Tuesday, 19 May 2015

What's happening May 2015

Songs to work on come up all the time.  Since I've been quiet about it for a while, here's an update. As per usual I only have maybe 3-4 hours a week to work on new stuff, so nothing happens fast.

When I was on site in March I had a crack at the old classic "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John/Bernie Taupin.  I based it on Naudo's version.  I think my dad played that song a lot when I was a kid, I have always felt a bit of a connection with it.

It is similar in playing style to other Naudo classics like "Without You" and "Whiter Shade of Pale".  Lots of different chords in different inversions on the fretboard so you can hit the melody high notes.  It's not difficult to play other than remembering which chord is next, and what crazy shaped chord you need to hit so that you can work the melody line and (slightly walking) bassline together.  It's nearly at production stage, here is the bulk of it, bit rough around the edges but they all are for the first six months!



I usually have more than one song on the go, but never more than three.  This is so I'm not stuck in a rut on one song, and I can bounce between songs.  Staying away from a song for a week can sometimes be more beneficial than struggling with it for a week.  Your brain gets time to do some background processing on it.

When I bought my "Muso Hat" a few months back, one of the guys I work with who was there when I was comping hats online said "That one is very Bruno Mars."  After a puzzled look, he brought me somewhat into the present day for a moment, and made me decide I needed a modern day tune.  After my earlier debacle with a modern day tune I was nervous (I learnt a very catchy Aussie rock tune that was getting massive airplay, and by the time I had it down, the tune was gone.  I still play it, but it is more lost than my 70's and 80's classics I reckon.)

However the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars song "Uptown Funk" he gave thumbs up to was still getting airplay after 6 months, still catchy, and Kel Valleau had already made a GREAT arrangement of it.  So I figured I would just copy that.  I don't have to reinvent the wheel every song!

I'm a big fan of Kel's work, over the years he has developed some good tapping techniques - nah not that rubbishy fretboard tapping, I'm talking soundboard and body tapping.  He bass drum thumps with his wrist, and snare drum taps with his fingers.  Recently I noticed he's gone to an electronic pad to tap for snare, all good, but for now I was just going to keep it "simple".  No wrist thump (not worked on that yet) just my standard percussive flick.

Now this one is quite hard.  Progress is slow.  It requires a lot of accuracy and clean individual notes plucked between percussive flicks.  My normal flicks are only one per bar, some of this is four per bar.  And single notes, I can't hide flicked notes in rhythm. And the bassline is syncopated.  Look it's all great techniques to pick up, and will be one catchy tune, but wow!  Here is where I'm at so far, very rough, a lot of work to go.



As part of my kids education they need to listen to certain music so as to be "well rounded", appreciating at least the music I appreciate...  At least my oldest daughter so far.  I have a list of classic rock/pop albums that she needs to get through, one is Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" from 1977.  I relistened to it, remembered it fondly, and decided to have a crack at "The Chain".  People had asked me in the past if I knew any Lindsey Buckingham style songs, seeing as I'm a fingerpicker, he's a fingerpicker, and my reply was always "He's already made them complicated enough as it is, imagine trying to put a bass and melody on that!"

Well I'm finally up for it, but wow, it is proving difficult.  I'm liking the results I'm getting, but my ear is so bad I can't pick the melody.  Not helped by the fact there is a lot of harmonies.  Another problem there is I want to keep the melody down where I can reach it while attempting to do the fingerstyle riffs. Let's just say that it is an improvisation.

I've modelled it more along the lines of the Dance 1997 recording rather than the original recording, including playing it in D rather than E (complete with Drop D Tuning.)

Again, not amazing but I think you can see where I'm going.  Still work to be done.




There you go!  JAW is still around, working on stuff, just slowly!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Poor Pinky

I give my left pinky a hard time.  At some stage in my life I worked out how to fret an A with just my pinky, letting the top E and the bass A ring.  This extends to any root 5 chord, like B for instance (bar second fret):


Note that only my pinky and first finger bar is doing anything here, the other two are off the strings.

Now being able to do this with your pinky is really handy, because using three fingers to fret root 5 chords is slow and often inaccurate. But look at that poor pinky, the top joint (wikipedia tells me it is the Distal Interphalangeal Joint) is bent backwards, and the middle joint is pushing it hard up against the frets. If I push too hard, too many times, for too long, I strain it.  My G chord fretting is similar, I often fret the top G with the D on the second string using pinky.  Like this:


Don't be fooled, my third finger isn't on a string - 3rd and 4th strings are open.  But as you can see, it is the same principle. I love the sound of a G chord with the D added!

