Through over 4 months of travel, my KLOS guitar and I have had the privilege of jamming with exceptional musicians. I’ve played alongside classically trained Scottish pianists. I’ve accompanied an accordionist in Spain. I’ve had some bluesy guitar sessions in Germany. In some ways, I expected this musical joy—if Europeans are known for anything beyond classic literature and booze, it is surely their musical prowess.
What I didn’t expect, however, was that through my volunteering exchanges abroad, I would end up doing a lot more than just playing guitar. I would also teach it.
It's Better in Belgium
I’ve always wanted to go to Belgium. Despite a fairly crippling lactose intolerance, the allure of the world’s finest chocolate was far too appealing. As for the internationally acclaimed beer...well that was just a bonus. So when a lovely family from Brussels invited me to stay with them in exchange for daily guitar lessons, I eagerly accepted.
Most of the exchanges I’ve had so far have been fairly eccentric. I’ve stayed in castles and chalets, villas and lodges. But as I walked up the long gravel road to this family’s home, guitar in hand, I knew this was going to be a different experience. Their home was—for lack of better words—remarkable. It was a geometric collage of squares, rectangles and circles, all mashed together into a Picasso of architecture.
When they let me in, I was quickly taken aback with the amount of culture oozing from the walls. There were 18th century books lining the shelves. Famous paintings sparking colour into the rooms. And of course, there were multiple fires roaring throughout the house, adding both warmth and ambience to the whole affair. We made our introductions, and I could tell this family was special. And that’s when I met my student-to-be: Aubree.
The 16-year Old Prodigy
Her parents had warned me that she was a quick learner. I just didn’t think she would be as quick as she was. As a burgeoning tennis player, Aubree had an intrinsic craving for success that defined our lessons from day one.
We started with the basics, with me showing Aubree the strings, frets and finger numbers. Normally I’d spend a full lesson going over the difference between Low E and High E. But Aubree was beyond that instantly. She quickly put her index finger on the 3rd fret and started playing a G-note.
“Well,” I said, only halfway through lesson one. “I think you’re ready for lesson two.”
I drew up the CAGED chords using guitar tablature. She thankfully forgave my messy handwriting. Instead of spelling it out for her, I watched as her brain wrapped itself around the problem, as she placed her fingers on the guitar. She confused a few of the positions, but her instincts were spot on. By the end of “lesson two” she was playing a C and a G with ease.
This was going to be fun.
The Lessons Taught Me
I won’t bore you with the details of our 10+ lessons together. Over the course of two weeks, Aubree and I had a blast learning simple songs (Smoke on the Water) and even more complex chorded songs (Riptide). Through each lesson, I was reminded of the pure and simple joy I experienced when first learning guitar. Every sound that came out correctly was special. Every chord was a triumph. After playing for almost 17 years, it’s easy to take those little pleasures for granted. My lessons with Aubree reignited the magic of guitar for me, as I rediscovered how mesmerizing the instrument can be. It also taught me what true envy is, because the rate at which Aubree picked up the instrument made my first endeavor behind the axe feel like child’s play.
My time in Belgium has come to a close. However, thanks to a glut of chocolate, beer, and cheese, my jeans won’t be closing properly anytime soon. I’m excited for the adventures that lay ahead, in France, Portugal, and beyond!
(Obligatory Belgium beer photo!)