Monday, 25 September 2023

What's happening September 2023

Playing for an hour in the lunchroom on a Friday every week is a useful pursuit - it ticks several musical boxes:

  • There are people listening - okay mostly having lunch and not looking at you - but you naturally want to play your best;
  • Nobody likes a half song playing guitarist so you play a song from start to finish, even if it is just an improvised few verses and choruses and omitting the solo;
  • It's just you and a guitar, no sheets music, no gear. Everything has to be memorised and all the sound tone comes from your own two hands;
  • You don't want to just play the same 10 songs every week, so you are constantly developing new arrangements and dusting off old material;
  • You are reinforcing and normalising society with music. Yeah, this is more abstract, but us humans have a deep emotional connection with music which needs to be nurtured. There is a big difference between streaming music phone-to-headphones and someone sitting there, right there, playing music. I'd like to see more live music in society, and more people recognising live music as normal.

So while playing a few weeks back one of the admin staff came in and had a chat. The company was having a family day, and they were thinking of hiring a band, but then they thought "why not just ask our resident guitarist?" Heh. They called me their "resident guitarist". How could I say no to "resident guitarist"?

So for two Sunday afternoons I set up my "playing out" kit - the Esteve, my Behringer Eurolive B112D Public Address speaker sitting on top of a stand to get it up to ear level, my Zoom effects pedal for some reverb sound shaping and a couple of instrument and power leads. It all fits on a fold up trolley so I can do one trip from my car to the venue.

Both Sundays I played 2.5 hours, no repeats, both sessions I got the the end and there were still a few songs I wanted to play! I was quite pleased that my repertoire is still quite extensive - sure, a few songs had rough patches were my brain blanked out and I had to percussively strum a few open chords and hook back in to a verse or chorus - but it wasn't awful.

At an event like that with lots of people walking by you get a chance to say "thanks" and smile and nod while you are playing, and a few people will stop and chat. It's nice.

I wasn't quite getting the tone I was after, there is a a bit too much resonance/boom/chatter on the low E string. That might suit some songs that sit on a bass guitar driven sound, in fact it was cool for that, but for a general pop song it was out of balance. I couldn't fix it on the spot, that's something I will need to look at.

Meanwhile, I have continued to dust of some old favourites. Particularly the difficult songs, like "Something", "Whiter Shade of Pale" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". Wow there is a lot of chords in them, and the different inversions up the neck. I can think in terms of open chords/cowboy chords, but I haven't mastered the neck for everything. If I could send something back to Past JAW it would be "spend a bit more time mastering the chord locations on the neck". There are plenty of chords inversions up the neck I do know, that come natural now, but not everything I need. So quite often when I'm playing a song where the melody has taken my up the neck, I'm completely winging it from muscle memory - I don't actually know what I'm doing... It's okay, means there is still plenty to learn!

Keep playing, keep practising. As I said recently to a coworker who has a guitar but is struggling to stay motivated: "Play 5 to 10 minutes every day rather than an hour a week - so keep the guitar on a $20 stand in the middle of your living room so you can't ignore it. Sure learn from youtube or a book the stuff you need to know, but also learn fun stuff that that attracted you to the guitar in the first place. Check in with a guitarist from time to time to make sure you aren't doing anything silly. And learn to might sound confronting and out of your comfort zone, but once you can change smoothly between 3 chords you have about a million songs at your fingertips, but only you will recognise them unless you are singing them."

Saturday, 16 September 2023

Busking - not me

You do get some of your character from your parents, so it's no surprise that my three kids are all musical. My boy has played the sax for many years, currently on a second hand tenor sax, quite a nice tone, not lacquered so it has that vintage look. He's played in all the school bands for years, has had one-on-one lessons for years, he is quite good for a youngster. A few months back my wife and I were listening to him practise for an exam - he lines up a backing track on his phone and pumps it through a blue tooth speaker to play along with. There is a sheet for the main theme/riffs, but he improvises the majority of it. And while he quite often shreds too many notes, his improv skills are really coming along...waaay better than mine, that's for sure!

So much so that I said "You need to get out and earn some money with this. People will pay to hear this." That's a rule that I mention here on this blog fairly regularly, "you need to play to audiences". He does already play in school bands - but he's a teenager with no job, so if he could get paid to play music, that's a win win.

