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Always Look For Pedestrians.

July 20, 2018

Always look for pedestrians. Always.

About 15 minutes ago, I almost killed two people.

I was not looking for pedestrians.

I was driving down 5 Mile Rd., and had pulled into the left turn lane, ready to turn onto Edna St., where I live.

I looked at the head lights of an oncoming car in the opposite lane. I figured I could make the turn safely, but I’d have to hit the gas, and do it fast.

I didn’t feel comfortable about doing that.

I am a very cautious, slow driver by nature.

It was only then, after deciding not to make the quick turn, that I saw an older woman and a little boy walking slowly down 5 Mile, in the Edna crosswalk.

They would have been in the EXACT spot where I would have turned, had I turned, and I would have been making a fast turn.

My mind made the unconscious assumption that no one would be walking across the crosswalk at 10:30 pm.

But other parts of my mind did other things.

There was the thought – better not make the turn – just wait until the car passes.

And something stranger. A few blocks before I got to the turn lane, the phrase, “a freak occurrence” came to my mind. I did not know why.

There must be good angels out there.. or.. something.

Right now, if I’d made a different choice, one or more of those two people would likely be dead, and I’d soon find myself in handcuffs, and rightfully charged with manslaughter.

Had I been drinking? No. Not impaired at all.

But that would not have mattered at all.

So.. I am extremely grateful to.. whoever.. that I was somehow able to make the right decision..

Even though I did not look for pedestrians.

Always look for pedestrians. Always.

A brief thought on writing..

June 28, 2018

A brief thought on writing, from the newspaper comic, “Pearls Before Swine.” I don’t know how to scan the comic here, so I will just type in the text.

The first four panels are just words We don’t see the main characters, the anthropomorphic Rat, Pig, and Goat.

“Today I will waste seven hours. Then I will be productive for just one hour.”

“Then I’ll hate everything I did.”

“Then I’ll think I’m a joke.”

“Then I will take out my frustration out on the person closest to me.”

In the last panel, we see the three characters. Rat, who wrote the first four panels, says, “How to be a writer, chapter one.”

Goat says, “How appealing.”

And Pig says, “When does the drinking start?”

I have a very difficult time writing nonfiction – these posts here on facebook and on my blog.

I have read about fiction authors. They struggle a lot too.. a lot more than I do, probably.

I’m guessing many writers, of either fiction or nonfiction will appreciate the cartoon. Sorry I could not scan it in here.

The Enemy of Truth..

June 26, 2018

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy – Yale University, Commencement June 11 1962

“First Reformed” – a movie review.

June 22, 2018

I first wrote this review on facebook. I’m reposting it here. Although it is mainly intended for Christians, others who are curious about the film, “First Reformed” might want to read this post. 

Attention Christians: I know many of you get excited every time a Christian movie shows up in theaters. There is one movie out right now which you might want to skip.

This film is called “First Reformed.” The title refers to the name of a church – First Reformed Church. There are a lot of churches out there called “First Reformed.”

The Reformed Church is a conservative, Protestant, Calvinist denomination. I’d rather not get into Calvinist theology right now, or else this post would be even longer than it is. Calvinist theology is not heavily discussed in the film, so don’t worry about it.

The talk about God and faith is more generically Christian – something Christians of pretty much every persuasion will be able to relate to, at least somewhat.

The word “first” just means the first Reformed church established in any particular town.

“First Reformed” is about a severely psychologically damaged pastor of a tiny church which almost no one attends. The pastor’s name is Reverend Ernst Toller, and he is sponsored by the minister of a nearby megachurch.

Rev. Toller deals with severe depression, various health problems, alcoholism, and other assorted issues. He is a terribly broken man.

He struggles in his conversations with the pastor of the much larger church. He tries hard to counsel a very troubled married couple. He deals with an ongoing and severe crisis of faith.

The film was written and directed by Paul Schrader, the writer of such intense Martin Scorsese-directed films “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

Trust me, if you are serious about Christianity, and especially if you are a conservative Christian, I would strongly suggest you NOT watch “The Last Temptation of Christ.” You will find it to be astonishingly offensive.

“First Reformed” is mostly a slow, bleak and brooding film. There is no nudity or sex, nor tons of profanity. It is rated R for some VERY grisly images.

