Monday 20 December 2010

Q&A: How do I get into fingerstyle?

Q:"I have been practising classical guitar for the last 3 years, so I know more or less what it is all about - and no, I don't want to sing - I want to play fingerstyle :) Are there any old books/methods that I should follow, or should I just download the arrangements and start working on them?"

A: There is no correct answer to that question, but I can tell you what _my_ approach would be for anyone wanting to get into fingerstyle.

Classical is a great place to start, it is fingerstyle after all. Be able to fluently play basic classical pieces - bass notes on beat with a melody. Classical will give you the left and right hand skills required for any future sort of guitar playing. Definitely get some lessons to start with so you can pick up good habits in the early days.

One of the songs I play "Here Comes the Sun" is an example of a "classical" styled piece. It was one of my really early crossover pieces from classical to the style I play now.

You can keep following the classical path forever, and it will continue to challenge and amaze you, but let's continue.

The next step I'd take is to try an alternating bass line piece. Anything by Chet Atkins, maybe have a crack at Freight Train, a well known alt bass starting point. Watch somebody play it on youtube first - the trick with alternating bass lines is generally every beat in a four beat bar the thumb plucks out a repeating bass line which, ahem, alternates :) Meantime the fingers are playing a melody. Alternating bass lines will help you develop good thumb skills, and a spatial awareness you might not get in "normal" classical playing. Being able to move from random string to random string with your right hand rather than following normal classical style patterns is another good skill. Alternating bass line is of course a pattern, but not one generally incorporated into classical.

Again, you can follow the alternating bass line style forever, many people do, but let's keep going.

Rhythm guitar is important. Knowing where all your chords are, in lots of different positions, and being able to jump to them without even thinking. Play chords along with songs on the radio - helps with another good skill of getting your ear tuned in to music. That is part of the whole "learn music theory" road which personally I haven't done enough of. I've developed a bunch of skills but I don't have the music theory to back me up. Learn about music, you will need it at some stage.

Some Flamenco style will help out with fingerstyle; let's call it optional, but I find Flamenco has an underlying influence on fingerstyle for me. Solo shredding could also be another helpful influence; not really my cup of tea, but we've all dabbled with it and it builds skills.  Jazz, blues - the list goes on.

The real secret comes from I believe what is loosely described as "thumb independence". What that means is it looks like your right hand thumb and fingers are doing stuff separately, that is, independently. It will really strain your brain trying to get your fingers to play that crazy mixed up varying "off beat" to your thumb. It happens somewhat in alternating bass line style; but there are usually easy beat "hooks" present in alt bass; something that helps keep your brain "on track". I've written about thumb independence a few times, for instance here. I give an example of two seemingly "simple" bars of music that will really show you what thumb independence means. I don't think it was until I mastered those two bars (which required at least some of the background skills I mentioned) before it really dawned on my just what thumb independence consists of. Try it, if you can!

So the final phase is to learn some thumb independence songs from tabs. By rote, painfully, note by note. Choose a favourite arrangement from youtube; Tommy Emmanuel, Michael Chapdelaine, Naudo, Kelly Valleau, Ulli Bogershausen or Igor Presnyakov all have some great arrangements sometimes with tabs available (do an internet search, or try here). Once you've mastered some tabs, next try to transcribe some songs by others (Naudo and Igor would be prime candidates). Transcribing is difficult but you will learn a lot about how to piece together a fingerstyle song.

Finally, begin arranging your own fingerstyle covers (or creating your own compositions). You will have a wealth of skills and experience to fall back on, the sky is the limit! I've written about arranging before here.

Good skill to you in your fingerstyle journey!

Monday 13 December 2010

What's happening December 2010

I'm thinking it might be time to scrap What's Happening. They end up being too long as I cover too many topics at once - what I need to do is post smaller entries and more often :)

So to wind up the theme, here's my attempted _brief_ last "What's Happening":

Left hand pinky is ever-so-slightly recovering. I do some stretches on it prior to playing...about a minute's worth, and it does help. But then, like I did a few days ago, kinda caught it one something in normal day to day life and stretched it out sideways and "undid" all the good work I had done. Hurts again now :( I think it is just going to be a long time in the recovery...really, I should stop playing the guitar for a few months, but that ain't going to happen :)

I've moved job/office and I'm now in what I'd consider "the heart" of Perth’s cafe/pub live music scene. I knocked up some "JAW - Solo Instrumental Acoustic Guitar" business cards, laminated and all, and did a walk around a few weeks back. Managed to hand out about 6 cards within a 200m radius. Did a follow up on two of them and there is definitely interest - and already quite a number of acoustic acts playing at some, with room for more - but nothing has come of yet. Might be a bit hectic this close to Christmas.

I walked past a guy busking in the street a few weeks back, noticed he was playing Ulli's "Mad World". Had to stop and have a chat. Chatted to him for about 10 mins; including how to get a gig around here. He reckoned he could make more money and prefers busking, but he said the key to getting a gig is to hound and hound and hound them until they give you a gig. Which was good advice - I'm onto it :) Kim Wainwright; I've emailed with him and he has an internet presence but no videos. Was good to see another fingerstyle player on the street - he plays in bands and all that usually guitary stuff, but really loves his fingerstyle covers. (I gave him $10 for taking up a chunk of his busking time :))

My latest arrangement "Take me back" by Noiseworks is finished, but following on from the left pinky issue I've discovered that some songs cause more pinky issues than others. That is one of them. "Something" is definitely another, in fact that's the culprit why I damaged my hand in the first place. So I avoid playing them at the moment, but it will be out soon enough.

In the meantime, I couldn't let Super Mario go. I re-arranged it based heavily on Thierry Gomez's version, with some of the "stylisedness" from Iggy Presnakov, and a different (but more accurate I believe) take on the melody by another guy who I should find out who it was so I can give him credit. Funny how when I get something stuck in my head I can't let it go. It's that persistence I think every fingerstyle player must have, of they would have given up long ago! It's a little tricky to play, but I'm getting there - here, have a quick recording full of mistakes and unintentional pauses, but enough for you to get the idea. Look for it on youtube in the next month or so :)


Friday 3 December 2010

Nylon vs Steel

Roman inspired me to write about Nylon stringed guitars versus Steel stringed guitars. I've played both, for long periods of time, so I reckon I'm entitled to a bit of an opinion :)

Nylon or steel is very polarising - pretty much most guitarists would play only nylon, or only steel, there aren't many who would play both, except maybe for a few very specific novelty reasons.

Rather than try to form this blog into a coherent narrative, I'm going to randomly bullet point up my learnings about nylon and steel in no particular order:

1. Generally, steel has a bright sound, nylon has a mellow if you like bright, you are probably going to play steel; mellow, nylon.

