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Yasmin Williams Transcends All Guitar Norms In Her Tiny Desk Contest Entry

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Tiny Desk Contest standout Yasmin Williams from Woodbridge, Va., lays a guitar face up, taps on the frets and plays percussion in the NPR studio.
Eslah Attar, NPR

Tiny Desk Contest standout Yasmin Williams from Woodbridge, Va., lays a guitar face up, taps on the frets and plays percussion in the NPR studio.

Yasmin Williams only started playing the guitar after beating all the songs on expert-level on Guitar Hero II. "I figured, well, I beat that game, I can probably play a real guitar now," she says.

Nine years later, Williams is one of the stand-out entrants of this year's Tiny Desk Contest. Williams bills herself as an acoustic finger-style guitarist with the cheeky tagline "Music at your fingertips." Williams's music transcends the standard idea of what a guitarist should do. She uses a cello bow to make low droning sounds, an idea she got from the band Sigur Rós. At the same time, she finger picks melodies with the guitar on her lap and adds a beat with tap shoes.

"A lot of the stuff on the radio right now is very aggressive and kind of sounds the same and kind of in your face," she says. "I like my music to be more melodic, more calming. Just something easy to listen to but has substance." Her debut album is appropriately named Unwind.

She started with that aggressive sound, though, learning electric guitar by first mastering Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and yearning to emulate Jimi Hendrix. "Once I learned 'Voodoo Child,' I thought I was the best thing ever," she says.

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She recently graduated from New York University with majors in music theory and composition. Her advice for others: avoid getting into a rut. "And, also, just to be patient. Don't expect things to just fall into your lap. Take opportunities, make opportunities for yourself," she says. "Be patient, things will come eventually."

Web intern Emily Abshire contributed to this story.

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