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Keith Urban is helping 'all of the dreamers' learn to play guitar

·5 min read

When a young Keith Urban wanted to learn a new song on guitar, he needed to hear it in slow motion. Literally.

"When I started playing, I was slowing records down with my finger," Urban told The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network, with a chuckle. "Learning 'Sultans of Swing' over the course of hours and days, mastering every note."

Urban first picked up a guitar — a three-quarter size Suzuki acoustic with nylon strings, he said — at age 6. He fell in love instantly with the sounds, smells and endless possibilities that awaited.

Since then, he's built worlds inside songs and conquered stages behind the six-string instrument. Urban cut his teeth as a teenager playing nearly nightly in Australian clubs before rolling the dice on a cross-continental career in Nashville and clawing his way to being one of the most recognizable artists in modern country music.

Keith Urban performs “Tumbleweed” during the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry Saturday, April 17, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.
Keith Urban performs “Tumbleweed” during the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry Saturday, April 17, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.

And he knows things look a little different for young would-be players today. Aspiring players don't need to labor over a turntable when YouTube can break down chord progressions and how-to websites can instruct on strumming techniques.

Now, Urban teams with Yamaha to release an affordable acoustic guitar and mobile app that connects potential players to video lessons from the four-time Grammy Award-winning entertainer.

In a new interview with the Tennessean, Urban discussed the project, as well as his new single "Wild Hearts" — a semi-autobiographical number dedicated to "drifters and all of the dreamers," like those who pick up a guitar with burning ambition — and his return to Las Vegas performances this weekend.

Read below for highlights from the conversation.

On 'Wild Hearts'

On "Wild Hearts," Urban offers his take on country-tinged heartland rock strumming and a chorus for the aforementioned "... drifters, and all of the dreamers ready to fly/ All those born to be rock stars/ Lifting their guitars and painting the sky."

Why write a song for "all of the wild hearts just like mine?"

"Why not?" Urban said. "It's a song that, for me, really spoke to my own journey, especially coming from a small town on Australia, with my eyes set on Nashville because it was written on all the back of my dad's records."

He continued, "From a very young age, I reckon about seven or eight, when I started reading album credits, every one of them said 'Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee.' I went, (expletive) yeah, that's where you go to make records. That's where I'm gonna go. No plan, no timeline, nothing. Just 'I'm gonna do that one day.' And that was it. That was set deep into my DNA."

And Urban sets the scene for "Wild Hearts" by singing of his own experience. The song opens with a spotlight on Johnny Cash as Urban watched his father join a venue full of onlookers enamored with the "Ring of Fire" singer.

Urban sings, "Saw the man in black/ Spotlight in the air/ Heard a thousand screams/ Saw my daddy stare."

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His first concert, a five-year-old Urban saw Cash with his dad at a boxing hall in Brisbane, Australia.

"I remember noisy, joyous, loud — obviously drunken — people by the thousands" Urban said, adding: "Every part of this sensory overload is embedded in me, I'm quite sure."

On new guitar, lesson app

Now, he passes on ambition ignited at a young age by teaching those who may chase a similar dream.

Yamaha launched Thursday the "URBAN" guitar, an acoustic model where players can learn by watching Urban and fellow musician JUNO teach basic practices and songs via an accompanying mobile application.

Guitar makers have approached Urban before about developing a signature model, but that never interested him because "I don't feel like there's anything I can add. I don't have any quirky inventions or tweaks or concepts I can bring to the guitar."

"I just wasn't interested in slapping my name on something," Urban said. "And then my manager said to me, 'What would you be interested in doing with the guitar?" And I said getting people to play would be the first thing."

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He added, "Seeing people spend tons of money on guitar just to find if they wanna play, that's ridiculous," Urban said. "I'm quite sure we can build an affordable guitar that's high-quality, that feels good when you pick it up."

Keith Urban performs during the 2016 CMA Music Festival at Nissan Stadium June 12, 2016 in Nashville.
Keith Urban performs during the 2016 CMA Music Festival at Nissan Stadium June 12, 2016 in Nashville.

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The app walks users through tuning, chords and strumming strokes. Tutorial songs include "Old Town Road," "Bad Moon Rising" and Urban's own "Cop Car."

New players should practice patience, Urban said.

"Going at it at your own pace, not trying to rush too far ahead," Urban said. "[Getting] a feel for what you do. And if you've got a desire to keep going with it, keep going with it."

Returning to Las Vegas

Urban brings "Wild Hearts" to a stage this weekend when the entertainer returns to The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for a five-show run that spans two weekends in September.

Urban first launched a run of Vegas performances in late 2019, only to be derailed with COVID-19 crippled live music early last year. He had reservations about bringing his show to a Las Vegas room, but found the Colosseum — with a wide stage, open club floor and tiered theater seating — to be an ideal fit.

Keith Urban hosts the 56th ACM awards in Nashville on Sunday, April 18, 2021.
Keith Urban hosts the 56th ACM awards in Nashville on Sunday, April 18, 2021.

"I went, 'this is an arena, a club, a theater ... all in one room,' this is going to be amazing," Urban said. "I was in love from the very first show."

He can't get out of the room without playing "Blue Ain't Your Color" or "The Fighter," and he'll debut songs from "The Speed of Now Part 1," an album he's yet to break in on stage.

Still, audiences can expect something a little different each time Urban takes the stage.

"The setlist, it'll be fairly malleable — to see what's flowing, to be able to be in the moment," Urban said. "I love that there's a setlist and I love structuring a show but I always have spaces all the way through for spontaneity. Genuine, real spontaneity. So it's different every night."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Keith Urban talks new song 'Wild Hearts' and new signature guitar

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