By Steve Robinson | February 2, 2018 - 10:42 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

In an industry that has everything from loud and flashy to quiet and soothing, Jim Bland will tell you that it was the lessons musicians took and/or studied early on that probably got them where they are today.

Those lessons came by receiving instruction from others at places like his business, Guitar World, 129 E. Beaufort St. which closed Jan. 31 after 48 years of selling and repairing equipment and offering a place for teachers to tutor students.

Now 72, Bland offered a few thoughts regarding a trend he saw related to musicians and teaching them. And from what he says, you get the idea he’s not wild about it.

He said the opportunities for people who teach instruments like guitar “are becoming more and more limited in town here. There’s only 2 or 3 places that will teach guitar now.” The reason Bland said, is people are finding other means for getting those lessons, primarily via the internet.

“Without students, you don’t get growth,” Bland said. “They’re the future to the store. Once they get interested in music, they would use the store to get strings fixed” and help students take care of other related needs.

“By playing and having a store that I went to when I was young to take lessons taught me to do stuff with the guitar,” Bland said. It also taught him how to be able to repair guitars.

Putting strings on a guitar, Bland said, is a learned skill. It’s something that, as he sees it, is an in-person lesson that needs to be taught in order to be handed down. Doing it through watching videos on the internet doesn’t get the job done, he said.

Videos, Bland said, may be teaching kids to play guitar, that is, play the instrument itself, but the students in watching those videos, aren’t learning technique used in playing it. That’s the distinction Bland said is missing from the process. That distinction, he suggests, is where in-person instruction, such as what Guitar World offered, is missing today.

Learning guitar through the internet also fails to help people learn how to play music with others, he added. “I was a taught player,” he explained. “I learned to read the music and understand how the music works.”

Bland said he’ll miss getting excited to see students becoming excited themselves about understanding their lessons and playing correctly as a result of those lessons. Bland has worked weekends since 1961 in the music field in one capacity or another and still maintains contact with people he taught guitar to when they were kids at that time.

In the early days of his career, Bland recalled, he used to give 12-15 lessons by weekend day and then spend weekend nights playing gigs. “The money in those days wasn’t what it is today, but doing that was how you learned to play.”

Bland said people appear more interested in getting involved in the music business without giving serious consideration to the effort needed. “They want to be stars after seeing TV talent shows,” Bland said.

When he encounters students or musicians with that mindset, Bland said he generally asks the person, “How many 18-hour days straight can you work?” He said that kind of life comes complete with “sleeping in a car or truck or hotel, eating fast food.” He said the end result of that existence is that both social and family life take a hit and suffer from it.

“That’s a hard life…it’s a hard life,” Bland states. Being an Army veteran taught Bland to prepare for the rigors of a musician’s life when it came to being on the road, he added. Today’s musicians, when they hear Bland’s words of caution, mostly have the same response: “’Well, I won’t have to do that,’” Bland reports, echoing a refrain he said he heard often.

Bland said he’s not shocked by younger musicians who give him that reaction because he understands it will take those musicians experiencing the road life firsthand for that shock to set in once they’ve experienced it for a while, especially the first time.

Bland and his wife of nearly 40 years, Karen, have three children, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. There’s an irony with that many kids for Bland: None of those folks on the family tree play guitar. “They’re all basketball players,” he said smiling.

Jim Bland settled in to help others learn music 48 years ago, first at his store’s predecessor, Ax-In-Hand, which he owned with a business partner when it opened in 1970, and he has owned the current business solo for the last 40 years, if not all for others’ benefit but also, hopefully, for their enjoyment from having learned to play.

In turn, he and our community enjoyed the results of the service he provided. Here’s hoping he and his family enjoy his retirement.

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