Monday, 12 October 2015

What's happening October 2015

This month I created an opportunity to sit down and record some songs.  Okay, I did it twice.  The first time was outside and I was so displeased with the recordings that I ditched them.  The video was just awful.  The second time, inside, was tolerable.  My lighting still sucks.  I generally turn on all the lights in the room, and put a lamp facing me.  The videos end up full of excessive highlights and shadows, and the not-enough-light makes the camera recording noisy.  I tweaked the balance later in software, but you need a good video source to start with, you can't make a silk purse from a pig's ear!

So, I played three songs, recorded the video with a Canon EOS-M and the audio with a Zoom H1.  Around 3-4 play throughs on each song.  Post processing the video consists of choosing the best play through and putting on a watermark, tweaking brightness and re-encoding.  I then take the audio from the winning take, and if there are any really horrible mistakes I will punch them out with audio from one of my other takes.  I have to do this, because I don't feel like you, as the audience, are receiving what I'm trying to give you if there are obvious horrible mistakes in there.  I'm happy to live with small (but noticeable) mistakes, hey I'm only human - perfectionism is a life destroyer.

I only ever run a graphic equaliser across the audio, usually boosting the high and low frequencies and scooping out the mids.  Any reverb you hear is actually from the room, but there is very little reverb.  The room has a big woolly mat on the floor, and three cloth loungechairs I'm playing into which soak up the sound nicely stopping it from turning to mush.  The room is quite long anyway, so reflections straight back are minimal.  The then synchronise the resulting audio and video by eye "that looks about right" in virtualdub and job done!

Rather than dump all three videos on youtube at once, I uploaded them all as private, and over a week (whilst organising the tabs) switched them to public.  There is only so much JAW anyone can take at once.

So all good, but I'm going to buy some lighting equipment.  I've read up about "three point lighting" and what I need to do; I've seen you can buy some pretty reasonable lights from ebay for a reasonable price.  I'll let you know how I go!

JAW

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Memories, and a ukulele is the same thing as a guitar

While talking with Dan, one of the guys that I work with, my guitar and Youtube and all things Jawmunji came up in discussion. While I was laughing at his amazement at how many views I had, I mentioned I took some screen captures of "special moments" on Youtube and he convinced me to dig them up. Sadly I didn't take anywhere near enough screen captures of special moments, but here are two ones that still get a giggle from me.

First up, on the most subscribed of all time in Australia, page 2, 26th September 2008, look, I'm ahead of Delta Goodrem.  Take that Delta!  This was page 2 so it put me #21 in Australia overall.  (Fun fact: my peak most subscribed was #19, and to this day I still have more subscribers than Delta :-))




Second up, on the 6th November 2008 when I uploaded "Jealous Guy" I was the Top Rated in Australia on that day.  Not the most views overall, but #1 Top Rated.  Kylie Minogue and Keith - beaten! Natalie Bassingwaighte - beaten!  Ha ha! (Fun fact:Youtube used to be 1-5 stars rating system before it went to thumbs up/down).



* * *

During my discussion with Dan he revealed he had bought himself a really nice ukulele, but hadn't got very far learning it. I bought a fairly nice non-toy ukulele last year - for the kids - and I had learnt a few chords but hadn't really understood it. Talking with him about it inspired me to think about it, which I did, and I realised...

AS A GUITAR PLAYER, YOU CAN PLAY THE UKE, IT'S BASICALLY THE SAME THING!

See, the tuning for a standard uke is GCEA, but that bottom G is higher than the C and E. That threw me as a guitarist. But when I learnt the G chord on the uke, which is the same shape as a guitar D chord, I realised something was going on. And in thinking, those ukulele CEA strings...if you transpose the top 3 strings of a guitar, GBE, up four steps...you get CEA! No wonder a D shape is G on the uke!

But that high G on the bass, how does that work? Hang on, 4th string D on the guitar, go up 4 steps, it is a G! Oh I see, it is the same note, but an octave higher! So, a standard ukulele is a guitar with a capo on the 5th fret, the 4th string up an octave, and the bottom 2 strings removed! Suddenly it all makes sense.

To prove this, I set about attempting to play a fingerstyle song on it, one that I had already noodled with discovering the D->G chord.  And I recorded a quick vid to show you:




Enjoy!
JAW

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Monday, 3 August 2015

What's happening August 2015

So I cold-emailed five hotels near me searching for a gig. A month later and no response. I went with hotels because they generally have a lobby, and the idea of "piano lounge/piano bar" to play some tunes works for me. I all but said in the email "I'll come down there and play for free"; I guess cold-emailing is low expectation, and we all get so much spam "too hard - delete", but I remain a bit disappointed. I still would like to play somewhere, I guess I'll leave it for Shaun to get me some corporate gigs as the weather turns brighter and end of year functions start happening. Well, maybe I'll do a few more cold-emails - that's how I got my last gig.

