Why the Simplest Guitar Parts Are Sometimes the Most Difficult Ones to Play

by Udi Glaser
Posted Jun 5, 2014 at 12:19pm

The "easiest" guitar part is sometimes the most difficult one. Sure, we all like to shred and to show off our skills, but it could be mind boggling when someone asks us to record the simplest guitar part ever.

One of the best examples from my own experience is the song in the audio player at the bottom of this story. It required repetition of only a few notes in a straightforward rhythm throughout.

Yes, WYHIWYG (What You Hear Is What You Get). Then ... what’s so difficult?

Well, playing the part is only half the equation. The other half is deciding on the type of guitar, choosing the strings, selecting the technique (fingerstyle or using a pick or "plectrum," as they like to call it here in the U.K. — maybe because it sounds more complicated that way) ... and, if fingerstyle, which finger, and which part of the finger? The flesh, the nail, a bit of both?

The list goes on and on. Every little detail affects the final outcome, no matter how small it is. Every aspect shapes the tone, color and timbre, which are as crucial as playing the notes accurately.

After trying different guitars, strings and fingers, the method I chose for the above song was to take an acoustic guitar with old (some of that golden rust) and thick strings and to play on the sixth string, near the fretboard with the flesh of my thumb using some parts of the Distal Phalange (the thumb’s upper bone, not the "left phalange" from the last episode of Friends). See the photo above.

Low A and D (not drop D) are the required notes. Since they can be played on the sixth, fifth and even fourth string, I had to decide which sounded more suitable according to the brief I got. The open A string was not an option, as it has different qualities than a stopped note. So I chose sixth string, fifth fret.

Now what about D; should it be right below A? I used the 10th fret of the sixth instead so it will sound more continuous. But then should I avoid the inevitable slide scratching noises in between or shall I use a full stretch between my fingers to avoid them? I chose the latter. After all, the song’s chorus goes "Hold it between your fingers."

So many different options — and I haven’t even started talking about stuff like miking techniques. Now, is playing a simple guitar part really an easy task?

Photo: ©Nevit Dilmen

Udi Glaser is a guitarist, guitar teacher, composer, producer and journalist. He has been playing all types of guitars and styles for more than 22 years and has been teaching them for more than 10 years. He holds a bachelor's degree in musicology and philosophy and attained a sound-engineering diploma and an Orchestrating Producing for Film and Games certificate, for which he received a scholarship in the name of Jeff Beck. Visit his website and follow his Facebook page or Twitter feed.