The strum of a guitar. The feel of your fingers hitting the strings. The sound that comes from that motion. The overwelming sense of pride that you feel as you learn a new skill. That's what VA Loma Linda Medical Center Guitars for Vets (G4V) Chapter, which began in July 2011 helps provide our Veterans. An experience that can be very theraputic for those dealing with a wide range of medical issues.
Two instructors take on six students in a 10-week period. One-on-one sessions allow each Veteran to learn at his or her own pace. The natural tendency for competition, often seen in group classroom environments, is also eliminated.
Disorders other than post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a common reason VA medical team members would refer someone to the program, can make learning to play a guitar more challenging for some Veterans.
For example, arthritis in the hands makes it difficult to strum and fret a guitar. Dyslexia complicates the reading of guitar chords from a book, but the accommodating nature of the program allows each individual to meet the program’s goal.
“It’s not how well the student learns to play. It’s not how much they learn during the 10 weeks. It’s that they show up and start bonding with the guitar, music, practice, and everything else. Then hopefully someday, they will get in the zone where time and space no longer matters,” said G4V Loma Linda Chapter Coordinator Darnell Fall.
Upon graduation, Veterans are given a new guitar to encourage them to practice what was learned and allow music to get them through situations that cause anxiety. G4V Loma Linda graduates are also invited to continue learning to play the guitar by attending graduate-only group sessions once a week.
Instructor’s of the program practice of patience, acceptance, gratitude, empathy, respect, and sincerity (P.A.G.E.R.S.) is what ensures the success of program participants.
“We always leave them with a positive feeling. They leave feeling like they accomplished something. Even if it’s a little tiny thing, that means a big thing to the person that’s learning guitar because there are situations where they’ve been told they can’t do it,” said G4V Loma Linda Educational Coordinator Dan Saldivar.
Saldivar, one of the program’s volunteer instructors, inspires his students with the story of Tony Meléndez. Meléndez was born without arms, but managed to perform for Pope John Paul II in 1987 by playing guitar with his feet.
Saldivar has played guitar for over 40 years in many different genres. Guitar for Vets is looking for new instructors that must have at least 5 years of experience. According to Saldivar and Fall, a high level of proficiency and demonstration of P.A.G.E.R.S. are the key ingredients for a VA Loma Linda G4V volunteer instructor. If you are interested, please contact Guitar for Vets Loma Linda Chapter.