Sky is the limit for JayBird

Published 5:00am 24 May 2023

Sky is the limit for JayBird
Words by Kylie Knight

Natural talent, next-level dedication and perfect pitch are just some of the qualities that make JayBird Byrne an exceptional guitarist.

The 12-year-old, from Narangba, is a rising star who has captured the attention of Triple J, ABC TV and some big music brands.

She was recently filmed for an ABC TV documentary as part of the Classic 100 Countdown with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

It followed the release of her first single Convergence, which was released in 2022, and her first place at the International Youth Music Competition in the Modern and Contemporary category for her performance of the song.

She also won best guitarist at the RockFEST competition last year.

Moreton Daily caught up with JayBird at the Team Musicare studio at Clontarf to chat about her love for the guitar and the masters including Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan and Eddie Van Halen.

It’s hard to believe she only started learning the instrument just over four years ago after a fall put a stop to artistic skating and she sought a new passion.

“Guitars had been around me for pretty much my entire life. My father played guitar. He is more of a hobbyist. It was hard not to pick it up when you had that exposure to it. I always had an exposure to music,” JayBird says.

She started noodling, experimenting, with the guitar and asked to have lessons.

Within a month of starting out with an acoustic guitar, she asked to make the change to electric.

“The theory that it (an acoustic guitar with nylon strings) doesn’t hurt your fingers didn’t work for me because I wanted to play a different type of music. It didn’t have that really powerful sound,” she recalls.

“I think if you’re motivated to play electric guitar, you shouldn’t bother starting on an acoustic guitar to warm up your fingers. You should go straight for what you want.”

She did just that and hasn’t looked back.

JayBird cannot read music and instead plays by ear. She has perfect pitch.

“I can recognise notes and if you play a song on your phone that I haven’t heard, as long as it’s not really complex guitar … if you play that two or three times, I could pick up a guitar and play that,” she explains.

“What I love about playing the guitar is … it’s sort of like a light in the darkness for me because I’ve got autism. It just always seems to be there whenever I’m feeling down. It’s been all sorts of things for me – it’s been a lifeline, it’s been a hobby and at the moment it’s my entire life. This consumes 90 per cent of my life.”

Where is she hoping music will take her?

“I’m not exactly sure. I just hope that I have a lot of fun and I hope that this ends up being a career for me because it’s what I enjoy. If you can do something that you enjoy as your job, you’re a very, very lucky person,” she says.

When it comes to describing how she feels when she plays, JayBird finds it difficult to articulate.

“I’ve got alexithymia which is a part of autism which means I really, really struggle to describe stuff. It feels sort of like a portal that I can express myself without words,” she says.

Her manager and mentor Dan Nebe says there are number of factors that make JayBird an exceptional guitarist.

“I think it’s her dedication and commitment. Her first guitar was bigger than her … she has such a natural ability. I think another thing is … her hands are quite unique,” he explains.

“There are some musicians out there who just have different hands than most of us, that go in different directions and stretch further.”

JayBird is not an NDIS client at Team Musicare but is instead sponsored by the organisation.

“Her parents approached me last year to see if I could manage and mentor her, and point her in the right direction. It was quite evident to them that she’s quite exceptional,” Dan says.

“I’ve pretty much taken over that manager’s role with her and just making sure she gets to the right people.”

Striking a balance

For Dan, the number one focus is her education and “staying a kid”.

“The guitar can come after that. We can do everything slowly because we don’t want to overwhelm her,” he says.

“I’m not going to throw her into the ring of lions like I do with other bands … do as many gigs as fast as you can. With her, it’s going to be the opposite. Do the least amount of gigs within the first year or so and just build into it.”

Dan is certain she could have a career playing guitar for big-name artists and bands in years to come, if she wants it.

“I don’t know anyone who’s 40/45 years old that I call a brilliant guitarist that is anywhere near her (level),” he says.

“She’s writing songs that none of us write. She’s so far advanced and so wired differently to us and that’s what makes her exceptional.”

To find out more, head to JayBird's website

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