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October 21, 2011

Steff Metal learns the metal guitar

Makes me Giggle, Steff, Tr00 Metal Life

I couldn’t have a Metal Guitar Week without telling you about my own attempts to become an axeman (axewoman). Be warned – this is a tale of determination, woe, disappointment, and very relieved flatmates!

Ever since I discovered metal at the beginning of high school, I’ve struggled against a strong desire to learn to play the guitar. When I listened to my favourite songs (at that time, mostly Metallica songs), the riffs were what grabbed me and made me want to be a musician – something I’d never really wanted before.

Unfortunately, I was born with zero natural talent for music. In fact, if there is such a thing as negative talent, that is what I have. A musical friend on mine once commented, “I though tone deaf was a physical impossibility until I heard Steff sing.” Our school’s theatre director was going to cast me as a lead in the play my first year auditioning, until he heard my completely flat version of “Somewhere over the rainbow” in a key no one could recognise.

Now, I’m a firm believer in always pursuing your interest, no matter what obstacles life may throw your way. I wasn’t going to let a little musical incompetence get in the way of my shredding dreams. Unfortunately, during my first few years of high school I was a little busy being a friendless reject, and in my last too years I was busy kissing boys behind the music suite to bother much with what was going on inside. When I started university and started hanging around with my musician boyfriend that the learn guitar bug bit me again.

I convinced my boyfriend to give me a few lessons, and even brought myself a gorgeous green acoustic. I lived in a hostel so I couldn’t use an electric. I learned a few chords and basically spent ten minutes a day playing them in various combinations with no sense of timing or tune whatsoever. It was difficult pinning down my man for a lesson, and my uni schedule got in the way of regular practising, and my beautiful guitar lay in the corner, gathering dust.

In my third year of uni, I have broken up with the boyfriend, and go out with my friends to see local metal bands Final Eve, Warbeast and Trial by Fire. That show – especially the set from Warbeast – renewed my interest in learning the guitar and being part of the local metal “scene”.

I decided to get serious about learning metal guitar. I brought an old Strat and amp off a friend and put up a notice on the local metal discussion forum asking for a music teacher.

Two dudes answered, but since one, Jordan, was the guitarist of Warbeast, I went down to his place the next week and got my very first actual guitar lesson.

warbeast-jordan

Jordan - the best guitar tutor I ever had (the ONLY tutor I ever had, but hey).

He taught me about modes and scales, about playing in time, about alternate picking, hammer ons and pull-offs, and about finding the perfect pair of PVC pants. And he was an absolutely sweetheart with a love of metal. And I didn’t mind that he was kinda hot, too. (Hi Jordan!)

I got home and plugged in my amp for the first time, eager to practice what I’d learned. Unfortunately, when I plugged in said amp, I didn’t realise it was turned up to eleven (yes, this particular model had a knob that went to eleven). Our house shook with stadium level distortion as sent my flatmates running. I grabbed the thing and brought it down to a more acceptable level, and started playing away.

Just when I thought I was making some progress, my flatmate (an accompliest flautist and cellist) knocked on the door.

“What are you playing?” she asked, eyeing my little amp with disdain.

“Breaking the Law …”

“Oh …” she slowly backed out of the room.

I chalked up her reaction to hating metal, but in truth, I was just appallingly bad.

I took lessons every week for about a year, during which time I changed flats (much to musical flatmate’s relief!) and got minutely better. My picking got faster and I could actually, when prompted, play along to a metronome. Opeth played in NZ and Jordan started teaching me “Demon of the Fall” and I fell in love with the guitar tone of melodic death metal.

I looked forward to guitar lessons every week, partly because Jordan’s flat was always full of crazy people. One time I arrived to find the entire place covered in newspapers, upon which piles of mushrooms (yes, those kind of mushrooms) were drying, and I was given some amazing soup that made practice very, very interesting.

I finished uni and had to go away on an archaeology job for a month, and then to Greece for five weeks, so we stopped lessons for the year. While I was away I realised that I was probably never going to get better, and I had other projects to get on with, so I stopped taking lessons. I still pick up the guitar from time to time, but my husband normally puts his fingers in his ears until I’m done.

The important lesson here is that you should never tell yourself you “can’t” do something until you’ve given it a good, honest go. After a year of playing the guitar I still couldn’t see myself improving any time soon, so I decided to leave music to the musical people and concentrate on what I was good at – writing.

