Vets learn playing the guitar helps them relax and escape depression

Strumming their way out of loneliness


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Army Veteran Ronald Williams (above) takes his first guitar lesson with instructor David Champlin

Each Tuesday morning in the Community Living Center Relaxation Room of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, the gentle sounds of strumming guitars can be heard as inpatients learn to play.

Guitars for Vets is a non-profit organization that provides ten individual guitar lessons to Veterans struggling with physical injuries or emotional distress. Once lessons have been completed, the Veteran receives a free acoustic guitar.

The program is a great way to get patients out of their rooms and interacting with others.

“I was pretty much staying in bed, except for physical therapy,” said Army Veteran Ronald Williams. “I was bummed out about the whole situation. My ability to walk had diminished and I was just sitting in my room trying to be positive.”

While in his room, Williams was visited by art therapist Sheryl Corbit who spoke about various activities available to Veterans. Williams was sold when she mentioned guitar classes.

“I toyed with it once,” he said. “I may as well try again.”

My brain wants to go the other way

Williams used to play guitar left-handed, but a surgery to fuse his right wrist left him with limited dexterity in his fingering hand. Now, the determined Veteran is trying to learn to play right-handed.

“Everything in my brain wants to go the other way,” he said. “It’s amazing how much I am going to have to relearn.”

Williams lit up when the guitar was placed in his hands. Even though the natural lefty is having to relearn everything, he remains excited for the challenge.

“The important thing is to play as good as you can and have fun,” he said. “I made some progress after one lesson. I can already see what is possible.”

Students are taught basic chords and songs. One of the first songs they learn is Amazing Grace, which provides a good foundation.

“Playing the guitar is relaxing, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps to alleviate depression,” said Corbit.


A man and his guitar and his female art therapy instructor

Above, Army Veteran and Community Living Center inpatient Guadalupe Alvarado shows off one of the donated guitars for the Guitars for Vets program – with Sheryl Corbit, art therapist.


That certainly was the case for Army Veteran Guadalupe Alvarado, who has been an inpatient for 14 months. He said the program has been instrumental in getting him out of his room to socialize with his fellow Veterans. Alvarado, a program graduate, often shows up in the Relaxation Room to watch others receive a lesson. It’s a chance for him to reinforce what he already has learned.

“I like to hear a little bit more,” he said. “The more I learn, the more I can play.”

Alvarado got involved in Guitars for Vets because he, too, found himself spending too much time alone in his room.

“I got depressed from being lonely all of the time,” he said. “That’s why I got involved with this program and other art therapy programs. It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”

Corbit said she tries to invite everyone on the inpatient floor to join either her art group or Guitars for Vets.

“I see the Vets coming to the group and their attitude seems to lighten and improve,” she said. “Not only are they learning, but they seem to feel good about themselves. It improves their self-esteem.”


Todd Goodman is a Public Affairs specialist at the Houston VA medical center.Todd Goodman is a Public Affairs specialist at the Houston VA medical center.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Lawrence G Wenzel    

    Bruce Carter Miami, FL VA hospital or Bill Kline VAOPC, Broward County, Sunrise, FL are the main facilities I go to. Interested in Guitars for Vets. Info?

  2. Miranda    

    This is a beautiful program! Is this only a local program, or is it more widespread?

  3. David    

    Hi Folks,

    Awesome to hear about all the folks looking to get plugged-in with V.A. communities and Guitars for Veterans.

    Learn more here: https://www.guitars4vets.org

    Enjoy your day, keep playing, and be hopeful.

  4. Lonnie Ayers    

    I live in Louisville Kentucky and go to the VA hospital for my treatment is there a program for guitar lessons at this location. Or one in the works?

  5. Catherine DeWitt    

    By the way, why are all your CAPCHA questions based on math? Math is definitely not my forte!

  6. Catherine DeWitt    

    Hi, Edsel– In Gainesville Florida our program is called Frets for Vets. At the Honor Center, a domicile for vets who are temporarily homeless, we teach keyboard as well as guitar. There is a set of requirements the vets have to go through in order to earn a free instrument– showing up for 6 lessons, some “quizzes” and song learning, a community service project related to music — could be helping keep the music room clean, tuning instruments, playing in a concert at the V.A. etc.) If they fulfill these requirements they can earn a free instrument. Our instruments are donated by community members; we put out a call for gently used ones in the paper, social media and fliers around town.

  7. Wallace Westhafer    

    I live in Ukiah California is there a chance that this is happening anywhere near me?

    1. David    

      Hi Wallace,

      Perhaps you can plug-in with the Guitars for Veterans chapter’s here.

      https://www.guitars4vets.org/#3

  8. Tracy R Grimes    

    Available near Farmington, TX ?

