Let’s face it; one time or another, there will be a moment in which your Guitar Hero skills won’t cut it anymore. Be it a housewarming party or a bar with a live band, it is inevitable that you will have to call upon your musical skills and play a guitar – like it or hate it, the instrument is here to stay so put down that controller and we’ll have you strumming something by the end of this article which will guide you from start to end; purchasing your first guitar to brands and chords and songs... And yes, it does get you the attention of the girls (as with everything else in the Manly 101 series).
#1: Buying A Guitar
This is a very important part of the article as most people have no idea where to start when they get around to purchasing their first instrument. To begin, there a few types of guitars out there, namely acoustic, classical, electric and bass. Arguably the most popular guitar out there, this article will focus on the acoustic guitar due to its low price and ability to be heard in almost any situation (although the techniques mentioned here remain the same regardless of guitar type). Putting aside that beat-up old heap of junk that resembles an extinct Grecian instrument – sans the value - on your flatmate’s couch, I would recommend getting your own instrument at one point or another. In this way, not only will you get familiar with your instrument, but it will also be available for you to play at any moment to practice, or strum a few chords.
As far as brands are concerned, as of recent the variety of brands on the market are nothing short of overwhelming. Some famous brands are Taylor, Martin, Yamaha, Gibson and Fender but expect them to cost a bomb, especially if they’re made in Europe, Japan or the USA! Anyway, everything is fair game from RM150 to RM15,000 – it all depends on how much your budget is for an instrument. My suggestion as a teacher is to get a relatively inexpensive guitar, but not to the extent that it compromises touch (the way it responds to your fingers) and ease of playing; I would personally set a budget of around RM300-500 for a serious beginner instrument.
Don’t get too hung up on brands as around this price range, all guitars – even the branded ones are mass-produced in China, so there really isn’t much to be picky about (which means a few barely noticable dings and knocks, imperfect finishes, etc are inevitable). Bear in mind that within this range, branded guitars will usually cost more, but will not necessarily be better than an unbranded guitar at the same price. Listen to the sound of the guitar; hold it; feel how it handles in your hands. And don’t have an unrealistic expectation of a RM300 guitar to look, feel and play like something ten times its price – you get what you pay for!
#2: Playing The Guitar
Now that you have a guitar, let’s learn the basics. You can play it standing or sitting down; if you stand you will need a guitar strap to sling it around your shoulder. You can see my position, both standing and sitting in these photos.
As you can see, when I sit down with the guitar I balance it on my leg which is crossed over. This enables me to balance the guitar and even with my hands off, it will stay in its position. As for the standing position, I generally have the guitar higher than usual – the closer it is to your chest, the easier it will be to handle and play. No I don’t understand how you can play the guitar as low as Green Day and not suffer from back problems...!
Anyway, we are going to learn three positions on the guitar fretboard, called chords in this article; G, C and D. Hopefully this makes sense to you.
These are the finger positions for the chords above, which can be used to play many, many songs. The black dots represent your fingers on the guitar, while the hollow dots refer to open strings (no fingers touching), and no symbol means the string is not played. We take for example, the song “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton; it starts with a G, D, C, D that repeats throughout the song with minimal changes. I can’t possibly elaborate everything all at once and it wouldn’t make sense anyway, so here’s a video that I made to help you out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ntv7Ax_Sq5M This video is basically a guide to the guitar and its parts, to augment this article – it should get you up and playing in no time! Yes this was made a long time ago – no comments on the hairstyle please...
#3: Performing On Stage
Being on stage isn’t as simple as it sounds like. It’s a lot of pressure and everyone has their eyes on you – but part of being manly is taking up the challenge! Being on stage is a whole different thing altogether; it takes a lot of practice, knowing your stuff and more than anything else, preparation. Practice a song until you can get it right, by memory, and get it into your system. Meaning you can pull it off at any moment, on any other guitar, upon any number of an audience. It’s a real test of nerves and confidence, but the goal of playing an instrument is to ultimately to share your music and be appreciated by others. Just for laughs – and I did get some – this is a video of me busking by the roadside in China before I got chased away by the military police.
Above all, please remember that it’s just music; the world won’t end if you play a wrong note or make a mistake. Nobody dies – you aren’t piloting a commercial airliner for heaven’s sake! Go out there, have fun and play your heart out. Enjoy the moment and bask in the glory – do it well and you’re the man of the moment!