I suppose, if you have watched the Mel Gibson film, “The Passion of the Christ,” (some of you have seen it multiple times), then you obviously have a high tolerance for gore and scenes of brutal suffering. Maybe you won’t mind the horrific images in “First Reformed.”

Is the movie entirely without merit? No.

I’ve never been a fan of Ethan Hawke, the actor who plays the main character, Reverend Toller. In fact, Hawke for decades has been among my least favorite actors. I’ve never considered him to be very talented, and haven’t tended to like any films he’s been in. Hmm.. ok.. “Training Day,” another disturbing film, was pretty good.. but besides that.. no.

But in this film, Hawke is amazing. His is a truly excellent performance. I was quite impressed.

Also, there are some important issues brought up, including whether or not Christians should care about the environment, how to deal with a crisis of faith, how much influence should corporate interests and big money have in the running of a church, dealing with severe depression and loss, a troubled marriage.. lots of heavy topics are dealt with in this film.

How are the other actors? Amanda Seyfried, who I am not very familiar with, did well as one of the main characters, Mary, a troubled young pregnant woman who is married to a distraught man. Mary’s husband, named Michael, is played by an actor I’ve never heard of, named Philip Ettinger. He does well.

There’s a clinging woman who has fallen for the reverend. Her name is Esther. Esther is well-meaning, but she’s practically a stalker. She is played by an actress I’ve never heard of before, named Victoria Hill. Hill’s performance is rather good.

Yes, overall a solid cast. Even Cedric Kyles, a familiar comedy actor better known as Cedric the Entertainer, puts in a good performance. However, Cedric in a serious role was very distracting.

I kept thinking of him in his comedy roles – like the curmudgeon in “Barbershop,” and especially as one of the villains in an excellent comedy called “Be Cool.”

If I hadn’t seen Cedric in these comedic roles, and doing such a good job in them, I’d probably be able to take him more seriously in “First Reformed.”

Is there a redemptive message in this film? Yes, but to get there is a truly harrowing journey.

You’ve been warned.


Why did I watch this film? If you’ve been following my posts for awhile, you already know that I am troubled about spirituality, and stopped practicing Christianity back in the mid-1990’s – I had my own decades-long crisis of faith and finally had to stop. I still think about Christianity every day though.. can’t help it.

I would have stayed away from this film. I tend to avoid movies with one or more characters who are Christian (the Coen Brothers comedy, “Hail Caesar!” being an exception – it was great). But my dad wanted to see this film. He doesn’t drive, and so I took him to our local art house theater in Boise, called The Flix, and we watched what turned out to be a deeply disturbing movie.

Had I known what this movie would be like, I would have stayed home, and later gotten it for dad on DVD, or streamed it for him, and I would not have watched it.

But I wanted to help dad. I take him to movies several times a month, and he really wanted to see this one. He mainly wanted to see this movie because the writer/director was at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, the same time my dad and mom were there. They never met Paul Schrader, but he was well-known on campus – in charge of the school paper or something like that.

I had read that Schrader had written “Taxi Driver,” another disturbing film – but a classic, and one I could handle – I’ve seen it twice. Before I saw “First Reformed,” I did not know Schrader also had written “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which I watched once, and will never watch again.

I had hoped Schrader had mellowed during the decades that have passed since he wrote “Taxi Driver,” and that’s one reason I went.

I was wrong.

If you are not hoping for a light, inspiring Christian film, if you want to inflict emotional trauma on yourself, if you want to see some rather good acting, and can appreciate a dark and very thought-provoking film, then watch “First Reformed.” You will probably find some value in it. Even I did. But I still wish I had not seen it.

The World Tree, the Heart of the World.

June 4, 2018

The World Tree can be found in Boise, and anywhere you look.

I remember reading a bit of “Black Elk Speaks,” a Native American literary classic. Black Elk said that he felt the heart of the world was at a certain part of his reservation, and yet, it was everywhere, at the same time.

I take that to mean that as individuals, it is where you are at, where you find it, and it doesn’t have to be at a Native American reservation somewhere, or way out in the wilderness. It can be a particular tree, in a park, in town, near sunset. The world tree is here, too.

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, grass, outdoor and nature

The perfect dog for the practicing Buddhist.

May 22, 2018

Buddhism, virtue, and dogs..

