Tag Archives: Music

How to Get Started on the Guitar NOW–and Why It’s Worth It

If you’ve got a couple hands and can pick up a guitar, you can play one–it’s not actually that hard. I promise.

Woody Guthrie said, “If you play more than two chords, you’re showing off.” I love that quote. If you learn even just two chords, you can play a song.

So many people dream of playing the guitar, but beginners often get discouraged by the seemingly giant learning curve. If you look for complexities in music, you will definitely find them, but what you need to know to start having fun right NOW is next to nothing!

Read on.

So, you know what a guitar looks like, it’s got six strings, bla bla bla. Get it on your lap comfortably. I don’t know exactly the proper way to hold the guitar and I’ve been playing for years. I know that there are different ways to hold it for different guitar styles. Definitely find that out if you want, but don’t let not knowing stop you from starting today.

Note: While you’re playing, keep your thumb underneath and parallel to the neck if you can. The pressure on the strings comes mostly from your fingers, not from pressing your thumb against the neck–you’ll hurt your wrist otherwise. Also, strum from your elbow and not from your wrist.

Alright, next. You’ve heard about this “chord” thing, you don’t know what it is and you’re scared to find out.

So, what’s a chord? It’s the name for a collection of notes–or for a sound, if that’s simpler. When you place your fingers in a certain way on the fretboard and strum with your other hand (meaning you strike all the strings at once), it makes a sound and you call it a chord–a D chord, for example. Each chord has specific finger positioning, and having these chord names is what makes it easy to learn someone else’s song.

DON’T get caught up in the theory. It’s interesting, but not important. So many people do and then get discouraged, and it’s just because it seems complicated. It’s really not.

Where do you place your fingers? On the strings, pressing down on the frets. The frets are the little separations that go down the neck. You’ll get a better sound if you press down closer to the bottom of the fret–that is, closer to the raised horizontal bar thinggy that separates them. Your fingertips might get a little sore when you start, but your skin gets used to it pretty quickly, if you play often.

There are million different chords (all variations of A, B, C, D, E, F and G) but you do NOT need to know them all. If you learned A, A minor, C, D, E, E minor, G and F, you could probably play most of your favourite songs (maybe not in the same key as the original recording, but meh), and you’d be good to go for pretty much eternity.

Again, don’t let the letters scare you. If you spend a few minutes learning the positions of each of them, you’re DONE. Google can show you where to put your fingers, and sometimes even which fingers to use so that you don’t get all tangled up!

To get your chords sounding like a song, you strum to a beat. Play a different chord for a different sound, while you keep strumming. Transitioning between chords while strumming takes a bit of practice, but it’s all good. Switch it up, make it up, have fun with it, sing along.

That’s it, my friends.

Learn those, and the guitar will be your joy, your medicine, your expression, your escape, your adventure, your pride, your friend for life. And who couldn’t use more of all of those things!?

Don’t tell yourself all those silly stories about how you aren’t creative, you aren’t talented, you don’t have an ear for music. It’s always BS. Remember Beethoven? Remember how he was deaf?

No one starts out knowing what they’re doing. Everyone plays an icky chord or two or four hundred when they start, but even those don’t have to be anything less than fun. Actually, some of my chords still sound like crap, but I’ve stopped letting it matter.

Music is one of this world’s greatest treasures, and it’s available to you right now. There’s no secret club to join first, there’s no spell to learn, no books to read, no one to impress. Pluck a string, or Google the G chord. Seriously, go now!

It also doesn’t have to be a guitar; pick up whatever makes your heart feel a beat, even if it’s a wooden spoon, and remember what it’s like to have your soul dance. You know you’ve been wanting to for… how many years?


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Life Is Good

Anything that feels worthwhile to me involves making other people happy. I know this because when I focus too much on myself, I’m unhappy, and when I help other people meaningfully, I’m happy. Not too complicated.

After performing at the open mic, I started having all these thoughts that I’d never really had before, as is normal after a new experience. I think I understand why I haven’t been able to motivate myself to make “art.” The problem I’m having, I think, is that I see art as a hedonistic and egotistical pursuit. It doesn’t have to be, but that’s how I see it right now, at least if I were to make it mine. I mean, I like making music and painting because they’re methods of expression I enjoy, and everyone needs to express themselves. I also think I’m good at it, and I like how it feels to be good at something and have people tell me I’m great, etc. Who doesn’t?

I’ve been having trouble envisioning my future. I see music as a “dream,” and you’re not supposed to abandon your dreams, or else you lose at life. But if it’s a dream, then why am I having so much trouble acting on it? Why can’t I actually see myself being a musician? What’s missing? Why do I feel like I have no idea what I’m working towards? Why am I not excited for my life in 5 years?

