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Retired Pasadena police officer shares the joy of learning how to play guitar


Brian Wyeth had tried to teach himself how to play guitar years ago, but he didn't get very far.
When he accompanied his wife, Ruby, to register her for the free Music and Friends Guitar Camp offered in Pasadena earlier this summer, he realized it was his chance to properly learn.
“I came to the conclusion that this is it,” he said of his decision to join her in the camp. “If I don’t do it now, I never will.”
Six weeks later, the 70-year-old retiree and his wife are among 22 folks from the Pasadena area taking the opportunity to learn guitar-playing basics.
“I think back over the years and, if I had spent 15 minutes a day (practicing) over the last 30 years, I’d be playing now,” said Wyeth.
The free camp, which meets Wednesday afternoons and Thursday evenings, is the brainchild of Pasadena resident Paddy McNeil. The retired RCMP sergeant doesn’t claim to be a great guitar player or music teacher, but has recruited some fellow recreational players who know enough to pass on their knowledge of the instrument to anyone who wants to learn.
McNeil managed to secure a $785 grant from the Western Regional Wellness Coalition that helped pay for items such as guitar picks, tuners, stands and extra strings. He also bought binders and paper to put together booklets containing fundamentals like how to tune a guitar, chord charts and a selection of relatively easy songs for beginners to learn.
McNeil wasn’t done there. He arranged for the Knights of Columbus, of which he is an active member, to donate its hall in Pasadena to hold classes. He also approached some local businesses for support and got deals on musical equipment from Village Music and even a donated guitar from Jay’s Computer Repair.

Besides getting a handle on the basic chords, mastering how to properly hold a pick and strum is part of the beginner guitar player’s learning process.
Besides getting a handle on the basic chords, mastering how to properly hold a pick and strum is part of the beginner guitar player’s learning process.


All participants needed was their own instrument. They could bring heir own guitar, borrow the donated one, or use one of the extras brought along by some of the volunteer instructors.
McNeil said the plan is to teach the 22 people who have signed up how to conquer 10 basic guitar chords. By the end of the camp later this month, the hope is they can all play four songs from their booklet.
He said some may want to continue beyond the camp and learn more on their own. Others may gain the confidence to play for others around a campfire or house party.
Some may just be content to relax in the solitude of their own home and entertain themselves.
One of the main lessons of the camp is the realization you don’t have to be a great player to enjoy playing.
“When you’re in your own home, you’re the best guitar player in your home,” said McNeil. “When you’re singing, you’re the best singer.”
McNeil hopes some of the class members will eventually come back to help teach what they’ve learned to other new beginners.
Like Wyeth, Gerald Canning also tried to learn guitar on his own years ago. When his work life got too busy, those efforts simply fell to the wayside.
The retiree said learning in a group setting gives him a reason to stick with it, even if being a little older makes it a little more challenging.
“I still have problems with the C-chord where you have to stretch your fingers,” he said. “Arthritis starting to set in in my fingers makes it a bit harder.”
The camp is about more than finally learning to play the guitar, adds Canning. The social aspect of getting to know some new people who share a desire to learn is just as rewarding.
Wyeth agreed that being in the class and watching everyone progress is encouraging.
At home, he and his wife practice separately. He hopes someday soon they will be proficient enough to collaborate.
“That is the aim, actually, to be able to sit down and play together,” he said.
There is no doubt the guitar campers are eager learners, said McNeil. Many of them often show up a half an hour before the class is supposed to begin and stick around long after the scheduled time for the class to end.
“When they get that first chord, you can see the twinkle right in their eye,” said McNeil. “They’re so excited that they’re playing it the same way the instructor is playing it and they realize there and then they can do it. That’s the greatest challenge of all. Hopefully they’re having as much fun as we are.”
The current camp will be taking a break in late September and will resume again in October. McNeil is not only reaching out for more people to learn guitar, including any youth who want to do so, but is also hoping to branch out into other instruments.
There are plans to host an accordion camp, and one guitar camper who is proficient at trombone has indicated he may be willing to teach others how to play that instrument.

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