Although I have studied enough Buddhism to determine that I am not a Buddhist, I still think about Buddhism sometimes.

I have come to the conclusion that the Miniature Schnauzer (although I am not Buddhist, I do own one of these dogs) would be a perfect breed for the serious practitioner of Buddhism, and anyone else who is dedicated to cultivating the virtues of compassion and self-discipline.

Here are my thoughts on this subject, which I first posted on my blog, The post is entitled, “The perfect dog for the practicing Buddhist.”

Even if you are not a Buddhist, as I am not, you might still find this post worth reading, especially if you are interested in character development, and in dogs.

Buddhism is about challenging oneself. Working on one’s patience. Working on acceptance and developing the wisdom to figure out what one can change, and also learning if what one can change is worth the effort. In short it is about wisdom, balance and acceptance.

I have a Miniature Schnauzer named Tucker. Through experience, and from what I’ve learned since I bought a Schnauzer three years ago, I can tell you this breed is perfect for the devoted and practicing Buddhist, and anyone else wishing to put in the thought and effort needed to with learn what can be changed, what cannot be changed, accepting what cannot be changed, and mustering the effort to change what can be changed.

The Miniature Schnauzer, as I have learned through research, and especially experience, is a difficult breed. It possesses the unfortunate combination of intelligence and a VERY strong stubborn streak.

This, as you might guess, is a very bad combination. A stupid but complaint dog might not learn much, but at least will work with you. A smart and compliant dog will be a joy to own and train. A smart dog with both intelligence and a very independent streak, one that has a stubborn and willful nature – this is a difficult dog to own and work with.

A dog of this breed can easily understand what you want it to do, and also decide whether or not it really wants to do what you want it to do. Often, it will decide it will do something other, anything other, than what you wish for it to do.

I seriously doubt you will have such trouble with certain gregarious breeds as a Labrador or Golden Retriever. There are many reasons why these two breeds have remained, for many years, two of America’s most popular breeds. It is in part because of their friendly nature, intelligence and agreeable disposition.

Is it no wonder that these dogs are generally the main two breeds used as seeing-eye dogs?

A Miniature Schnauzer, I sometimes think, in my darker imaginings. would happily lead a blind person into traffic or off a cliff, if it felt like it. Not that these dogs are evil, it is just that they have their own minds and do as they please, even if they are fairly well-trained. They, or at least my dog, is also very easily distractible.

I have a Miniature Schnauzer, and let me tell you, my dog Tucker is a daily challenge. It is true this breed makes for a very good watchdog.. an overly good one perhaps. Any stir of the branches of our Blue Spruce by the wind, perhaps any fluctuation in temperature, and good oi’ Tucker, our three year old Schnauzer will bark like he has lost his mind. A flurry of activity by our woodland denizens, the grey fox squirrel, commonly found in Boise, will send Tucker into a state of conniption.

This is especially fun for night people like myself, who need to sleep well into the morning, or even into early afternoon in order to get enough rest. The people who I live with are usually kind and attentive enough to leave the blinds closed until I awake, so that my slumber will not be disturbed by a frantically and ecstatically barking little dog.

He doesn’t need visual stimulation, though. Even with the shades drawn, he will bark at the slightest noise.

So why is this breed excellent for practicing Buddhists, and others who desire to gain mastery of themselves – who sincerely want to cultivate virtues not unique to Buddhism, such as compassion for oneself and others, patience, and acceptance?

The Miniature Schnauzer presents daily challenges that allow us to work on these difficult in order to cultivate virtues.

There are some Schnauzer owners who, Buddhist or not, possess a kind, and above all patient temperament that enables them to naturally have the fortitude to effectively train this breed. A few Schnauzer owners might even find such a process fairly easy, though I doubt it.

As for the rest of us, owning, caring for, and training a Miniature Schnauzer is no easy task. These dogs are very willful, stubborn, and difficult. It takes quite an effort, and a goodly amount of incentive training (using treats) even to get this little breed to even play fetch. Four retrievals of his his most beloved toy, and our little doggie has lost interest.

Getting this dog, should it have a perch near the front window, not to bark at a mail carrier, UPS driver, anyone who wanders into our cul-de-sac by mistake, an errant squirrel, or even a branch of a tree that has the audacity to move a few inches in any direction, whenever the slightest breeze blows, will be practically impossible.

