Guitar Zero: They're Making It Up As They Go Along

Oh, you guitar players with your improvising and shit.

My musical background is brass. Low brass, which is a section that doesn't invite a lot of creativity. During marching season, we could usually rely on being the only instruments not required to perform some elaborate footwork, which meant lots of early dismissals from practice so we could go home and watch Galaxy Rangers.

There's also a limited amount musically you can do with three valves. Trumpet players have a more flexible range and a few tricks they can use to wring interesting sounds from their instruments, but we were pretty much only left with the option of putting one of those covers over the bell of our sousaphone or not.

This week, after Robert and I briefly revisited our theory discussion from last week (and with the unspoken assumption that I'm probably going to be grilled on it in the near future) we moved on to another of the songs I'd like to learn how to play.

We skipped Zep's "Bron-Yr-Aur," thanks to an ambiguous comment about "open tuning" that led me to believe Robert was trying to spare any further damage to my ego, and instead moved on to Robert Earl Keen's "Gringo Honeymoon." It made my list partly because my wife likes it, and mostly because I was only able to discern four or five chords in the whole thing, and figured it'd be a piece of cake to learn.

Well, yes and no. Turns out there are only a few chords ; G, A major, D, and something seriously annoying called a "suspended G" (G sus) as part of the intro.

Suspended chords are, so I'm told, useful in supplying a transition between major chords. In this case, the G also uses parts of C to provide an intermediary sound. I don't know what the hell any of that means, but playing the goddamned thing correctly requires me to contort my left hand into the Guitar World equivalent of the "Crip killa" gang sign.

This got me a little annoyed. I mean, if you can just mix and match chords together at will, or arbitrarily drop the middle finger on a "G", or play the damn thing with your teeth...where is the line drawn? What stands between former brass players and their respect for solemn Bavarian phblats on the upbeat and the apparently unhinged world of the professional guitarist.

Robert didn't have an answer for me, aside from a slightly exasperated head shake that's become an increasing part of his repertoire since he started giving me lessons. At least he smiled politely at my attempts to wring blasphemy from the expression "G sus."

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar