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“You are next!”

by Stênio Ferreira

As I heard these words and looked at the stage, my anxiety peaked. My friends were in the middle of their song, but I had gotten the call to start getting ready to go up the stage. I went to the side as instructed, and started tuning my guitar in preparation. Hitting the E string made me remember how far I had come since the decision, one month before, to join Altered Stage.

This decision came from a desire of improving my guitar skills, which I felt had plateau after some progress. Unlike others, I started playing the guitar late in life – at 35 – with absolutely no musical background. The catalyst for this new interest was the video game “Guitar Hero”, which I enjoyed and spent significant time trying to hit the perfect score. As time passed however, I felt this time could be spent more productively building skills with a real guitar, so that led me to graduate to the other guitar-based video game, Rocksmith. It followed a similar concept as Guitar Hero, in the sense that a player had to hit the correct notes as they flew over the screen, however it used a real guitar instead of a plastic one. This was my first real introduction to guitar playing, and I felt it was significantly more difficult than guitar hero – instead of 4 buttons now I had the whole range of the guitar to explore.

Some songs were accessible and perhaps even easy, such as Ramones’ songs. However others such as Arctic Monkeys’ proved impossible at my skill level. While the game did provide tutorials, I felt they were limiting, so I went exploring online for lessons on Youtube. On this video platform I became acquainted with many online instructors, and eventually picked my favorite ones. Each had a positive trait – variety of songs, pace of class and insider tips, but eventually I hit another roadblock by having no one to ask questions and share the areas that I felt most challenging. This led me to look for real group classes.

I did find a group class in the Chicago area which was much more affordable than a personal instructor, and it did move my skill level forward. While I had to make some compromises by playing songs that I wouldn’t traditionally have considered as part of my repertoire, it was fun and I made new friends. Eventually however, I felt constrained by having to rely on the class musical taste and skill level, which prevented me to explore the songs I really enjoyed.

It was around this time that I found out about Altered Stage. I was cautious at first – the idea of having “unlimited” classes with a personal instructor for a fixed monthly fee was a bit foreign to me, which made me procrastinate the decision. However after some thought I decided to give it a shot and scheduled a free introductory class, and I am glad that I did – Jason Steele has been one of the best instructors I have had in my life, in any field of expertise – he combines humility, expertise, friendliness and an honest desire to help others progress with their musical skill. He was very accommodating with the class format that I suggested, and besides guitar skills he also always shares amazing life stories about his journey playing the blues in Chicago and in other cities. Jason’s expertise, personality and musical versatility was what sealed the deal for me to join, but having the monthly gigs with the other members is what keeps me on track and motivated for me to continue my musical adventure.

And with that thought I came back to reality, it was my time to go on stage for the first time. After mere two weeks of practicing I had set myself to play Bad Religion – American Jesus on stage, including the tricky solo. Did I succeed? You be the judge:

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