Guitober Blog Post 2Category: BMS NEWS
by Scott Pittman
It is my honor to have the chance to post this week to the Guitober 2015 Blog. I’m especially excited because guitar was not my first instrument and I thought it would be nice to have a slightly different viewpoint about how to approach one of the greatest instruments.
Drums were my first instrument. I started playing at such a young age that I barely remember it. There was always a drum around. By the time I got to high school, I was lucky enough to get some space in the garage for a drum set with enough room to have band rehearsals. Because of all this, all of the musicians in my town would come over to play music a lot. So often, that many of them would just leave their equipment there. I had a room full of guitars, keyboards and amplifiers!
This was the best possible situation for a musician. Especially for me because I couldn’t play drums too late at night because of the noise, so when I wanted to play after dinner, I would go down and try one of the many guitars lying around. The problem was that none of my friends were teachers, so every time I asked them to show me something, they would always say, “Just start with this G chord.”
The problem with the G chord is that you have to place fingers on the third fret of the two outer strings. There are super simple ways of playing ‘fake’ G chords using less strings, BUT I had thought that you always needed to strum all six strings at once for everything you do.
If you are not a guitarist, here is what the first three frets of the guitar look like with dots showing where fingers have to go. [The top of this diagram would be the end of the guitar neck closest to the tuning pegs.]
This was pure torture because to try and make any version of this chord with any three fingers, you end up looking like you’re trying to play Frankenstein’s monster in a bad movie. In fact, when I gave up and asked friends for a different chord to try, they all made my hands feel the same way and I always looked like this (scary!):
This must be some sort of joke. My friends were all pretty funny, so I assumed they would get together and find ways of figuring out how to all make me look silly so that I wouldn’t touch their guitars every night. It had to be. No human on earth should be made to feel like a monster just to play an instrument!!
But it was no joke. Guitar chords can be tricky. Our fingers are not meant to form such funny shapes like that. There are few other things we do in life that make such horrid movie poses which make our hands feel like they are playing finger twister.
I needed a new approach. I tried to notice other secrets that guitar players do that they weren’t telling me about. The biggest thing I noticed was they almost always had their guitar on them, especially when they would do mundane things like watch a movie. If you went to their house, they would never be without their guitar. It was like another piece of clothing. So I decided to keep a guitar next to the couch and would hold it anytime I watched a movie. I would literally just hold it. I figured that there must be something they were not telling me about that happens when you hold it for a long time. A secret holding-the-guitar technique that they didn’t want me to know… All the chords my friends keep trying to show me involve using THREE fingers (E, A, D, G, C, etc.) but what if there were chords that only used TWO fingers?!?!?
And there were. Wow. There it is, as plain as can be; just taunting me this whole time. The beautiful and easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy E-minor chord.
Just two fingers:
AND, they are right next to each other AND they can stay touched together and work as a team!! I knew there were secrets that my guitarist friends were holding back from me and now I found the tip of the guitar-secret iceberg! This was SO easy.
So I decided that I would stay up all night long and learn all of the songs that had two-finger chords.
I got a lot of sleep that night because there aren’t many songs that only feature two-finger chords, BUT luckily I dreamed about it and finally discovered the ultimate guitar secret! It was the greatest sleep of my life.
I woke up the next day and realized that all the ‘cool’ chords use three fingers, but EVERY three-fingered chord has TWO fingers within it working as a team!! It’s hidden right inside every chord like some Dan Brown book for guitar chords. The secret was right there all along.
Let’s take a look. I will draw out six of the most important three-finger chords, and the ‘team’ fingers will be blue and the ‘extra dude’ will be red.:
Now, these are drawn kind of crudely, but go ahead and try them. Even if you’ve never played guitar before, the ‘blue fingers’ are super easy to place on a fret board, and then you just have to work a little bit to add the red finger. And there are so many more! But here’s the best part: don’t even bother to add the red finger. All you have to do is learn find the secret ‘blue fingers’ for every chord ever and play every great song! After you’ve done that, the ‘red finger’ will just start to become easy.
So that’s what I did. I went out and bought some song books from my favorite bands and learned a whole bunch of songs, only using two fingers per chord. Once I got all my favorite songs down, it was actually really fun to add in the ‘red notes’. And the best part was that I started showing my friends that I could play entire songs. And in turn, we could all start trading riffs and scales. I was finally part of the club!!
I am a persistent person so it took me a couple years of sitting with the guitar every night to discover all of this on my own and get good at it. But I did take lessons on drums and piano before all of this, so I already had some instruments that I could play with my friends. This meant it wasn’t frustrating to slowly learn another instrument along the way… I always knew I could easily play the other two if I failed. But what it really taught me was that there are so many ways of looking at music and playing and practicing and they may not be the same for each person. But when something comes to you and a method clicks just right, it is the greatest. I really would love it if every single student could have that ‘guipiphany’. And they can! And so I tell every student of guitar: hold your instrument every chance you get. Really. Keep it with you every chance you get so that you will miss it when you are apart. As you hold it everyday, come up with something new or another new way of looking at something old. But remember it and show everybody. We all love learning something new on guitar!
And don’t forget to save all those really strange hand shapes for Halloween!!