Written by Peg Andrae

I will never forget the day my student Jeff showed up early for his lesson, looking dejected and upset. Ready to begin, he put his practice guitar down and asked, “Miss Peg, I need to talk to someone. Can we just talk for awhile?” Putting my guitar in its stand, I asked him what was bothering him. After forty minutes of sharing events from his morning, causing my eyes to tear up, he was ready to practice some chords. 

The scenario rings familiar with many of our instructors and chapter coordinators. While our ten week program consists of teaching guitar basics, chords and helping students learn to play their favorite songs, it’s much more than that. Guitars 4 Vets takes great pride in the caliber of our instructors. They range from professional players to hobbyists. Many are retired, others employed full or part time. Some are Veterans, others have family or friends who are active military or who served in the past. Their common thread, however, combines a love of playing guitar and a desire to help our students find healing from their PTSD symptoms or other emotional distress. 

“Teaching guitar since I was a college student, I have had the pleasure of watching many students progress. My greatest joy and satisfaction has been my six year involvement as a G4V instructor, working with over 40 men and women from all branches of our Armed Forces including Navy Seals and Green Berets. Spending 10 weeks with each individual has enabled me to gain a deep appreciation for the sacrifices each one has made in serving our country along with the mental and physical challenges so many have faced and are working to overcome. It has been a blessing for me to be able witness the healing effect that learning to play guitar and making music has had on my students. It is an honor for me to assist them in their healing process.” – John Chamberlain, G4V Instructor, Richmond Chapter

While over 800,000 Veterans struggle with physical injuries, PTSD and other emotional distress, we believe guitars and music can facilitate the healing process. We also understand that sometimes our students need someone who will simply make time to listen. G4V instructors exemplify our PAGE model – Patience, Acceptance, Gratitude, Empathy. These qualities, combined with a love of guitar playing, create a positive and supportive learning environment for our Veteran students.

Music helps decrease anxiety, increase self-esteem, and reduce episodes of panic attacks, nightmares and flashbacks. A research study of Guitars 4 Vets students showed a 21% improvement in PTSD symptoms and a 27% decrease in related depression symptoms. The study attributed learning and playing guitar as the primary catalyst for these improvements. 

“Several of my students have told me that when they are practicing, they forget about their PTSD. The act of concentrating on something new creates a respite from day to day thoughts and worries. The fact that it is music really enhances the experience. Music is an escape for sure, but it is also a retreat that refreshes our lives and gives us hope.”  –  Bill Petty, Evanston Chapter Coordinator

The weekly guitar lessons provided by our numerous volunteers are individualized and designed to help students learn at their own pace. After students graduate, monthly group sessions are available at each chapter, providing  Veterans a communal atmosphere to talk and continue to play music with peers who have shared similar experiences. In G4V group sessions, the connection created between individuals who are both warriors AND guitar players serves as a catalyst for positive human interaction. This fellowship becomes a powerful place of sharing and healing.

Veterans who regularly attend group sessions build confidence to further pursue creative self-expression and engagement within their communities. Some G4V graduates and group session attendees even go on to perform at local fundraisers and teach guitar lessons in their local G4V chapter.

“My student made me keenly aware of the struggles and pain so many of our vets go through after their service. It made me more committed to pursuing the goal of trying to give the gift and love of music through the G4V program. Since that first lesson, I have been blessed many times over in having worked with and gotten to know so many incredible men and women who have served. Strong bonds have formed over that chunk of wood and metal, and I am proud to call some of my former students my personal friends. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our students is simply to take a few minutes to sit with our guitars on our laps and just listen.” – Jim Carney, Richmond, VA Instructor and Chapter Coordinator

With the Covid-19 shut down of our VA Medical Centers and Veteran Centers, face to face lessons were curtailed due to the high risk of spreading the virus. Our concern remains the health and safety of all, but we faced the additional concern of isolation within our Veteran communities. Social distancing guidelines, while necessary, threaten the mental well being of our Veterans already struggling with the invisible wounds of war. In an effort to continue offering lessons and fellowship, G4V re-engineered our program to safely meet the needs of our Veterans and our volunteers. The use of video conferencing technology now delivers guitar lessons until such time as it’s safe for all to return to face-to-face interaction. 

Through our virtual lessons, Veterans receive weekly instruction and have the ability to talk with their instructors, lessening feelings of isolation. A number of students have already successfully completed their lessons via virtual lessons with more waiting to start. 

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Written by Guitars for Vets’ Coordinator, Peg Andrae

Pictured:

1st picture – G4V Graduate, Jeff

2nd picture -G4V Instructor Jim Chamberlain and G4V Graduate, Frank

3rd picture – Chapter Coordinator Bill Petty and G4V graduate, Miguel

4th picture – Chapter Coordinator Jim Carney and G4V graduate Bathsheba

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