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Finally, discovering a "Bucket Item"...

Peter McCormick


A favorite conversational topic of mine among my graying peers is whether or not they have a Bucket List, and if so, what's on it.  I ask because I'm interested in them (the person), but also because I don't have one (Bucket List), and wonder if I might be missing something.

How can one not have a Bucket List?  I touched on this in a post about a year ago, but in review, I have already checked off the major bullet points that would populate most lists:

  • 9c21e4382ef8742ef2199803c237a43e-.jpgI've been happily married to my best friend for 37 years, an item for 41 (since I was 19). I still chase her around the house, and catch her occasionally (yeah, I know, TMI).
  • We've raised two good kids, sent them off into the world well educated and debt-free. Both are well adjusted, have good careers, have found soul mates and are happy.
  • I started a successful business that provided for my family, a challenging career for me, and a service to an industry while enriching the lives of others.
  • I've seen enough of the world to not have any great desire for more.
  • We have homes in two places, by the sea and by the mountains. Both inspire and delight me.  I can think of no place I'd rather be.

One might say, OK, what's left?  A mantra I've hung my hat on for years is to learn something new every day.  There's an old saying that when you stop learning you start dying.  Technology has filled that bill easily over the past couple of decades, but I also keep my eyes and ears open and read a lot.  That's mostly superficial stuff, however.

What about true personal growth, the deep-down, inner core, enrich-my-life type of thing that starts with a defining moment or decision and leads to a new facet of your self?  I found one: the guitar.

What about true personal growth, the deep-down, inner core, enrich-my-life type of thing...

Well big friggin' deal, one might say; millions of people play the guitar.  True, but millions don't start to learn at age 60.

I've been a music junkie almost my entire life.  Dicked around with the drums and bass back in high school, the piano when the girls were taking lessons. But I was never willing to put in the effort to learn the theory from the ground up and invest in the requisite practice.  Consequently, I never got past mediocre.

Ironically, I was an insatiable, avid student of rock and roll and music gear.  I knew who used Rickenbacker 12-strings, Gibson Les Pauls, Fender Strats or Telecasters, Hammond B-3s, Leslie cabinets, Zildjian cymbals, Marshall stacks and all that.

I had rationalized my musical failings by telling myself I didn't understand theory, didn't have it in me, wasn't cut out for it.

But this whole Bucket List thing made me realize that not playing music was the one gaping hole in my life, the only major regret I'd have if I never tackled it.

This revelation came to a head this past summer at our home in the Canadian Maritimes.  A group of neighbors and friends got together at a coffeehouse on Friday nights and played, with an 'open mike' invitation for others to join in.  As a vacation area, the mix of people changed but there was one constant:  it was obvious that every one of them was having great fun, and I envied that.

I asked one neighbor, Jennifer-with-the-beautiful-voice, 50-ish and a basic guitar strummer, how long she had been playing. "About two years," she said.  Really?  C'mon. "Seriously."  That lit the light in my head.

As the summer progressed I mulled over the concept, realizing that many Guitar Heroes have less on the ball than I do (cue Money for Nothing by Dire Straits). So I finally threw down the gauntlet and told my friends I'd be joining them next year.

As the summer progressed I mulled over the concept, realizing that many Guitar Heroes have less on the ball than I do. So I finally threw down the gauntlet...

I had bought a decent beginner guitar (a Seagull S-6 dreadnought acoustic) 20 years ago for the girls to learn on. Both attempted and didn't last, something I wrote off as a genetic defect. But the guitar was still in the basement.

So I dug it out of storage, hauled it to the local Guitar Center (40 miles away, as local as one often gets in Vermont) to get set up properly, and started filtering through the myriad lessons and lesson plans on the Web.  Now this is the really cool part of how technology has changed things.  Back in the day you packed up your stuff and hopped into Mom's station wagon to go to the music store for your 30-minute lesson.  During the ensuing week you'd try to decipher the notes and remember what you went over in your lesson.

Fast-forward to today.  Online lessons are videos that you can start, stop, rewind, pause, go over, repeat any time of day and as many times as you want.  That's a HUGE benefit.

I settled on two paid lesson programs, jamplay.com and guitarsystem.com.  This is where I get the step-by-step progression of hands-on stuff while learning the theory along the way.  I also found two Brits (justinguitar.com and andyguitar.co.uk) who are great fun and teach the songs, techniques and nuances.  These are free but also take donations and sell songbooks and stuff.  I donated to both because, in the same vein as public television and radio, I enjoy them and they would go away if people didn't support them. (Keep that in mind, all of you out there who only use the free parts of TurfNet!)

