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Jun 2

Sing us a song there… go on!

Posted on Saturday, June 2, 2007 in Music

Dario has inspired me to write about the wonderful musical instrument that is the guitar.

There is something intriguing about watching a person playing… whether it’s a complicated tune like ‘Classical Gas’, or something as simple as Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’, you think to yourself… I’d give my right arm to be able to do that, metaphorically speaking.  So you pick up this wonderful wooden structure, and pluck a string.  You might even pick out the opening riff to Nirvana’s ‘Come as you are’, and will be so excited you’ll want to show everybody. 


The big mistake that people make with learning the guitar is that they want to learn how to play ‘Hotel California’ straight away, but they soon find out that there’s a lot of crawling to be done before they can undertake the fun stuff.  If you skip the basics, you’ll get bored, and give up.  This is truly a crying shame.  It looks increadibly easy, and it is, all you have to do is stick with it, and practice.  You’ll be amazed at what you can do.

I have a musical background which helps a lot, but isn’t totally necessary.  I played the piano and the violin to 6th grade, and toyed with the cello and the viola a bit in school.  I don’t have a specific talent for music, but I understand it, and can figure out how a musical instrument works pretty quickly.  I can read music, but have never needed that skill when playing the guitar, as guitar ‘tabs’ have a different appearance to sheet music. 

If you can carry a tune, and if you can listen to a piece of music and listen specifically to the bass-line chords of the music, you can play the guitar.  It’s as simple as that.  Then all you have to do is learn the basic chords.  There are many websites that will teach you the chords you need.

The next thing you’ll need to do is put up with a lot of pain.  There are basically two types of guitar string.  You have your steel string which produces an amazing sound, and you have your nylon string which is more mellow.  When you’re learning the guitar, start with nylon strings.  They hurt a lot less.  The tips of your fingers are repetitively pressing hard on thin strings, and if you use steel strings, it’ll feel like you’re cutting your fingers with cheese wire.  The more you practice pressing on the strings, the tougher your fingertips will get.  You won’t notice the pain at first, your fingertips will go numb… they may even bleed a little bit.  When you finish a long guitar practice session, the feeling will suddenly rush back into your fingers and you’ll be in serious pain.  You may even find blisters forming.  This is a good thing.  When your fingers heal up enough, you’ll be able to play again, and you’ll notice that each time you do this, it will hurt less and less.  When callouses appear on your fingertips and you can stab them with a needle and not puncture the skin, you’ll be a guitar player my son.

Once you’ve figured out the basic chords, understand how chords relate to each other, and can read guitar tabs, it’s time to learn some songs.  This is how I do it:

1. Think of a song.  Don’t make it complicated.  Make it a song that you know the lyrics to.

2. Listen to the song.  Loop it over and over so that you get used to the way the music changes.  Get to know the bass chords, and try to coordinate your right hand with the beat of the music.  Learning how to strum can be just as hard as learning the chords themselves.

3. Find the tabs of the song on a tab downloader, such as this one, or this one, and try to play along to the music as you’re listening to it.  Before long, you’ll be able to turn off the music, and play on your own.  This is an amazing feeling. 

Sometimes, you’ll come across a tab sheet that someone has made, and you’ll see a note at the top that says something like… ‘to be played on the third fret’.  This means that if you play on the strings as they are, it won’t be in the same key as the real music.  What you need to do here is go out and buy yourself a capo.  This brilliant invention means that you can change the key of the music as you like, by placing the capo on different frets.  It also comes in very handy if you want to sing while playing, but find you can’t, because your voice doesn’t stretch that high or low.  The capo lets you change the key so that you can sing at a pitch that suits you.

I take my hat off to anyone who wants to learn the guitar, but if there’s any more advice I can give, it’s that practice is the hardest part, and therefore the most important.  Stick with it.  Don’t give up.  You’ll thank yourself when someone hands you a guitar at a party, says ‘Sing us a song there… go on!’ and watches in awe as you play.  They’re all thinking ‘I’d give my right arm to be able to do that!’

