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Ask Our Teachers: Why did you start playing the guitar?

Hey there, fellow guitarists and students! Today, I want to show you how I began my musical life, so you can compare with some of our other teachers’ stories and your own of course. We all come from different backgrounds and have different influences and achievements. So, here are some artists that influenced me along the way.


I didn’t come from a musical family, but I was around a lot of music growing up. We were always listening to songs in the car and around the house. My parents loved music, although they weren’t musicians. We would often sing along to my father’s favorite rock bands like Guns N Roses, Van Halen. and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. I would sing along as a kid and dance around the living room and jam on toy instruments. I found great joy in the world of melodies and rhythms. Here are some of the albums that got me interested in music:


  • Best of Motown - Various Artists (1960s)

  • This was the constant soundtrack to my childhood. Motown music was extremely popular on the radio and could be heard pretty much everywhere. Classics like “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, “I Want You Back”, “What’s Going On”, “Signed Sealed Delivered”, and “Please Mister Postman” come to mind.

  • Full Moon Fever - Tom Petty (1989)

  • This album contains really simple but catchy songs with a nice acoustic folk rock style. You might know it from the hit singles “Free Fallin’” or “Won’t Back Down”.

  • Appetite for Destruction - Guns N Roses (1987)

  • Slash plays some incredible guitar solos on this album and it has that classic hard-rock sound that many people associate with the electric guitar.

  • The Black Album - Metallica (1990)

  • My introduction to heavy metal music: Kirk Hammet plays some great parts on this album. I used to sing the guitar solos before I even started learning guitar.

  • Millennium - Backstreet Boys (1999)

  • This was a huge hit on the radio and everyone knew the words to “I Want it That Way” and “Larger than Life”.

  • Astro Lounge - Smash Mouth (1999)

  • Another huge radio success, Smash mouth was well known for their hits, “All Star”, “Walkin on the Sun”, and cover of “I’m a Believer”


As my interest in music grew, I began learning the melodies to video game soundtracks and alternative rock songs that were popular at the time. However, I was usually singing the parts or playing along on hand drums or with cheap keyboards. My parents gave me an old walkman tape player and their cassette collection and eventually bought me a CD player. My cassette player had a record function, so I made recordings of myself singing along to my favorite songs. Here are a few of the albums that I was into at the time:


  • Hybrid Theory - Linkin Park (2000)

  • Meteora - Linkin Park (2003)

  • American Idiot - Green Day (2004)

  • Dookie - Green Day (1994)

  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time OST (1998)

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty OST (2001)

  • Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies OST (2001)


My parents took notice of my musical inclination, and signed me up to play percussion in the middle school band. I played the snare drum and the xylophone and learned some basic piano skills in the 5th-7th grade. However, my enthusiastic drumming didn't sit well with my parents, who found it a tad too noisy for their liking. In a stroke of parental genius, they introduced me to the acoustic guitar as a quieter alternative. Little did they know, they were igniting a flame that would shape my musical journey for years to come.


Middle school brought about new friendships and musical adventures. I stumbled upon a group of guys who were jamming away in a garage rock band. I saw them performing at school dances and went to listen to them at their band practices after class. They left an indelible mark on me. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a part of that world, strumming along to rock anthems and having a blast with my friends. So, I took my practice very seriously and quickly learned the basics of playing rhythm guitar and even taking some basic solos. I was able to join them and we spent many humid summers playing loud rock music in the garage. Up to this point, I was entirely self-taught and learned songs by ear, from friends, or from TAB books. These are the albums that got me started playing guitar:


  • Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not - Arctic Monkeys (2006)

  • This album took the world by storm when it was released in 2006. The simple but memorable guitar riffs and their “do-it-yourself” attitude had us all learning these guitar parts.

  • The Black Parade - My Chemical Romance (2006)

  • This Queen inspired rock opera was very popular when I picked up the guitar. I learned all the guitar parts from this album by ear.

  • The Sufferer & The Witness - Rise Against (2006)

  • The aggressive punk rock here was the perfect outlet for an angsty middle school rocker. The punk rock scene was huge in the 2000s.

  • Broken Boy Soldiers - The Raconteurs (2006)

  • A great alternative rock album that I still enjoy. This album features simple but catchy guitar parts and a classic rock sound that my garage rock band was trying to copy.

