Strumming Stress Away


Nam Pham

The Guitar Society is one of the new clubs on campus. Its goal: Give guitarists a place to play together and let potential guitar players give it a whirl.

The club is led by Nam Pham, who is also the vice president of the ASG. Pham serves as guitar coach and coordinator for the meetings and is the one who brought forth the notion of bringing back a guitar club to SCC.

He wants to see the club move in a more classical direction. (The club is entirely composed of acoustic and classical guitars.)

The old iteration of the club was described as being more of a social hangout for guitar players than one where specific instruction was given.

“Two years ago, people were doing lots of singing while playing,” Pham said. “There was not a lot of fingerpicking (a style of guitar playing where each individual note is played as opposed to strumming chords). Today it’s all fingerpicking and more classical. That’s a major change.

“Once you have that foundation of classical music, singing is simple. But if you move from singing and playing chords into classical music, that would be a problem.”

Jinhee Jeong, a member of the club whom Pham teaches individually, owns an acoustic guitar but not a classical guitar. The difference between the two types largely lies with the kind of strings used. Classical guitars have nylon strings, which sound softer and are easier to pluck, while most acoustic guitars use steel strings.

“Since I have only practiced acoustic guitar,” Jeong said, “Pham taught me how to hold the classical guitar and where to put each finger.”

Pham explained that learning guitar is much easier when you initially have a teacher.

Back in his home country of Vietnam, Pham started learning how to play the guitar in the seventh grade. He asked his parents if he could learn an instrument, so they brought him to the local music center where he met the instructor Phuc Nguyen, who now runs a music studio in Houston.

Pham worked with Nguyen for only a year, but during his studies he created a binder of music which contained dozens of songs that he learned with personalized notes on how to play them. When he was 15 years old, he came to the U.S. as an exchange student and brought the binder with him. Today he still has that binder.

“Guitar, for me, it’s a lifesaver,” Pham said. “Whenever I feel stress, when there’s a pressurized environment I have to deal with, I pick up the guitar and forget it for an hour or so. It helps a lot.”

Pham’s plan is to provide guitars and some basic lessons so that people can know if this is something they want to put their money and time into. He also wants to re-establish a place for more experienced guitarists to hang out and collaborate.

This new version of the club officially started in mid-October and received the initial $500 every new club is allotted upon recognition from the ASG.

“(Lots of) people don’t actually have the money to learn the guitar the hard way, paying for instructors, etcetera,” Pham said. “So I can give them that head start so that they can have a foundation: how do I find a guitar, where do I find a guitar, how do I hold it, how do I play basic notes — proper foundations every guitarist has to go through.”

During meetings, Pham meanders between pockets of students offering advice or sitting down for a few minutes to go through a few scales. Occasionally he’ll draw something on the whiteboard to help illustrate a point.

“He started with basic music theory and skills,” Jeong said. “He is thoughtful of what he is going to teach every meeting, and his goal for the club this quarter is very clear.”

“If you just pick it up from YouTube and you mess up, nobody will fix it for you,” Pham said. “If somebody guides you on how to do it properly then it starts to make sense. It’s like learning how to read or write.”

The club is designed in a way so that Pham can help members through social media as well, so they don’t even have to come to the club meetings every time. His plan is to give members video calls to help them learn better on their own schedules.

“I’m very flexible,” Pham said.

He is willing to either guide members through theory work individually or, if they prefer a more targeted approach, to teach them individual songs that they want to learn. To Pham, the club is more casual and friendly than it is a performance environment.

For him, playing guitar is his happy place.

“I feel there is some kind of emotional attachment to my own guitar,” he said. “The way I play it, every night when I pick it up, I just forget about the world outside.”

Meetings take place 1-4 p.m. on Fridays in Room 9102 of the PUB.

By CJ Priebe,

Sports Editor