How to Shred on Guitar at Killer Parties
15 things playing (mostly bad) guitar for 23 years taught me
1. Years of air (tennis racket) guitar does not give you a “leg up”
I always wanted to play guitar, even as a kid. I played air guitar with a tennis racket in front of my bedroom mirror up until I had to move out of my parents’ house for Law School.
It was disappointing that all the things I learned playing air guitar all those years did not really transfer when it came to playing “real” guitar.
2. You should take guitar lessons, even though lessons did not work for me
My parents got me a “real” guitar when I was in Third or Fourth Grade. My mom took me to one guitar lesson at the Lemon Grove mall. It was such a traumatic experience, that I don’t want to discuss it here. I’m saving it for a whole chapter of my novel loosely based on biographical material.
3. Guitar envy is probably a terrible reason to start playing
One of my best friends decided to learn guitar in the late ’90s, and it was annoying watching him get pretty good.
Then one of my favorite all-time albums came out in 1997, The Verve’s “Urban Hymns,” and my friend was able to play four of the songs right away. They were simple four-chord songs.
I was so jealous, I had to break down and buy a guitar and try to learn how to play the damn thing.
4. Malcolm Gladwell is wrong (in my case)
Twenty-three years later, I can still just barely play the four songs off that Urban Hymns album. I have definitely disproved Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour theory.
Malcolm G. says if you do anything for 10,000 hours, you’ll become a master at it. Wrong.
23 years is 201,480 hours. I definitely spent more than 10,000 of that time playing the guitar. It’s probably too much information to tell you where I sat for those 10,000 hours while I practiced most of the time.
5. Playing the guitar is really hard if you suck at it
I was terrible at math as a student.
I’ve learned that playing guitar and music are a lot like math.
6. Playing the guitar is really easy if you’re great at it
Sometimes when I’m watching T.V. with my family, we’ll see something that I know I could do with complete ease. My lovely wife or one of my kids will say something like:
“Isn’t that amazing?! Can you imagine being able to do that?”
It’s not amazing to me at all, because I know I could do it with complete ease (i.e. hot dog eating contests, “Jeopardy” questions about 80’s sitcoms, etc.).
That’s what guitar playing must be like to a great guitarist. If you’re a great guitar player, it’s easy, it’s not hard.
7. Just because you practice for years doesn’t mean you will get any better
When I’m learning something new I like it to be like this:
a) I’m a natural at whatever it is, and I’m great without trying (i.e. like switching from lite beer over to IPA’s);
b) I can just memorize something without having to think hard, and fool people I’m good (i.e. reciting the complete lyrics to the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot).
The guitar is neither of these things.
8. You either got it, or you don’t
I have some Cuban friends, who I never knew to sing or play guitar.
Then one day, they heard me practicing “Hotel California.”
“Can we try?” one of them said, smiling like Sammy Sosa.
He grabbed my left-handed guitar, turned it upside down, and started strumming it in perfect 4/4 rhythm. The other one started doing that impossible syncopated hand-clap thing like the Gypsy Kings (1:20).
My natural rhythm and strumming are like Elaine’s dancing in “Seinfeld.”
9. People will not like the songs you chose to master
Here’s what happens at parties.
“Do you know ‘Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones?” asks the party guest.
“No, but I know ‘All Down the Line’ from side four of Exile on Main Street,” I say, “I’m sure you’d like it if you just let me play it for you.”
The party guest walks away angry and whispers in the host’s ear. Suddenly, “Satisfaction” starts blasting from the Sonos speakers.
10. It’s better to learn when you’re young
At Guitar Center.
A little kid asks her mom to pull a Gibson SG model off the wall. The kid plugs it into an amp, and she starts playing the intro to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”
I catch myself whispering “Thunder . . . thunder . . . thunder.”
11. Being left-handed sucks
Guitar Center again.
Every beautiful make and model of guitar manufactured hang from the walls.
Senior citizens, guys with tribal tattoos, and boys and girls are all taking the guitars off the wall, strumming a few bars and high-fiving each other. They play acoustic guitars decorated with inlaid gold hummingbirds on the body, and flowers running up the neck. It’s beautiful, and I want to participate.
“Hi, do you have any left-handers I can try out?” I ask the guy at the counter.
“Ha, ha, good one,” he says sarcastically, going back to drinking his Red Bull and reading Kerrang! Magazine.
“No, I’m serious. I’d like to try out a left-handed guitar.”
“Oh . . . okay, um, hold on,” he says looking deep and confused into my eyes. Then he rummages under the desk. “Here try this one.”
“This is a right-handed guitar,” I show him.
“Yeah, but the strings are on it upside down,” he says. “We keep it here, for people like you.”
“This guitar’s a piece of crap!” I say.
“You’re not from Undercover Boss or anything are you?”
12. Being left-handed rules!
Back at the house party.
I finish playing the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I’m sweating and a little light-headed, because that one’s a doozy. I need a break, so I put my guitar down on its stand.
A party guest accosts me.
“Hi, yeah that was really good. I haven’t heard a Gordon Lightfoot tune in a long time. A very, very long time actually,” says the party guest, standing there with his twelve-year-old son. The boy is wearing a tank top, and arm bandannas.
“Hey, I see you’re taking a break, do you mind if my son “Yngwie” plays a few tunes? “Yngwie’s been accepted to the U.S.C School of Music, early admission,” says the party guest.
“Um, I don’t usually let people touch my guitar. It was a gift from my Grandaddy.”
The kid picks up my guitar off the stand.
“Dad, it’s a left-handed guitar! I can’t play this piece of crap anyway!”
13. Your family will always say that the guitarist on the street, on the boardwalk, in the subway, or in the restaurant is “way better” than you
The waiter shows you to your table, near where the tortured singer-songwriter-guitarist is setting up his gear.
“Ooh, good, I love live music,” says your wife.
After the shock of that statement wears off, you close your slack jaw back up and say:
“You’re always asking me if I could please move the guitar into the other room when we’re at home.”
“Well, that’s because I don’t want to hear the same Molly Hatchet song 5,000 times,” your wife says.
The guitarist starts playing the flattest version of “Blackbird” you’ve ever heard in your life.
“Ooh, he’s really good!” your wife says.
14. Everyone will be mad at you for not “writing a song about me”
You’re lying in bed watching “The Bachelorette” with your wife. The male contestant trying to win the woman whips out his guitar and says:
“Here’s the song I just wrote for you,” and he begins playing the most ridiculous song you’ve ever heard.
You feel the hot glare of your wife’s stare. You try to ignore it, and make the mistake of saying:
“God, this is really embarrassing, isn’t it?”
“How come you’ve never written a song for me?” asks your wife.
The next day when you’re practicing “Lick It Up” by KISS, you look up and catch your wife shaking her head disgusted.
15. Learn to play the piano instead
Well, my “call to action” at the end of this article is to encourage you to learn to play the piano. Unless you are a great guitar player, just learn to play the piano and start young.
Every hotel and restaurant lobby has a community piano for you to play. And just look at what happens if you sit down and belt out a tune on a piano. The world is your oyster!
© Copyright 2020 Jack Clune