Sunday, 21 December 2008

What's happening December 2008

With some summer holidays up my sleeve I've grabbed some spare time to do some guitaring...first up I came across a kiwi named Oliver Batchelor who had some responses to my videos, while checking them out I saw "Mad World", and that he had tabbed it.  Man after my own heart!  It was Ulli's version, copied by Sungha, transcribed by Oliver and I though, ah, why not learn a song from a tab!

It's been straight forward, a little tricky to co-ordinate, it's funny how the stuff you work out for yourself is "easy" but the stuff you are playing from a tab is "hard".  Well it's not funny at all really, you arrange your own stuff in your own style, which is what comes naturally to you.

Anyway,  it's played capo at 8th fret, dropped D, which makes for something interesting for sure.  What it has done however is broken my spirit, or something - it has shown me that my guitar is badly intonated.  I've been running fairly high tension strings on it (still coming off steel string), next set will be normal tension.  That should help improve it, but if it doesn't, it will be time to take matters into my own hands.

Problem with intonation on a classical is there is no adjustment at all - playing intonation means filing up bridges and possibly nuts.  I did anticipate the needs for fiddling and grabbed a couple of bone bridge blanks when I bought the guitar.  I need to read up a bit more about it before I start hacking, but the physics of it is quite straight forward...

About a week ago a potential fingerstyle tune popped into the brain, usually these things happen to me in the shower.  Hot water heating the brain up?  Anyway, and old favourite of my missus, Alanis Morisette "Head Over Feet".  I remember the missus buying "Jagged Little Pill" and noticing that one was a glimmer of hope in an album of anger and pain, not to mention it was melodically quite nice.  Never got the headlines like the other songs on the album, until later.  Perhaps when the world had had enough of the anger and needed that hope ;)

Had a noodle last night and whaddaya know, perfectly suited to fingerstyle.  In about 2 hours I had a tab done.  Just gotta learn it now.

How did I get the tab done in 2 hours you say!?

First, I youtubed the song.  Found a nice acoustic version she did a few years back.  Listened to it a few times.  Searched internet for the chords.  Easy.  Couldn't quite pick the melody (have I mentioned my ability to pick a note is really poor?) so I downloaded a midi.  This is a good trick by the way - normally tabs won't ever have the melody.  Why bother, you sing the melody don't you?  But midi files usually have the melody.  Powertab can import midi files and display as tab (you have to choose the correct midi instrument that is playing the melody.  Not always one, not always easy).  Play the melody.  Pick out a bassline, work in some chord strums.  You are there :)

It's is quite hard to play, and I still need to add an outtro, possibly might try to get the harmonica solo in the middle in as well.

I'll probably do a video of it sometime early next year.  Mad world will be soon too, if I can get over the bad intonation that is...

JAW

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Audiences, again

What's it all about?

Okay, so we all like to play guitar, but why?  I used to enjoy the personal challenge of being able to play music and everything it involved - learning new skills, memorising songs, developing the speed and dexterity to play a tune accurately.  The satisfaction of hearing a song come out from a guitar in my hands.  Eventually that wasn't enough, I wanted other people to hear it.  Pride and ego?  I don't really think so, it's more of a case if you owned the entire world but didn't have anyone to share it with, would that be satisfying?

Playing for an audience...there are two ways of doing that I can see - play what you want to play and hope that there is an audience to suit you...or play what you think an audience wants.

Having been reasonably well accepted on youtube I have a perhaps overinflated expectation of what listeners think of me.  Out of say a billion people who have had the oppurtunity to look at any of my work, there has been about a million and a half who _have_ looked...which means just over one person in 1000.  In two and a half years of being there.  Now if you were sitting on the street playing for random people, 1 in 1000 equates to, well, almost nobody.

To lift the odds I have decided to play more for an expected audience.  I've approached that by examining what my most popular videos are, and examining the most popular videos of other players.  Naudo is an excellent indicator because (a) he is an unknown - that is, nobody is searching for his videos unlike say Tommy Emmanuel; (b) he has a lot of videos of covers to form some good popularity statistics.

