So, you’re at a beach bonfire with a group of friends, sitting in a circle, and you’re all cozied up in warm towels. In fact, your love interest just so happens to be sitting directly across you: furtive glances and all that. Everyone’s all dry by now from the afternoon swim, the smell and sound of the crackling wood make the perfect atmosphere. You look around and conclude that now is the time. You walk over to the car and take out your guitar. Your friends notice you coming back with it and woot and holler at the thought of a bonfire jam. You take the guitar and hold it in your hands for a few seconds–then sheepishly you give it to your friend who actually knows how to play, because the only thing YOU learned to play in high school was the trombone.
When the subject of music and instruments comes up in a conversation, the most often repeated statement is, “Oh, I wish I’d continued to learn the [insert instrument].” Then when asked “What’s stopping you from taking it up again?’, the answers are one of the following: “Pft, at my age?” “I just don’t have the time” “My fingers couldn’t take it”.
It’s true. Becoming an expert at an instrument is time consuming. But who’s asking you to become an expert? We’re only aiming to play a few tunes around a bonfire or to serenade a loved one with their favorite song, no?
Here are the top three instruments that are recommended for novice instrumentalists.
By far, the most popular instrument to have around the bonfire is the guitar. It is so convenient in tremendous ways. First of all, it’s mobile. With a soft case (typically called a gig bag and usually comes with purchase of a guitar), you can easily plop the stringed instrument on your back and take it with you wherever. A regular sized guitar fits into the back of any car, but you can find guitars that are designed especially for travel or those with small hands.
The basis of most modern pop tunes are based off what we call diatonic chords, or chords that are in one key. In layman’s terms, if you master four chords on one key, you’ll be able to play MOST of what is played on the radio. Of course, there are exceptions; there’s always the song that has a funky chord in it, but for the most part you’ll see they stay the same. Learn to strum four chords in the right key, and there you have your first song you can play!
But what if your fingers hurt too much? After all the last time you tried learning it, it was probably the pain in the fingers that ultimately made you stop. We’ve all been there. Not to worry: the ukulele (pronounced you-cah-lay-lee in North America) is the perfect instrument for you.
The instrument has four nylon strings (opposed to steel strings on acoustic guitars) that are easier to press and make a harp-like sound that reminds one of tropical breezes. It is the perfect instrument to accompany the guitar at a bonfire but also suffices on its own if need be.
Another instrument that has become popular among musicians in the recent decade is the cajon. For those of you who might’ve not heard of it, it is essentially a percussive instrument in the shape of a box. The box has a thin wooden panel on the front that makes a lower note when hit in the centre and a higher note when hit towards the sides. It takes after the kick drum and snare drum of a regular drum kit.
Because this instrument is a percussive instrument and not a melodic one (such as the guitar or piano), admittedly it is more difficult to sing along with it. However that is not to say that it is impossible given songs with heavy beats are on the rise on mainstream pop charts. But a cajon can be invaluable as just that when accompanying a guitar or tuned instrument, especially at bonfires.
- Harmonica (diatonic)
Last but not least, a bit of a bizarre choice that you don’t get to see often nowadays is the harmonica. However it is one of the easiest instruments to play. There are three different types of harmonicas: the diatonic, the chromatic, and the tremolo. The one we highlight today is the diatonic. This means that the harmonica is pretuned to a specific key. Blowing into the harmonica results in a different chord than breathing in from the harmonica. Harmonicas are often found in Blues and Country music and lends itself to singing and playing that alternate between each other. Granted, a diatonic harmonica will only be able to play in one key, therefore most diatonic harmonica players will eventually own multiple harmonicas in various keys.
All of these instruments are the best in the business in terms of playability, affordability, and mobility. Take any of these out at a bonfire and you’ll be sure to get a crowd jamming and jiving in no time!
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