I, as of yet, do not know how to train this nature to bark, out of a dog. Schnauzers, the only terrier breed not from England, have been bred to be watch dogs. But they are so overexcited that they will bark at noises or other stimulation no human can ever perceive.

Not only that, but they are difficult on walks, will often be ornery when their owners change walking routes, will initiate conflicts with other dogs, both large and small, even if those dogs are on a leash, and across a wide street, and will even lie down or put their paws over a leash if they are not happy about where they are lead.

They also, as far as I can tell, don’t seem to get along with other dogs, except that they somehow recognize other dogs of their breed. I have, eight times, taken my dog to a park specifically for small dogs. He has never had any difficulty with any dogs of his breed. But other dogs, yes.

In fact, other dogs don’t tend to like him. Four out of the eight time I have had Tucker to a park for small dogs, other dogs have singled him out. Only one little dog charging after him often leads a parade of other dogs in its wake.

Perhaps other dogs can sense that Schnauzers are difficult, and that is why Schnauzers are targeted. Perhaps not, maybe it is only my dog. I don’t know.

But this is a great dog for anyone who wants to take up the challenge of mastering his or her own emotions, before mastering a dog.

Perhaps, for most Schnauzer owners, working and living with this sort of dog is a lesson of acceptance more than anything else.

And certainly a lesson in patience.

Why do I bring up Buddhism? I forget which book I was reading years ago, I think it was more a book on writing than a book on Buddhism. But the author was a Buddhist. She was explaining how difficult the writing process was for her (something I can certainly understand, for my own writing process and practice is not easy) and her Buddhist instructor told her to, “let your writing be your practice.”

For those of you unfamiliar to Buddhism, let me say that being a practicing Buddhist is not easy. One must challenge oneself, for without challenge, without struggle, there can be no progress. I think this is true of life in general.

And Schnauzers certainly present lots of challenges. To be a responsible dog owner, regardless of what breed of canine one owns, is to be presented with many challenges. And to be a caring and responsible owner of a Schnauzer is to be presented with even more challenges than owners of many other breeds face.

Therefore, I think that for the serious practitioner of Buddhism, and any other person who is seriously devoted to developing his or her character, increased levels of tolerance, compassion, and patience, a Miniature Schnauzer is a perfect breed.

“What is the easiest musical instrument to learn as an adult, given that I have zero knowledge of music?”

May 18, 2018

That is a question I answered on a few days ago. Here is my rather lengthy but thorough answer.

(By the way, is a GREAT question and answer site! Tons of topics! I’m on there everyday,  reading, and often writing).


I have tried over 15 instruments. I have three suggestions for you, and some other suggestions later on in the post:

  1. TinwhistlePhoto on 2018-05-24 at 00.16also called a penny whistle. High pitched, shrill even at times, but can sound awesome. I learned from a teacher who taught a group class, but there are tons of tutorials on youtube, and you only need to learn a tiny bit of music theory, or none at all. An ok tinwhistle will likely set you back $20 or less. Get one in the key of D. Two brands that are the most well-known: Generation and Feadog. I don’t recommend getting a Clarke whistle. Those are made a bit differently than the rest, and are more uncomfortable to hold as you play. One of the best whistle people on youtube is a Catholic priest. If you are on youtube and type in “penny whistle priest,” you might find him. Tinwhistles are mostly used to play Celtic music and other traditional tunes from Ireland and the UK. Here’s me playing a basic tune:
  2. Harmonica – depending on where you live, you will likely find at least some tutorial books at your library. Also, lots of youtube videos. I would strongly suggest NOT buying a cheap harmonica. Spend at least $25–30, and buy one in the key of C, as most educational materials and videos are for harps (harmonicas) in the key of C. A few models to consider: Hohner Special 20, Seydel Blues Session Standard, and Suzuki Harpmaster. These all have plastic combs (the middle piece) instead of wood, which can swell, and are fairly comfortable to play. The Seydel is a little wider than the other two. The Special 20 is by far the best selling of the three. But I mostly play the Harpmaster, and sometimes the Seydel. I like the tone a little more. The Lee Oscar Major Diatonic in key of C is also a classic. Avoid the Hohner Blues Harp – some people love this one, but I think it is the most uncomfortable to play. I’ve found good deals on eBay.. but shop around on that site, as prices vary.
  3. A little-known instrument called the Seagull Merlin. See youtube for demos and songs. The Merlin is based on the Appalachian dulcimer – also called a Mountain dulcimer – but unlike those instruments, the Merlin can be played like a guitar, and has fewer frets than a dulcimer. The tone of the Merlin is excellent, and it’s practically impossible to hit a wrong note. The best Merlin teacher I’ve found on youtube – his channel is called “Ryan’s Seagull M4 Lessons.” cost about $120, last time I checked. I ordered mine from Elderly Instruments online, just over 2 years ago. You can get Merlins from many vendors though, and some music stores carry them. Almost no Merlin instructional materials are available other than youtube videos. These instruments come with either a mahogany or spruce top. I like the spruce top, because the sound is a bit brighter and punchy than the mahogany top. Get one in the key of D to start out with, since most tutorials will feature Merlins in the key of D (key of G also available).

