Saturday, 16 September 2017

Teaching 101: Easy access

I'm not a guitar teacher...no wait, everyone who can play the guitar is a potential guitar teacher!

This seems like a simple idea, like it's just about degrees of laziness, but until a student finds the deeper love and want to play guitar (indeed for anything that requires time and effort to achieve a goal) - then you have to remove blockers. Such as taking your guitar out of its bag after coming back from a lesson, that alone can block a student from practising.

(Learning something that is hard, that takes a long time, that takes a lot of work, that can be frustrating - it's a important undertaking more so than ever in our world of instant gratification. It's this good stuff that lasts and doesn't come easy, that's the stuff worth doing.)

I'm calling that the second most important thing to buy after you buy your instrument is a stand to put it on. They are so cheap too! I bought a heap of instrument stands for around $AUD15 online delivered to my door, and everyone in my house learning an instrument got one.

So at any time, the instrument is right there, and they can pick it up and play. Even 5 minutes a day gets those neurons synapsing and creates new behaviour.

Do it. Instrument stand. My youngest daughter is learning the cello and look it's right there in her room, waiting for her, at all times. And it's made a difference, she plays it regularly, often without prompting!

Now there are other options for easy access to your instrument. It's great to have one guitar on a stand somewhere handy, but when there are say 4 of them gathered into a room they take up a lot of space. I switched to wall mounting instruments, again, easily sourced online and very cheap. My wife likes the "look", they are still easy access, and the best part is you get floor space back. And how nice is it to sit in a calming room full of instruments. Good if you have an available room that is!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Rockin' with The Angels

Playing Aussie rock covers fits in well with a pub scene in Australia, I have a number I bring out but you can never have enough Aussie rock.  The Angels "Am I Ever Going to See Your Face Again?" is an absolute classic with it's MA+ call-response titular question, so it is obvious arrangement material. I had tried a few times over the years, but it hasn't been until now that I considered I had the skills to take it on.

It's pretty much all power chords, with that standard blues rock perfect fifth-major sixth rollicking riff underpinning everything, so that had to be prominent. In E, it's pretty easy, the bassline looks like this:

-2--2--4--2--2--2--4--2-
-0-----0-----0-----0----

That however uses up too much left hand, and is a real drag to do for long periods of time. It would be very difficult to put a melody over that. But since Drop D tuning has been my best friend for a long time now, the riff in Drop D will become:

-0--0--2--0--0--0--2--0-
-0-----0-----0-----0----

Much better!

The overall structure is a twelve bar blues chord progression so going from the E to the A means going up the neck rather than to the next strings, to keep the Drop D working, but that is fine.  I wanted to keep the key in E, so putting a capo on the second fret brought the Drop D back to E.

So now for the melody on top:

------------------------|------------
------------------------|------------
-------2-----0--------0-|------------
-------------------4----|----4-----0-
----0--2--0-----0--2--0-|----0--2--0-
-0-----0-----0-----0----|-0-----0----
       went  down  to san    ta    fe

Strumming the bass line would work to get the bass note on each beat and then the 5th-6th interval would be every 8th note, but I find strumming bass note chord fragments clumbsy. It might be the classical guitarist in me coming out - there are a few songs I play that I need to strum two or more bass strings, it forces your wrist down close against the soundboard to get the right angle, and this starts limiting what your fingers can do. You could train yourself to play fluently like that...or pluck the 5th string with alternating index-middle fingers.  Which is what I did.

And now, your annular (ring) finger can pluck the melody.  This is kinda hard, and the 4th string gets a lot of sympathetic vibration (and the odd accidental pluck) but it's completely in chord (the octave!) so it's okay.  I find I can't play right hand middle and annular fingers where the strings aren't next to each other, so my index finger gets busy on the riff when I'm picking the melody, but then reverts to index-middle when there's no melody.