Even though I sucked, playing guitar taught me a lot. For one thing, I learned to appreciate the complexity and skill required to play metal on a whole different level. I began to dissect riffs and enjoy them on a more technical level. I also learned the importance of good practice habits when trying to learn a good skill and how important it is to motivate yourself to pursue activities you enjoy at home.

And, most important, I learned that playing an instrument is fun. That’s why I still play music – the keyboard and the whistle – and seek out lessons every once in awhile, even though I still profoundly suck at both of them. I don’t play for anyone else – only myself, and it’s great.

What’s your “learning guitar” story?

Steff Metal – in association with GuitarMasterClass – are giving away SIX memberships to the GMC guitar forum. To enter, simply leave a comment on any of the Metal Guitar Week articles – the more comments you leave, the more chances you have to win!

15 Comments on “Steff Metal learns the metal guitar

Caitlin
December 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I play nerdy classical, but I asked for an electric for Christmas so here’s to hoping.
I practice quite a bit every day, but it gets so boring after awhile, heh. I also play violin, but I’m not as enthusiastic about it as I am guitar. Although after listening to some Turisas I’m thinking about picking it up again… Anywho, it’s a little depressing that so few guitarists actually become very good, but hey, at least it’s fun.

vijay
December 7, 2012 at 6:53 pm

yes guitar is get is a milestone in my life. In my modeling and makeup field just turned on music and give a big life for me.

John
November 5, 2012 at 6:39 am

All the time I wanted to learn to do that!!

Monserrat Colyer
January 29, 2012 at 4:09 am

Really appreciate you sharing this blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

Zakary Mcmanis
January 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Muchos Gracias for your article post.Really looking forward to read more. Wonderful.

Joshua Russell
October 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I love the sound of the electric guitar, something about sensitivity to noise. Many people like that have panic attacks in crowds and that, but I think I was the opposite and liked it to much.
I have had to be very tough to keep going because I have not always sounded very good to others, but to me I always sound fantastic.
Try dancing, it is great for timing and improves your fitness. I can moonwalk backwards.

Aurora
October 24, 2011 at 11:45 am

When I was a child, I wanted desperately to play the cello. My parents tried to sell me on the guitar, on the grounds that cheap guitars are far less costly than even the most bargain-basement cello. I sulked. I didn’t want to strum boring campfire songs. I wanted to play music with power and passion and melodic interest. Then I heard the riffs from “Crazy Train” and “Ziggy Stardust” and decided that maybe guitar wouldn’t be so bad after all. For my ninth birthday, I got a cheap 3/4-scale nylon string guitar; IIRC it cost about $20 US at a pawnshop. I loved that thing like a pet. It was the best gift ever, no contest. Eventually a friend of my father showed me the basic open chords. He convinced my parents that I had a good ear and that they should consider lessons. That is how I ended up taking classical and flamenco lessons for the next nine years. I wanted to play rock and roll and blues, and instead I was sweating blood over Villa Lobos and Sor. I fell in with the local punk and goth crowds, who had no idea what to make of me, a skinny little black-clad nerd who knew all about modes and nothing about power chords. (I eventually figured them out, along with major and minor pentatonic scales, by playing along with AC/DC albums.) I scrimped and saved until I had enough for a Gibson SG, went off to university instead of conservatory, and spent years trying to figure out where I fit into this whole going-electric phenomenon: I found punk, while fun, to not be quite my niche, and goth had gone mostly electronic. I searched and searched for a genre where real people played real instruments loud and well and unapologetically.

So really, I had no choice but to turn to metal where being a theory and technique geek is considered honourable instead of embarrassing/pointless. It took me a couple of decades of playing to discover that this is where my musical heart is, but it brings me back to my classical foundations after running away from it in a fit of pique all those years ago. Right now I’m trying to get smoother at sweep arpeggios, which reminds me of the very best part of learning to play–it’s a never-ending process. There is always another skill to discover and improve on. Forget diamonds, electric guitars are this girl’s best friend.

Wes
October 23, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I can remember going to my grandmothers house when I was very little (3.. maybe 4).. and in one of the spare bedrooms was a left handed acoustic guitar.. I used to plunk around a bit on it and what not.. It wasn’t until I was 9 or 10 that I really gained an interest in it. I had a music teacher at school that played guitar.. From there on I knew I wanted to play.. I too tried lessons, didn’t get far. I even took a class in college on guitar.. It kicked my ass!! I learn mostly by ear, tabs, and just by watching others play. Just like life, you don’t need to have a standard. Look at the Filosofem album.. Not exactly a ‘good’ guitar tone but it works for what it’s trying to project! Anyone can conquer anything.. It just takes spirit, determination, and work.