I got in contact with Hillarys marina which is a twelve minute drive from us. There is live music there from time to time, it's a big place, lots of foot traffic. They wanted a video audition to get started, fair enough. That was an interesting experience in itself...I set up two mics at a distance to capture the sax in a similar way to capturing my guitar, I made him listen to the backing track through headphones, and then I sync'd it all up in post mix. I came out alright, but next time I will try mic'ing up the horn right at the bell, with the gain set really low. Or, get a sax mounted microphone...hmmm... (for interest, this was one of the audition videos

The Hillarys management were happy for him to come down, passed the audition, we went out and met the lady running the admin, to find out where we could setup and all that. They don't seem to get many buskers, because you book in morning or afternoon slots and the coming weekend was completely open. So I booked him in for Saturday.

In the meantime, busking...and coins/ a post cov-id world. Do people actually have cash to throw to buskers? I didn't know! But luckily has your back. It's a not for profit organisation to promote busking, like a social advocate for good, and they provide tech in the way of cashless payments setups so with a QR code people can easily tip some cash via Google/Apple pay or Paypal. I set him up and tested it out, nice, works well!

So Saturday comes around, and I push him just crash into it, an experiment, let's just see what happens! We went armed with a small battery bluetooth speaker, his music stand with QR code on it and his reference sheets and his tenor sax. We parked up in a spot on the boardwalk and I sat down and watched. He was a bit nervous, but I didn't really give him the chance to think about it. That's the key, just go, think about it afterwards. It's not like he didn't have the musical chops.

We had two issues, the first being that there was no shade, so he was cooking in the sun in half an hour. The other was the bluetooth speaker was slightly underpowered. Just needed a few more watts. But from a busking point of view, it was ace! In that 30 minutes he had $27 in coins put into his case, and a $3 online tip. He was quite happy with that!

Now we just need to work on the gear, time of day and where to stand - smoothing out the process.  He also worked out that the ballad he played was the money maker, even though he likes to play the jazzier stuff! He needs a money-making busking setlist!

Monday, 14 August 2023

AI spam comments

It's pretty quite around here these days. Plenty of visitors, but not many commentors. I think it is a sign of the times, people don't engage anymore. Possibly because they feel they are just feeding a marketing machine? Hey it's not a problem, this is generally a monologue, it's nice when people drop a comment but I don't need it, this blog has always been somewhere I can just rant and rave about music/guitar/other stuff.

So when I saw a comment come in the other day, I jumped to it.

Generally you can pick a spam comment in about 3 seconds. This one had me going for more like 15 seconds. It was pretty impressive! I'm calling it - my first AI spam comment. Here, let's have a look!

What an incredible experience! This article vividly describes the journey through a captivating music studio. The writer's enthusiasm is palpable as they explore the artistic and technical marvels within the studio's walls. The focus on acoustic engineering and its impact on sound quality is particularly fascinating. The anecdotal snippets, from the exquisite Italian Fazioli piano to the mention of music legend Hank Marvin, add depth and context to the story. The personal touch of recording a duet and the writer's anticipation of future concerts adds a sense of anticipation and excitement. A delightful read that captures the essence of the studio tour! To discuss more about visit Sound Engineering Colleges in *******

So it was posted as a comment on my visit to Nunzio's music studio Centre Stage Recording Studios and the AI did a great job of interpreting it and spitting back something that looked like it understood the content.

The spammer needed to dial back a bit on the enthusiasm though, a bit over the top. But how it had scraped key points and used them, pretty impressive.

I fired up the 'ole ChatGPT and tried to get it to rewrite it to not sound like a total spambot. After a few pleas with ChatGPT, nope, it is forever lost in spam:

Rewrite the following to sound less spammy. 

Really tone it down to not sound so enthusiastic. 

Remove some of the spamminess and make it sound more like someone who was fascinated by the experience. 

Keep trying to make it sound more like a genuine experience and not trying to sell something. 

Rewrite in the first person. 

It still sounds spammy. Try to make it not sound like a total spambot.

