By Anthony Torrise

Like COVID-19, music is highly contagious — but in a good way!

Whether we realize it or not, music constantly surrounds us — either while we’re at the store waiting in a socially-distanced line or simply tapping our hands or feet to some kind of rhythm that’s stuck in our heads. Frankly, can anybody say they haven’t played an air guitar at least once in their life? As much fun as it is to tap along to a song, playing an actual instrument brings that fun to a whole new level.

More time indoors means that an escape is needed now more than ever. Thanks to Santa Monica landmark music store McCabe’s Guitar Shop, virtual music classes are turning mental tunes into musical reality. Currently, McCabe’s is offering online lessons for the guitar, bass, banjo, charango, dulcimer, harmonica, mandolin, piano, ukulele, violin, voice and even the saw!

As the new school year approaches and districts across the state, including LAUSD, have announced plans to begin the school year remotely, parents are reevaluating how they homeschool their children during the pandemic.

I think that kids are needing something to do that is not so screen-centric. Something physical in the real world is really gonna be so beneficial to kids,” says professional singer/songwriter and guitar teacher Paula McMath. “I’m getting calls now for people to do lessons two times per week through the academic year… they’re looking for activities for their kids to augment their homeschooling.”

In fact, the benefits of playing an instrument can do mental wonders not only for children, but people of all ages. According to a 2016 study, playing an instrument improves communication skills, cognitive function and helps lower anxiety and depression.

Music is a language and it’s a very universal language. It transcends countries, political beliefs; it’s a very good factor in bringing people together in good ways,” says Denny Croy, who is the head of McCabe’s music school.

Croy later elaborated on this by saying “it provides a distraction from what’s going on and also you’re developing a new skill… that’s much better than binge-watching a couple shows.”

Eric and Cate, a father-daughter pair of McMath’s students who asked to go by their first names only citing privacy concerns, speak highly of playing music in times like this and praise the skill of McMath’s teaching over video call.

It’s a fun thing to look forward to, our lessons, and I have practice pretty much every day,” explains Cate.

I tried to pick it up [the guitar] once or twice before,” recalls Eric. “We’ve both been learning together, although Cate’s quickly surpassed me [and] picked it up amazingly fast.”

Some might feel that online music classes won’t work as well as in-person ones. However, according to those who teach through McCabe’s, the shift to online lessons has not posed a serious detriment.

It’s working out really well. I’m surprised, I almost prefer it now,” says Cheryl Saunders, a guitar teacher at McCabe’s for 38 years. “People seem to do well with it. We can see each other; we can see each other’s guitars. I can email them materials while I’m teaching. Zoom is working out extremely well.”

Even if you’re just a beginner, learning how to cleanly play a set of chords can bring forth a sense of achievement and open the door to endless possiblities.

It’ll bring a new dimension to your life,” says Saunders. “It’s just another way you can express yourself… when you’re alone or with other people. It’s a whole way of communication with others that is definitely missing when you don’t play [an instrument] and you don’t really know until you find out and see what it does for you.”

More info at mcabes.com.

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