Six Strings…


So, I’m teaching myself guitar. I figure, if millions of other people can do it, so can I.

When my friends Mike and Gwen moved away (with little Brian!) Mike sold me (at a very cut rate) his acoustic guitar, a Yamaha that I’m sure is good enough to learn on, whatever a pro guitarist might say. In the last week or so, I’ve been fiddling with it and teaching myself a few tricks. So far I only really know a couple of chords, but I’ve been fiddling around and have started to get a few patterns I can do really well.

It’s a dangerous route, though, and I am right at the spot where I need to get someone to teach me a few things — chords and such — or else I’m going to just fiddle and diddle on this forever. I don’t need formal lessons, just enough to know how to play a bunch of basic chords. I have tried Youtube videos like this one and this one, and I picked up a few tricks, but I really need to see someone do these things in front of me to totally get it, I think. Just a couple of times, and then I’m sure I’ll be able to start getting more out of the tutorials online. It’ll be a while before I’m ready for this tutorial, though, yeah, it’s one of the songs that makes me wanna learn the instrument. (It’s Nick Drake and Iron and Wine that have me wanting to learn, really. And to my credit, I am able to sort-of pick my way through the first bit of the tune…)

But the thing has already become a little demystified for me… in a good way. It’s amazing how this instrument is designed. Once you have a basic idea, and the requisite dexterity in your fingers, and the requisite calluses on your fingertips, it’s pretty hard to make it sound awful.

Of course, I have neither the dexterity nor the calluses. My fingertips are tingling all the time, and I am getting a little more dextrous. But the nice thing is, I have the basic idea, and am no longer freaked out by the fact there are six strings. (I remember four strings on bass seeming like the maximum a human being could handle. Ha… the twelve-string guitar, the santoor, oh, forget the santoor. Lovely instrument, but it would drive me mad.)

Eventually, I’ll probably posting mp3s of songs of my own composition. Ha! But for now, I’ll just link this handy dandy metronome, and also this online guitar tuner. Not that I ever use anything but the low E, but… it’s nice to have the exact pitch set out for you.

5 thoughts on “Six Strings…

  1. I’ve been doing the same over the last couple of years, though I haven’t been serious about it so I still suck. :D

    A few good songs to practice with:

    Donald Where’s Your Troosers? (2 chords. Great to help you learn to sing while playing)

    Sweet Jane (Most all of the cowboy chords, but the learning the timing is helpful)

    Closer to the Heart (Three chord wonder)

    The best advice I’ve ever gotten was from a folkie who said to not get caught up on making a song sound like the version you heard. Feel free to play it in a way that you’re comfortable with.

  2. Rhesus,

    WTF? That’s a more existential WTF — I looked up the source of the clip. I even kind of was amused by it. But dude… wtf!


    (Does anyone ever sing the Smiths song to you when they say your name? Strange urge to ask you how you can stay with a fat girl who says “Would you like to marry me? And if you like you can buy the ring…” because she doesn’t care about anyone…)

    Thanks for the recommendations and advice. I agree about the not worrying to get things exactly right. Songs were meant to be changed a little along the way anyway, something I learned playing jazz and which was reinforced when I studied the history of Medieval music. Seriously. Stability of song structure is a BIG deal — in an oral culture. Some troubadours seemed to embrace the fact their songs would morph as others picked them up and popularized them; others very carefully structured the lyrics to make (objectionable) forms of rearrangement more difficult or unlikely.

    That book is available free online, too!

    I know, I know.

    By the way, one thing that shocked me about rock music was how people seemed to prefer to play solos the same way live as on an album… or to play it a certain way consistently. I was quite surprised. Somehow it made rock seem a lot more staid and uptight to me. :)

    (Jazz musicians at least take the risk of really making up their solos most of the time! That takes guts!)

  3. Oh yeah…

    The Costellos mostly focus on banjo, but Patrick has done a lot of guitar lessons as well. Seems like he’d be a brilliant teacher in person.

    A lot of rock guitarists spend a lot of time memorizing their solos before hitting the studio because studio time is too costly for multiple tries at a botched solo. Since they have that ingrained, they also do it on stage. Also, the audience tends to expect it.

    Only Jimmy Page and Jerry Garcia were really able to get away with noodling for 20 minutes… And even then, Garcia was just playing scales to his stoned out audience.

    And no one sings Smiths to me. But I did get a lot of stuff about “Ode To Billy-Joe” when I was a kid, as well as “Billy Don’t Be A Hero”.

  4. William,

    Again, thanks for the link. I have to admit, banjo is another instrument I’d love to learn eventually…

    Actually, some of the alternate takes for some jazz musicians (like those on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps album) suggest they too prepared solos to some degree, probably for the same reason — studio time was never free. But the difference in audience expectation and also in what gets hailed as genius amuses me. Anyone playing prepared solos in live jazz after the end of the Swing Era would be laughed at… in rock, it’s heroic. (And the solos generally aren’t anywhere near as complex as what soloists in jazz improvise, either. your characterization of it as “noodling” does fit what I’ve seen in rock, which again amuses me because jazz musicians who noodle either have to be geniuses — Miles Davis noodling is art — or else they never got anywhere. Certainly we can’t call what Charlie Parker did “noodling.”)

    Of course if I were coming at it from rock, I’d probably see it all differently, but I’m not. As such, I now understand very well why my first saxophone teacher who was a saxophonist laughed hard when I told him I wanted to play “rock sax” and why he directed me at jazz. Anyone who can do jazz sax can do rock sax easily. I’m not sure the same is true of jazz, but I’d wager it’s easier to go from jazz to rock than from rock to jazz.

    Notably, I’m not planning on learning jazz guitar. Not at the moment, anyway.

    Ha, Billy, huh? Well, glad nobody sings The Smiths to you. It’d be disconcerting, I imagine!

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