The article really resonated with me as it shared a journey through a music studio, offering insights into both the artistic and technical sides. The way the author explored how acoustic engineering shapes sound quality was particularly thought-provoking. The personal anecdotes, such as discovering the Italian Fazioli piano and the subtle reference to Hank Marvin, added a genuine touch. Reading about the author's experience recording a duet and their sincere excitement for upcoming concerts made the anticipation come alive. The piece authentically captured the essence of the studio tour. If you're interested in learning more, you might want to check out Sound Engineering Colleges in *******

Yep, fail

So I fed ChatGPT the article and asked it to write a short comment with a link to a webiste. Well it produced nearly the same thing. It's like ChatGPT has been taught by the greatest minds of spam on the internet... but it ain't fooling us :-)

What a captivating glimpse into a world of musical artistry! Your account of Nunzio Mondia's studio showcases a harmonious blend of meticulous design and artistic passion. The immersive acoustics and exquisite instruments, like the Fazioli piano, truly make it a haven for music enthusiasts. The studio's connection with Hank Marvin adds an exciting layer to its allure. Your personal musical experience and anticipation for upcoming concerts beautifully round out the story. Cheers to Nunzio Mondia for crafting a space that resonates with the heart and soul of music! For those intrigued by this musical haven, you can learn more atSound Engineering Colleges in *******

Monday, 17 July 2023

Rusty Songs

Most of my songs I need to play once a month or they go a bit rusty. Where I'll forget a chord or a section and I'll have to fake it through it. The problem is further exacerbated - if a song is already rusty, I'm less likely to play it in a performance situation, so I avoid it making it rustier still.

The solution to rust is to spend five to ten minutes in quiet practise time to polish it up.  If I haven't played a song in six months I might need to refer back to my sheet and spend half an hour.

How to stop it rusting again? I'm still playing for an hour in the lunch room at work on Fridays. Since my set list is around three hours long, what I'm thinking is, have a setlist sheet and play in order.  And then next session pick up where I left off.  Until the sheet is finished, and then restart.  That will give every song a play through once a month minimum!

For even better skillz, I'll give the sheet to an active listener and ask them to pick songs.  I'll have to know my songs well for that.  I plan later this year to stop in some open mics, I reckon if I have 70 songs in good condition and ask the audience to pick, that will be a good party trick 👍

In the meantime, play, and polish.  I reckon currently 40 songs are rust-free, 10 are rusty, 10 need some more serious sanding, and around 20 are almost a lost cause 🙂

Saturday, 1 July 2023

Noodling with Stairway to Heaven

We've all played Stairway to Heaven. Such an iconic rock song, it's the same age as me!  We've all mangled it, never playing the whole song just little bits and pieces for our own amusement. And then got tired of it and stopped playing for while.  Well for some reason it jumped into my head again a bit over a week ago and I started noodling with it again, taking some creative license from Naudo's cover, and I started tabbing it out.

Because it is a "precious" song it's important not to upset people with your cover - and I'm not talking just butchering your playthough, we all do that anyway - I'm talking your choice in arrangement.  So with my "campfire" guitar I keep stashed under a desk at work I played through some concepts to some work colleagues, both laymen and musos, for some feedback.  There were some flourishes and motifs I added (after all these years I have developed a certain style I almost cannot escape) some were universally panned, and some were approved.

The feeling I get (when I look to the West) is that people want it as close as possible to the original.  I'll give a little sigh here, and at least to some part obey the people.

So in my borderline obsessive arranging and considerations and testing, after fretting Am and adding the g-string A as the melody so many times, I injured my left hand index finger.  I actually stopped playing altogether for a few days, but it is a bruise in the top joint, the last time I did this was more like a fortnight to heal.  The moral of this is that don't keep playing through pain even if you are in the middle of some obsessive arrangement.

But this morning, I tested my finger, yeah, it is still bruised, but I persisted long enough to at least record a little section of my current thoughts, for your consideration.  It's on a telecaster copy I keep near my computer because it is quiet and soft on my hands, and even though I don't like the narrow neck and the sound is incredibly unforgiving with fingerstyle with fingernails, it sounds nice enough when recorded through my computer.

Just the first verse and a bit of chorus, there is plenty I've sorted out, but I hurt my fingy :-)