2. Nylon strings are an absolute pain to break in, they stretch over many days. Steel breaks in quick and easily. Never change nylon strings just before a gig.

3. Steel strings are under a lot more tension - you can't put steel strings on a nylon guitar (just in case anyone was thinking about it). This makes fretting "harder" than fretting on nylon. You'll develop serious calluses on your left hand fingertips playing steel, nylon will only develop minor calluses. (By the way, calluses are a good thing). If you are a newbie, steel will hurt your soft tender newbie fingertips to start with. If you are a hard core steel player nylon will feel like big floppy lackybands.

4. Nylon strings are fatter than steel strings. Makes them easier to fret particularly for newbies, again less pain. Generally nylon necks need to be wider than steel necks to account for the fatter strings.

5. Nylon necks are wider than steel necks because of the fat strings, but also because nylons tend to be used more for complex left hand work. There is more room to move around, more forgiving to error. You can play just as complex stuff on either, but they nylon is going to have that little bit more room and you won't need to be quite as precise as steel. If however you have a small hand, a full width (50-54mm) neck might represent a problem.

6. Nylon allows more expression, more emotion (stands back, ducks and covers). Look, it's true. You don't get the same level of dynamic and tone control out of steel with just your fingers. I'm not saying that steel is meant to be played flat out all the time, but it is easier to put more dynamics, note-for-note, in nylon playing than steel playing. The subtleness in tone and volume differentiation that you can apply in nylon is wider, and easier to control. This is high-end skill stuff; n00bs, intermediate and even advanced players are still concentrating on playing a piece correctly, applying dynamics is one of the last things a player really starts to focus on.

7. Steel bodies naturally have a bigger sound and wider frequency response than nylon. You'll never get that huge fat tonal response from strumming a chord on nylon than you will from a big dreadnought steel body. Steel is a natural choice for rhythm strumming.

8. Steel will rip your fingernails to shreds if you are a fingernail player. Fingernails are naturally at home on nylon, and bring even more dynamicism to your playing. As a fingerstyle player, your best bet on steel is to play without fingernails, and build up (and maintain) calluses on your fingertips for picking. Use a thumbpick. Or, Alaska piks are a great choice for steel and even nylon if you weren't blessed with strong fingernails.

9. Bends can be wider on steel than nylon. Due to the extra tension, you can bend beyond a tone even as you are getting closer to the open position. On a nylon, even at the 12th you'll battle to bend out to a tone, and even then you'll need to bend the strings more than halfway across the fretboard - meaning you won't be able to play the strings you are running across - generally, nylon isn't really made for bending.

10. "You are cooler playing steel." Ha, maybe. You can play nylon on your right leg, or standing up with a strap, but the best position is the classical left leg foot on stool to get the angles right. (I'm also "too cool" for that position, but I do know and accept that the classical position is easier and better).

11. Nylons are a good beginners guitar. You won't hurt your fingers as much, nylons are more forgiving than steel and you don't need to be quite as strong.

12. Intonation, and compensation, is crazy on nylon. Because the three monofilament strings have very different characteristics to wound multifilament strings the bridge/saddle/nut has a hard time balancing this out. It's hard to find a very well-intonated nylon string - well at least one that suits your playing style. Interesting trivia: the D string is under more tension than the G string. The monofilament strings are so fat and floppy that just pressing harder when fretting can change the pitch. Performing a chord requiring some deft stretchy left hand work will invariably cause you to slightly bend strings as you reach because they are floppy - the pitch perfect amongst us (certainly not me) will wince with pain.

13. Crossing between nylon and steel from time to time requires a mindset change in addition to the physical approach change. Nylon to steel will hurt your fingertips, you'll feel like you are pressing hard and plucking hard, and the tone will almost sound "harsh". Steel to nylon will feel like you are playing a flimsy child's guitar with elastic band strings and you'll have to play gently so you don't twang the thing. But if you can keep your mind open, and play each type in the manner it needs to be played, you'll get a lot of enjoyment from what each one provides.


Monday 15 November 2010

What's happening November 2010

After at least three months of vague pain and discomfort in my left hand pinky when playing stretchy fingering passages, I finally did two things - saw a doctor and saw a physio.   Both did the same test - held their had with opposing force against my pinky, push up, down, left, right - is there any pain?  No, not really.  They also did a joint check - see if there is movement in the knuckles - I guess to check for signs of arthritis.  Doc said I'd overstretched a tendon, rub rubbing cream into it, especially before and after playing guitar, see how it comes up.  Physio said come back next week, she'll do some massage on it and a bit of acupuncture(?!)  But both said - "you need to stretch before and after playing".  You get ten points Roman, I knew you were right sometimes I'm in denial :)

Interestingly, the physio said that with the guitar there is a lot of emphasis on downwards pressure, but very little on upwards pressure so the muscle groups get out of balance.  I'll report more when I've seen her again!

* * *

"Take me Back" is pretty much sorted, just putting the time in to get it more smoothly playable.  Not bad, good fun, won't be popular on youtube but I've taken the responsibility of getting more Australian classic rock arranged for it just needs to be done!

* * *

Still doing saddle work on my guitar pickup.  Every time I change strings I file the saddle slightly to balance out the sound a bit more.  The string type make a difference so you can't go too silly, for example some strings might cause the G string to be really over powered, others won't.  At the moment I'm using hard tension but I think I'll go back to normal tension.  Hard tension just encourages me to play hard, whereas I should be playing with a good dynamic expression - soft in places, hard in others, in the middle for the rest.  Not hard everywhere!

But anyway, there was definite over power in the G string and bass E string.  The E bass string  was dominating the lower strings, which if you were only playing the E would be great, but when the D string is only coming through half as loud as the E when plucked the same way...well, needs adjusting.  I had filed the saddle on a slope across the top, high on the bass E and low on the treble E.  This way there is more pressure directed by the lower strings.  I simply took off some of the slope in the bass to drop down the height thus the pressure and thus the string volume.

G string is different - it's in the middle, don't want to drop that down from the top!  What I had been doing for that one is scalloping out underneath the saddle - basically so less of the string pressure is contacting on the pickup.  It was already scalloped a bit, I scalloped it a bit more.