It has been two months now, and the journey so far has been immensely satisfying.  I practice probably an hour total a day, when I feel like it and of my own volition.  This is another big difference of learning as an adult vs as a kid: you do it because you WANT to do it, not because your parents are hollering at you to do it.

I'm amazed at how far I've come in those two months, well beyond anything I'd ever imagined in this short a time.  Not Clapton or Knopfler yet, but I'm getting my open chords, changes and strumming patterns down and am gaining on the big, bad F barre chord, that rite of passage between guitar kindergarten and first grade.  And I'm slowly assimilating the theory that helps it all make sense.

While gratifying, this process is also very humbling.  Imagine yourself in a classroom of 8, 10 and 12 year-olds.  That's where you are, in effect. At times you're also like an infant learning to pick up a Cheerio or eat soup with a spoon.  It looks easy, your brain is telling your hand what to do, but there's a disconnect that only slow, methodical, repeated practice will cure.

At times you're also like an infant learning to pick up a Cheerio or eat with a spoon.  It looks easy, your brain is telling your hand what to do, but there's a disconnect...

I have also discovered a corollary to golf, believe it or not.  Everyone knows that sweet spot stroke where the clubface hits the ball perfectly and it sounds right, feels great up the club shaft and through your hands, up your arms, through your shoulders to your brain.  It's what keeps most everyone coming back for more.  Unfortunately, for me, those were so few and far between that the skulled shots, shanks and forearm shivvers to the funnybone took over and led me to lay down my sticks forever... but at least I had experienced it to know it.

The very beginning of learning guitar chords involves a lot of buzzed, dead and off-key notes, enough to make you cringe at times. But with an acoustic guitar, when you get it right, you take a full strum and all the notes ring clear, the guitar body resonates against your chest in the same sweet way as that perfect golf stroke goes up your arm.

And it does feel good, indeed.

(Addendum:  I thought of something else.  An acoustic guitar is completely unplugged.  The power can go out, you can be out of wifi range, 'no bars', indoors or out and you can still play away.  That's rare enough these days for me to notice it...)


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Glad to hear it. Guitar is a never ending journey that has provided some of the best times of my life. I took it back up with a passion years ago when it became obvious my best golf was behind me and it is an art I'll be able to develop for many years to come...


Couple things. Theory wise, learn your major scale inside out -- everything else is based on that, chords, the modes, pentatonics, minors, etc -- when you know your major scale, you also know all that stuff, you just have to learn the theory side, ie why the notes of a C major scale are the exact same notes as an A minor scale, for an example.


Learn your triads. And check out the truefire courses.


Enjoy, mebbe we'll jam one of these days!

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Guest olmMerit@aol.com


Peter, you never fail to amaze me. You are such an interesting person. Sure glad you found your "bucket" to share with all your turfheads. Have a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year picking those chords.

Best regards,


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Peter, quite an inspiration and wonderful story/goal. As St. Susan & I sip a glass of Merlot, we both smile & laugh at a vision of you at "Open Mike" in Campobello next August!! Counting on it, and will plan to join you for one my favorites, a challenge: a classic; Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles! I to am so blessed in my life, and like you music a huge passion ! Buffets album A1A turns. 40 this weekend , & Dickey Betts 71! Give Patty a hug & great minds think alike- "Life really is a tire swing"' rock on!! Love you brother !

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Guest Brian Flynn


You continue to surprise and impress me Peter. As you know, I have been playing guitar on and off for about a half century. It is hard for me to imaging beginning the process just for the love of music and the challenge. To be honest, I worked so hard at learning to play in order to attract women and avoid schoolwork! I was far more successful with the latter. Only later did I realize there were so many other rewards.


I look forward to playing back-up for you next summer!

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Great post Peter. My fairway cutter did the same thing in his mid 70's. He lives on Chappy and takes the little ferry to the "big island" for his lessons. It is on my list to learn how to play an intrument. Maybe just have to get older?

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Just heard a beautiful song "a different kind of freedom" played by a Pete McCormick.  Our friend living on Keats Island shared with it with  us.  I just had to google your name to see if I could hear more. .  I loved the song, .  Thanks for persevering .  It gives me hope I might cross off playing piano from my own bucket list.  Michelle p.s. don't stop playing!!!

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