When I was 10 or 11 years old, I took guitar lessons for about a year. I did all right with the instrument, but was trying to learn to read music as part of learning the guitar. About the time that I got to sharps and flats, I got frustrated, because I'd forget that the note I was supposed to be playing was a half-step up or down, because written music only indicates sharps and flats at the beginning of the piece. I was also at an age where I was more interested in riding my bicycle than playing guitar, so I put the guitar aside.

When I was 16, inspired by bands like Van Halen, Y&T and Sammy Hagar, I wanted an electric guitar. I managed to talk my parents into buying me a guitar and amp. The guitar was a 1963 Fender Duo-Sonic. There were a couple of reasons I didn't want to take lessons. First, the previous experience left me intimidated about having to learn to read music. Second, because I lived in a relatively small rural community, I was certain that I'd be saddled with a teacher that insisted I learn country music, which I didn't care for.

Additionally, the amplifier that my parents purchased was defective, and the Duo-Sonic wasn't the best guitar to learn on. I still don't know why we didn't exchange it, but we didn't. I suspect that I would have probably dedicated more time and effort to learning to play if the amplifier worked properly.

When I was 25, I purchased a Peavey Predator (Stratocaster style) and amplifier. My younger brother talked my parents into buying him a Peavey Raptor (Telecaster style). I let him borrow my amplifier, and he started taking lessons from Shawn Nikolas. When I discovered that Shawn taught his students the songs they wanted to learn, and didn't make reading music a requirement, I decided that I would take lessons from him, as well.

Shawn was a big proponent of building confidence in his students, provided they were willing to put in the time to practice and learn what he was teaching them. I wish I had spoken to Shawn before my dad took me to the music store to buy a guitar. I suspect that I would have walked out of there with a better instrument and would have pushed to get the amplifier exchanged. I also wish I had taken lessons from Shawn when I was 16, because I found that I had a lot of natural talent. I suspect the year of lessons at 11 laid the proper foundation. For the most part, learning to play guitar came pretty easy. There were stumbling blocks on my path, as there still are today, but I was able to overcome them.

I know my teenage years would have been far more satisfying if I had been able to play guitar at the time. I was obsessed with music in those days, as I still am to this day. I can't describe how much joy I've derived from playing guitar. I've also surprised myself with some of the things I've been able to do with the instrument. I know that 16-year-old me would have been stoked to hear much of the music that I've come up with over the years. Especially in the last decade.

Having taken lessons from Shawn gave me a creative outlet that I was so desperately missing in my life. I'm a firm believer that human beings have to find their own meaning in life. There's no giant secret "why are we here" answer. We just have to make the most of our lives. Shawn gave me the tools to do that through music.

Learning to play guitar from Shawn helped give me the confidence I needed to go back to school and get a degree. I'm certain I wouldn't have that degree today if it weren't for my experience learning from Shawn.

I have a particular memory of Shawn that stays with me to this day. I'd been taking lessons for a month or two when I started writing my first song. I played it for Shawn at one of my lessons, and he seemed legitimately impressed with what he heard. As a result he gave me a few pointers on chord progressions -- enough to get started and told me the following with regard to whether something you've written is any good: "If you like it, someone else will". Those are some pretty wise words, and I think they're quite true.

Shawn passed away in 1999, due to an aneurysm. It was very difficult for me, at the time. I was away at school when I found out, and was unable to attend his funeral. I'm told that the church was packed with his family, friends and students.

I don't believe in an afterlife, or gods, or any of that stuff. But I do believe that if you can manage in the short time you have living to make some kind of impact that lasts beyond your life span, you've accomplished something wonderful. Shawn left a lot of music, and students behind that continue to make music and even share their knowledge. That's a pretty good legacy, if you ask me.

Return to Main Page