years on I can rattle out a few tunes and music has become my main love. Nowadays not a day goes by when I don't crave to play my guitar, mandolin or bodhran - I'll never be a professional and I'm not in any doubt that I will never be good enough to play publicly. To be quite honest I don't really want to anyway - I just want to be able to sit in my chair and relax and enjoy myself.

The one thing I have discovered about the guitar is that the lump of wood on my knee never puts me under pressure - it is me putting the pressure on myself. When I find that balance between wanting to improve my standard because it's fun on the one hand and the innate perfectionist within me then suddenly the pressure wears off, I sit back in my seat .. and hey - I don't sound too bad at all.

Enjoy it my friend - there are enough pressures in life anyway. Just close the world away and bit by bit it all comes together. Now you must excuse me while I go off and grind my teeth and have terrible temper tantrums as I try to learn to play another jig on my mandolin!!! :lol:


What did the guitarist do when he was told to turn on his amp?
He caressed it softly and told it that he loved it.

Active Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 13

Hey Michell calm down im 63 and I just started playing a guitar...Im havinga great time I actually know 4 songs now thanks to guitarnoise..I play em over and over and over...and over..then i record em with a little pocket recorder to see if i can sing to them (check my timing that way) OK! I didn say I knew em well LOL...I even learned a love song (have I told you lately that I love you) a really simple version ..It took me a few days practice about 6 hours a day while my wife was at work(cuase im retired) SOOOO! I couldnt wait for her to come home to play it after I figured I could play it through..So in she comes right?..I start playin and she says ..Can you turn off your guitar so I can watch TV....DOH! I guess im not very good(TeeHee) So I turned it off and went out back and flew my RC hellicopter...Dam women anyway!...... From now on im playin for my siamese cat.
P.S. it is frustrating but well worth the effort!

OH I almost forgot to tell you guys that I got into this by accident I bought a jay turser LP black(electric) guitar like new at a swap meet for $45. It plays well I think ...Dont know if thats and exceptable guitar to learn on or not...someone let me know please!

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1882

OH I almost forgot to tell you guys that I got into this by accident I bought a jay turser LP black(electric) guitar like new at a swap meet for $45. It plays well I think ...Dont know if thats and exceptable guitar to learn on or not...someone let me know please!

If it makes you want to play, then it's the perfect guitar for you.

That's about what I payed almost 20 years ago :shock: at a pawn shop for my cheap LP knockoff. It feels good in my hands, and makes happy noises when I run it the right way. :)

What more do you need form a guitar?

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep

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