End result - G is close, still a bit loud, E is better balanced, maybe a tad loud.  D string has dropped off a bit, maybe due to G string scalloping, maybe just the set of strings.  Plugged in sounded really nice mostly thanks to the new strings, I think next set I'll do normal tension and see how it goes without touching the saddle.  As the saying goes, if you fiddle with something long enough you are bound to stuff it up :)

* * *

One last what's happening - over the years I've seen quite a few people play, of all things, Super Mario Theme for fingerstyle.  My oldest daughter loves her Nintendo/Mario, so I thought I'll grab the tab and learn it, she'd love it.  Watched the first one on youtube with a tab - pretty good.  Have a go at the tab.  Hmmm.  Nah, that bit isn't a good resolve.  Euw, awful positioning I'd do it down here.  Right, let's look at the next tab.  Hey, that isn't even the right note!  That bit should be played up higher.  I would put the bassnote for that part here, not there.  I'm not liking this.  I know, Iggy plays a good version, no tab, I'll get some inspiration from him.

...what I'm trying to show here is that I can no longer use tabs.  I just can't play something the way someone else has tabbed it.  No surprises there, I don't even play my own tabs exactly the way I write them out!  It's good, and it's bad.  Good because I'm doing exactly what I tell everyone else to do - take a tab, modify it, make it your own.  Bad because I just wanted to be able to play a little tune for my daughter without going to the lengths of partially re-arranging it! :)

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Fingerstyle Database

Go straight to JAW's Fingerstyle Database!

Realised that there are now hundreds of great fingerstyle guitarists posting videos on youtube, but don't know how to find them? Have we got a solution for you! :)

Since a brief exchange of comments on this blog, Roman and I discussed creating a "fingerstyle database", which would contain all the fingerstyle guitarists that we have got something out of listening to, so that we could share our discoveries with others.

The criteria was simply fingerstyle guitarists actively posting videos that the average person would take something away with after listening to. That is a subjective point of contention - what I take away from listening and watching a fingerstyler won't be the same as you. Broad examples would be a fingerstyle guitarist producing their own arrangements - even if they aren't that great - because the next person might be inspired to take the work further. Someone playing a tremendous cover of someone else's arrangement, just for the pure listening enjoyment - that would also be a keeper.

However someone playing a poor video/audio/rendition cover of someone else's tab, well we'd have to say no. We want the database to be punchy, quick and full of great surprise findings - we don't want to wade through hundreds of players that although sure they can play a tune, they aren't adding value to us visiting them.

I'm sure it will be a point of contention, but I think you know what I mean, so let's see how it goes!

What does the database give us? Name, website (usually youtube because it is so prevalent, but doesn't have to be), the style of fingerstyle (on the left extreme is the nylon string classical player, on the right extreme is the percussive tappin' steel string player), whether they are an arranger, whether they have tabs, and a quick description.

What can you do? Everyone who visits can give a thumb up to a player! This way "the public can decide" who is the pick of bunch worth listening to. If you are really excited by this and would love to be a part of it, email me and I will make you an administrator - with the ability to add, edit or delete players.

Features? Aside from the aforementioned "public opinion" with thumbs, and administrator access if you'd love to be a moderator...well, you can sort any column by clicking on the column heading. There'll be a "new" icon next to any players that have been added in the past 90 days, so you only have to check four times a year to keep up :)

Now I'm not really a programmer; this is all hacky perl scripts and the database itself is an imitation XML text file, so the features are limited. On the plus side, if you have some great ideas that Roman and I didn't think of, and it doesn't require too much effort, I can probably hack it in!

Go there: JAW's Fingerstyle Database - feedback and bug reports appreciated!


Tuesday 19 October 2010

Take me back

It's funny how when I'm wondering what to arrange next something comes up and totally takes over any previous ideas. I had the radio on in the car one night last week and was channel surfing, and heard an Aussie rock song from the 80's I hadn't heard in years. Because I can't listen to music anymore without analysing it for fingerstyle worthiness, I detected this one as approachable and the more I listened, the more I remembered how much I loved the song back at the time.

Now for someone who wasn't an Aussie/Kiwi teenager in 1986 you will never have heard of the song "Take me back" by Noiseworks. Sorry, but persist with me, it might be worth it. It's probably Noiseworks most recognisable song, quite melodic with strong vocals from Jon Stevens. The song is incredibly heartfelt, basically a guy who doesn't recognise that his girl is seriously depressed and when she commits suicide he can't believe it, he didn't realise the seriousness of the signs, and wishes he could go back because he is lonely without her. Heart wrenching stuff, everyone take note, depression is more than ever the sickness of the times.

Anyway, as I was mumbling about in a comment on another post the song immediately fell into my default fingerstyle "style", and I had pretty much sketched it out in about two hours (involved a bit of internet examination of previous people's works on chords, tabs and bass tabs - don't reinvent the wheel!) The problem is that my style now feels contrived, predictable and just a bit boring to me.

Briefly, my default style is incorporating the basic rock drum beat into a pattern absorbing a bass line and morphing with the melody. Basic drum beat being 4/4, closed hat on all four beats, bass drum on beat one and snare drum on beat 3. So a continuous Boomp-t-tssh-t-Boomp-t-tssh-t. Translating that to fingerstyle you use the chord root note as a bassnote/bassdrum, flick strum a chord fragment for the snare drum, play the melody on top...the high hat kinda disappears/exists in the melody. Kinda make sense?

When you have a listen you'll see it's pretty obvious in the verse; not to mention the song is basically a three chord blues progression, E, A & B.

So because it was uninspiring I tried to jazz it up a bit, and threw in little bit of walking bass into the chorus, as per the actual song. That made it challenging for me to play, and gave it a less boring feel, maybe a little bit cheesy though.

Anyway, enough blah blah, have a listen to a cut down recording I made last night, you can hear that I struggle with it; it's still in forebrain so I have to "think" about I when I play it. When I've moved it to the backbrain and then can "think" on tempo/timing, clean fretting and better feeling/dynamics.

For those curious, here is what I did for the main chorus riff, quite challenging!


Thursday 7 October 2010

What's happening October 2010

Things are chugging away slowly on the guitar front, it's been school holidays here in Oz and the family and I managed to get away for a week, nice!  I was hoping during the week my left pinky would get better...a vain hope because it has been giving me problems for a few months now.

Basically when I was transcribing/practising Naudo's "Something", which has a few left pinky stretches, I overdid it and pulled a ligament/tendon/muscle.  About three months ago.  At first it mildly hurt when I played, so I pushed through, but then after a few months it was still there.  I knew I needed to rest it, but I wasn't going to stop playing guitar for weeks!

I did the same to my thumb last year.  I think it was around 3-4 months where it didn't feel right, but it is fine now.  I don't know how many of you out there have had the same affliction, but I'm quite annoyed, and in fact mildly concerned about it.  You think when you play the guitar you'll be able to play like that, and better, forever!  I follow an older chap Ed on youtube, great fingerstyler, but suffers from arthritis and you can see in his playing.  The skills are all there but the arthritis is crippling his playing.  Take note - we should all enjoy it, cherish it, use it, while we have it.  I guess that can be said about many things.

