Darren Garrett, Electronic Engineering Student on Piano & Guitar

What I love the most about playing music is that I can momentarily escape from the stresses of college and everyday life. The world just becomes me, my guitar or piano, and my favourite music. I find it both relaxing and invigorating to play for a short while every day. I also find it extremely rewarding to practice to a point where I can emulate my musical heroes and accurately play the songs I listen to every day, even sometimes adding my own flavour to them.

My name is Darren Garrett, I’m from Arklow, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, and I am a third-year electronic engineering student at University College Dublin. I moved to Dublin for college, but it is likely that I will stay here after I have finished my education due to the large and still-growing tech industry in the city. Opportunities are rife for engineers and computer scientists in the many multinational tech corporations, as well as numerous tech start-ups that are being created every year. It is a great time to be pursuing a career in technology in Dublin.

From an early age, I have been interested in technology and engineering. My father, Liam, was a huge influence on me when I was young. He always kept up with the latest developments in technology. He is a great tinkerer who builds, repairs, and experiments with electronics. He built and gave me my first computer when I was four years old, along with a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, which kept me occupied for hours.

I definitely had an aptitude for science and engineering growing up. I built (and destroyed) things with Lego and frequently watched documentaries and science-based shows, such as How it’s Made and Mythbusters. In my teens, I developed a passion for building and experimenting with PCs, tweaking them to optimize their performance as much as possible. There is something very satisfying about taking an old relic of a computer and optimising it to run software and games as well as possible.

In essence, I think I was inspired to pursue a career in engineering due to my love of computers and technology, the satisfaction and enjoyment I get from designing and building machines and making them perform tasks at maximum performance, and the ability for me to have a part in the invention and design of emerging technologies, which are being created at a rapid pace during the era in which we live.

Outside of my job, I love music. I grew up in a very musical household. My father is a very talented musician who plays the keyboard as a one-man band, and my mother is also a very musical lady who has played a few instruments in her past and sang in the church choir for years. She has a great sense of pitch and can sing anything in tune. Around the house, there is always someone humming, whistling, singing, playing music, or playing an instrument. When I was younger, my dad would be out gigging at least once per week and would practice almost every day.  I would often watch him practice and enjoy the music, which was usually a selection of country, Latin, folk, and popular music from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Eventually, I wanted to give it a go myself and I asked him to teach me a song, which ended up being Sonny’s Dream by Christy Moore. Shortly after that, I started taking piano lessons, which I continued for twelve years (going to three different teachers) before I achieved my Grade 8 RIAM certification. My last teacher, Margarite, was a great influence on me musically. She taught me the emotional side of music, the ability to feel your way through a piece, elevating it to an even greater level.

It was not until I was in my mid-teens that I developed a deep interest in music and music culture. The emergence of YouTube and Spotify allowed me to discover songs and create playlists suited to my tastes. I think two of the very first songs I discovered on YouTube were Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and Paradise City by Guns n’ Roses. I was instantly hooked on classic and alt-rock, and I developed my tastes from there. I love the genre for both its complex musical composition and its high-energy, frantic, and loud style (which spoke to me as an angsty teenager). In the first few years, my favourite genres were rock and metal, with my tastes progressing to heavier and heavier styles as time went on. In recent years, I have seemingly mellowed out and I now enjoy a range of genres, including pop, punk, indie rock, folk, jazz, and artists from every era including Dean Martin and the Beatles to REM and Oasis to Hozier and Khalid.

Around the same time, due to listening to rock and metal songs, I wanted to learn how to play them myself on guitar. I started learning on an old electric guitar (aptly called “The Shredder”) in early 2017 by using online tutorials, guitar tabs, and chord progressions. Progress was slow at first, and I could feel my motivation dwindling as I struggled to make a D major chord sound half-decent. Through frequent practice and perseverance, it all started to click after a few months, at which point I bought my first two guitars: a Yamaha Pacifica 112V electric guitar and a Yamaha F310 acoustic. At first, the electric guitar got a lot more love, with me jamming to rock and metal songs such as R U Mine? by Arctic Monkeys, Enter Sandman by Metallica, and We Are the Champions by Queen. As my tastes evolved, I grew to like playing the acoustic a lot – I now enjoy it more than the electric.

At this point, I would say I’m an intermediate guitar player who is better at rhythm guitar than lead guitar. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I also took up bass and I enjoy playing that from time to time.

