Saturday, 19 May 2012

Story of my Ears

Hmm…kinda crazy post I’ve got here…I’m not really sure of whether anyone can actually relate to me on what I’m gonna post. Basically, I play guitar (a bit) and I’m passionate about it (a lot). Because nothing can make you cry and go on your knees better than a squeal from an electric guitar, right? Just kidding there, electric guitar squeals don’t really sound that good, they remind people of the sound their cat made when it got run over by a car. And, THAT’S why they cry and go on their knees. So to all you electric guitarists out there, this is a moment of truth. ;)
OK, back to my story. So I started getting super serious about playing guitar in my 10th grade (nice time isn’t it? What with public exams and all), and I began to take to playing the guitar with a frenzy. I had my guitar with me and walked with it all around the house and what not. While watching TV, I tried to play back the music of every commercial and tried to figure out how to play those songs which were in my computer and had been lying unnoticed until that point of time. To sum up, I was fascinated by the fact that what I heard, could be relayed to my hands and reproduced on my guitar. At first I was near hopeless, but soon, I started getting better, and it was mostly because TV commercials get telecasted pretty often (if they didn’t repeat, I’d have still been struggling with the Tiger Biscuit jingle!).
So, my ears were learning to figure out different things like what sounded good, what sounded bad, how a C chord would sound if played on another instrument and now, I am actually able to figure out chords just by hearing songs now! Very useful things, and especially when playing music live, it makes co-operation with the singer and other musicians a whole lot easier!
However, since I was a guitarist, and guitarists mostly care for their instrument (the snobs!), I was only easily able to figure out guitar parts! I couldn’t even figure out how the lyrics of the song went. So if you asked me how Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple goes, I wouldn’t sing “We’d all come down to Montreal…” I’d sing “Tan TanTaaaan, Tan TanTanTaaan, Tan TanTaaaan, TaaanTaaaan” and air guitar to every “taan”. Yeah, pathetic (Fun Fact: I had to search for the song on my computer and play it a few times to actually get the lyrics, so yeah, still pathetic.).
But, our church has a live band playing every Sunday, so I got to learn how each instrument played. I actually said to my ears, “Ears, today, you have to listen to what the keyboards are playing on the second song” and listened hard and carefully. This was tough, but I worked real hard at it, and now it went to a season where someone could ask me what instruments were used in Smoke on the Water, and I’d say, “Oh, a guitar with an overdrive tone, a bass, drums (obviously) and an organ.” (Fun Fact: The organ was connected to a Marshall© guitar amplifier and that was why the organ sounded “funkier” on the song (Fun Fact: I didn’t hear and figure that out, I read it on some website, so trust me, I’m no pro.).)
Ok, now you’d think I’m pretty equipped aurally. But no, another problem came up. I couldn’t hear music properly anymore! All I heard was a guitar with an overdrive tone, a bass, drums and an organ (through a Marshall© guitar amp by the way)…”Well what is the problem with that?” you might ask. Now, all I heard was a few instruments playing together and not actual music. Sad, isn’t it? I couldn’t even make myself listen to the music as a whole because I trained myself to pay close attention to detail. At that time of my life, I finally found out what music actually meant, and realised that music was not just a combination of instruments, but a combination of instruments WORKING TOGETHER.
You see, the problem with too many beginner bands is that the musicians don’t listen to each other. The singer sings at his highest pitch, the guitarist wails to his own tempo, the bass player treats the rest of the band as HIS backup, and the drummer pounds those drums with all his might without caring who follows him. Then, they wonder why it doesn’t sound good, and they do silly stuff like saying “The guitarist is the weak link because he only did 1st grade theory while we all did 3rd grade, so let’s chuck him out of the band”, and end up throwing away a guitarist unfairly when everyone else also deserved to be thrown away. Music however, occurs when these musicians are playing AS A SINGLE, COHESIVE UNIT. That’s what makes certain music bands sound great, because they are all playing together, and following each other. Every note is hit at the same time, and it has much more power than extremely skilled musicians who don’t cooperate with each other.
Recently, I got a chance to play guitar for my church VBS (a week long program for kids). I was filling in for Joshua Satya, a really amazing guitarist who had to go to Bangalore for a show. So the pastors gave me a chance in his absence and I got to play. I got to play with some really cool(er) musicians and all I did was cooperate with them. The music actually went pretty well. Of course, there were flops, but we somehow sorted them out in the course of the music. Well, I had this big speaker next to me in which I heard most of the instruments, and myself. Then, I truly realised! I’m actually not someone who is just playing a guitar, but I’m actually contributing to the music! So, I decided to contribute, by working closely with the other musicians, especially the drummer. And the music actually felt fun to play, and it was fun to be playing music for God, and worshipping God with that music, and seeing the kids worshipping with that music. All because I decided to contribute to the music, instead of stand out (Fun Fact: Basically most beginner musicians just think of standing out, that’s why the singer, guitarist, bass player and drummer from the previous paragraph were playing like that).
So now I realised so many things about music, and now I can hear music anyway I want. Hearing the music as a whole, paying attention closely to detail, hearing only the guitar part, and now as a bonus, I can even listen to the song only for vocals! And it’s really interesting. Now I can listen to the same song a million different ways, and learn something new each time.
And that, my friends, is the story of my ears. How they developed from nothing, to my most required tool for my passion. And a word of advice for people out there, don’t listen to music at high volumes, and don’t purchase those in-ear headsets, they aren’t good for the ears, and you’ll be too busy trying to keep those suckers fixed on your ears than listening to actual music. Yeah, sorry, I really feel uncomfortable about ending a post on the topic, off-topic is MUCH more comfortable. But to keep it back on topic: if you follow these rules, your ears will also have a nice story to say.
Protect your ears!