Seagull Merlin, Tom Meninga

The problem with tinwhistles, harmonicas, and the Merlin is that, unlike a piano, guitar, and so many other instruments, you will not have access to all notes needed to play all songs. Experienced whistle players travel with a bag of whistles in different keys, and harmonica players carry cases with many different harmonicas – this is so they can jam with guitarists and etc.

Music is based around keys – sets of notes – scales and chords to go with each key. If you have an instrument, such as a whistle or harmonica, that can be played in only two keys (only one key will be listed on the box or packaging material), then you will need more of these instruments, tuned in other keys if you want to play with other musicians. Eventually, buying a bunch of whistles or harmonicas in different keys can be quite costly. But only if you become quite proficient, and jam with other people. You won’t have this problem with pianos, guitars, etc. because you’ll have access to notes in all keys.

Another fun instrument is the cigar box guitar – especially if you are into blues. You will have the same problem with this one though.. not all the notes, if I remember correctly – It’s been awhile since I’ve played one of these.

Here is the most popular cigar box guitar guy on youtube, Justin Johnson (yes, he looks like a cross between a pirate and a Musketeer):

Almost no songbooks available, but lots of tutorials on youtube. You can find lots of these instruments on eBay, and I think there is at least one builder on Etsy.

I like a CBG builder on eBay, called Weeklyhouse. Good prices and good workmanship. Bidding usually starts at $65 plus I’m not sure how much shipping.. $30 at most, if I remember – but this depends on where you live.

I have already bought two from this vendor, a 3 string and a 4 string, and am thinking of getting another 4 string. 3 string CBG’s are by far the most common, and are a little easier to play than 4 stringed CBG’s . They sound cool, but I like 4 string CBG’s better. I like playing finger-style guitar, and this works better with a 4 string CBG. The 4 strings have a fuller sound. But, you are more likely to find 3 string tutorials on youtube.

Edit 5/23/18.. a few days ago, after some online communication with Chris Weekly, the builder of Weeklyhouse CBG’s, I ordered one. It arrived today, a day earlier than expected. And it is great!

Photo on 2018-05-24 at 00.09

Photo on 2018-05-24 at 00.10

I played it for over an hour today, even though I don’t really know how, as of yet.

One things I had forgotten.. these are not very loud. If you are jamming with a friend who is playing a regular acoustic guitar – steel string or classical – you will not be heard.

Good thing the one I bought is acoustic electric.

I’m guessing there are some that are louder than this one though. This one was made with a small cigar box, and only has one sound hole. I’m thinking I might buy a small practice amp tomorrow. I don’t exactly need one. I can hear the instrument fine if I am playing alone, but it’s so much fun to plug these instruments in, and get some crunchy tone!

Get a coricidin-type bottle sampler on eBay from blooze bottles.

Here is one:

Photo on 2018-05-24 at 00.33

A sampler of bottle slides of different sizes. It’s possible to have a strap button put on the back of your CBG, on the back of the neck or box, and use a strap adapter or shoelace to attach the strap to the front (headstock) of the instrument. I had the strap button put on at a music store by a guitar tech, since I do not know how to use power tools.

Some CBG’s are built with the strings so high off the fretboard that it is only possible to play these while using a slide. Other builders have the strings low enough so you can play the instrument using your fingers to fret the notes. If you find one online that you like, ask the builder (if possible) how low the action (string height) is, and whether or not you can play with your fingers as well as a slide. I only like CBG’s that have strings low enough to be played either way.