Oh, I probably should mention that playing for an expected audience means playing stuff that they will know.  People like to hear stuff they already like.  If you were a big popular artist then you can play original stuff, but the guy playing original stuff on the corner needs to be either stupendously engaging, or playing on a corner that a high number of passers by are into his form of art.  Open mike is probably a good scenario, otherwise both cases are otherwise unlikely.

Another part of the puzzle is you probably need to be able to sing.  This is a double edged sword.  If you can sing and play guitar you will attract far more listeners in my humble opinion; but singing is a land of personal taste and has a lot of room for error.  For example, when playing the guitar most people won't notice the odd non-fatal stuff up, but stuff up singing and people recognise it in a heartbeat.  Then there is whether the audience likes your voice - the personal taste thing.  You do kinda need to be a good singer.

To avoid singing you unfortunatley need to be able to play the guitar really well, dare I say fingerstyle covers - catch a whole song on one instrument.  I recommend learning to play simple guitar and developing your voice ;)  Oh, if you are a good-looking girl then that helps immensely...

I'm not sure if there was a point to all this, lets see if I can summarise:
(a) Eventually you will need to play to an audience;
(b) Play stuff that people know;
(c) If you can't play oustanding fingerstyle covers of stuff that people know, then concentrate on your singing.

I promise I will reassess these statements when I start playing to an audience :)
JAW

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Solar Guitar Amp

I resurrected my solar guitar amp project about 3 months ago, I'm planning on doing the buskey thing, which only allows for battery powered amplification.  I need to play to a real audience "to get to the next level". You'll have to take that on face value, I can't explain why.

Anyway, lets talk solar guitar amp.

A while back I built a battery powered amp.  12V lead acid gel cell; unfortunately amplifiers like wider voltages than 0-12V, in fact ideally they like a negative rail (have I mentioned that in my day job I'm an electrical engineer?)  Anyway, car amplifiers have to use 12VDC so there are plenty of power amplifier chips for 12V.  The one I built was around 5WRMS, which was pretty boring.  The enclosure was small and heavy so I rarely used it.
 
This time I want more power.  Instead of building up a amp circuit from scratch I thought I'd get one of those rice boy duff-duff car amps.  I grabbed a fancy schmancy blue LED backlit type amps. I tried to get the least lairy and lowest power one but it is still 150WRMS. Man they are cheap for what they are, paid about AUD$150 for it.

The thing I was worried about with car amps is input sensitivity - car stereo equipment has quite high outputs, guitar output is quite low. It worked out well though, I put it on the bench and found a sensitivity knob on the back, wound it right up and the power level coming out of a single channel un-enclosed speaker was plenty adequate. More importantly, the unit is power friendly,  it was only pulling just over 1 amp on one channel when I was belting out maximum volume.  Important for battery life.

To really make the amp a talking point I've decided to mount my little 5W solar panel and regulator on it; it has been running fine for many years. Sure you could just charge up the 12V battery before each use, but where is the public interest in that?

Speakers - I've looked at car speakers, in the past it was all about 3-way blah blah all-in-one, but nowdays you can get 3-way but it is split into multiple speakers, so I'd only use the big one and chuck the little ones out...seeing as the maximum note on a guitar is about 1kHz - but you'd want more kHz for "tonal quality harmonics".  The speaker usually peaks out at 3-4kHz.  Should be plenty.

I'll just stick with 4Ohm speakers, one per channel.  I could parallel them for 2Ohms one channel but the amp isn't recommended for that.  I could bridge the amp and drive just one as well but meh, I'll drive it "just as nature intended".

So I need to build an enclosure as well. I decided seeing as it has a lead acid battery in it to start with, I should make a lightweight but extremely rugged enclosure, as it will also be my playing seat. I've got some 3mm marine ply and a lot of tassie oak strips to brace out the middle.  I've got a bit of foam for a seat on top and some marine grade vinyl to cover the whole thing.  I decided I would mount the two speakers in the front (complete with porting) but face them outwards slightly.  This will help eliminate resonance frequencies because the enclosure is no longer regular, and will also "spread" the sound out a bit more which is useful because my legs will be in front of the speakers ;)

Anyway, it is a work in progress, watch this space!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Nails

I'm going to have to go all girly on you now and talk about nails.  I play on nails, so that means I need to have good nails in order to play...if you don't play on nails then excellent & great stuff, you'll never have to be girly, just cut them off at the base and go!