You will have to mentally disconnect your ring finger because the melody is not on always on beat. The first three syllables "went down to" are all on beat, but "san ta fe" is all offbeat.  This is challenging, especially because the riff is always on-beat!  But, playing through slowly and then speeding up once you have made the mental adjustment does the trick.

It's another song that was a bit too rough for my youtube channel - too fast, bad picking - still needs work, but have a look, tell me what you think! :-)

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Why can't this be blog, again?

The last post of mine has created an unprecedented 3 comments so far, I'm inspired to keep posting works in progress. Ha ha, well I post as a cathartic release "I don't post because I want to, I post because I *have* to!"

When I sat down to record a few weeks back I rattled off five new arrangements, only two I deemed good enough to go on my youtube channel but the others weren't too bad so I'll keep posting them here. This song I talked about a year ago and I've been ticking it over from time to time in the background.

Arranging a song is one of those things were I get all excited and filled with euphoria when I begin, and once that addiction wears off, if I haven't finished it it falls in a hole.  But the sensible engineer in me says "You put in a lot of work, and there's only a bit more to go, finish it."  Which I duly ignore, but the sensible engineer never goes away: "You loved that arrangement when you started.  Find that love again, and finish it."

So this song is close to finished, but I didn't play it well enough this time to release it on my YouTube proper channel, it's still too rough. Sorry, the video and the audio goes out of sync, not sure what happened there (another reason to not post). Anyway, enough! Have a look already!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Playing in the white room

A few weeks ago I noticed Jake Reichbart had posted "White Room" by Cream which to me, is a pivotal quintessential psychedelic rock song harking from 1968.  Okay, my dad was heavy into Cream so this song was burned into my formative youth.

I was so impressed with Jake's cover I had to try it myself.  And much like the psychedelic nature of the song, I became addicted to his arrangement, like a drug, and stayed up late one night turning it over and over.  He plays it up the neck, I found it more at home in the open position.  By the time my fingers were hurting and I was really tired, I'd sussed out the main structure.  I have been playing it every few days to drill it in, it needs some variation so I'm not playing the same thing over and over again, but it's already kinda cool.

With that said, I have fallen further into the bad habit of playing sloppy, playing too hard, playing too fast, too much slapping...kinda the opposite of what a classical guitarist should be doing.  I'm happy enough with that but sometimes I think I need to scale it back and play something clean, accurate, and pure.  Or maybe it's time I go back to steel and dig in further...

Have a listen, I stepped from "White Room" into "Sunshine of Your Love", keeping the Cream feel, until I was disturbed; crashed and burned. Tell me what you think:

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Yamaha CG-100A student guitar

The second guitar I bought for my students is a 1989 Yamaha CG-100A.  I have a soft spot for old Yamaha classical guitars.  This one was a level up from a student model, slightly better woods used and a glossier finish. A good clean up and fresh strings got it back to its original glory.  As with the Musima I grabbed a few weeks ago, the more I played it the more it opened up.

The dimensions of both guitars are almost exactly the same down to the millimetre. I didn't realise there was such a standard for the shape of a classical guitar! The Musima is about 1mm narrower on the neck and the action is a bit lower so it's slightly easier to play. Both shall make good beginners guitars.

The Yamaha is Japanese specification but made in Taiwan, and the Musima is German...sooo Asia versus Euro :-)  I had my wife listen as I played the same songs on both to see what she thought.

Results are Asia has a better bass, it felt like the bass was deep inside and not so much projecting out but booming from within like a subwoofer. It makes the guitar sound powerful, but muddy.  Euro on the other hand has a mid and treble projection that leaps out of the guitar, but the bass is subdued.  My Esteve on the other hand has clear trebles, mids and bass.

But don't take my word for it, have a listen! All captured exactly the same on my Zoom H1, unproceeded, all guitars wearing brand new D'Addario EJ45 strings

Musima 130:

Yamaha CG-100A:

Esteve 1GR11:


So, next stop, see if I can teach two twelve year old girls how to play some classical guitar!