Meanwhile, I've had to step up and get teaching the kids music. Day job is slowing down so less money coming in so paying for lessons had to slide. When the day job perks up I'll see if I can get proper lessons again, our music teacher actually understands music and can teach it unlike me...I'm all just technique. I've decided to teach songs to play as an ensemble. I've got the oldest daughter on bass, son on drums, and youngest daughter on piano. I'm inspired from their last term of lessons, where they had a music concert with our music teacher, and she convinced me to accompany my oldest daughter (solo bass guitar is kinda, well, it needs accompaniment). I dragged the boy in too, and it worked out well, here's one snippet that was caught:


Of course now I need to have the littlest involved, so I need to have a piece for piano, bass, drums and possibly me on guitar, and hopefully I can convince one of them to sing. Now this is trickier than it sounds - something that can suit the various skill levels between the kids - something achievable and fun. Of course, there is nothing on the internet that specifically fits that bill, but after some googling I decided that they could all do "Stand By Me". Some arrangement thereof of course. And where do you get such an arrangement?

In true JAW style I make my own. I have started using Musescore which is quite a well written piece of open source free music scoring software. It works differently to my tried and true Powertab so I was initially quite frustrated. I took deep breath, did their "getting started" tutorial which was very helpful, and away I went. I can create a score for the instruments I want and so far all the features I expected I have found. I'll talk about it more as I use it more, I believe it may replace Powertab as my go-to for recording dots (it does tabs too).

As for me and fingerstyle, I have three pieces ready to be video recorded, I'm just not setting aside the time to do it! Must get on with it! Soon! :-)

JAW

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

June distraction and poll results

Poll results for "What sort of music are you listening to?"

The results from 37 votes were (I let voters have more than one vote this time):

8  Modern day: >2010
7  Recent years: 2000-2010
11 Alternative: 1990-2000
16 Eighties goodness: 1980-1990
26 Proper rock'n'roll: 1970-1980
13 Flower power: 1960-1970
3  Showing my age: <1960


I think I may have influenced the voting somewhat with my description of eras, not specifically on purpose, with terms like "Proper rock'n'roll" and "Eighties goodness".  That's where I grew up, so it gets my vote, and it appears so do my internet mates.  From the demographic I see on my Youtube page I'm not surprised there is voting on the modern day end of the scale, I've notice more young folk watching my vids than I'd expect.


The very low interest in pre-1960 stuff is interesting; does that mean that music more than 50-60 years old is now almost irrelevant? No way!  Does that mean that recording techniques back then just don't match the ear of today's generations? Nah, given the continuing interest in modern day lo-fi music. Was music too simple back then? Nah, some of the most complex and intricate music was written hundreds of years ago, and it always has been, in fact, music today is simpler! Do the older generations who listen to that sort of music not read the internet, in particular his blog, in particular, don't vote on polls? Probably!

Distractions; all part of the organic flow of life. I take a bit of time every week or so to cruise my Youtube subscriptions on my smartphone when I have a quiet moment, and Kelly Valleau has been getting a lot of play time lately. He is smashing out great tunes. He offers tabs and tutorials for all his songs, but I'm wondering how many people have the skills to play what he plays? These days he is right into the wrist thump and electric thumb snare, which sounds _amazing_, but whoa, some serious skillz required! Some of his earlier stuff suits beginners but I'd say most of his works is "advanced".  Would be interesting to interview him.

He played a great cover of Hey You by Pink Floyd, totally nailed it.  I've played a basic Hey You over the years, but when I heard that I simply HAD to update mine.  I followed his rendition fairly closely, I'm playing it in a higher key, and the last verse I went high in the melody (but had to pull it back when it hit the G chord), and I decided not to put in the time to fully cover the middle solo.  I was very close to committing to learn the "wrist thump" which he uses to great effect.  You pluck the thumb note at the same time as thumping the soundboard with your wrist, which is a bit counter-intuitive, but doable.  I decided not to invest the time into developing the skill, I have too much going on.

So I arpeggio'd the first verse, finger slapped the second and third, making it sound more "heavy" like the studio recording.  I recorded where I'm at - since I was already playing it of sorts it only took me a few hours to "upgrade" my version.  A few bad notes in this, and the finger slapping is coming across as annoying, I will have to pull it back a little, but man, I love this song:


I'm overdue to record some videos, I've got quite a few to do.  I'm just not making the time for it.  Sometime in the next few weeks I'm going to try to record a bunch of them, and then process them over the following weeks, and then release one a week for a while.  That's the thing stopping me; it's a few hours of effort just to record one video.  And will be moreso if I "dress up" like Shaun wants me to for the next videos.  But if I video a bunch one day, record clean audio tracks another day, and then post-process another day, I've divided it into manageable chunks.  Wish me luck!

And hassle me about finding another cafe gig!  I want one, but I'm not putting in the leg work to find one! :-)

JAW

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