By Seth Culp-Ressler | Features Editor
I got my first guitar on the morning of my 10th birthday — the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I can distinctly remember sitting on the living room couch, blindly strumming away at the out-of-tune beast I could barely get my arm around, let alone produce music with. Despite that, I was hooked for a lifetime.
That memory resurfaced this past week after I had an idea. Spring Break — the college student’s Holy Grail — is finally here. With nine days to forget the stresses and responsibilities of school, the recess is a time to shut off the brain from that burden usually referred to as learning. This year, I’m going to challenge that notion.
Instead of powering down, I propose that the upcoming week should be time for people to hone some new skills. Specifically, I’m advocating for the temporarily unburdened students of Duquesne to learn how to play the guitar. So, as someone who has been bumbling through the process for the better part of 10 years, here is some (dubiously) sage advice on how to get started right now.
Obviously, the first hurdle will be finding a guitar to play. This might sound difficult at first, but they’re actually pretty abundant. Maybe someone in your family has one in the attic, your roommate has one in your dorm or you have one collecting dust in the closet from the last time this idea got into your head.
If those avenues fall short, there are other options. Pawn shops are extraordinarily useful for buying cheap instruments, but feel free to try out some dedicated music stores as well. A personal favorite is Pittsburgh Guitars, located right on the main drag down in South Side. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more helpful and passionate group of guitarists to get you headed down the right path.
The Internet can also be a good resource if you don’t feel like leaving the confines of the indoors. Craigslist, while at times worrying, is full of deals on lightly used gear. If that sounds too adventurous, try a retailer like Amazon. Starter packs can be had for as little as $40 and will be at your doorstep in two days if you’re a Prime subscriber.
The World Wide Web also lends itself to the next step: actually starting to play. Nowadays everything you need can be found online. For tuning, try out an app like Guitar Tuna, which works with nothing more than your phone’s microphone. Databases like ultimateguitar.com and songsterr.com have massive collections of transcribed music ranging from beginner ready to expert level. And, with the advent of YouTube and video instruction, you don’t even have to be able to read music. Just do what the person on the screen does, and you’ll be fine. Some personal favorite channels are “guitarjamzdotcom” and “Andy Guitar.”
As you start to delve into the basics, you’ll start to notice that after a bit of playing, your fingers will actually hurt. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone. While some of that is due to the tips of your fingers not being callused yet, a large part of it is bad technique. You’ll find that you don’t need to hold the neck in a death-grip and press down on the strings as hard as possible. In fact, doing so will hinder your progress. The key is to relax. This is fun; you’re having fun. Don’t be so tense!
With that, make a point to seek out lessons for songs you want to play. Don’t feel like you have to learn the stereotypical guitar tunes. The most enjoyment will come when you finally nail that song you’ve loved for years.
One last note: Being a mildly insufferable guitarist, trying to convert aspiring musicians to the six-stringed wonder has been my focus thus far. That said, don’t take that to be the one and only way. Maybe you have a soul for blues and the harmonica is calling. Or perhaps you’re of the more modern type, and you’d like to take up the electronic wonder that is the theremin. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what instrument you choose — what matters is that you commit.
That doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from playing, but make a point not to put your instrument down and then never pick it back up. Learning an instrument isn’t easy; if it was, everybody would play one. But I promise, some disciplined, regular work will pay off. As annoyingly difficult and painfully tedious as trying to learn the guitar has been for me, I can genuinely say that it’s been one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable staples of my day-to-day existence. As it turns out, playing music is pretty darn fun.
Duquesne has graciously afforded you the next nine days of freedom. Let’s put them to productive, hopefully sweet-sounding use.