As the Music Therapy of the Rockies program was being developed, I knew that the gift of a guitar for each participant would be a powerful coping tool. The shape of the guitar is similar to a military rifle and many veterans have commented about sitting in the circle and the similarities to sitting in the circle with fellow soldiers and their rifles.
I had a connection to Tom Bedell at Breedlove Guitars and he agreed to provide guitars for the first retreat. I realized that I didn’t want to ask for free guitars for every retreat because I was going to wear out my welcome very quickly. We came up with a price point that worked well for our budget and their pricing and it has been an amazing partnership.
Breedlove Guitars at Our Retreats
The joy on the veterans faces when they realize that the guitars are theirs is an amazing sight. Most don’t believe me. They hug the guitars, carry them everywhere during the retreat, and have huge smiles when they return the final morning. I always tell them that I want them walking in their house with this new guitar. Their families and caregivers will always ask where they got it. I tell them that if they have children, it is very likely that the children will go get their instruments and want to play with them. I have had numerous veterans bring photos in the next morning of them on the couch with their children and their instruments. One veteran has sent me numerous videos of his son learning to play the guitar.
One of the first exercises we do with the guitar is have each participant put their index finger on the high E string and raise it up towards the B string. Feeling the tension and then lowering it back down but not releasing the string. We do this one more time and every time that exercise is equated to the trigger finger.
The guitar is also similar to a talking stick. As we work on learning TAB in the circle, when we notice the participants looking at their fingertips without calluses, we open up 2 psychotherapy topics. Between the comfort of the circle, the fellow participants, and the guitar on their lap, we find amazing conversations that appear to flow easily with very heavy topics.
Since we are focused on boosting the neural networks in the prefrontal cortex, we do only finger style picking, of which, fine motor movements are monitored in the prefrontal cortex. Also teaching TAB is similar to learning a new language. New language acquisition is based in the prefrontal cortex.
We feel this step-by-step process sets the participants up for success in their therapeutic journey.
A highlight for me at every retreat is when I take each guitar out of the box, tune it, and spend a little time with it by playing one of songs that I will be teaching them later on. That way I can tell the group that the song is already on the guitar, you just have to spend time with it to learn it.
Breedlove Guitars Factory Tour
In November I visited Bend, Oregon for the first time to tour the Breedlove factory. I was welcomed with open arms. It was wonderful meeting the staff and putting faces with names. They love that we continue putting their guitars in our participants’ hands and I am proud to use such a high quality guitar in a healing way. The guitars that we purchase are not made in this facility but the Breedlove standard of excellence is still obvious.
We started the tour by visiting the wood room for the guitar bodies, necks, and fret boards. Tom takes great pride in using sustainable materials for his guitars and it was a joy to hear him talk about his passion.
The next area was the cutting and the shaving of the wood to create the optimum wood thickness for the body of the guitar. Breedlove uses sound technology to tune the wood to its desired frequency. It was fascinating to watch the process. After the bracing was added, they would further tune the wood by gently shaving the bracing by hand. Each luthier in each department appeared to love their job and the instruments they were building.
I enjoyed every minute of the tour including the finishing room and the final inspection.
Breedlove will continue to be the guitar of choice for our program. Music Therapy of the Rockies and Breedlove, saving lives one guitar at a time.
Written by Mack Bailey, Music Therapy of the Rockies Founder & Executive Director.