When I was taking piano lessons, I predominantly played classical music. These days I prefer to play my favourite songs on both guitar and piano from genres which include classic, alt, punk and indie rock, as well as country and folk music. On piano, I enjoy playing songs from popular piano-based artists such as Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Billy Joel, and Coldplay.

I have a lot of favourite musicians whom I greatly admire. In classical music, I love the work of Ludwig Van Beethoven; I admire him because he included so much emotion in his pieces. A lot of work by the likes of Mozart, Bach, and Handel is technically brilliant, but I am unable to be drawn to it due to the emphasis on structure and lack of emotion in some cases. I feel music can be much more impactful emotionally if there are no restrictions on structure and creativity. Beethoven was a pioneer in this regard – he was at a forefront of the transition to a more emotional connection with music. His piece from Sonata No. 8, second movement, Pathetique is one of the most beautiful and emotional pieces of classical music ever written, and one that I love playing myself.

As for more recent musical idols of mine, they include Elton John, David Bowie, Queen, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Stone Roses, and Hozier. Out of those, Elton John, David Bowie, and The Stone Roses are my absolute favourites.

I enjoy playing both piano and guitar – however, my preference is the guitar. This may sound odd as I would say I’m technically much better at playing piano and have played it for much longer.  But my primary reason is that my music tastes revolve around rock music generally, and I enjoy trying to learn and practice my favourite songs using the song’s native instrument. The piano is incredibly versatile, especially for composing music. However, I am not a fan of adapting songs to the piano when the original was played on a guitar, either because I don’t think it sounds as good or sometimes it doesn’t translate too well (such as the lack of string bending or fluid tremolo on a piano). Another reason I like guitar is its portability. It’s incredibly easy to bring a guitar wherever I go, such as my dorm room in college, a jam session, or a party. Not so much for piano (although it is a bit easier with a digital piano or keyboard).

I have performed in a few concerts in my secondary school, both solo and in a makeshift band with my school-friends to play at Christmas concerts. I found it to be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience (if a bit nerve-wracking!). I definitely want to try gigging in the future. It is a dream of mine to form a band with friends and play gigs together, covering our favourite songs and possibly writing our own too!

I have had many great experiences with my music. My first public performance was a wonderful highlight for me. It was at my secondary school’s start of year mass in our local church. I decided to play the Venetian Gondola Song by Felix Mendelssohn on the piano. I had practiced like crazy in the weeks leading up to it to make sure it was perfect. I was extremely nervous in the minutes leading up to the performance, but as I sat down at the piano and began playing, I got into the zone and blocked out everything around me, so it was just me and the music. The performance went perfectly and the applause after I finished was so rewarding.

Another very exciting and rewarding experience for me was the first time I nailed a solo on guitar. It was the first solo from Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, and I remember getting goosebumps as I played it perfectly for the first time. There is nothing like the feeling of perfecting beautiful melodies by some of the greatest guitarists and musicians of all time.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, I decided to write my first song. It is an instrumental piece simply titled Chill Song due to its slow rhythm and soft, relaxing sound. It took me months to complete due to re-recording instruments multiple times and having to learn the actual processes of audio recording, song mixing, and mastering. To hear the finished product at the end – your creation and something that has been translated from your imagination to the real world – is an extremely satisfying experience and something that I really want to continue to do in the future.

I do see some similarities between my time with playing piano & guitar and my Electronic Engineering course. When I was experimenting with writing and recording songs, I noticed that I was able to apply things I had learned in engineering to the recording process. There are substantial physics involved. Aspects such as sound-dampening and mic placement require careful consideration in order to maximise recording quality, even in a bedroom! My study of signal analysis in various engineering courses was something I applied when experimenting with synthesizers, where wildly different sound can be made by using different waveforms, filters, and effects. Engineering allowed me to understand the operation of these things a bit better from the get-go.

My advice to anyone interested in playing piano or guitar is that, regardless of your skill level, you should try to learn to play the songs you want to play. Although it is very useful, I feel we get too caught up in music theory sometimes and it leads us to become bored and de-motivated if we don’t have a tangible result at the end. Some of the most successful musicians in the world like Slash and Noel Gallagher claim to know very little about music theory. Playing your favourite songs will be enjoyable, inspiring, and extremely rewarding when you can play along to them.

There is always more than tech. I think it’s very important to showcase the passions and hobbies of technologists – our aptitude for technology and engineering is often highlighted at the expense of our more artistic qualities, leading people to believe that we’re just number-crunching drones and a bit boring overall. I’m glad that Otia Magazine is showing that this is not the case, and that we are in fact a community full of interesting hobbies and passions.

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