The Axe. Part 3

Part three of the recollection of my guitar playing experiences: "Electrified."

Ultimate Guitar

Note: This story is non-fiction.

Jay and I progressed quickly in our lessons, learning several chords a week while working on Good Riddance and learning a Carpenters song that I can't remember as of now. He corrected my Smoke on the Water riff that I used to play on the first and second strings instead of the third and fourth strings. I was still narrow-minded in my musical tastes at the time, and I never had an answer for Jay's constant questions of what music I wanted to learn. In the meantime, I learned simple chord progressions that he would improvise over while I slowly progressed into switching chords more smoothly. Not long after I was faced with a challenge that I think was the hardest one to overcome in my entire guitar playing history: barre chords.

The concept of using my index finger to fret all of the strings at the same time was shocking to me. I had never heard of such a thing, and when I tried it, it seemed impossible. My F major barre chord sounded as if I was using my feet to play, so I thought that I must have been doing something wrong. I was even more discouraged to be introduced to the A-string barre chord the next week. But I gradually unmuffled the strings with practice, and the two barre chord forms became one of the most useful tools that I have acquired in guitar playing.

Jay did not teach me power chords until I was well progressed into barre chords. In his lesson on Green Day's When I Come Around, I initially had to play it with barre chords. I sounded pretty sloppy, as it was a fast past song. That's when Jay decided that he would give me a break.

Okay, why don't we try this with power chords

After the enormous barre chord hurdle that I had just jumped, I cringed in fear of what horrific new kind of chord I would have to struggle with.

Power chords are the same thing as barre chords, except you just take off all of these fingers here.

I blinked quietly.

I was still rather sloppy in my playing, but one feels a sense of satisfaction to uncover a new skill or technique in five seconds. Though I didn't cling to this ability for long - it sounds mediocre on the acoustic. But the gritty sound of the power chord would return.

After a mental wasteland of rock music consisting only of Green Day, Linkin Park, and a select few songs chosen by my teacher for chord practicing purposes, I had an epiphany. In one day, my head was turned into the direction of classic heavy metal by none other than Guitar Hero for Playstation 2. I was at a local Best Buy when I saw the plastic Gibson SG dangling on the floor under a TV. I didn't know what Guitar Hero was at this point, a few months after its release. I picked it up and flipped the strum button down to Iron Man by Black Sabbath. I didn't know this song or any others on the screen, but I liked the name, and confirmed my selection. After I failing the song during the solo on easy mode, I set the controller down, and walked home. I was instantly obsessed with Guitar Hero. I looked up reviews, videos, and all sorts of information on Guitar Hero online.

I picked up my acoustic to mess around that day, and while playing the Smoke on the Water riff, I noticed a hint of Iron Man. I changed up the rhythms and added a couple of notes, and I had eared out the Iron Man riff from memory almost. Instead of using power chords on the thickest strings, I was barring the middle two strings as in Smoke on the Water. It was in the wrong key, it was missing the low root note, and it sounded like garbage, but it was there. I couldn't wait to get back to Best Buy the next day to feed my Guitar Hero hunger.

The next day, I went to Best Buy and immediately set the song to Iron Man. Ready with a passion, I tackled the intro. But I stopped within two repetitions of the riff. I didn't remember the note chart being so simplistic. Too many notes were skipped on easy mode, and my chest began to pound with disgust. I switched to medium, but it was still no use. I wanted more. But when I attempted hard mode, I couldn't manage to play as smoothly as I wanted. I felt like a bird in a cage, and resorted to playing a couple rounds of I Love Rock and Roll and Smoke on the Water before heading home.

Although the video game aspect of Guitar Hero was a thrill to me, I realized that the genre of music was a huge factor in my enjoyment of the game. I looked up some of Black Sabbath's hits, which sprouted into the introduction of Ozzy and Dio. It didn't take long after that for AC/DC, Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, Megadeth, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and the realm of rock and roll to soak into my life. The next time Jay asked me if I had thought of a song to learn, I had an answer.

But my technical ability was nowhere near ready enough to tackle a monster like War Pigs, especially not with an acoustic guitar.

Chord lessons were soon a thing of the past. As it appeared to Jay that I had enough chord lessons, he introduced me to scales. First the major, then the minor, then the minor pentatonic. Like most beginners, I was used to down-picking every note. Jay had me practice scales with all down strokes, all up strokes, and a then proper alternate picking. He then pushed me further into picking each note of the scale twice, thrice, and four times in one beat without changing the tempo. I was put through exercises like those regularly.