    1. David    

      Hi Wallace,

      Perhaps you can plug-in with the Guitars for Veterans chapter’s in Dallas:

      https://www.guitars4vets.org/#3

      Enjoy your day.

    2. David    

      Hi Wallace,

      Perhaps you can plug-in with the Guitars for Veterans chapter’s in Dallas.

      https://www.guitars4vets.org/#3

      Enjoy your day.

  9. Connie Lynn Totman    

    Where in Blairsville Georgia could I do guitar lessons?

  10. Robert Stroud    

    Is there a guitar for Vets program in Sacramento, CA?
    Thank you

  11. Robert Jackson    

    Is this program near ft riley Ks. I have PDST I believe playing the guitar would help me!

  12. Earnest Lee White    

    where can I find guitar lessons in Decatur, Georgia. I would like to take advantage
    of the program.

  13. Ron Chudy    

    Is there a Guitar for Vets program in Fort Wayne, IN? I would like to participate.
    Thank you,
    Ron Chudy

  14. Francisco P. Rosario    

    I live on Pohnpei Island, Micronesia. I have a by-pass surgery and it gave me very limited activities because of my heart condition. I am a US citizen and was served in the US Air Force From 1981-1992 because of reduction in Force at that time due to the fall of the Russian Empire.

  15. Racine P. Base Jr    

    where can I find Guitar Lessons in Washington DC

  16. Racine P. Base Jr    

    execellent program for older veterans.

    where do I find VA sponsored guitar lessons.

  17. Ken R Skinner    

    I have depression for some time now. It has been on my VA Problem list. Maybe just maybe learning learning to play could be the answer. I refuse to take pills because I saw what they did to my father , a disabled veteran from WW11. I am a Vietnam veteran. You have permission to open my VA health records. Thank you, Ken Skinner

    1. David    

      Dear Ken,

      I have been there before, I have had my struggles, and I have prevailed. Guitar playing did good, but so did medication also.

      It’s kind of tough, but also true that medications fail as they did for me at first; I had lost hope, only to be redeemed.

      I had to work with the doctors I had and change medications several occasions. I had to work with the doctors I had over several years before I found one that worked for me. I’m glad I did.

      I’m on an SSRI now, that saved my life.

      Ken, please email me: tx.houston@guitarsforvets.org. I have V.A. contacts, I have resources, and I have kindness.

  18. Kevin F McLaughlin    

    how can I find out about guitar lessons at the v.a. kernersville, nc 27284 area code

  19. Gary Allman    

    I would love to take guitar lessons. My mother used to play one when I was young. Is there a place I can get lessons I live in Luther Michigan. I think it might help me with my PTSD

  20. Maurice Gilbert    

    I am a Vietnam veteran and was fortunate to have a country farmer in New Hampshire that help me with the basics in playing the guitar. In my teens I enjoyed the guitar and playing the harmonica. While in Vietnam in 63 64 I had access to a guitar on occasion and helped get me thru. Even now 55 years later I play almost every night and with PTSD disability I receive comfort from the guitar. I highly suggest this therapy. May I also suggest an almost forgotten instrument the harmonica, small and easily carried in ones pocket.
    M Gilbert
    East Texas

  21. GARY GREENE    

    I have wanted to try lessons for my anxiety and depression. The VA offers this program at Truman VA Hospita but, that is 120 miles round trip for me. Wish the VA could offer more at the VA Clinic in Jefferson City, MO.

  22. Michael Posey    

    Is there a guitar for Veterans program in the
    Atlanta area I would love to participate. I live in Acworth suffer with Depression and PTSD

  23. Ronald Rowland    

    Any locations in Charleston, SC?

  24. William Warren    

    Hey folks,
    Um, I’ve been playing guitar for over 35 years. Seems everyone here has some sort of communications device.
    Here’s some recommendations to get started playing.
    Musician’s Friend (musiciansfriend.com) sells guitars. Pick something in your budget. (BTW Musician’s Friend offers deployed troops free shipping to duty station, maybe vets too, just ask).
    Sign up for a monthly music subscription like iTunes, or whatever it is on Android phones. Then you can hear and learn the songs you always wanted to play.
    You can Google search any question you have about the music you are learning.
    Amazon has books you can read about music theory.
    The MusicNotes app (for Android and iPhone) also has guitar sheet music (aka: tablature). “Tab” is drawn out guitar fret work (fret number notated on strings) and usually accompanied with music notation in the top stave.
    Music Notes also sells most songs for .99¢ and you can print them out too.
    Bottom line “play what you feel” or can hear in your head repeatedly.
    Even Jimi Hendrix started somewhere, so don’t let discouragement in at all. Music is not a place for discouragement. Music is something that expresses your diligence, while bringing peace to your soul and others around you.
    If you can go to a forrest, the animals like music too, especially birds.
    The birds around my place love Pink Floyd and chirp so loud I can’t hear the music.