Meantime, "Something" is transcribed/re-arranged.  I know I put a snippet on a while back, the hard part has been the solo.  I first tried to do the original Harrison solo, but it just wouldn't fit.  So I turned to what Naudo did as a solo - it's only about 6 bars - and transcribed that.  When I say "transcribe" in terms of Naudo, that almost means "re-arrange".  It's not possible for me to work out every minute detail of his playing it's just too complex, so I grab the major concepts put them into my style and tab it out.

You know what?  Pure genius.  The guy, well, he is a genius.  I can't stop playing those six bars - it's just so beautiful, emotional - I have to play it over and over again, even though I've pretty much nailed it.  It's hard to explain, but I'm sure everybody understands when you get some bit of a song stuck in your head and have to play it/listen to it over and over like it was some drug addiction.  And it doesn't have to be anything new, it might be a song you've heard many times but you've only just now really _got_ it, and you can't get enough.

I'll probably churn out a youtube vid of it this month, I think you'll all appreciate the song and the tab.  Naudo is best! :)

I don't have anything else I'm working on at the moment...Dark Side of the Moon is on hold at the moment (I get bursts of passion for it). One thing I've toyed with over the past coupla years is some Rolling Stones covers; in fact I can mostly play two Stones arrangements.  The problem is that they really need singing - they are really repetitive melodically and, sorry, _boring_ as fingerstyle.  The answer I've decided is a three song medley - don't play too much of any one song, but expand three into a ~4 minute medley.

Alternatively I have an AC/DC song that I noodled together something that will work about 6 months ago.  "Songs you wouldn't expect to hear on fingerstyle."  I'll keep you posted! :)

Sunday 19 September 2010

Happy Birthday!

A few weeks ago I did the same winery gig that I did last year, and something happened that I had planned for many years ago, but hadn't kept up with - it was someone's brithday and I got a request to play "Happy Birthday". I couldn't even remember the chords!

Basically if you ever play to an audience you need to keep "happy birthday" in your bag of tricks, because it will come up. Fear not, I dusted off some old notes, did a cross check with other tabs on the net (many had parts that I liked but none were enough by themselves...besides, nobody should ever play a tab exactly as someone else has written it! :))
                                 HAPPY BIRTHDAY

 3/4        C          G                     C

             F(b5) F     C     G     C                   ~~~~~

Here, have a listen to me play it. It's short, mostly in chords, and easily remembered. Only two parts may cause you some frustration: in the first two bars I'm holding a C shape but I bend my second finger backwards to fret the A second fret third string. I do this sort of mini-barre quite often so it comes reasonably natural to me.

The F(b5) chord may throw you -  do it as and F barre chord but don't lay your first finger for the full bar, just fret the low 6, leave the top strings un-barred. Then clamp down the barre for the full F in the same measure.

The rest should be easy for a fingerstyler...don't worry about running up the fret board for the last G and C chord if you don't want to; as with all tabs, make them your own!

...oh and make sure you throw in the heavy vibrato on the end note of "And many more..." I love a bit of comedy in guitar playing, it's not easy to put comedy into guitar playing, so anywhere you can do it you should! :)


Friday 13 August 2010

Recording, plugged in

Sorry for so many posts in so few days, but I've got all this stuff that is bursting out and just can't wait!  The problem is that when I first started this blog I knew I was writing to no-one, whereas now I know there are more than three people listening - I feel as I have to approach blogging with a bit more restraint and respect!

Recorded sound from a guitar needs to be good.  Note that I didn't say great.  Great is great, but great can begin to mess with your life - visiting a recording studio or dedicating a room in your house as a studio, filling it with sound absorbing material, buying fancy microphones...great sound starts to take over from the actual playing.

Recording via a webcam onto youtube isn't good.  So many guitarists, posting videos, wasted, because it sounds, well; crap.

So in my continuing efforts to simplify recording good sound I recently tried out USB guitar cables.  I tried two, both are cheap Chinese units, one is a direct rip-off of a Behringer product, the other was essentially a modified microphone headset product.  Both were approx $AUD20 delivered slow boat from China to my door.

The intent of both is that you have one end that plugs into your guitar, one end that plugs into a USB port on your computer.  From a very simplistic viewpoint the cable consists of the right impedence at the guitar input, an A/D (Analogue to Digital) conversion, and the USB data stream to your PC.

Now I always talk about recording direct to PC. And when I say PC I also mean Mac.  The bottom line is that PCs are everywhere, they are extremely flexible, they can be a bit of a pain, but you don't need to buy anything very special to be able to record good sound.  You probably already have a PC, you are probably looking at it right now.  So let's not talk about the other recording medium options, this blog is going to be long enough already...

In my article I wrote several years ago about recording direct to PC, I talked about using the built in soundcard.  One problem with that is the input impedence - if you are going into a "line-in" socket on the soundcard (avoiding any extra pre-amp), then you'll probably have to max out the gain on the guitar and in software, if you are going into the microphone socket you probably have to turn the gain down to one click above zero.  It's a hit and miss affair.  It's how I've recorded for years, reasonably successfully, until I changed to a laptop that caused me no end of problems using the built in soundcard.  Hence the experiment with USB guitar cables.

The immediate advantage of the USB guitar cable is it's built with the right impedence for a guitar and has the right jack.  With any luck, the A/D conversion, done by a tiny little standard chip that lives in the USB connector (basically a little soundcard) will be even better than the soundcard in your PC.

If you've looked into this sort of thing before you've probably heard "latency, latency, latency."  As in the delay between your signal being converted and recorded.  There are (for Windows, Mac is not an issue) low latency drivers - the problem is that latest versions of Windows abstract hardware (a soundcard has to meander its way through layers of internal software to do anything) - so special drivers are required to bypass this and cut out the delay.  Which means the drivers are dedicated to a specific chip, and worse, the sound editing software needs to be able to handle the driver.  The main low latency driver I have come across is the ASIO driver originally developed by Steinberg, and if anything was close to a standard that would be it.  Unfortunately, it is proprietary and something like the free sound editing program Audacity is not allowed to include it.

One of the USB cables I used was ASIO driver compliant.  I found the ASIO driver tedious, and my favourite sound editing software did not support it.  Whereas the other USB cable was not ASIO, you just plug it in and Windows automagically loads generic drivers and it just works with every piece of sound editing software I have - because really, it's just another soundcard.

