Since the dawn of rock and roll, if not before, the guitar has been the centerpiece of pop music. As such, it is among the most widely played instruments on the planet, from casual campfire strummers to guitar gods such as Eric Clapton and Trey Anastasio. As the old Radiohead song goes, anyone can play guitar. But should they?
Greg Ryan thinks so. Granted, he's a bit biased on the subject. Ryan is a Middlebury-based guitarist and guitar teacher. He's an accomplished performer, too, having toured for years as a singer-songwriter before forming a gypsy-jazz duo, They Might Be Gypsies, with his 15-year-old son, Aidan Ryan.
"[Teaching guitar] has allowed me to interact with both of my kids in a way I don't know that I would have as a parent otherwise," says Ryan. He also taught his son Casey, now 22, to play.
Of course, not every parent is a gifted guitarist or teacher. Still, Ryan sees lasting benefits for anyone who learns the guitar — regardless of what their parents do.
"Playing together is a great way to learn to interact with other people," he says. "And it can bridge generation gaps, in a way."
Ryan speaks from his experiences with his own children. But he notes that the guitar is a unique tool for finding common ground. Piano is often cited as the instrument that provides youngsters the most comprehensive musical foundation. Because of its ubiquitous nature, the guitar offers something equally important to holding kids' fickle attention: accessibility.
"Music allows us to communicate, to really listen," Ryan says. "And the guitar makes music more easily relatable."
Aidan Ryan took classical piano lessons as a child, which his dad credits as a key to giving him a strong musical foundation. But Ryan also says the guitar kept Aidan interested in pursuing music.
"You can get something out of playing guitar right away that gets you excited to learn more," Ryan says.