  • Nevermind - Nirvana (1991)

  • Every aspiring rock guitarist learns some Nirvana!


As I entered high school, my musical aspirations soared to new heights. I found myself yearning to create my own songs and form my own bands. I joined the high school jazz band and also started taking classical guitar lessons. This opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me. While I had been mostly self-taught up until then, these experiences enriched my musical palette and fueled my desire to learn and grow. I learned how to read music and studied music theory on my own. The turning point came when I decided to pursue a career in music. Here were some of my favorite albums around that time:


  • Plans - Death Cab for Cutie (2005)

  • This album has beautiful wistful songwriting supported by a layered ambient indie rock production. Some of my favorites include “Marching Bands of Manhattan”, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, and “Brothers On A Hotel Bed”.

  • Cassadaga - Bright Eyes (2007)

  • This album features experimental and thought provoking songwriting with moments of harsh dissonance contrasted by beautiful poetic storytelling. Check out the woodwinds on the ballad “Make a Plan to Love Me”

  • Wincing the Night Away - The Shins (2007)

  • Catchy and quirky, this classic indie rock album always puts me in a good mood. The opening track “Sleeping Lessons” slowly builds to an explosive finish.

  • Emotionalism - The Avett Brothers (2007)

  • Modern folk-rock music was very popular where I grew up and this band was at the top of the folk-rock scene at the time. We learned many of their songs as campfire sing-alongs, especially “The Ballad of Love & Hate”.

  • Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco (2002)

  • Another classic indie rock album with cool experimental guitar sounds. Check out the guitar solo on “Impossible Germany”!



University beckoned, and I eagerly pursued a major in music, immersing myself in the art of jazz improvisation. Performing with various jazz bands became second nature, and by the time I graduated, I was already playing gigs full-time, living out my musical dreams. I specialized in swing and big band jazz and found many gigs in the swing dance scene. I also spent my summers playing solo jazz guitar at a restaurant on a resort island! Here are some of my favorite artists from that time:


  • Various - The Benny Goodman Sextet

  • Featuring Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Max Roach, Lionel Hampton. All huge stars of the swing era!

  • All Star Sessions - Django Reinhardt

  • The legendary guitarist can be heard here performing with some American swing artists. It is an interesting blend of European and American style jazz. “Honeysuckle Rose” is a classic swing era tune on this album.

  • April in Paris - Count Basie Big Band

  • A classic example of the big band that swung that hardest!

  • Intercontinental - Joe Pass (Trio)

  • This album was a big inspiration for my guitar playing style with small groups. I often performed Pass’s arrangements of “Chloe” and “Meditation”.


But the adventure didn't end there. Fueled by a thirst for new experiences, I set my sights on Japan, a land where language and music intertwined in captivating ways. Saving up from my performances in the US, I embarked on a new chapter, eager to explore the rich musical tapestry of Japan while honing my language skills. I became a music teacher and have been exploring Japanese music. Recently, I enjoy Japanese alternative music and have returned to listening to video game soundtracks and studying their compositions. Here are some Japanese artists I enjoy listening to recently:


  • Kirinji

  • A 2000s alternative rock duo that often incorporates elements from electronic dance music. I enjoy their sophisticated arrangements and harmonies. “Aliens” and “Sweet Soul” are some of my favorites.

  • Perfume

  • A catchy J-Pop group that I recently discovered (I’m a bit late to the party). Recently, I've been interested in the intersection of electronic music with songwriting and composition.

  • Ohashi Trio

  • The perfect blend of alternative rock songwriting with jazz sensibilities. I was fortunate enough to meet the band members of this popular group.

  • Keiichi Okabe

  • Composer for the critically acclaimed game, “Nier:Automata”. I’m interested in his adaptive music that evolves based on the game state.


And there you have it, folks - my musical influences from humble beginnings to international adventures. Through twists and turns, highs and lows, one thing remains constant: my undying love for music and the joy it brings to my life. So, here's to the power of melodies, the magic of chords, and the endless possibilities that music has to offer. Until next time, keep on strumming, keep on singing, and never stop chasing your musical dreams!


-Ryan

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