I never really thought of the guitar as a cool instrument, until I started playing. I wasn't really exposed to the guitar-ful glamours of rock and roll; either that, or I was ignorant and uninterested. At that time in grade 8, I was a "vocal-focused" listener. Guitars, drums, and all that were just decorations to make the voice sound pretty. That's why I liked Queen when Keegan introduced me to "Bicycle Race" in grade 6. They have legendary guitar, drums, bass, with Brian May and all, but with overlapped Freddie Mercury vocals and pretty interesting lyrics (that I could make out by ear), I liked it. I didn't love it, but I thought it was nice.
So the beauty and the beast of the guitar were never unleashed to my soul, but that was about to change.
As I quickly jerked my head to see what in the world Keegan was doing to make that incredible sound, I said, "Woa." I saw him just focus on his playing, pretending not to hear me. His hand was moving up and down in a blur of strums, yet I heard the plucking of individual strings.
"How do you hit the string you want without hitting the others?" "After a while, you kind of get a feel for the strings."
For the rest of the day, we finished our little music video (that our teacher still hasn't graded) and Keegan taught me to play that famous intro riff of "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple. He wouldn't let me touch his guitar, so I had to use my dad's old electric that sounded and felt horrible. It sounded bad, but it was something.
For the next few days, I pondered my musical career, since I had recently "quit" piano. I played the "Smoke on the Water" riff over and over again until I got bored and switched to messing around on the piano, and back again. I noticed that every time I switched to the piano, I got this feeling of freedom from stiffness and limited ability, but when I switched back to guitar, I was filled with hopes, curiosity, and interest.
My mom asked me if I wanted to learn the guitar or the keyboard, another instrument I was considering, since while I did have an interest in the piano, classical and baroque music was beginning to bore me. I took a while before I made my choice, and when I did, it changed my life forever.
I had always liked to mess around with keyboards, the way they simulate hundreds of instruments not including additional effects and whatnot. I didn't really ever use them as proper instruments, but rather find all the amusing noises I can make out of them. Sometimes I would find a keyboard voice that would sound something like a TV show theme or something, and try to figure out the notes for about thirty minutes, then give up on the keyboard completely.
The reason that I wanted to learn how to play the keyboard was mainly because I wanted to get a brand new keyboard as opposed to the decade-old portable keyboard in our basement. I wanted to fool around with its features hours on end, and maybe learn a few tricks and songs that would interest me. But there was something that the keyboard didn't have, which made me take the other path.
There was a song in one of my piano repertoires called "Changing Bars," which was essentially a study composed in order to stress changing time signatures. From bar to bar, the time signature would change, creating a different feel from the rest of the songs. It had sort of an angry mood, and when I played it, I couldn't help thinking that I wasn't able to really express myself through that song. I'd get caught up in it, but I could only go so loud, and the most I could really do was hit the right notes. It was simple, too, so there weren't very many notes played at the same time. I just couldn't unleash the full potential of the song's upbeat and rising melody with the seemingly rigid piano. This is the reason why I saw the guitar as my next step. It was totally fresh, and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could use it as a way of expressing what I could never express before.
Days went by, taking it slowly, and not really sealing my decision. Now and then, Keegan urged me to learn the guitar, saying that it's "fun."
It was around Christmas time in the first chunk of ninth grade when I heard the stunning call of the guitar yet again.
I was in a youth group at my local Korean Church in Canada, and at around Christmas, the group was preparing a performance featuring music, a play, and other small acts. I was going to Florida that winter, so I wasn't going to be in it. There was one group of musicians who were going to play in a band, as in guitar, drums, and whatnot. One of the Sundays before the show, I was lining up to get my pizza when I heard one of the guitarists fiddle around with the guitar, playing the opening riff to "Holiday" by Green Day. I realized how cool the distorted electric guitar sounds. This revelation further defined my choice to learn how to play the guitar.
Finally, in the first few months of the year 2006, when I was in Freshman year of high school, I was on the road to buy my first guitar. I went to a nearby mall in Mississauga called "Square One," which is supposedly the biggest mall in Ontario. There was a store in there called "Walter's Music" which was essentially a big music store. I walked in, and it was full of pianos, guitars, and all sorts of music related things. I first eyeballed the shiny new electric guitars that were hanging way in the back, but after a little thought and talk with the salesman, it was pretty obvious that I was going to get an acoustic guitar that day.