The more I thought about the latency issue, the less important it seemed.  The ASIO USB cable has an extra port on it for headphones - because an electric guitar player wants not only to hear what he is playing, but wants to hear it through digital effects as well. Yeah, head bangin' out some Metallica with a Kirk Hammet software effects plugin.  Ah ha! - latency is about playing a note, gets converted to digital, goes into the PC software to get distorted, gets converted back to analogue and finally into headphones.  Yeah, you wouldn't want that trip to take more than say 50 milliseconds, it would be very disconcerting.

But for us acoustic players, unless we are playing against some effects, it's not an issue.  So what if your recording is 50ms behind realtime...doesn't make a difference, it still got recorded!

I did a test to gauge what the latency of the standard driver USB cable was - I recorded the normal driver USB cable and the laptop soundcard at the same time, then zoomed into the signal and you know what - there was less latency on the USB cable relative to the soundcard!  Since I've never had a problem listening through headphones on the soundcard, the USB cable is not going to be a problem either.

Look I'm giving USB guitar cables a big thumbs up for just recording your acoustic playing plugged in.  Going further, but being well aware your patience for this blog is at it's end, have some bullet points:

* Capturing Video and Audio - when you use your webcam, it is using the integrated microphone.  Bleugh.  What you need is some software (for example virtualdub) that allows you so say "no, don't use that crappy webcam microphone audio feed, use this nice USB guitar cable feed instead".  I was very pleasantly suprised that virtualdub easily synchronised the audio and video feed, which had plauged me with problems on soundcards - nothing worse than audio and video out of sync!

* Signal to noise ration - yes, there is noise.  I found it to be less than the soundcard, but it's not zero.  I think the specifications talked about having a -80db noise floor, I was seeing more like somewhere between -60~50db, but I didn't do a proper analysis, that's just a thumb suck.  With the guitar unplugged but the USB cable online, zero noise.  That may be as a result of a noise gate.  With the guitar plugged in, but not being played, an "insignificant" (good versus great) amount of noise, undetectable to my ear, but apparent on the recorded waveform, was present.  Is this from the guitar or from the cable?  I don't know.

* Multi-track recording - now this is where it gets interesting.  The cable is suitable for any instrument, it worked fine with the electronic drums, and I'm sure a keyboard would be the same.  Four USB ports - four cables - four multitracked inputs - instant band recording, with separate track editing and mixdown!  This is something I'm hoping for.  My concept: I'm playing through my guitar amp, my drummer mate is playing through the drum amp, we are hearing the sound and playing off each other.  A feed is taken from each amp, and fed via two USB cables into multi-tracking software.  The feed comes from headphone sockets that all amps generally have.  It works just fine...but you guessed it...when you are plugged into the headphones socket the main speaker is turned off!  Not so good for jamming.  I'm going to have to think a bit harder about that one.

There is plenty of stuff still left to talk about, let me know if there is a direction you are thinking about to discuss!


Thursday 12 August 2010

Play through your mistakes

I've talked about this before, but I was just emailing with Ryan G about it and I thought I've gotta bring it up again: play through your mistakes.

Our natural tendency as players is when we fluff it, to stop, go back and play the part again, or stop, or start again from scratch...sure, during the early days of learning a new song you need to practise little bits over and over to force it into your brain, but once it is in your brain, my rule is if you are going to play a song, play it from start to finish and play through any mistake.

Most guitarists will start as half-song playing guitarists and that's fine - but arguably we should move on from there. If you are playing just for yourself and the dog, or playing for a packed venue, I believe you need to play a song from start to finish. To do that, heh, you need to practise playing a song from start to finish :)

Once I realised that it doesn't matter how many times I practise a song I won't ever be able to play it perfectly every time, I had to focus on how to recover after making a mistake. If your first instinct when you make a mistake is to stop, then you won't ever learn how to play through your mistakes. Sounds pretty straight forward doesn't it.

Keeping on beat is everything. If you have made a mistake but haven't dropped a beat, you know, it's probably only you who is going to notice. If that's the first thing you achieve from practising playing through your mistakes, then that is half the battle won.

Linking back in - you've made a mistake somewhere, now you want to get back on track. What chord are you in? What is the next chord? If you just fall back to playing some notes or strumming in the chord, and link back in on the next chord change, you'll be fine. This requires you to actually _understand_ the music you are playing - not just a sequence of notes. I fall down a lot in this area, being a programmable guitar playing robot. But by paying a little bit more attention to the music - and practising playing through my mistakes - I've become more able to fumble my way through most of my repetoire.

I could keep going...and often do...but I'll cut this one short. As my regular readers will know (there are 14 now Roman!) I have a set of JAW's Laws that not everyone agrees with; playing through your mistakes forms part of it. Tracing the lineage of this law it goes something like this: Play the guitar for audiences - audiences want to hear full songs - practise playing full songs - you will make mistakes - practise playing through your mistakes.


Monday 9 August 2010

Drummer and Something...

Since my drummer mate Leith moved 25km's north and I moved 25km's south we haven't been together for a guitar-drum session. However, at work I found out that Rob, another electrical engineer, plays the drums. For a few months now we had tried to organise a get together, and finally it hashappened.

Playing solo instrumental fingerstyle with a drummer works quite well - the whole point of solo instrumental fingerstyle is to capture bass, melody and rhythm into one instrument. To some point you can capture percussive but generally it's not covered quite as well. Playing with a bass guitarist, lead guitarist even a singer, you might as drop back to "normal" guitar playing.

I knew Rob would be a good drummer, and I wasn't dissapointed. He's a bit like me in some of respects - he enjoys playing along with songs on his ipod - I like to work out arrangements of songs and play them to myself. Which means when you put two independent people like that together it's not so easy to mesh, both are used to "doing their own thing". Which means even more importantly those people need to be playing with other people! Music isn't a one man show (he says while still being a fierce solo instrumental fingerstyler :))

Rob sound is a bit more heavy rock/metal than mine (take note of the bass drum triples in "Sunshine of Your Love), but he slotted in with my mellow stuff just fine. Unfortunately the only recording device I could get happening for two instruments was the laptop internal mic, and I had forgotten even that was dodgy, so most songs got scrambled. A few survived, the mix is not good and the sound quality poor...and my playing was sub-par...but you've heard all that before from me so if you are game just have a listen :)

I was so annoyed about my inability to record good sound I had a fiddle with the laptop the next day, and managed to at least sort out the internal soundcard. However, on this new laptop I have not been able to get to synchronise video and audio...I've been ready to record a new video for youtube for a while, but I can't get the video and audio in sync. That's a problem with audio and video on PCs - hard to synchronise.

