One of the most difficult things to do after a divorce is to fill in the newly empty holes in your schedule. You used to come home, eat dinner, and cuddle with your wife on the couch while you watched TV; now it’s home, a quick Hot Pocket (unless you’ve taken our advice on how to fix that), and then…what? A dude can only watch so much TV alone before he actually grows roots and becomes a permanent part of the living room furniture.
There are lots of potential hobbies you could take up: skydiving, adult sports, shaving your head and joining a cult…the list is endless. But there’s one avocation that will not only expand your horizons and give you a physical workout, but literally rewire your brain and, let’s face it, give your love life a shot in the arm. You, my friend, need to learn how to play music.
Music is a great hobby. It requires you to be an active, disciplined participant, unlike, say, binge-watching Girls on Netflix. It’s something you can both do for yourself alone in your house and for an audience. It’s a marvelous, satisfying form of self-expression. And you can ask anybody: musicians are H-A-W-T hot.
It’s also not something that most people start doing at your advanced age. (By “advanced age” I mean “any age older than fourteen or so”.) But it’s an old myth that you can’t start learning to be a musician as an adult. It just takes a little more effort.
Putting The (Theoretical) Band Together
To start with: decide what instrument you want to play. In our culture, the most obvious answer is probably the guitar, for several reasons: it’s relatively simple compared to, say, the saxophone; it’s a widely-enjoyed instrument both for solo performance and for accompanying oneself as a singer; and you can get one that’s decent enough for a beginner for less than $200, especially if you check for used ones on Craigslist.
If you want to take your newfound musicianship very seriously, you can buy literally thousands of books and videos on guitar technique. Or you could do what I did when I learned guitar as a kid: pick up a chord sheet and the chords or sheet music for songs you know and love (you can find guitar chords for millions of songs on sites like Ultimate Guitar). Start by learning to make the chords and strum along to your favorite tunes — as you get better at it, you can start to learn how to fingerpick and eventually how to play lead riffs.
I’m not going to lie to you: it’s going to suck at first. Your fingers will hurt from pressing on the strings until you start to form calluses. You’ll spend hours just trying to contort your fingers into the right shapes to play the chords. You’ll see teenage kids playing on the street who blow you away with what seems like effortless ease, and you’ll (hopefully) fight the urge to fill their guitar cases with gasoline and light them on fire.
But after a few weeks of practicing every day for at least an hour after you get home from work, you’ll begin to see an improvement. After a few months, you’ll find yourself actually playing songs. Nobody’s going to confuse you for Pete Townshend — yet — but you’ll get a great sense of satisfaction the first time you can play a Bob Dylan or an AC/DC song all the way through without stopping to slowly reposition your fingers every time the chord changes.
You’ll discover that most pop songs, whether they be country, rock or even hip-hop, tend to use the same chord progressions — if you know how to play “Louie, Louie” you can play pretty much any blues or old Ramones song, for example. You’ll suddenly find yourself hearing the music on the radio in a totally different way. And soon enough, you’ll find that when you’re at a BBQ and somebody busts out an old acoustic, you’re actually okay with taking a turn on it. You may even find yourself writing songs and — thanks to the incredible power of modern gadgetry like the iPad and easy-to-use music apps like Garageband — actually recording them.
Guitar is a great first instrument to learn, but it’s not the only one. You could pick up a ukulele — thanks to modern indie rock, it’s actually a pretty hip instrument, and very easy to play. Or if you’re more into electronic or hip-hop, you can download hundreds of music-making apps for your computer or mobile devices. Think about it: instead of spending your lunch break staring at your Subway sandwich or checking Facebook, you could be making beats and sharing them with the world via great tools like Soundcloud.
Music isn’t just a personal pursuit, either. Once you’re comfortable enough, start going out to open mics in your area and signing up to play. I hosted an open mic for years, and it’s a great place to start performing in public: nobody’s expecting you to be great, and if you are it’s an extra bonus. Plus you can meet other musicians and music fans, and build yourself a new offline social network out in the big world. It’s also a great place to find romance, and I’ll let you in on a secret I learned all the way back in high school: if you play music, it really doesn’t matter how old you are or what you look like. Somebody’s gonna think you’re sexy.
So what have you got to lose? Start by committing yourself to spending at least one hour every single day — yes, including weekends — practicing your new instrument. Maybe the hour between getting home and making dinner, or the hour before you go to sleep, or you can get up early and practice before you start your day. When you hit a milestone — the first time you can play “I Wanna Be Sedated” all the way through without stopping, or the first time you figure out how to transpose a song you already know into a different key — share it on Facebook. Let your friends cheer you on…and keep you honest about keeping up your practice and doing the work.
You may never be Bruce Springsteen or even Blink-182, but you may find yourself falling in love with making music. It’s a passion that you can keep with you for the rest of your life. And who knows? You might even end up, as Doctor Hook And The Medicine Show once sang, on the cover of the Rolling Stone.