The salesperson was a Filipino guy named Jay. He had his hair in a Fohawk, and he approached us very professionally, all business-like. He showed us three guitars. One of the guitars was a classical guitar, which he only pulled out to demonstrate its style and make sure that that wasn't what we were looking for. He played very lively music on the classical, with some Spanish-sounding tunes. Then he directed our attention to the other two acoustic guitars. One was three hundred dollars, while the other was four hundred (by the way, we're in Canada, so this is all Canadian dollars). He gave me one of the guitars, though I can't recall which one, and placed my fingers in the shape of the Asus4 chord (I had no clue of the name of the chord at the time).
"You strum from this string here," he said, pointing to the A-string, or the 5th string from the bottom.
I gave it a try. I thought it sounded pleasant. Then he explained the difference between the two guitars in tone, which really meant nothing when put in words but that one guitar's wood is better. Now remember that my dad owned that beat up electric guitar, which means he must know how to play something. So he took hold of the three hundred dollar guitar and strummed through a few basic open chords. Then he tried the four hundred dollar guitar. Instantly, he said, "This one sounds a lot better." That afternoon, I went home with the four hundred dollar guitar. It was made under the brand name, "Art and Lutherie," a subdivision of Godin, a Canadian guitar company. It was made with 95% Canadian wood, and was handcrafted in Canada. It was my first guitar, my eye-opener to a whole new world, and would later become my identity.
Before I move on, I'd like to mention an experience I had a bit earlier in my life, back to the days of freshman year. Good Ol' Keegan decided to try to teach me "Good Riddance" by Green Day at school one day, when I told him about my thoughts about buying a guitar. He wrote down the chords that I should learn on a scrap piece of paper from English class: G, C (which was really Cadd9, but I had no clue) , and D. He wrote next to the chord names, the actual chords in tablature form.
Then, next to that, he wrote a series of arrows: Down Down Up Up Down Up. This was the strumming pattern of the song. So I went home that day, and tried to figure out how to utilise this new knowledge. I picked up my dad's electric piece of junk, and strummed away. I don't exactly know what the problem was, because I didn't have the knowledge or experience to diagnose such a thing, but I remember that it sounded horrible. I was either putting my fingers in the wrong place, or the guitar was way out of tune. The next day I told him, "Hey, I tried it out and it sounded like crap." He replied, "Are you using your dad's electric? That thing needs a major string replacement." I said, as if you do it every ten years, "Oh...I should change its strings?" So I gave up on that for a while. Until I got my acoustic, that is.
For the first few days with my new acoustic guitar, I barely played it. But who could blame me? I didn't know how. But then, the few days started to turn into a few weeks, and eventually months of silence. I picked it up now and then to play around with it, but I didn't do much. Actually, this part of my guitar career seems hazy to me. This is why I don't know how long I've been playing guitar. I remember that I kept my guitar against the closet in the family room, the closet next to the fireplace that no one uses.
I really needed a teacher, but after a while, I thought I'd take another stab at "Good Riddance".
Playing those exact horrendous chords that I played on my dad's electric, I managed a sound that resembled something slightly musical; something that resembled "Good Riddance". I thought it was good. As guests came over to our house from time to time, "interrupting" my repetition of the same three chords of the verse part of the song, I silently hoped for a compliment on my playing. I was disappointed with an array of nods and polite smiles. I was on my own in terms of musical self-esteem.
So every week or so, I reminded my parents that I needed lessons. Eventually, I was on my way to Jay's pad. If you payed any attention, you'll remember that Jay was the name of the guy who sold me my guitar. He slipped us his business card, quietly explaining that he does private lessons on his own, apart from the music store's lessons. His earlier demonstration had impressed us, so we decided that he would be teaching me guitar.
I went up in his little apartment, where he had a tiny little living room filled with a dozen guitars and a couple of hefty amps. I grabbed a stool and we took off. He asked me what kind of music I liked, what I can play so far (which was a sloppy picking intro of Good Riddance), then he jumped me right into string names and chords, moving on into learning the rest of Good Riddance (properly).
I'm not sure what I learned when, but I remember that each time I had one of my weekly hour-long lessons with Jay, I was so excited, that I'd go home and play another hour of guitar. I'd die down and not practice for the rest of the week, but I trudged through. I learned a lot from Jay. He may be the reason I am where I am today.