Nails...I can offer a few tips - unfortunately the first one is "be born with good genetics for nails".  My nails are quite strong, I can play on steel string with natural nails and although they do wear, they can take it.  On nylon, well, I have to keep filing them down!

I've used nail oils, the stuff that is supposed to strengthen your nails and cuticles, meh, don't know if it made any difference.  I don't bother anymore.

I shape mine fairly often - the moment there is a small nick in one I quickly file it smooth again.  The little nicks can turn into cracks and rips real quick.  I keep nail files all around the house so there is never an excuse not to keep them trim.  Yeah, pretty girly, but if you "break a nail" <sob> you won't enjoy playing for  at least a week, and even then you won't enjoy it!

When filing only file in one direction.  Shape down the sides of the nail so that you don't let rips start through the sides.  For goodness sake don't ever bite them!  And fingernails are not screwdrivers!

If you are not blessed with good nails then try cutting them off to the base and play hard on fingertips on a steel stringer for a while until tough callouses start to form.  You'll find that playing on callouses gives a good feel and sound on steel strings when you are used to it, and you never have to worry about breaking a nail.  I triend this once, but I just didn't like it, so I've gone back to playing with nails on nylon.  Nails are  nice for that classical sound - even the non-classical sort of stuff I play.

To protect your nails further do things with your left hand that you normally do with your right.  Open doors, scratching dried food of the babys high chair, etc - keep the right hand away from potential nail breakages.  Wear gloves when you wash dishes.  Don't play immediately after having a shower when you nails are waterlogged and weak.

This deals with thumb and 3 fingers on the right hand (I keep my pinky on right hand short, I don't pick with pinky so there is no need to look after that nail).  On the left hand I used to cut them off as far down as possible, but I found that leaving just a tiny bit of nail stops your skin from trying to push up over your nail when fretting.  I just cut left hand nails with clippers, I rarely bother shaping them.

Learn you nails too; my right middle fingernail has a ridge that grows through it making a weak point, right on the striking bitey part.  I'm careful to keep that section of the nail smooth.  My right ringy grows really fast but is prone to tearing through the side so I make sure I file both sides smooth.

If you have bad nails, maybe consider getting acrylics.  I looked into it once when I was playing on steel, decided against it because of the maintenance.  I think you'd only bother with acrylics if you were fulltime professional and playing on steel.

JAW

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Loss of Cohesion

I was just messaging with a guy on youtube about "loss of cohesion"...you know, when you are playing a song, maybe one you know exceptionally well and have been playing it for 5 years, and still you'll be midway through and you completely lose the plot and basically have to stop and start again.  Possibly the most embarrassing thing you can do as a guitarist eh?

I don't think loss of cohesion can be prevented.  Guys like Tommy Emmanuel can simply launch into some default "recovering" improvised thing, then eventually get back on track and people will never even noticed he fluffed it.  I used to occasionally terminally brain fart and basically have to start over again but these days worst case is having to stop and replay from the last key section.  Most of the time if I fluff it I can sort of strum some nonsense and reconnect back to where I should be without dropping the beat, but it is still obvious that I've lost cohesion.  I've got a long way to go before I can fudge past it like The Greats can; I think that requires an extensive knowledge of music theory and being well practised in improvisation.

I think getting over losing cohesion isn't about practising to death note for note, it is more about learning what to do when you _do_ lose cohesion.  So, when practising if I lose cohesion I don't stop and restart, I keep going maybe strum the current chord or do some percussive slaps, at least keep a bass note alive, but keep on beat and meet up at the next key intersection.  For this reason if I am going to start playing a song I already know quite well, I will _always_ play it from start to finish, irrespective of whether I botched it midway through.  The more you botch it, the more you will learn what to do to "play through".