Well okay, easy to synchronise if you have an integrated device, for example a webcam - it clocks the video to the audio and pumps the data stream to the PC, you pretty much can't miss. But the microphone in a webcam is awful - what you want to do is use the video from the webcam, and the audio plugged in on your soundcard. However, when you can't get software to synchronise them both you will get nothing but frustration :(

I've got coming in on a slow boat from China a "USB guitar lead" - basically it plugs into your guitar, has an analogue to digital converter on the other end with a USB plug. You need fancy drivers to keep the latency (signal conversion delay) to a minimum; I'm hoping that will help with several of my issues. I'll report back on that in a later blog. If you can buy $AUD20 USB instrument leads I'll be buying several - each instrument in your band will just plug into a USB port and your multi-track software recorder can lay them all out into separate tracks, ready for post mixing and tweaking!

Meantime, While I was trying to sort out my laptop I recorded a song, link below. For a long time now I've wanted to arrange/cover "Something" by The Beatles. I took inspiration from Hiro who does a superb alternate bass version, but based it more heavily on Naudo's version. The key difference is while Hiro plays it in "proper" C, Naudo shifted it up to D which I just love. I haven't been able to put the George Harrison solo into it; not possible to play it in the right key (too much separation from the bass) and when shifted down an octave it just doesn't sound I'm just going to do a rough transcription of Naudo's improvised solo. See, that's one of the places where Naudo's brilliance lays - he improvised against a very well know solo and managed to make it sound of the same style, and made it sound great!

So for now, try out this recording sans-solo, still in the learning stages so it's rough. Yes, I will have tabs and I will record a video for youtube in due course for those who like the sound of it!


Monday 12 July 2010

Naudo's guitar up for sale!

In the past I have emailed with The Master himself, Naudo; it's a bit tricky because English is his second language and I don't know any Spanish - but we managed to have a few emailed conversations. I've also emailed with possibly his greatest fan, Juan; who goes largely unrecognised but without him we wouldn't even know Naudo. Juan does all the videoing and uploading to youtube. Juan's English is pretty good, and in a recent message with him he mentioned that Naudo was keen to change to a new guitar, and they were thinking about selling his old one, signed, to the highest bidder.

Two things went through my mind: don't straight away sell it on e-bay, it needs to be out there for a long time so that enough people get a chance to notice it's up for sale and bid. Which means advertising that it's for sale, which I could try to help out with, for instance mentioning it here, and on my youtube channel. The other thing that went through my mind was: I should buy that :)

Similar to what my mate Roman mentioned in a comment on another thread, I pictured myself flying out to Tenerife, meeting The Man himself, listening to a set, shaking his hand and getting a photo of him handing the signed guitar to me. Daydreams...

Also as Roman mentioned, it would be quite a sound investment too. Imagine you had the oppurtunity to buy John Lennon's first guitar before the Beatles were formed, because he needed a bit of cash. Say you'd seen him in some underground club in The Quarrymen and you thought "hey, he's a genius, I should buy that guitar before the rest of the world realise it." I reckon Naudo is a similar situation; except that the world isn't quite like it was in John Lennon's heyday - easy distribution of music and wide variety of choice seems to mean no one person becomes famous over the whole world.

So perhaps more like Tommy Emmanuel; well known by people who know him, if you know what I mean :)

But anyway, it will be a wise buyer who hedges his bets and grabs it while he can. I know if I had it I'd probably play it a little bit every now and then, but for the rest of time keep it in a locked glass case. It's more of a historical artifact than an instrument of music! But, my missus would kill me if I bought another guitar...

The starting price was 700 Euros, bargain. I hope Juan will put up an auction spot on the internet, Naudo's blog sounds seems the right place, with the latest bid price. I suspect however he will just get it known that it is coming up for sale and then put it on ebay. In the meantime, here is where it was mentioned and for those of you who hadn't noticed, Juan has been posting a few new Naudo videos here Juan Ignaciomoreno.

Monday 28 June 2010

What's happening June 2010

It's been a while since I did a What's happening, I've been blogging specific topics of late. However I find myself in front of a computer with an hour to kill, so it's a good oppurtunity to waste yours and my time ;)

On the arrangement side of things, I've completed my cover of "Hysteria", and am quite pleased with the result. I struggle with the solo, so I'm going to sit on it for a few more weeks until I can play it adequately. My covers on youtube are all rough, because they represent me only just being able to play the song...I really need at least 6 months to "bed it in". But, when the arrangement is complete and I can play it adequately, I'm all excited about it and could never wait the six months, so I throw it out there, unpolished and all. I don't think I'm the only one like that.

Now you'd think after thousands of years of people writing stuff for the guitar, and people playing covers of it, that arrangements would be a been-there done-that sort of affair. However I am constantly impressed and amazed when I see my favourite solo instrumental fingerstyle players churn out something unique and new, and wonder how we ever got this far without doing *that*! I'd never pin my lifes dreams or earning on my Hysteria cover, but I'm still excited and a little bit pleased that I've come up with something not totally groundbreaking, but kinda cool and never been heard like that before.

The joys of solo instrumental fingerstyle guitar :)

Meanwhile, my Esteve 1GR11 is finally starting to feel good. Let me clarify - from the moment I heard it unplugged I know it was good; after a month it felt good, and now, must be more than six months later, it is just starting to sound good plugged in.

The road has been a bit arduous - the task was to find a really nice classical guitar, install a really nice pickup, and end up with a really nice plugged in sound. My mate Roman recently pointed out "why don't you just use a mic?" which sounds way too sensible; worse still, in a shop I came across an Alhambra (Naudo's choice of guitar) which I though you could not get easily in Australia, and when I played it plugged in it sounded _great_. The unplugged tone was not as nice as my Esteve, but the plugged in tone exceeded what I had come up with, at least it did through the fairly nice amp in the shop. Let's just say it was a lot cheaper than how far I'm into my Esteve to date...

But now, the Esteve plugged in tone is nearly there. I need to make a new saddle, I filed the one I'm using at the moment a little too far in places - but you do need to do that sort of thing, probably several times, before you really nail it. Call it experimentation.

I grabbed an oppurtunity Sunday afternoon to sit out the backyard where I could crank my little amp and see how it sounds. It was there I hit a wall. Another bloody wall, excuse my 'Strayun.

I'm still using my little buskers amp, which has an okay sound and an okay volume. It was up loud enough that I couldn't really hear the unplugged guitar, all the sound was coming from the amp. It was sounding nice, so I started playing some of my usual stuff.