Another thing I do with my pinky is stretch it out to fret a low F and a high A. It's an F chord...well, bass note is F, high A, second string C and third string A.  Fourth and Fifth are muted.  Yeah, I know, the photo doesn't look like it:


So, what?

Your pinky is probably the weakest finger you own, and yet, for the guitar, I rate it as the second most useful finger after your index finger. So, we should probably take care of it.

So to reduce the amount of abuse I throw at the poor little fella, I try to observe the following, with varying degrees of success:

  • Don't keep practicing the same song over and over, where it features the same pinky abusing chord structures.  That is a recipe for strain.
  • Avoid pinky abuse.  If you watch Naudo, you can see he does a lot of strange fretting and I think it is partly to reduce finger strain.  Don't put pinky in nasty positions, try other fretting!
  • If it is starting to hurt, stop.  I once did some damage to my hand "pushing through the pain" that took the better part of a year to recover from.  Enough said, there is always tomorrow.
  • If you do strain it, rest it.  Anti-inflammatory drugs will help, but let me throw a hippy cure which works for me - quarter of a teaspoon of tumeric stirred  into water once a day.
Be careful out there!
JAW

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What's happening March 2015

I once again find myself in the tropics.  Funny, when I say it like that, you think of white sandy beaches and coconut trees, balmy warm weather.  But no, this is The Pilbara.  Barren vast stretches of red dirt, blazing sun (hit 43°C the other day, that's just short of 110°F for my American mates).  This is the heart of iron ore mining, Western Australia.

I brought an old '74 Yamaha classical student guitar up here two years ago, which lives here, and I re-find it from whomever was looking after it.  I get in plenty of practice, and put in time for learning new songs. Songs jump in my head randomly, and then I have to arrange them.  Even though I have songs I should be working on.  This time it is Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", always loved that tune.  I looked up the chords and they were pretty hard to deal with, I tried transposing up 2 semitones which made it better, but still hard to deal with.  It is quite a chordy sort of song, more than three in this one!

I checked out Naudo's version and what can we say, he is Da Man. He transposed it up 4 semitones which fits well, and made some great chord resolves.  So I've followed his lead.  As usual I changed it a bit to suit me, but it's all done, I just struggle to play it!  Watch this space, still really enjoying it.

Last night, heading back to my room, there was a bunch of people having drinks nearby.  One of them recognised I "was that guitar player" and I offered to play some tunes.  An hour and a half and a tall glass of Baileys Irish Cream later, I bade them farewell and hit the hay.  It's always enjoyable to play to people who have never heard me before, see if they guess the songs, see them enjoy it too.  Generally two out of three people I play guitar for "understand it", they get it, what I'm trying to achieve.  What's more, when people realise that someone playing the guitar doesn't mean be quiet, sit up and listen, it's something that is woven into a relaxed scene - sometimes you listen, sometimes you converse, it's just something that is there and enjoyable - even better.

I've been playing 1-2 hours every night for the past two weeks and I'm back to my A-game.  Fingers are good, I'm relaxed, brain is in the groove, I'm getting good tunes out.  I'm really keen to get a regular gig back in Perth and keep this groove going.

Oh, I ordered a hat.  Monz, who I work with up here, who has a lot more fashion sense than me, I showed him a few I was thinking about getting, he pointed me to the one I ended up ordering.  Apparently it is "like something Bruno Mars would wear".  I looked up Bruno Mars.  Good muso, I should arrange one of his popular tunes :-)

JAW

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Open mic with Mike the drummer

I went down again to Shaun Street's Open Mic night, trying something different this time.  He has a backing band (including himself) if anyone needs it.  Since I have played with drummers before, I said "I'll have a crack with the drummer!"

I mentioned this to a few people before hand and there was a lot of "so when are you going to rehearse?" This surprised me, because I was quite sure that if I meet him 5 minutes before we went on stage and sketch out a quick game plan, it will all be just fine.

So I spoke to Mike just before we jumped on stage, I mentioned how I only ever play solo and my tempo is all over the place, and I probably wouldn't notice if I was drifting, so it was probably safer if he followed me rather than I follow him.  And that my endings to songs are generally a slow down, perhaps I just nod to indicate to rit?  And I rattled off a list of songs to see if he knew them, a few he was familiar with but "I'll follow in with something appropriate".  I thought it was a good game plan.

