For this month's creative chat, I interviewed one of the most talented guitar players I know, and he just happens to be my own baby brother. He graciously agreed to let me interview him for the blog, even though he would never admit to being as good as he is with a guitar. He can literally just hear a song and start playing it, which is sort of mind-blowing for non-musical types like me. Chords, I can do--if you give me the chord progression and it doesn't involve bar chords (tiny hands). Ethan on the other hand can play the same chord twelve different ways, I'm pretty sure. He's also taught himself to play mandolin, banjo, and he can even tinker on a piano a bit. Okay, enough big sister bragging--let's get to the questions! (Oh, did I also mention he's an incredible pencil artist? And watercolor artist? Alright, alright, I'm done!)
1// How long have you been playing guitar? I've been playing since the seventh grade. So with some bad math, I'd say roughly thirteen years.
2// What inspired you to start playing? To be honest, I'm not really sure. Our parents split in 2001, and I started learning to play soon after that. I probably needed a good emotional outlet. It definitely gave me that. Looking back, there was probably a strong correlation between the two. At the time, it just seemed like something to do.
3// What was your learning process like? Conventional, for sure. Our good friend Kevin gave me some cheap after-school lessons to get me started and it wasn't long until I could hold my own. We started off slow, learning the basic chords (Em, C, G, D, etc...). If you learn three or four basic chords, you've learned thousands of popular songs. I think that was my favorite part about it. I could take those three or four basic chords and play "Sweet Home Alabama," then turn around and play "Don't Stop Believing" or "Leaving on a Jet Plane" with those same chords. This flexibility was my favorite discovery as a beginner. Not only is it a great feeling, it's motivation to practice. Eventually, however, the fingertip pain wears off and you want something more challenging.
Lots of kids grab a cheap Squier Strat and a gnarly old amp and start beating Van Halen songs out of it. I grabbed my cheap Fender acoustic and started picking Doc Watson songs with it. That's where I've kept it ever since. (Ok, maybe a little SRV.)
4) What is your favorite type of music to play? Blues and Folk seem to be what I always come back to. I want something that is challenging, yet comfortable and flexible enough that you don't stress out over it. What's the point if you don't enjoy it?
5) Have you written any original music? I can't say I've ever written any music, but you could say that I've casually made up a few things. Any music I've created seems to change each time I play it. Any lyrics I've written remain as poetry. Bringing music and lyrics together is surprisingly difficult.
6) Who are your biggest musical inspirations? There are so many... Hank Williams Jr., Nickelback, Justin Beiber, Meatloaf... Just kidding. I'd say Willie Nelson, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and, as of lately, Chris Stapleton. That guy can write a song straight from my soul.
7) What are you proudest of musically? That’s a tough question... I'd like to answer by spouting off some difficult Iron and Wine song that I'd learned to play, or by telling a story or two about playing with some bluegrass friends here and there, but I don't think that's the answer. If you know me, you know that I have a tendency to start something new, some new project or hobby or what-have-you, and drop it when it gets hard. This, I didn't. It's something that I've enjoyed and kept interest in since day one, even when it was hard. Music brings people together and makes them feel emotion, and I can help purvey that, even if it's just at a family reunion, or the like. People love music. It's something I can spend time with you, with. That, I'm proud of.
I'm not saying you have to spend a truckload of cash on a high-end Taylor or Martin, either. My first guitar was a Fender acoustic that came in a boxed set with a gig-bag, tuner, chord book, and a few other things. It had a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides (say no to plywood). The action felt good, it sounded well, and it felt good in my hand. The best part? It was $250 new. Possibly the best investment of my life. I still have this guitar and it is my preferred acoustic.
When you buy your first, take a seasoned guitarist with you. You'll want their opinion. And don't forget that you can haggle! Very few music stores have set prices.
Finger pain doesn't last forever.
Enjoy it! Don't challenge yourself with the impossible. You'll lose interest in a second. You won't be Eddie Van Halen on the first day. Or the second day. Or the second year. It takes time.
Don't be that guy at parties with the guitar. You know what I'm talking about.