Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm Not Usually Impulsive, But...

I have thought for a long time that it was time for Heather to learn to play a new instrument. I took eight years of piano lessons and three years of French horn lessons, all decidedly classical in nature. I don't have a French horn (do you have any idea how much those things cost??), but I love my baby grand piano. Over the last few years, I've been trying to switch my piano playing style to allow for more flexibility with what's written, and to try to improvise more to what's going on around me. This is a necessary skill to learn if one wants to play with a group of other musicians. This need came up while I was trying to play keyboard with the praise team at my church. You try playing with guitarists, drummers, bass players and vocalists of varying skill levels and tell me you don't have to improvise! I can't say I'm particularly good at it, but I have gotten better over time.

So this brings me around to the next instrument for me to learn. I thought about soliciting suggestions from my readers here, but you'll have to reread this post's title. I decided that I would learn to play guitar. It seems to be easy enough to pick up a few chord fingerings and a few strum patterns, and be able to play some common tunes, but certainly complicated enough to provide years of further learning and technique refinement. I knew I wanted one with a pickup, so I'd be able to easily be mic'd one day when I might need it, but not an electric guitar, so I'd still be able to play acoustically. This was my plan.

I went to a guitar store here in town and asked a bunch of questions and held several guitars and generally was a pest for about an hour. The folks there were very patient, answering my questions and explaining lots of stuff to me. At the end of it, it appeared I had more research and deciding to do, so I thanked them and headed home. I decided that I didn't want to mess with trying to learn classical guitar (note the eleven years of classical music training described above, and what it's done for me). After a few hours of research, I felt armed enough to dive into the craigslist waters. And what would you know, I found one that seemed to fit the bill -- a Stella blues guitar from the 1950s. I love my 1927 mahogany piano, and figured I could continue the trend of having instruments older than myself. I called the guy and found that it had been retrofitted with a pickup, and was ready for me to come check it out. I went that afternoon to a warehouse where, apparently, all the local bands practice. I walked in and picked up the guitar, and everything fell apart. See the guy is selling three guitars, and no one wants old ones, so he figured I was calling about this other one, but the one I was thinking I wanted is a parlor guitar (not full-sized) and has no pickup. While it was one cool little instrument, it wasn't what I was expecting, and I chose to walk away.

My husband suggested eBay, but after my experience, I decided I didn't want to buy a guitar that I couldn't hold in my hands first. Down, but not out, I went back to craigslist. On a whim, I searched for a bass guitar, instead. I found a lovely bass, being sold by someone who obviously needed the cash. I had thought, flippantly, in the past about learning to play the bass, but I had lots of excuses. It's hard to sing along with at a campfire. I'm not cool enough to play bass. I would be relegating myself to playing harmony. My husband won't be able to fight off all the drooling men when I become one of those hot bass playing women. Oh well. I called the dude selling the guitar, played it a bit in a park, and walked away with a sweet new instrument to learn to play. Oh, and I got a good deal, so maybe I'll still get a regular guitar one day.

And now I just have to figure out how to play it. And I have to get an amp. Anyone have any pointers they can give me to good information for learning to play this little four-stringed wonder?


James said...

Congratulations! Guitar shopping is so much fun. I wish I could justify buying a few more.

My wife got a bass a few years ago on a whim. It's been great fun for both of us. Happy bassing. (and yes, you'll definitely need an amp)

rev_justin said...

Welcome to the world of the low end! I have been playing now for over 17 years (!) and it's an instrument that , like an onion, reveals itself in layers. You will want an amp soon, but for now, you can kind of practice along without one.

Bass is great for ear training since you can get by by simply following the root of whatever chord is being played and as you get more comfortable with the fretboard, you can start adding in 3rds, 5ths, 7ths, 9ths, etc. I would also invest some time learning the "patterns" for the major and minor scales. Once you get these down, you can play them pretty much anywhere on the neck to add to your fun.

Awesome news and let me know if you ever wanna chat bass :)

Matthew M. F. Miller said...

Congrats! You're going to love playing guitar. Nothing feels better than strumming, singing and rocking out.

Trust me - stick with it and you'll find a new happy place.

Heather said...

Wow! Who knew I had so many musicians among my readership! Thanks for all the encouraging words.