I began to tense up. I know when I'm tensing up, because I start to play fast, and pick really hard, press too hard on the frets - generally very unrelaxed. When I start tensing up I get frustrated and tense up more. A bottle of amber muscle relaxant can usually de-tense the situation, but I was all out.

I was fighting the guitar, fighting the sound coming at me, fighting myself. I realised then I had hit yet a wall. I'm not good (yet) at playing loud and amplified. Arghh! Why on earth does that make a difference!?

Well of course it will. You play to the sound you are getting, it's not like you can put earmuffs on and play just as you would normally play. Playing the guitar is a dynamic, fluid, feedback system, you respond to the sound you are getting, and play to it. I'm used to playing unplugged, or when plugged in I can normally still "hear" the guitar the amplified sound because I keep the volume down to appease the family. I just don't spend much time playing loud, and as much as I've tried to make the amplified sound just like the unplugged sound but louder - I'm not used to it.

Yet another wall blocking my path. I'm sure there are many more to come, in fact there probably is no end to the walls. But hey, if it wasn't a challenge, why would you bother? :)


Friday 18 June 2010


I'm having problems with pickups, and it all hinges around saddles.  Go on, search around the internet for information about saddles.  They will tell you all about fancy materials to use, maybe a bit about shape, but nothing about what is really going on in a saddle.

So, with a little guidance from one of my luthiers books, and revising some of my first year university physics, I'm going to try to explain some stuff to the best of my understanding.

How does an acoustic guitar work?  You pluck the strings, sound is transferred to the soundboard and you hear the note.  Yeah okay fine, but we'll need a bit more detail if we are to work out what is happening at our saddles.
Okay, in this simplified picture you can see the string (under tension) goes across the saddle and down to the (or through the) bridge, with the bridge glued to the soundboard.  For simplicity I'll say the soundboard has rigid/fixed nodes on either end, even though in real life it is shaped in a figure-8 and there are non-rigid dynamics occuring at the soundboard to side interface...okay, that's too much detail.

When you pluck a string, what happens? It vibrates, creating a standing wave between the point it touches the saddle, and the nut or at a fret if you have fretted a note.  The fundamental frequency is of a wavelength the full distance, but there are also many harmonics added by many other things resulting in a complex timbre of the sound...but again too much detail.

Looking at a plucked string, you can see it vibrate, maybe up/down, maybe left/right, maybe in circles, if depends how you plucked it.  There's the clue - the _motion_ of the vibration isn't what is directly causing the sound, it is *pressure* (tension) that is transferred to the soundboard via the saddle and bridge.  Tension is of course directly related to the motion of the string, at the peak offset of the string vibration it is at maximum tension, passing through the lowest tension at zero offset, heading for the opposite peak.  Think about it, if you pull a string away from it's resting position, you create more tension, it is pulling harder against the saddle (and the nut, but the nut is a lot more fixed and solid than the bridge).

Ah, so the tension goes past the saddle, and pulls the soundboard up and down then?  No; no it doesn't.  That would be like trying to pick youself up by your shoe laces.
The saddle is fixed in place hard up against the bridge, so all that can happen is the bridge/saddle _twists_ the soundboard. That's right, _twists_.  The bridge/saddle ever-so-slightly pulls forwards with the tension of the string; and because it is connected to the soundboard it pulls that with it, creating a "bulge" behind the bridge, and a "dip" in front of the bridge.

The soundboard thus becomes an air pump - as the back bulges up it sucks some air in through the sound hole, and as it goes back to the resting position the air is expelled.

I hope I have explained that well enough that you understand, because now I can finally start talking about saddles.

The saddle sets the amount of torque that is transferred to the soundboard.  If you have a really tall saddle, it is "easier" for the string tension to twist the soundboard, giving a bigger acoustic sound...if the saddle is lower then less torque is transferred, and you get less acoustic sound.  (Let's totally ignore action, it isn't a function of creating sound in this context.)  The soundboard can saturate if the saddle is too high; if you start putting a massive load on it then you won't get a linear tension response in the soundboard and the sound will start distorting.  I'm back to too much detail.

As long as the saddle is firmly held in position, isn't made out of a material that absorbs vibration (for example a saddle made out of rubber) then the pressure is transferred reasonably efficiently and you have a faithful reproduction of the string's vibration to the soundboard.  Different materials will add different nauces to the timbre of the sound, for instance a highly efficient material would be a steel saddle, but we aren't after an exceptionally "true" transfer, what sounds best is a compromise, a material that transfers torque but also absorbs a bit, giving a sound that we like.  Again I'm heading out into details land, and my main point in continuously doing so and then stopping myself is that the creation of acoustic sound from a guitar is _incredibly_ complex, and all I really want to touch on is the absolute fundamental principle, firmly remembering there is more involved than just the basics.

Now, lets put an Under Saddle Transducer (UST) underneath the saddle.  You're going to have to think about this too.  The pressure being transmitted by the string goes over the saddle and then some heads down and back at an angle, so we get a ratio of the force is directed straight down through the saddle.  Note that this is balanced by the force pushing up from where the string attaches to the bridge - can't pull yourself up by your shoelaces, remember? But there is still a squeeze going on between the saddle and the bridge.

Therein lies the beauty - even though the soundboard is twisting to get your acoustic sound and it has nothing to do with the saddle downwards pressure - there exists this place between the saddle and bridge where an exact "sample" of the string tension is available.  By placing an electronic gizmo (UST) in there which turns pressure into a voltage, we have a pickup!
Now I said the join between saddle and the bridge has nothing to do with the acoustic sound - if the saddle was a bit loose, or the saddle slot a bit rough on the bottom it's going to make no difference to the acoustic sound (so long as the saddle isn't absorbing pressure, for example, minutely bouncing around). This however makes a lot of difference to trying to catch that sample pressure.  When an acoustic guitar is built, unless it is going to have a UST installed, they probably aren't going to care about the saddle slot quite as much.

I think you are with me.  Once I had fitted my pickup, I was getting poor response, and it came down to the saddle.  Here are some symptoms, and some resolutions:

* The saddle was a bit loose in the slot, so once it was under tension, it lent forward a little bit.  Doesn't affect acoustic sound, but suddenly all the downwards pressure was directed on the front edge of the saddle, and the UST wasn't getting the full pressure sample.  This is fixed by buying a blank over-size width saddle, and very carefully on a piece of glass or polished marble/granite surface with sandpaper, "thinning" down the saddle to be the exact same width as the slot.  Too loose and it will pull forward, too tight and pressure is lost into the walls of the slot as it is "jammed".