Some CBG’s are acoustic-electric – meaning you can plug them into an amp. This is fun, even if the electronics on some CBG’s are rather cheap. They might pick up extra noise, compared to a regular guitar pickup, but at least you can plug the instrument into an amp, and dirty up the sound. It is possible to get CBG’s with no electronics, and also possible to get them with regular guitar electronics built in. The ones with standard guitar pickups (electronics) will likely cost more than those without such pickups.

You will find a large price range on these instruments, since they are all handmade.

I think, if you want to learn songs, the Merlin is a better choice than a CBG. If, however, you are really into blues, and just want to figure out blues tunes.. and ones you make up on your own, then a CBG is fun.

If you don’t want to bother with notes at all, hand drums can be enjoyable. Get a djembe. If you don’t mind a heavy one, and one that has a drum head of made real goat skin, buy a djembe from Overseas Connection. These are still made in Africa, as far as I know. You can find them online, and in some music stores. They sound great.

If you want a djembe with a synthetic drum head, Remo is the only brand I know of that makes these. The others, even if they are made in factories in Asia, will likely still have animal skin drum heads. Toca and Meinl are pretty good brands.

Congas are great too, but less portable, and more expensive. Lots of lessons on youtube. Being part of a drum circle can be quite enjoyable. I was in one back in 2009. Lots of fun. You’ll just need to be patient with yourself as you learn basic rhythms,

There is a hand drum that looks like a wooden box, and is called a cajon. To play it, you sit on it, lean over, and beat on the vertical surface of the drum, which is between your knees. You can get low pitched tones and snare sounds. Not so easy on the back though.

Meninl makes a slap-top cajon that has a horizontal surface. The snare tone of it is on the left, a mid-tone on the right, and bass tone in the middle. I’ve owned two of these. I can play them comfortably on my lap, or put them on a table and bash away.

Here is my demo and review video of the slap-top cajon. I show a regular cajon at the beginning of the video for comparison.

You might want to consider ukulele – but if so, consider this.. the ukulele is not as easy as I expected it would be. Some of the chords are very easy, and some are surprisingly difficult – even tougher than some guitar chords. Plus – narrower fret spacing than on a guitar, so you will be squeezing your fingers into smaller spaces on the fretboard than you would on a guitar. My fingers kept cramping up, but I was playing some really challenging chords.

Also, the uke has odd tuning (called reentrant tuning) compared to most stringed instruments. The string you’d expect to have the lowest sound doesn’t. This makes learning the uke a bit tricky, especially for folks who already know how to play a guitar.

It’s possible to replace the oddly high-pitched string with one that is the same note, but lower in pitch, but most books and other tutorials are meant for standard reentrant tuning. If you are just strumming chords, this will not be an issue, but it will be if you plan on learning music theory on ukulele, or playing finger-style – playing individual strings and notes.

With ukulele, as well as guitar – you have access to all the notes, scales, etc. and can play tons of different songs in many different keys. You can’t do that with the other instruments I mentioned, unless you buy more of those in different keys.

Here is my uke. It is one of two Mitchell models. The other looks more traditional, I suppose, but this one sounds better. I tried a few others, and this one, I felt was the best in the $100 price range.

It is a concert size uke (second smallest). I had a strap button installed on the bottom, and a strap adapter (small leather strap) attached to the headstock (not pictured). Some folks won’t use a strap, because playing without one is traditional. But there are certain things it is pretty much impossible to do on a uke if you don’t have a strap holding it.

There are 4 main sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The first three are all tuned the same. Start with one of these. I recommend either a concert or tenor. The baritone uke is by far the largest, and is tuned differently from the others. I do not know why.

Bass guitar.. if you just want to learn songs, you can do that without learning music theory. Just do what so many guitarists do- learn to read tablature – it’s a lot easier to read than standard notation.

The basics of bass are not very difficult. Only 4 strings vs. a guitar’s 6, and you don’t have to worry about playing chords.

The downside to bass.. you won’t sound good playing by yourself. You’ll want to be part of a band.

Some other things to consider regarding bass.. Once you get good and start playing gigs, you will need a large, heavy bass amp – much bigger and heavier than guitarists carry.