Away we went, and I think it worked out well.  A few of the usual things happened when I've played with other musicians - I started playing hard because I felt my sound was being drowned out, kinda "we are competing".  The house drum kit is acoustic, but he was playing with brushes to keep it low.  After the first song I got Shaun to crank up my feedback speaker which helped me hear myself better and I then eased off a little.  When I start digging in I start making more mistakes as I am less relaxed.  Performance nerves already make you tense, you don't need anything to make you more tense.

I called out to him between songs what we were tackling next, and started, and he jumped in at the speed I was playing.  On a few of the songs I realised I went in too slow, or too fast, but since we were sync'ing up pretty well I felt I couldn't just move tempo, so I played out the songs at a speed I wasn't completely comfortable with.

See, it's all solo performer control freak nature ;-)

I'm super critical of myself, but I've learnt to let it go (to a degree) and the bottom line is he is a fantastic drummer, and made everything work.  Some of his drum work was very close to the studio version, some was just nicely improvised.  I enjoyed it a lot, and would certainly do it again, I'm sure with practise I would loosen up and get more of a feel for playing with a drummer.

...but at the same time, it reinforced my love for solo instrumental.  If I had to choose, would I try to integrate into a duo/trio/fullband or would I stay solo?  The answer is, after 35+ years of being a soloist, it's all I know and I've learnt to love it.

After my set the house band (drummer, bassist, guitarist) took to the stage with an open mic singer, she had a great voice, and they rocked out!  During their set patrons to the joint wandered in and I could see they were enjoying the show.  And why wouldn't you, they were great fun, entertaining and sounded really good.

So yeah, I need to get back into my cafe background music style gig.  There is a place for rockin' out with the full band, and a place for nice background music :-)

I really enjoyed the experience, and would do it again, but my love still lies in solo instrumental fingerstyle, in a venue where it fits.


...Oh, I set my microphone up and recorded the whole set.  10 songs, about 40 minutes, here is a few that I think worked out well (ignore my nervous mistakes).  I didn't place the microphone particularly well, so the mix isn't amazing, not to mention the background noise.

Enjoy, if you dare!
JAW


The Beatles, "Get Back"

Australian Crawl, "The Boys Light Up"

The Beatles, "Something"

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Poll results and Never Tear Us Apart

I hadn't run a poll for a while, which was a shame, I love polls.  So I posed this one: "Out and about...who do you play guitar for?"

The results from 69 votes were:

53% I play only for myself
23% I play for anyone who will listen
18% I play for friends and family
2%  I play small gigs
1%  I don't play guitar
0%  I play large gigs

Other than the usual analysis of "100% of people polled are the sort of people who respond to polls", I didn't find it surprising that nobody plays large gigs and everybody plays guitar. (Except for you, my 1% friend, but I'm sure you will soon).  People who play large gigs or don't play guitar don't need this.

I was hoping for more people who play for friends and family and anyone who will listen.  I spent too many years playing for myself, you are missing out when you hide away.  Sure, there is that "putting your heart on your sleeve" when you play, the opening yourself to potential emotional distraught, but you are missing out on the connection you get to make with other people through music.  What a powerful thing music is!  How great is it to share it!

So my 53% of mates out there, yes sure, practise by yourself to get your stuff up to performance level, but then go play for an audience! It is good for you!  The rest of us - keep playing for audiences, and keep refining and expanding your set - don't ever be a half song playing guitarist.

In other news, Wifey and I watched a great documentary the other week, INXS - Never Tear Us Apart.  I wasn't a fan of my home town band during the day - wifey was - but over the years I have come to appreciate them more.  And I like being able to play Aussie Pub Rock!  So while I was away with work just before Christmas, I had a crack at "Never Tear Us Apart".  I've really enjoyed how it came together as an arrangement.

In other other news, I've been doing some renovations to our bedroom, it is currently completely gutted.  So it's one big concrete echo chamber.  I decided to record "Never Tear Us Apart" in there, for Ultimate Natural Medium Room Reverb.  The play needs work, I'm finding it hard to get the arrangement to stick to my fingers.  Some arrangements are like that.  As for the reverb - well, the sound just gets muddy.  The trebles are nice, but the bass is washed out.  I ran some post EQ to demuddify it, it's tolerable, but it reminds me why I never use any reverb/delay for gigs.  Keep the sound flat and clean - the room is already going to add reverb/delay and mess up the EQ.  And get the tone you want with your fingers - not with electronics!

Have a listen if you like - Ultimate Natural Medium Room Reverb "Never Tear Us Apart":


JAW