Well, more than a month later, here is part 3. Life is finally settled down as much as it will, given the time of year (school year starting, soccer games, etc.), and my house is almost back to the state it was in before the water damage…
Although the Metal Method course was doing well to demystify the guitar for me, the guitar my mom bought at the swap meet was an incredibly inferior guitar. To top it off, although the course was good, I was losing motivation because I couldn’t play anything that sounded like music. Also, I was trying to tackle barre chords right off the bat, and that proved to be extremely difficult without a teacher’s advice. My left hand was always in pain after practicing, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get the hang of it well enough to start making music.
I had a friend who played saxophone in the school band. He was part of a very musical family (I think he had eight siblings, and everyone in the family played at least one instrument, including both parents). One day he was visiting at my house and I was trying to get my hand to do a barre chord. He said, "Hey, I can show you a couple of songs my brother taught me."
I handed him my guitar and he proceeded to play parts of "Livin’ After Midnight" by Judas Priest and "Rock You Like A Hurricane" by the Scorpions. The way he played it, I didn’t need to do a barre at all, and I was able to memorize the simple patterns quickly. For the next few weeks, while I continued to struggle with the difficulties of barre chords, I was able to jam on some songs that actually sounded like something I wanted it to sound like.
This was my saving grace. I began to buy a magazine called "Guitar For the Practicing Musician" because it had full songs transcribed in TAB, and they were songs that I was interested in learning. If I had not achieved the limited success of being able to play a small part of those first two songs, I don’t think I would have stuck with it much longer at that point.
The first song I tried to learn from TAB in the magazines was "Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. Yes, it’s cliche. Yes, I knew others who played that song all the time. This transcription seemed more accurate, though. Let’s be honest here. This is one of the most popular rock songs ever recorded, especially back in the mid-1980s, and the reason most people are sick to death of hearing amatuers hack through it has very little to do with it being over-played on the radio, and much more to do with the fact that most gutiarists aren’t playing true to the original.
This is a concept that classical musicians not only embrace, but adamantly insist on. The composer’s original intent is to be held in highest regard, and not strayed too far from. I’m not a very big fan of the level of intensity many of them put into this ideal, but there it is, anyway. for the most part, blues and rock musicians pretty much ignore such a concept. But there are a few songs, and "Stairway" is one of them, where deviation is frowned upon, if it goes "too far." The original is played as a fingerstyle piece, and most guitarists that I knew at the time played it with a flat pick, and missed about a quarter of the notes that were in the original. That wouldn’t be so bad if they were hitting the melody notes, but it seems most of them chose to play the harmony notes instead. It sounded fine when played along with the original recording, but not so much all by itself.
So I started learning this song that "everybody knows how to play," and my motivation increased as it started sounding better all the time. One of my biggest inspirations at the time, Randy Rhoads, was known for his skill at playing classical guitar. The fact that "Stairway" was played in a classical style (rather than a blues fingerstyle – very odd for a famous blues man like Jimmy Page, don’t you think?) only increased my motivation to learn it "properly."
By the end of that school year, I had learned 10 or 15 songs, I owned an electric guitar (from the Sears catalog…) and amplifier (a bass amp, from the same catalog…), and I found out that the band teacher in the next town over was taking private guitar students. Finally I had a real, flesh-and-blood teacher. He taught me quite a bit about adding musicality to what I was playing, rather than just being a slave to the "text" of the music, but after only three or four lessons he moved away. This was to become a recurring theme in my gutiar playing development…
Next time, Part 4 – The Early College Years.