Technique

The Impromptu Guitar Song

Because the line between entertaining and irritating is a fine one.

"F... A... wait, E? Curse you, Wonderwall!"

At some point, you’re going to find yourself at a party. There will be a guitar, and this is a liability. Because if you know how to play even a couple of chords, there’s a very good chance that, after a few drinks, you’ll find yourself inclined to pick up the thing and play a tune. This is extraordinarily dangerous territory. But if the conditions are right—basically, if you’re able to extract the thing from its case and start strumming without your future audience shouting you down—the tipsy, off-the-cuff guitar song can be a blast. If you stick to a few simple rules, that is.

1) Keep it simple.
The urge to bust out the ol’ six-string probably grew in direct correlation to your level of inebriation, so this is not the time to bust out those hot licks heroics. Even if you can pull ‘em off, it’s obnoxious. (And you probably can’t pull ‘em off.)

2) Go with what you—and they— know.
This ain’t a concert, it’s a party. If your compatriots can’t sing along—to the chorus at the very least—then what’s the point?

3) Don’t mope.
No sad songs. Nothing kills a party faster than a dour dude with a guitar.

4) Know the song.
The whole song. Think you know all the lyrics and chord changes for Wonderwall? You sure? You better be.

5) Keep it short.
Sure, everyone loves the first verse of American Pie. But the sixth? Not so much. If you’re topping out anywhere past the three-minute mark, you’re in the danger zone.

6) And finally: Have fun with it.
You know what’s kind of annoying? Some guy playing acoustic guitar and singing in the middle of a party. You know what’s exponentially worse? Some guy doing it meekly. You were on dangerous ground the moment you started into this venture. The best way to sway things in your favor is to actually enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re digging it, there’s a much better chance everyone else will, too.

A couple of suggestions:
1) Bad Moon Rising, by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s phenomenally easy to play, energetic, and people like to pretend they’re John Fogerty. A win all around.
2) With a Little Help From My Friends, by The Beatles. It’s a little tougher, with a couple of barre chords in the mix, but we’re hard pressed to think of another song that more readily inspires audience participation. And audience participation is key.

And one to avoid:
American Pie. Seriously.

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