We will always botch it.  The important bit is how you recover.

As for miss-struck notes or fret buzzing or some other awful single note mistake - well that's a different matter.  At least you can play through that without missing a beat ;)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Play for an audience!

Now it's only taken me 30 years to realise, but GO PLAY FOR AN AUDIENCE.  Let me explain.

When you first start learning to play the guitar, it's pretty rough, go and hide out of earshot when you are practising.  This will help the people you live with not hate you and guitars for the rest of time.

Typically you will get the right hand reasonable early on, bit longer if you are fingerpicking.  There are only so many patterns you can do with 6 strings - okay, there are infinite, but you'll use only a few in most of your stuff.  The left hand you'll get chords going early on too, but the left hand has to do so many different manoeuvres that you'll be "learning" that hand for the rest of time.

When you start to be able to play a whole song or two, you'll probably have really bad tempo and you'll do lots of pausing while your brain is trying to co-ordinate left hand and right hand.  It's okay, it's how we learn!  Eventually all that stuff going on in your "fore" brain moves into a very convenient "muscle memory" part of your brain.  Convenient, because you don't actually have to think to play the stuff, it just happens.  You can actually have a rudimentary conversation while playing, or after a few quiet ales wonder how on earth your hands know what to do because "it sure ain't me doing that!"

But while we are trying to push the song into muscle memory that's when we get a bit bored and tend to move onto something different.  The curse of half-song playing guitarists.  Don't do it!  This is where audience comes in.

Unless you have a really, really, REALLY good friend who will listen to you, ie, an audience, I suggest you use a video camera as an "audience".  What an audience does is force you to firstly learn the whole song by memory, but secondly, learn it to an acceptable level that won't have the audience looking for the door.

The video camera is great; you feel like you are performing for an audience - you'll probably feel anxious - but importantly you can watch yourself and see where you are getting it wrong.  You can then practise the areas you struggle until they are smooth, aim to eventually post video on the internet to see what the world thinks of you ;)

The next battle, once you are comfortable playing for a camera, is finding a real audience.  I recommend music shops - "test" a guitar and play your songs.  Okay, nobody is _really_ listening but it still feels like an audience so you have to be able to play the songs well.

Where I'm coming from with all of this is about turning your music into that is something "about you" to something that is "about the listener".  Going from being someone who entertains themselves into someone who entertains others.  Playing the riff from smoke on the water with bad tempo hitting the occasional wrong note might amuse _you_ all day; people have been put in jail for trying amuse others doing the same thing.

Only by playing to an audience do you become an entertainer - which is where I think we should all be aiming.  What's the point if you can't share your stuff with your fellow man?  Ultimatley would anything, even if you had the entire world at your disposal, be fun if there was no-one to show it to or share it with?

Obviously the next audience is a real audience - open mike, busking, cafe gigs.  That's where I'm heading - I'll let you know how it goes when I get there :)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

...and done

Well a few days ago I found several hours and finally got a version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love captured on video that I didn't hate.  It is hard to play perfectly in one hit.  I can play it without dropping a beat fairly reliably now, but to get every note crisp and clean - pretty much never.

So I did some choppy choppy hacky hacky editing to punch out 3 obvious mistakes...you probably won't notice ;)

Done!  Now back to Jealous Guy; you'll be pleased to know that I have worked it all out, just need to clean up the tab and practise!

Friday, 10 October 2008

This >''< close...

Well I managed to find a spare hour last night and set up to record my next video for youtube, Naudo style "Crazy Little Thing Called Love".  I've been playing it on and off for over 6 months, it is really hard to play but I thought I could fudge through it.  I was wrong ;)

After take 13, even if I was to splice bits together from good parts of other takes, I still wouldn't have been happy.  I'd also formed a blister on my left hand in an unusual spot due to the unusual fingering required to play it.  In the past I would have pushed on and got something in the end, this time I thought "Nope, there is no hurry, I'll try again another time."

