Why I Play Guitar

Guitar was not my first choice of instruments. It wasn't even my second. But it became clear that it was the right choice for me.

It's pretty interesting how certain instruments speak to certain people. It can say a lot about you and your creative needs. I started playing music pretty young by learning some recorder in 1st grade and playing in the church bell choir. I got my first taste of formal music training by playing saxophone in 5th and 6th grade, which I enjoyed, but I quit once I realized I didn't really like my musical output being entirely at the whim of a school bandleader. That, and I had already memorized the Pink Panther theme. Next!

By that time I had known what I really wanted to play for at least a year: drums. They were the epitome of cool. You could bash things with sticks and make musical sounds. Drum fills excited me (still do). And there was something about a killer groove that made me feel some way I couldn't describe (but it felt great). But there was one issue: my parents weren't too keen on being subjected to the constant din of drum practice. Fair enough.

So drums were out. Fine. I figured I'd just play bass. Seemed like a pretty cool thing to play. It was rhythmic and helped keep the groove. It was basically the drums of the stringed instrument family (actually, piano is more of a combination of percussion and strings, but whatever). There was another problem, though: I was tiny for my age and didn't have freakishly, disproportionately-large hands, so bass was going to be a struggle. "Why don't you take guitar lessons for six months," my mom told me. "Then if you still want to play bass, you can switch."

Fine. I'll play guitar. Even though my sister took lessons and my brother plays and everyone in the world plays guitar and it's the obvious choice and I want to do something different but whatever it will be my path to something more interesting like bass or maybe even drums someday. Fine. Buy me a cheap, pawn shop acoustic that's barely playable and will turn my virgin fingertips purple. Fine!


I Will Reluctantly Try To Be Awesome At This

So I started playing guitar, and it was fun. Not, like, life-changingly fun, but something to do that sounded like music nonetheless. About six months in, when I could barely hack out a few chords, I reunited with a couple friends from elementary school. As it turned out, one played drums and one played bass. My first band was instantly born, and I officially became a guitarist. Oh cruel fate, you have taunted me by throwing me in with two people who play the instruments that I wanted to play! Fine!!

Things started changing when I began writing songs. We would write together as a band, but I also started writing a lot on my own. I became engrossed in the whole process, much in the way that I had become engrossed in drawing cartoons years before. It was fascinating to create songs out of thin air, and as I got better at guitar, the instrument itself became fascinating. Then I heard this song, and the guitar suddenly felt a little more real to me. This wasn't just a slab of wood with strings. This was something visceral. Primal.

I've always had a bit of a rebellious streak (see above about not wanting to play instruments that everyone else did), but it rarely manifested itself as outward rebellion or misbehaving. Still, I have quietly rebelled against authority and stupidity and the mainstream for much of my life, and nothing feels quite as rebelliously satisfying as cranking a guitar to 11 and blasting a wall of aggressive noise at any poor soul with eardrums to rupture. Yet you can pull the volume down and play the most beautiful, delicate melodies on guitar, too. It's probably the most versatile instrument (along with keyboards), allowing you to play any style with lead/melody, rhythm, harmony, or all three at once. It's a portable song and emotion machine. Plus, I've always liked functional works of art; guitars are beautiful, handcrafted masterpieces that are great to look at, yet allow you to use them to create even more art.


Strumming My Pain, Joy And Curiosity With My Fingers

These are all factors in why I play guitar, but I think the biggest reason why the instrument became so comfortable in my hands is simply in how the design and layout allow me to create in the way that works best for me. I've always had two warring musical factions inside: the part that can analyze, internalize and appreciate the technical side of music, and the ignorant part that absorbs and creates music in a purely visceral, emotional, exploratory and curious way. Both of these sides always existed (I always had a pretty good ear for music even if I couldn't exactly articulate what I was hearing when I was young), but at the beginning, the less-formally-trained side of me always won. On guitar, before I learned much technique or theory, it was easy to figure things out and fudge my way into finding something great, unique or satisfying. Though I could do that a bit on piano, I found guitar to be by far the easiest instrument to facilitate that, partly because everything was laid out visually in shapes, so it was easier to remember things and explore in a purely aesthetic, geometric fashion (which is how I see almost everything else).

Now I've learned a lot about music, but there's still that part of me that wants to unlearn everything and let the intuitive side take over. I could dive to the deepest of depths in music theory and composition now, but I choose not to. The part of me that fell in love with playing music is the part I want to stay thereexperiment and fuck around until I stumble upon something great. If I get stuck, I can use my training to help find a way out. But it's more useful to me as a last-ditch effort and a way to communicate with other musicians. I want the naive young musician inside me to dominate what I do. Guitar helps me do that more than any other instrument could.

So while I enjoy and dabble in many instruments, guitar is my musical soulmate. Of course, my mom would probably say "I told you so." But since I inherited my stubbornness from her, I'm gonna say that this one was all me.