Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guitaring It Up for 2011

In June 2011, my son and I will enter our third year as guitarists-in-training. It seems to me that it's time we at least tried to sound like we'd been playing week-in and week-out, usually five days a week, for two years. We're certainly armed with the right equipment now.

This Christmas, I picked up the two cheapest electric guitars I could find (at Aldi's, of all places), and matched them with two used practice amps that I bought for around $30 each. We've also got our original acoustics, and we got some new guitar stands so they're all, uh, standing. I'm not sure I even fully understand the value of guitar stands, but they seemed like a good idea so there you go.

On top of the hardware, my wife bought me a book of Bon Jovi music, which gives me something interesting to practice. I mean, who can hear "Wanted: Dead or Alive" and NOT want to play that awesome riff? I wish the book had Blaze of Glory in it, but even so there are several songs in it that I like and look forward to trying to play.

Speaking of stuff I'm trying to play, I've got a handful of challenging tunes in the work that I'm attempting. These are above and beyond the exercises we're doing in our lessons: Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult and More than a Feeling by Boston. I've decided to try to learn:

One, by Metallica. Not because it's my favorite Metallica song (there are so many to choose from and One is high on the list, but not quite my favorite) but because it felt like I actually had a shot at being able to play the lead parts on it. Kirk Hammet is a madman, though, and trying to master hammer-ons and pull-offs and such is pushing me to my limits.

Storybook Love, by Mark Knopfler. This is the main tune from The Princess Bride. I found an awesome cover of it on YouTube, by a young lady who affixed a camera to the end of her guitar with a rubber-band so I can sort of see what her fingers are doing. A good thing, too, because the guitar tabs I downloaded sounded NOTHING like the song I'm familiar with.

I was very seriously thinking about picking up the music for O Holy Night that was on sale for the holidays at Guitar Guru, but I misread the end-date for the sale and missed it, more's the pity. Guitar Guru is pretty cool - you not only get the music to print, but on your computer screen you can actually see (and hear) a graphical representation of the notes being played on a guitar. I'd like to try it out with a whole song, but they're priced from $6 to $7.25 each which is just more than I want to play, no matter how cool it all is.

The last month or so, I've been a little off my game guitar-wise. Part of the problem is that I'm just not happy with my skill-level, which falls far short both of where I'd like it to be and where I feel like it ought to be after about eighteen months. A bigger issue, though, was actually the fact that we had an electric guitar. My son and I were both super-jazzed to have it to play, but we couldn't both play it at the same time. I'd let him have it for the morning guitar practice, but that meant that I often didn't practice at all. Which, of course, didn't help much with the former problem of my not playing as well as I'd like to. Ah, well, in the grand scheme of things slacking off for a couple of weeks isn't the end of the world. I'm committed to getting back to business starting this week.

Interestingly, my daughter has again expressed an interest in learning the guitar. My daughter already plays the piano, trumpet, recorder, and tin whistle, but only when I force her to. Which is to say, she does the minimum amount of practice required, and never, ever, touches her instruments for pleasure. As such, I'm not super-motivated to invest a great deal of time trying to teach her a new instrument. Instead, I've offered to hand her the basic chord sheets from when I started, plus the exercises in learning the individual notes. Since she already reads music, I thought that would be pretty handy. If she works hard at those two types of lesson for an extended period - say, a couple of months, and still shows an interest, then I'll try to teach her more. I'm not going to hold my breath, but if she sticks with it that would be really neat and I'll help her however I can.

For my part, I just want to be able to play without feeling like I'm the underdog in a prize-fight. I want my fingers to hit the strings nice and square, without muting the strings nearby. I want to be able to play barre chords properly. I want to hit the strings because I know where they are and what they're supposed to sound like, not because I had to stop and think about it intensely. If I can manage that this year - or better, in the next several months - I'll be extremely happy.

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