Did I mention it is hard?  It is fast and there is a lot of right hand moving between string simultaneous multi finger and thumb picking.  The left hand requires a fair bit of dexterity, but that doesn't really represent a problem.  It is just the right hand, like all Naudo's stuff, that makes it extremely difficult.  On at least 80% of the takes I had a brain fart and lost the rhythm.  Not acceptable for a video.  The other 20% were just played sub-par.

It is the right hand that makes fingerstyle so tricky, especially Naudo/Tommy Emmanuel/Michael Chapdelaine fingerstyle.  After about 3 years of playing that sort of piece, I'm getting close, but some of the right hand techniques still don't come naturally and I have to forceably push them into my brain.

So good news and bad news everyone; good news is you didn't get a sub-par rendition of the piece, and bad news you didn't get anything at all ;)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Sloppy Techniques

I had an interesting comment posted on one of my vids the other day, basically the guy said he was finding chord changes hard when doing "proper" chord fingering, for example a 3 fingered A in the open position, whereas I was barring an A with my first finger.  He wondered if doing that sort of thing would form bad habits.

Well, I can add to that - I find myself thumbing baselines on the 6th string, sometimes putting a pinky down on the soundboard as an anchor, I even have been known to sit with the guitar on my *right* leg!

But seriously, I did have classical lessons early on and technique was really rammed down my throat.  Maybe it was the late 70's/early 80's, but for years technique seemed very important.  Wrist position, thumb on the middle back of the neck, etc. 

Over time, when I stopped having any lessons, I got sloppy with my technique, like plonking the guitar on your right leg (you just don't look cool playing guitar in the classical position - teenager era).  However some things were taboo, for instance, I would never consider putting out a pinky anchor!

In the more recent years, after seeing some amazing guitarists using "dreadful" techniques, I was forced to re-evaluate my stance.  Now it is a case of "if it makes it easy for you, and it is comfortable, then do it."

Lets look at "easy":
  * it should be easy to perform quickly and accurately;
  * there should be no short term/long term discomfort or pain in performing the technique.

Generally, since mankind has been playing guitar-like instruments for hundreds of years, the established techniques taught should be best.  Let's face it though, firstly, what is "generally" the best technique might not be the best for you.  Secondly, innovation is what drives development.  Would Jimi Hendrix have come up with such stuff if he was playing the guitar the right way up?  Would Elizabeth Cotton have created "Freight Train" if the guitar wasn't strung upside-down - i.e. playing the bassline with her fingers and the treble with her thumb?

Okay, they are extreme cases, but the point is there:  Typically, perform the generally accepted techniques, but if you are getting better results with "bad habits" and it's not hurting you, then why not.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

What's happening September 2008

I've got Naudo's Crazy Little Thing Called Love more or less complete, well, good enough to make a video and post it.  It's just a matter of finding the time and currently the missus and I are revisiting some Star Trek episodes, which is taking up all my available spare time.  Yeah I know, very nerdy but we do love our Star Trek.  We should have processed the last ones we have queued in about 2 weeks.

I did however scrounge together about 2 hours last week and worked out the verse for Jealous Guy.  It's relatively straight forward you will be pleased to know.  It should only be about 5-10 hours to get it tabbed up.  It's nice to play, feels good.  Nothing too tricky so far, no tough chord work just yet.

Meanwhile, on youtube I've been slipping down the ratings board; I'm currently sitting at about number 25 most subscribed in Australia.  I swap between 25 and 26 with another guitarist, a young-ish girl.  It's pretty hard to compete with pretty young things especially the ones that play the guitar and sing with lovely voices ;)  The only ammo I've got is that people like my tabs, that's what keeps me on the scoreboard at all.  There are plenty of better guitarists out there than me!

I have been watching Delta Goodrem catch up to me, and I reckon I've got about 2 months before she overtakes.  It will be a sad day, I've enjoyed being ranked higher than Delta ;)  Kylie Minogue was once below me...but she overtook pretty fast.  Delta joined up about the same time as me, so it's been a fair fight.  Kylie was a much newer member, but she's a pop princess so no suprises there.