Bring on the comments

  1. Thanks for that, it’s given me a lot to consider. I bought Guitar Hero a while back, and have tried to get good at it so I can pick up the movements and stuff needed to play a proper guitar far easier.

    What’s accelerated this though is that last week I saw my friend’s brother totally nail the solo on Hotel California and he even took time to wink at the (admittedly awful) ladies on the floor.

    I tried playing a friend’s acoustic guitar, and after an hour, my fingers were actually bleeding from the steel strings on it. I cvan play the openings to a few songs, but nothing serious. I’ve been offered free lessons by the guy I mentioned above, so I’ll be reaching with open arms …

    Just a few more questions:
    – What’s a good, cheap starter electric guitar, if you can tell me?
    – Any songs that would be good for someone to learn starting out?
    – To begin with, tabs or chords?

  2. K8 says:

    I have Guitar Hero too, the only thing that’ll really help you with is your coordination… if you practice with something mechanical like that, you’ll un-learn your natural rhythm. Just a thought.

    There’s no point in getting yourself a really good electric guitar, you’ll end up spending too much on it. Take whatever you can get. Music wholesalers and second-hand shops are great for bargains, it just takes a bit of ringing around. As for makes, Fender, Gibson and Epiphone tend to be favourites. If you can get these second hand, you’re laughing. Try Ebay!

    I recommend buying an Accoustic guitar first, it will be your friend forever. You can buy a ‘pick-up’ which is a gizmo you place on the guitar’s bridge. It is D/C powered which means you can plug it into an amp. This is a lot cheaper and gets you a similar electric sound.

    Songs to start out…
    Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’
    Counting Crow’s ‘Mr. Jones’
    Snow Patrol’s ‘Run’
    The Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’
    … basically anything with a simple chord structure that you can play over and over without tiring of it!

    Start with chords, always chords. To be a good guitarist you need to know chords off by heart, otherwise tabs won’t make any sense. If you’re learning a song, know it’s chords, but sometimes it can’t hurt to check out the tabs for the same song to give you an idea of fingerstyling.

  3. Thanks for that!

    And I don’t have much natural rhythm anyway, so there’s no danger of me losing it.

  4. Brianf says:

    I am somewhat skeptical about that loud mouth cat with axe!
    How do you figure to answer that huh?
    Some might call that cat….Well ya’ know…A Cat…

    I don’t like Mondays.
    I want to shoot the whole day down.
    time to take this time to rise above


  5. K8 says:

    I like this Monday because it’s a bank holiday and we’re…

    … going to the zoo, zoo, zoo; how ’bout you, you, you; you can come too, too, too; we’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo!

  6. Conortje says:

    I have a book with two hundred songs that only use three chords – it’s great – well when I say great I mean my playing sounds better after a few beers and better still on my own

  7. Deborah says:

    What a fantastic post. I’ll have to have the husband read it. The bastard is a piano prodigy, started playing at age two, played with world class orchestras and for Bill Clinton even, but hated it… was forced into it. We actually met at music school and both subsequently dropped out. (I like singing… just not opera) Anyhoo… he said once he wished he’d learned guitar instead. So just before we moved back to Ireland I bought him this fantastic guitar with amp… all the accessories, tuning thingie, DVD lessons, chord charts etc. It’s all shiny and black and stuff! You can tell I’m very familiar with the technical shit all right! ;-) Needless to say it sits on a stand in our living room collecting dust. Bastard. Although I still break it out and play Come As You Are when I’ve had too much tequila! Maybe this post will snap him out of it!

    P.S. Sorry for the delayed comments… been catching up! :-)

  8. Hi there, just stopped by doing some research for my Fender Guitar site. Can’t believe the amount of information out there. Wasn’t what I was looking for, but good site. Cya later.

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