And lastly, many bass guitars are heavy enough to be uncomfortable for some musicians.

You don’t have to spend a lot of coin to get a decent starter bass. $200–300 will be fine.

My top bass recommendation is the Ibanez GSR-200. The newer ones require a 9V battery to be put in the back in a special compartment. Once the battery is out of juice, you will not get any sound from the instrument, until you change the battery. Some used models (quite common online and in some music stores that sell used gear) do not require a battery. These GSR-200’s have 3 knobs, instead of 4. Basses that don’t require a battery are called “passive” basses, and those that do are called “active.” I think the passive ones sound better.

Squier – the cheap brand of Fender, has some good, inexpensive models, but these are somewhat heavier. Other good starter basses are made by Yamaha, and Mitchell, which is Guitar Center’s house brand of basses and guitars.

I recommend a 3″ wide leather strap to support the weight. Levy’s is a good brand, but I like the Franklin glove leather 3″ strap best. Not cheap – but worth it.

Start out with a small Fender Rumble amp.- these are great. The smallest one, the Rumble 25, costs $100, and some vendors offer free shipping. Ampeg is also pretty good. Avoid Acoustic, the house brand of Guitar Center. I love shopping at GC, but do NOT like their line of bass and electric guitar amps.

What brand of cable to buy? Most that are sold in a package or on a rack and have a brand name (and are not in a bin) are good enough to start out with. I like D’addario/Planet Waves – good cable for the money. You won’t need very expensive cables if you are just starting out. Buy a $100 cable if you turn pro.

What length of cable to get? Even when just practicing in my room, I liked having a 20 ft. cable, so I could wander around my room as I practiced. This is a good length. I used to have a shorter cable, 10 ft., I think. I had to stand close to my amp the whole time I played. Not fun.

My favorite youtube channel for bass is called Scott’s Bass Lessons.

One great series of learning materials for both guitar and bass is the Play-A-Long series – tablature books and a CD Rom that you can use to play along with, and slow down the tempo of the song. I’m guessing these are still being published. They are definitely useful when learning songs. I think there is one called “easy bass guitar,” or something like that. If you like The Police (Sting’s former band), the Police play along book is also good, since many Police bass lines are simple.

You might want to try a guitar. You might not find guitar to be that hard. Some people do, and some don’t. I still dabble on guitar, but after many years, still cannot play it well – you might really take to it though.

I’d say start out on an acoustic steel string guitar and learn the basics – chords and so forth. Your fingers will hurt for awhile, but you will build calluses and then your fingers will not hurt. Some good brands for beginners: Yamaha, Ibanez and Seagull.

You can get a good starter guitar, either steel string or classical, for under $300.

I personally prefer playing a classical acoustic with nylon strings, instead of steel string acoustic. I prefer the sound and also like that the nylon strings are easier on my fingers than steel strings. I’ve played steel string acoustics and electric guitars in the past, but like the classical guitar best.

Yamaha classical guitars are good. You might also want to try Ibanez or Cordoba. Seagull does not have a classical line, as far as I know.

You can start out on an electric guitar if you want, but then you have to deal with choosing from a multitude of amps with various features, and will likely get quite distracted by the myriad of sound options and effects most amps, even small practice amps, are equipped with these days.

If you decide to go electric, I recommend Epiphone. Their cheapest models seem better built than some of the cheap models by other brands. Ibanez makes pretty good cheap guitars too, and so does Yamaha and Schecter.

Stay away from any Squier electric guitar models that have the Squier logo only in black, and not in gold – the logo on the headstock. The ones with the logo in black are not good. Unfortunately, the standard Squier models are a lot more expensive than they used to be. But, you get what you pay for. A standard Squier Strat or telecaster should make you happy.

Some electric guitars have two sets of double pickups on them called hum buckers (you will find these on Ephiphone, Schecter, Ibanez, and other models). Most Squier and Fender guitars have single coil pickups, which have a thinner sound, and can produce more unwanted noise. But some people love these guitars. Some Squier Strats come with one humbucker and two single coils – a good combination. This is true of Ibanez as well.