There was one time, about when the Australian scoreboard first started up, that I was in the top 20 - okay, I was 19th.  I should have taken a screendump :)

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Jealous Guy

A while back I ripped all of Naudos songs to mp3 and a CD of them has been playing in my car non stop for nearly a year now.  Rather than just listen, I analyse what he is up to, and what I could do with the song if I had a try.  I decided about 6 months ago that I should get a few "easy keepers" into my repetoir; songs like "Baby can I hold you" and "Losing my religion" are easy to learn and remember, but most importantly they sound great.

For the past week I've had "Jealous Guy" on repeat.  Which means about 3 plays between my house and the train station.  The song suits what I've currently been working with - very deliberate strum, simple bassline and a high note melody on top.  I particularly love the bridge he put in there as well.  He is the king of improvising a solo in a well known song that obeys the laws and theme of the tune.

So anyway, sometime soon I'm going to start tabbing out Jealous Guy.  I'm pretty busy with work and the family at the moment, so don't expect it soon. I haven't played the guitar for about 5 days in a row at the moment, I'm getting withdrawal pain! ;)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

What's happening August 2008

I'm usually working on several tunes at a time, I flick between them as my interest weathervanes.  The funny thing is if I've been away from a tune for a week when I get back to it I can play it better!  Strange old thing the brain.

Anyway, what's happening - I've been processing Naudo's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" for about 6 months.  It's hard, good fun though.  I can't play it well enough for youtube, but it is next on the list.  This one is more plucked than strummed; I used a similar technique that I applied to my "Reckless".  Naudo strums it but I found it initially easier to pluck it.  If I was to do it again I'd probably force myself to strum it instead.  Next time.

It's got a skippy feel to it baaah-da-baaah-da-baaah-etc and you lock your first finger across second fret first 3 strings and your _third_ finger on the third fret second dtring to make a D - and then use your second finger to do the walk the thumb bassline F# and B.  Give the intro a try, remember, skippy and mute the treble strings with your left hand after you plucked them:
|---2---2---2---2-|
|---3---3---3---3-|
|---2---2---2---2-|
|-0---------------|
|---------0---2---|
|-----2-----------|

Another tune I've been working on for a long while is "Great Gig in the Sky".  Whenever I play "Breathe" I spawn straight into it.  It's quite complex from a chord point of view, and I tried for ages transposing it for a "nice" left hand position, but nothing worked.  Found a piano version, it doesn't transcribe very easily to guitar; pretty much everything ended up being a bar chord.  Which means I can practise it for about 3 minutes before my left thumb is knackered ;)  However, it sounds *fantastic*.  I'm up to the vocal solo, and surprisingly it is going to be straight forward to oo-ah-ah-oo while keeping the bassline going, as the vocal is in the chords (which are Gm and C9).  Just a case of memorising it...and putting in the 3 minutes a day practise!

I've got a couple of others on the go...talk about them next time.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Opener

...name's JAW but that username isn't often available so I go with the "Jawmunji", a name given to me by an an old boss and so unique on the web that if you see it, it is me.  Yes, it is a reference to the movie Jumunji, I'm not of the clan "Munji" (yes, I have been asked). In real life I am Jason Waddell, and by saying that the internet now knows the connection, job done.

The purpose of this blog is for me to vent my guitarist rants and raves.  Lets see if I can explain why:
  • I post videos of me playing songs on youtube (http://youtube.com/jawmunji), but that's not really a place for ranting and raving.
  • I've got a lot to talk about and occasionally the two people who will ever read this blog might find stuff useful, insightful, or just plain humourous.
  • I spend all day in front of computers and I can type fast so finding time now and then to blog is convenient.  However I don't get much time to play guitar (to paraphrase John Denver "I'd play my guitar all day if I could but The Lord and my wife wouldn't take it very good") - so if I can't play much, then I will talk about playing instead.

That's enough for now.  It's just a blog, not a full blown memoir.  I'll be in touch.

~~~~JAW