Mark
October 23, 2011 at 10:19 am

I enjoyed this story. It’s always good to hear about other people’s experiences.

When I was a kid, my parents actually LIKED that I wanted to play drums, mainly for supervisory reasons. When that racket was going on, they knew where I was and what I was doing and did not have to worry about me getting into trouble. And as the years went on and I got better, it became less racket and more like listenable music. Since I moved out, my parents tell me the house seems really empty without that sound. I was very lucky to have supportive parents. So many kids don’t get that benefit.

Is the Warbeast in this story a NZ band or is it the same band that was Texas Metal Alliance? I saw that one play earlier this year and they were rock-solid.

Aurora
October 22, 2011 at 11:16 pm

When I was a wee snotling, I wanted desperately to play the cello. My parents tried to sell me on the guitar, on the grounds that cheap guitars are far less costly than even the most bargain-basement cello. I sulked. I didn’t want to strum boring campfire songs. I wanted to play music with power and passion and melodic interest. Then I heard the riffs from “Crazy Train” and “Ziggy Stardust” and decided that maybe guitar wouldn’t be so bad after all. For my ninth birthday, I got a cheap 3/4-scale nylon string guitar; IIRC it cost about $20 US at a pawnshop. I loved that thing like a pet. It was the best gift ever, no contest. Eventually a friend of my father showed me the basic open chords. He convinced my parents that I had a good ear and that they should consider lessons. That is how I ended up taking classical and flamenco lessons for the next nine years. I wanted to play rock and roll and blues, and instead I was sweating blood over Villa Lobos and Sor. I fell in with the local punk and goth crowds, who had no idea what to make of me, a skinny little black-clad nerd who knew all about modes and nothing about power chords. (I eventually figured them out by playing along with AC/DC albums.) I scrimped and saved until I had enough for a Gibson SG, went off to university instead of conservatory, and spent years trying to figure out where I fit into this whole going-electric phenomenon: I found punk, while fun, to be limiting and I got tired of dumbing myself down to three chords and very simple melodic structures. Goth had gone all beep-beep-thump-thump electronic and much rock had become watered-down AutoTuned pop pap. I searched and searched for a genre where real people played real instruments loud and well and unapologetically.

So really, I had no choice but to turn to metal where being a theory and technique geek is considered honourable instead of embarrassing. It took me a couple of decades of playing to discover that this is where my musical heart is, but it brings me back to my classical foundations after running away from it in a fit of pique all those years ago. Right now I’m trying to get smoother at sweep arpeggios, which reminds me of the very best part of learning to play–it’s a never-ending process. There is always another skill to discover and improve on. The hell with diamonds, electric guitars are this girl’s best friend.

Wise_One
October 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I’m a guitarist too (well, kinda). During my first years in university, I hung around a net-pal’s blog and we talked about metal and stuff. At some point one of my best friends decided to buy a bass. After him, I thought of getting one myself but thankfully i changed to guitar. After two years (present day), I can’t say how good am I, I never took lessons or sat down to practice properly. But I can write a couple of riffs, can gallop pretty well (Jon Schaffer=GOD!!!)…

If we like what we’re doing, there’s nothing stopping us.

\m/

Lauren
October 22, 2011 at 9:49 am

My interest in playing the guitar was sparked by my dad. He used to play the acoustic guitar a lot when he was younger, and was quite good. He has a beautiful Aria acoustic with a dark-stained back and shell inlays, made in the 1960s. I play that Aria myself, since I’m saving for an electric. In mid-2009 I learnt a few chords from an old ‘chord dictionary’. I then lost interest for the rest of that year because I wasn’t sure where to even begin when it came to learning guitar. Then I found Heartwood Guitar.com and Guitar Noise.com in 2010, and my learning experience got so much better after that. I even signed up for an email tutorial series written by a guitar virtuoso called Will Landrum. I discovered that the stuff in those tutorials was way beyond my level, but nonetheless they were interesting and inspiring :) There’s a great quote from Will Landrum that goes ”The only guitar player you should aim to be better than, is yesterday’s you.” That quote is one of my biggest inspirations to keep playing.

I know a few guitarists who are very good (they play mostly rock and blues), but I don’t feel ready for a jam session yet haha. I’ve made some good progress so far, and I aim to make a lot more progress in the years to come.

steff
October 24, 2011 at 12:43 am

@Lauren – it sounds like you’ve made some amazing progress! Congrats! I love that quote – that applies to everything in life.

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