I think it’s because I can’t devote the bulk of my days to trying to get people to compliment me. What I’d hope for in making music is to make millions of people happy with what comes out of my mouth, but that depends a lot on luck and talent, and I’m no Bob Dylan, or whoever. And if that did happen, it wouldn’t be for years, and I’d have to spend most of my time until then devoted to nothing else but writing and getting better, concentrating on myself and not contributing to anything else very meaningfully. At least, that’s how I see it.

The guy I played with at the open mic is a very good musician, and he was just in the greatest mood after the show and all the admiration he was showered with by the audience. It was like he was high, and I knew it would wear off. It made me think that maybe music is an addiction, and those who can make a living off it are addicts. It would explain why some of the greatest musicians were all fucked up and depressed. Which explains the great music.

Maybe I’m just not an addict. Don’t get me wrong, I love making music (and writing, any artform), and I need it to express myself. But I can’t see myself spending most of my life expressing myself. It sounds exhausting! Success in music depends on constant product output, and I just don’t pump things out very consistently. I can’t see myself spending most of my life, for me. And if I did happen to help someone with my art, I’d have no way of knowing. I can’t see myself spending my days as a musician because I don’t spend my days as a musician.

I wrote about this before, but I’d love to find a way to blend art and goodwill. I’m still not sure how to do this. But I do know something I didn’t know before: I can see myself spending my days thinking about other people, and making other people happy. I don’t have a job, and I’m not happy. I still play music and write because I have to express myself, but the rest of time, I’m twiddling my thumbs, wondering why I’m not playing music and writing, because that’s what I like to do, right? Right, but I like to help people more, and that’s what’s missing in my days. It’s so good to know this, because this motivates me, and the 30, 40, 50-year-old Stephanie I imagine looks happy, fulfilled.

It sounds all generous and shit of me, but really it’s pretty selfish: I want to feel like people need me, and a career in art wouldn’t give me that. I’m just finding out how to get what I want.

I’m starting to think about going into nursing, for many reasons. I’ll write about them another time, because I’m bored of this and I have to pee. Peace!

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Night Chillin'

Here at 2am, after a night of music, on the terrasse at Second Cup. It’s so wonderful to be outdoors right now. Rihanna’s a little loud in my brain right now, though.


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Open Mic Night

Last week I went to inspect an open mic that I knew was happening. I ended up running into someone from my program in university, which was cool; I’d seen her perform at coffee houses a couple years ago and she seemed awesome, so it was nice to actually meet her. She said she often comes to this place, so I was both happy I’d see her again, and anxious because I knew it would make performing more difficult; I wanted to perform to a completely random audience, for self-preservation’s sake.

But oh well. I called up a guy I play music with sometimes, and asked if he wanted to do a couple songs. He came over yesterday, and we prepared “Just a Boy” by Angus and Julia Stone, and “9 Crimes” by Damien Rice. It was fine. I practised a bit today, got the notes I couldn’t hit at first, and was good to go.

This was the first time I sang publicly, I’m pretty sure. There was no mic at the open mic (…), and my friend plays really loud and gets intense, so I was completely drowned out. I tried to sing louder but in doing so, I forced my voice and hit some wrong notes. It sucked, at least in my head. My piano was fine, though. I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I thought, which was also what my friend told me. He played a couple songs of his own, which were amazing. The girl from my program told us the timbre of our voices sounded good together, but I have a feeling she just wanted to say something. Haha.

But I don’t really care! The loudness wasn’t really my fault, and neither was the fact that when I’m nervous, my throat constricts. Also, when I’m nervous in front of audiences, I think I sabotage myself. It ends up being bad because I expect it to be. I think it’s because I subconsciously want to hit rock bottom, so that anything afterwards is a step up. I mean, I don’t want to be nervous in front of audiences forever, and if it went well, I’d reinforce the anxious behaviour! I guess by having good experiences from the get-go, the anxiety would disappear. But what happens when you take a nosedive after so many good experiences? Twenty years later, you’re at rock bottom and you think it’s the end, because you’ve never had to build from zero.

Fucked up way to look at it, but whatever. I always take the long way around. Now that I know that sucking isn’t the end of the world, I’m not afraid for it to happen again. Sucking is kind of boring though, so not sucking as much next time would be good.

I’m happy I did it. I just need to make sure I make “next time” happen soon because last time I played in front of an audience (at a WEDDING), the same thing happened: I was rendered fearless and incredibly excited to perform more… but I waited too long. So I need to take advantage of this “no fear” thing, and start making good things happen. Random audience la prochaine fois, I hope.


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