How To Raise A Guitar God

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Any parent in their right mind would dissuade their child from taking up a career in rock-and-roll. Aside from the obvious evils of such a pursuit — drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, perennial Neanderthalic mental state — you’re setting your child up for a lifetime of personal disappointment and severely stunted income. Push them into cosmology or even waste management. At the very least, the child will either be smarter or have access to thousands of dollars in castoff furniture, TVs and clothing.

Not convinced? OK, then. Let’s get down to brass tacks.

There are few avenues for those interested in entering rock-and-roll as a means of steady income. Lead singer is initially the road of choice for most, until one realizes that singing requires more natural talent than learned skills. Not to mention the aesthetic requirement of lead vocalists: If you don’t look good, it doesn’t matter how well you sing. Ugly = Screwed.

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Drummers, of course, are only a notch above bass players on the rock musician totem pole, and everyone stands on the slouching shoulders of the keyboard player, who, since 1987, has been relegated to the far left of the stage – if not behind the amp stacks altogether. If your kid is into trumpet or cello, forget it. Jazz and orchestral musicians don’t even chart when it comes to viable careers, and they’ll be far more likely to fall prey to drug addiction and far less likely to have sex – with anyone.

That leaves, of course, lead guitarist, the most heralded and coveted spot in rock-and-roll. Sure, lead singers — or more accurately front men, and the occasional front woman – capture the attention of the viewing audience, and often are responsible for the mind-numbingly simple sing-along choruses that make American music so easy to identify with. But it’s the lead guitarist that stirs our souls, usually without our consent.

Freddie Mercury owns “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and you love every second of the first third of that tune. Then the huge chorus comes along in the second movement, with all that operatic language and those multi-layered harmonies. Ah, gorgeous! But it’s the head-banging riff, played by lead guitarist Brian May, that turns you upside-down and makes that song truly worth listening to. “Stairway to Heaven” may bore the living crapola out of you, but few can deny the power of Jimmy Page’s closing solo. You may swoon during the chorus of “Hotel California,” but you wait, wait, wait … for the first note of the closing guitar solo. You can hum that sucker all the way through, even the harmonized parts. And if the stupid DJ talks over that solo, or fades it too early, you nearly drive off the road in a fit of rage. (OK, no one listens to the radio anymore, but you get the point.)

The list of these lead guitar moments goes on … and on. Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption,” David Gilmour’s solos on “Comfortably Numb” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part II.” Everything Jimi Hendrix has ever played. Even more modern rock, though not as deeply satisfying, is about the guitar. From the best Metallica riffage to the ambient and atmospheric strains of Radiohead, the guitar drives it all home.

So, if you are still convinced your kid has a future as a Guitar God, here are a few pointers on getting those little fingers moving in the right direction.

 

HOW TO PLAY

The hardest part of learning to play the guitar is actually learning how to play the guitar. This begins with very simple yet difficult-to-master technique exercises. Learning basic chord structure and hand shapes is essential. Next are the scales, which incorporate the basics of music theory. Then come the deeper aspects of expression and musicality, including articulation, playing in different styles, writing parts, sight reading and achieving a personal sound. (If one is to become a Guitar God, one must play electric guitar. And so it is written …)

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Avoid handing your child the game controller for Guitar Hero and the like. Though this is great for hand/eye coordination and broadening a child’s interest in music, it does nothing to help them learn how to play a real guitar. In fact, it may work in direct opposition to your goal.

Finding a good teacher is essential, but if you wanna go the self-taught route, pick up a simple beginners book. A popular and reliable series is the Hal Leonard Method books. There are online resources, too. Just keep in mind that one person’s “right way” is another person’s “wrong way.” Comfort and clarity are Job One for a child learning to play.

That, and having fun. The moment learning becomes a burden, the child should stop, take a break and return later when the frustration or bad feelings subside. Truth be told, a tiny fraction of a minute portion of a small percentage of people who try to make it in the music business – who want to become Guitar Gods – will do so. This should be about having fun, learning to express oneself and gaining a deeper appreciation for music. Always make it fun.

 

POSTURING & PERFORMANCE

As important is a Guitar God’s ability to posture. On-stage demeanor is paramount, and a child must learn all of the stage moves of any reputable rock guitarist. From the “foot on the monitor” stance to the “windmill,” your kid will get a workout practicing his or her on-stage strut. Some moves, like the “duck walk” and the “fall to your knees and lean all the way back until your menisci pop” have fallen out of favor. But a creative guitarist can come up with his or her own choreography. Angus Young’s “toe-tapping march” and “Homer Simpson spin-on-the-floor freak out” are classic, but unique only to him.

Practicing these moves, and encouraging children to make up their own, makes for perfect creative playtime. Parents get to crank up their old faves while hipping their kids to rock’s greatest poses, and children get a little exercise while jumping of the sofa into a full Pete Townshend, mid-air split.

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You can even employ an old Guitar Hero game controller and shout “smash your guitar” as your little one bashes the thing to smithereens. Hey, this is rock-and-roll, people. Shit gets broke. Deal with it.

THE SOLO

If your child shows promise, and progresses on the instrument, a time will come when he will be tasked with playing his first solo. Aside from the technical aspect of playing guitar solos — actually making a musical statement by incorporating melody, harmony, rhythm, and ebb and flow — one must consider speed and pyrotechnics, too. We are talking about achieving Rock God status here, and there is only one way to do this: Play fast and loud.

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Though in popular music, the guitar solo has all but disappeared, in the world of guitar rock, shredders still rule, and there are hundreds of instructional videos (and video parodies, which are a hell of a lot of fun to watch) to help your young Yngwie achieve maximum velocity. Also important during the solo is knowing what faces correspond to what notes or passages are being played. For example, you always go for a “straining to take a huge dump” face when hitting a high note bend or “look how surprised I am” when doing a low-note tremolo dive bomb.

Kids love this kind of stuff, making crazy faces while pretending to be rock stars. And there is a freedom in the silliness of it all. Rock-and-roll has always taken itself way too seriously. Keeping your children’s attitude light and happy will serve them well if they pursue a career in music. Truth is, it’s a hard road, one littered with the corpses of too many young people. Keeping it fun is essential for both parent and child, but especially for the child.

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