    I served in Iraq ‘04-‘05. I got hit. My guitar got me home.

  25. Charles D Pierce    

    Is this available in Lawton Oklahoma?

  26. Lonnie E Newkirk    

    I would like to get in the Guitar for vets program in Charleston, SC

  27. Nina J. Morales    

    Is this program available in St. George, Utah? There’s a cBOC as well as a Vet Center in St. George.

  28. Robert Gates    

    In Southern California?

  29. Kevin F McLaughlin    

    I would love to get lessons on guitar , I ‘ve played for awhile but would love to get lessons so I can get to understand the instrument I also volunteer at the V.A. here in Kernersville , North Carolina .I had alot of problems with PTSD since Vietnam ,Hunter /Killer Teams .I’m 71 years old and would feel Like I had something to help me besides more pills

    Kevin Mclaughlin

  30. Edsel C Adkins    

    Approximately 3 years ago I had a fellow disabled veteran
    Sign up for the lessons and free guitar. This is at the atlanta Va. I am a a professional musician. I donated a lot of music books and other equipment. I ended up giving guitar lessons to my friend for free. When he needed a guitar so I ended donating a lot of money and bought him a guitar. Now that they have egnored my friend and he has become a very good player, I think they should get him the free acoustic guitar. He had to use my very expensive guitars to learn how to play. Your thoughts on this wood be appreciated. Respectively,
    One guitar player for 42 years.

  31. DEXTER A CAJIGAL    

    Is this available in Southern California?

  32. Thomas R Woods    

    Are there guitar lessons in the Tacoma WA area.

  33. Richard Briske    

    Are these lessons available on line? I lost my wife 9 years ago and feel they would help. Ty, Rick: Wisconsin

    1. Catherine DeWitt    

      There is a growing number of V.A. hospitals using a model called Tele-health that brings music and art therapy to veterans via Skype. This is great because you have the ability to interact in the moment with your teacher or therapist. Check your nearest V.A.s to see if they are starting to offer these services.

  34. Sean Edwards    

    Are there any guitar lessons available in the Cleveland Ohio area?

  35. Anthony W Adams    

    My understanding is that this program is available only in a few major metropolitan areas. It is not available here in Hawaii.

  36. John Lindsey    

    I would like to attend
    I am a combat veteran with diagnosed PTSD that lives in Lake City Florida.
    Where would I be able to attend this?

    1. Catherine DeWitt    

      John, your V.A. is connected with the V.A. in Gainesville which now offers music and art therapy via Skype. Check and see whether your V.A. is starting to pick up on these services.

  37. J-Mauri Hamilton    

    I live in Hampton, Virginia and have been struggling at home with my PTSD. I go to my VA appointments at the VA Medical Center and afterwards I invariably return home to my bed.
    Are there any free VA guitar lessons offered in Hampton? I tend to to do much better with one on one therapy and lessons. My therapist suggests something like playing the guitar will certainly help me.

    1. Catherine DeWitt    

      Several V.A.s are starting to offer music and art therapy to veterans via Skype. Check and see whether your V.A. is starting to pick up on these services.

  38. Lonnie Ray Shoemake    

    Is this available in Prescott, AZ?

  39. Roger Hymm    

    Playing guitar helps bring me out of my looping thoughts when anxiety etc. sets in.

  40. Wallace Westhafer    

    I live in a small town in Northern California how can I receive the lessons?

  41. Bernard Kenan    

    Is this available in the Phoenix, AZ area?

  42. Ronald Sanchez    

    Would like to join this program would help me emotionally and with some physical problems I live in Tucson Arizona am a disabled veteran

  43. Al Benz    

    I live in Kansas city Mo, is this program available there.? i am not disabled but do receive benefits through agent Orange. Would I qualify?

  44. Stephen B. Salkof    

    Do you plan on offering lessons at the Philadelphia VA (Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center)? Thanks.

  45. william Vincent    

    how can i get lessons in St George, Ut

  46. Humberto Maltez    

    Where do l look for guitar lessons in Upper Marlboro, MD

  47. William G.Medina    

    I know that music is relaxing I try to listen as much as I can, I wish could learn more about this program, though I’m not in VA live in community, I just wish I could play guitar.

  48. John Lewis Cash    

    Is there a Guitar for Vets program in Charlotte, N.C. I would like to participate.

    Thank you,

    John Cash

  49. Hugh Reeder    

    Where do l look for guitar lessons in S.Alabama
    .

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