Electric guitar amps.. best practice amp, in my opinion, is the Fender Mustang (these come in different sizes. You’ll just need a small one). Line 6 is also pretty good. If you want one with less effects that is built reasonably well, then go for a Marshall practice amp, or Orange (that’s a brand, not just a color). Blackstar has some little amps that also sound great – but with these, there are less knobs than most, so to change some of the sounds, you will have to plug one into a computer via USB cable, and use the Blackstar website.

Mandolins sound good, but they are kind of like ukuleles in that the necks are short and narrow, making chords hard to play. Also, mandolins have 8 strings – you’ll be playing two strings at once instead of one. This takes more finger strength. Not the easiest instrument to learn, but they sure do sound great.

If you really want to study music theory, then learning piano is best. At least with piano, the note you see on the sheet music can only be played with one key, either a black or white key on the piano. On a guitar, and other stringed instruments, the note on the page can be played on several different locations on the fretboard, and it is the same note.

But, you are asking about an easy instrument to learn. I don’t play piano well, as of yet, but so far, I can tell you that compared to some other instruments I’ve mentioned, playing piano is not easy.

I have found playing chords on a piano to be easier than playing chords on guitar or ukulele, but unlike on these stringed instruments, while playing piano, your left hand will be playing some notes, and your right hand will be playing others. Left hand more for rhythm, right hand more for melody (not always, of course).

It is very tough to have your hands doing two different things, such as playing chords with your left hand and single notes with your right. On a guitar, your right hand and left hand will be teaming up to play the same notes/chords, even though one hand is picking the strings, and the other s fretting them.

Lastly, with piano, if you really get into reading sheet music, you will have to learn both the treble clef and bass clef, and read both of these at once. For other instruments, like guitar and most wind instruments (trumpet, sax, clarinet, etc.) you’ll just be playing one note at a time, and will just be using the treble clef. That’s better than reading both clefs at once.

It is certainly possible to learn piano without learning both clefs. There is a dude called Scott the Piano guy, who has books on this. And you’ll probably find videos on youtube that show you how to play using simplified sheet music called a lead sheet (there are books, called “fake books,” that are full of lead sheets. Tons of songs).

A lead sheet will have a melody line in the treble clef, (bass clef will not be on the page) and letters above the notes that signify what chord to play. This form of sheet music is MUCH easier to read than standard notation. But you need to know what you are doing, and still need to learn lots of chords to play with your left hand. And of course, you will need to learn the treble clef well, so you can play those notes with your right hand.

One last thing regarding learning how to read and write music.. many of the greats, such as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen, never learned how to read or write music. According to an excerpt of a John Lennon interview I read a few nights ago here on this site, even the guys in The Beatles started out without being musically literate. It isn’t necessary for playing popular music. If you want to learn to play classical music, then yeah, you REALLY need to know your music theory. And, if you want to learn jazz, knowing theory is really going to help.

Regarding wind instruments – the only one I played for awhile was clarinet. On both clarinet and sax, there is something called an octave key – this raises up all the notes so that they are the same, but higher in pitch. Unfortunately, the octave key doesn’t raise the notes on the clarinet only an octave higher, but more than an octave, so you will have to know two notes for each little key you play on the clarinet. Otherwise, the clarinet is not a terribly hard instrument. But you’ll not likely be playing one unless you are part of a school band program, like classical music, or New Orleans style early jazz.

I tried saxophones and a trumpet, briefly, but didn’t have money for lessons at the time, so I can’t weigh in on which is easier. To play a lot of notes on sax, you will need to learn what notes go with what keys on the instrument.

The trumpet only has three buttons on it – three keys – to play lots of notes, you will need to change your breath, and position of your mouth on the mouthpiece.

I would call neither of these instruments, nor the clarinet, easy.

Ok, so.. tinwhistle, harmonica, and Merlin are the easiest, and it’s not too hard to get started on bass guitar. Cigar box guitar is fun if you really like old style blues and don’t mind not being able to learn a ton of cover songs. Hand drums are great.

If you want more of a challenge, you might want to give ukulele, guitar, or piano a try.

Regardless of what instrument you start on, you will need to get yourself a metronome – preferably either a small digital one, or, even better, a metronome app on your phone – so you know you are practicing in time. Very important.

I know, at first especially, it really sucks to be practicing with a metronome, but you better do it if you want to play songs well, and especially if you want to eventually jam with other musicians.

Hope this post has helped.