As Jay directed the lessons into lead guitar, he threw techniques at me every week: hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, vibratos, slides, and the like. He added the blue note to my pentatonic scale and had me playing all sorts of different blues licks. Unfortunately for me, I was still stuck with an acoustic guitar - it's quite difficult to manage a full step bend on an acoustic, even for my present self. They all sounded mediocre and stiff, but I didn't know it and it was the best that I could manage.

By this time I was well into my sophomore year of high school. One of my friends invited me over to his place one day, and invited me further into his basement where he kept all of his musical possessions: a drum set, a saxophone, an electric, and a bass guitar. I managed to grab hold of the electric for few seconds and played my little Iron Man riff - which, I did not expect my friend to recognize. But with a puzzled look on his face he commented, Is that the way you play it? I shrugged. I dunno And I passed up the guitar before I started to hold the guitar in my lap while staring out into space. But while I played that simple, horrible version of Iron Man on that electric, the sound of electric distortion streamed through my body and gave me a feeling similar to what I felt when I heard the Holiday riff at my church youth group. I ached to grab my friend's guitar again, but the situation was not in my favor as we rushed back upstairs to get some lunch.

Lessons with Jay were becoming more and more electric/lead guitar oriented, and from time to time I was lent one of his fine electrics to use for the lesson. This inspired me to take another look at my dad's rusty old electric guitar.

It was a brown solid-body guitar by the brand name of Greco. As I said before, the tuning pegs sometimes required two hands to turn and there was a well-developed layer of dust accumulated under the strings. I had no amp or cord. I did have a 1/4 to 1/8 mini audio adaptor. I jacked the guitar into my computer's audio input, and found a program called GuitarFX that lets you distort, wah, tremolo, and go nuts on guitar settings. It sounded horrible. Noise was everywhere, the distortion was thin, and if the settings were a bit off, feedback would start to fill my tiny 2 speakers. Every time I wanted to play, I had to start up the program with the right settings and position my guitar so that the faulty wiring inside wouldn't be a problem. But it worked, and I was satisfied.

YouTube star Funtwo's cover of Canon Rock by Jerry C was taking the internet by storm at this point in time. I didn't think much of it the first time I watched it, but when others showed me the clip again in praise of Funtwo, I decided that I would try to learn it. My feeble attempt resulted in a weak skeleton playing of about the first minute. I gave up as impossible sweep picking sections began to show up, forcing me to skip through them.

Other than Canon Rock, I continuously learned little riffs here and there on my own, practiced much more often and guitar began to seem much more interesting than it had been before.

Thus, as a result of my electrification, so to speak, and the arrival of my fifteenth birthday, I was ready for my first electric guitar.

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    4th COMMENT!!!!! and i'm pretty sure that ac/dc isnt on guitar hero but whatev. btw, when do you learn rage against the machine?
    Without Guitar Hero 3 I wouldnt listen to Metallica or Iron Maiden at all, and could barely play Kumbaya on guitar, Now I can play various solos from those bands, even hard solos like One, or Number of the Beast.(Hard for me that is, but im not amazing or anything.) It wasnt necessarily that it taught me how to play guitar, but it introduced me to some good music and captured my interest.
    akhimakhi93 wrote: lol even i can relate to guitar hero...i was a huge linkin park limp bizkit fan...till i heard and played megadeth's-hangar 18 and five magics.... and now i realise what a shithead i was to listen to nu metal lol
    Both Linkin Park and Limp bizkit are alternative rock... Although, I have to say, I like Megadeth and Linkin Park! BTW, Looking forward to the next installment!
    Looking forward to the next. A very different writing style, which makes us enjoy all the stories at UG.
    I wish I could remember my guitar journey so far in as much detail as you do. Keep it coming. The writing is fun and gives the reader a good mental and emotion picture of the situation. Cheers!
    Your writing style is very engaging. Which is rare considering some of the writing skills presented on forums, and for your age. Your recollections of learning how to finger chords, learning barres, and scales takes me back to my own experiences. Part 4, please.
    Wow, never thought i would hear any praise to guitar hero from the UG community. But yeah, without guitar hero (and good freinds...), bands like black sabbeth, slayer, metallica would be foreign to me. maybe by the time I'm fifteen, I'll be able to play some solos from said bands. Good story, to!
    well then thank God for guitar hero. it may just have been a big action in bringing back METAL. as it should be.