* Having a nice tight saddle will then next show you the saddle slot is not perfect.  My slot in fact flares out a bit at the top - not much I can do about that other than having a new wider slot routed in.  But all the laquer in the slot, from when the guitar was laquered, also caused it to be imperfect.  Armed with a trimmer blade, I carefully scraped off laquer on the floor and the sides of the slot to ensure they were as flat as I could get them.

* To fight a non-flat slot from two fronts, I bevelled the bottom edge of the saddle, just a tiny amount.  If the bottom of the slot still had some lacquer or generally non-90 degree bottom leading and trailing sides of the slot, that is, "radiused" sides, even only a tiny, tiny bit - and even if you don't see it - the saddle would be jamming in that last minute section, losing pressure.  If there was going to be any non-flatness in the slot, that's where it would be, so bevel the bottom of your saddle.

* Even still, I went one further step and put a spacer in the bottom of the slot, underneath the UST.  The spacer I made was two pieces of normal paper glued together cut to the same size as the bottom of the slot, acting as a kind of gasket, balancing out any imperfections.  Although this gasket arrangement will absorb some of the pressure; the pressure gained by it being there is far more than that lost.  Give this a try and see how you go - if the slot is good enough, you won't need to.

* Balancing.  As in, how much pressure is exerted by each different string - if you play all of the strings with the same touch, are any louder than each other?  Typically on a nylon string, the G string might be quite a lot louder than the rest...or maybe the D string.  Combat that by taking some meat off the bottom of the saddle directly underneath the string - basically you are removing some of the ability for the pressure to be transferred from the string to the UST.

If the higher strings are too loud compared to the bass strings, then file your saddle to have a top profile where the bass strings are higher.  This will result in a greater break angle from the string to the bridge tie off, which means more downwards pressure on the saddle.

Alternatively, if your saddle is already crazy high on the bass then add a sliver of paper on _half_ of the bottom of slot, which will take away a little bit of pressure from the trebles/direct it to the bass instead.

There is so much to talk about with saddles, bridges and the acoustic guitar's general ability to make a noise, and so much I don't know.  I've gone on here for long enough, I'm sure to go on about it again in the future!

Oh, and as a final note - no UST is good enough by itself to get exceptional sound. You must always mix it with an AST/SBT or built in condensor mic - the UST is too focussed on the fundamental frequencies, an AST/SBT/mic picks up all that other good sounds the guitar is making :)


Wednesday 9 June 2010

Support group for non-musical guitarists

After two recent messages on youtube (Norty and Cory, similar types of guitar players to me) I decided we need a support group for non-musical guitarists.

Let me explain.

Ohhhh I'm a fraud, a big liar, it's all sham, woe is me; for I know nothing about music, I just know how to play the guitar.

There, got it off my chest.  "Hi, my name's JAW, I'm a non-musical guitarist".  Well in fact I've insinuated it many times in previous posts and messages, I've just never really boiled it down for you all to comprehend.

Now I can see a few of you are scratching your heads, but a lot of you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Let me further explain.

I never play scales, if pressed, I could probably play a major scale, but I wouldn't know what key it is.  I don't know the difference between a delorian and a septatonic key. "C7" is a chord where you additionally put your pinky on the 3rd fret 3rd string, which is in fact a Bb.  Okay the 7 means something about the seventh tone from the root note C - you do pick up a few things even when you aren't paying attention.

I once sat with a guitar teacher, and after asking me some questions and watching me play he summed it up perfectly: "Okay, so you're a pretty good guitar player but you have no idea what you are doing."

So, what's the problem with that?

There is a lot of problems with that.  Foremost, you can't sit down with a real musician and weave the language of music on your instruments with each other.  At best, you could learn a part of a duet by rote, and line them up.  You'll have trouble developing an ear.  My ear is terrible, I find it almost impossible to follow even a very simple melody.  Most of my arrangements I've pulled together from half tabs and midi files.  Creating your own compositions - some understanding of music will certainly help that process.

So why aren't I doing anything about it, and why are there people like us?

It's not that important to me.  It's not where I derive my enjoyment of the guitar from.  Perhaps one day it will be, but it's been 30+ years and I still haven't bothered - sure, I've scratched around the surface and I probably know more than I give myself credit for, but it isn't a driver in my guitar experience.

But it does mean I am relegated to playing solo, not really understanding the very principles behind what I do.

So if you know exactly what I'm talking about; either get on learning music, or join in my support group for non-musical guitarists :)


Tuesday 18 May 2010

Thumb, finger, brain...independence

I've mentioned before that I'm working through the Def Leppard song "Hysteria" as kind of a dare, well basically it's done. There is a short solo in the middle of the song, it would be fairly recognisable if you were a Def Leppard fan, so I took it on. It is all straight forward except for a little bit where it plays like a polyrhythm 3 beat on 4 beat. Have a listen to it, it's in the first two bars of this little snippet:

Def Leppard Hysteria solo snippet.mp3

The easiest way to play a guitar solo in fingerstyle is to just be thumbing a bassline while you, erm, shred. Keep the bassline finger position handy to where you are in the solo, usually up high. In this case it was quite easy, the first two bars are A, second two bars are D. Open string basslines are great for fingerstyle! To keep the thumpy bassline feel I just blasted off 8 quavers per bar. And that is where the only mental difficulty occured during this arrangement - trying to get something that sounded like a 3 beat on a 4 beat.

Here's what I came up with:

Hysteria tab snippet

So remember each bassnote is 1/8th, but where the high A note starts in bar 1 begins the little polyrythm styled phrase, where your thumb independence - or in this case _finger_ independence - needs to kick in.

I knew the notes for the solo, and I knew the bassline, but I absolutely could not connect them together on the guitar. I actually worked it out *in tab* before attempting to play it. Once I saw that the solo notes were one and a half the length of a bassnote, I played it slowly through until the brain finger independence kicked in and took over.

Note that I think the actual solo does not line up 1.5 notes, I think it truely launches into it's own timescale for that bar and a half, reconnecting at the 3rd bar. But that would require a thumb/finger independence far superior to what I currently possess...

Have a listen to powertab play these notes:

Powertab Hysteria solo snippet.mp3

I admit I must have played it at least a hundred times before it started to gel. Slowly at first to get the fingers used to what I had planned for them, eventually going into autopilot.

You might think this sounds like effort overkill for one and a half bars. But what I've found is in the past when I have persisted in learning even a single bar that is so strange in it's indpendence you end up with a bag of tools for future strange independence techniques. In fact I think the reason it "only" took me a hundred times to bed it in, is from the past strange stuff that has given me a leg up on playing strange stuff.

Here's how I went - recorded into iphone so it got a bit distorted, sorry about that I'm still working out the new pickup plugged directly into the iphone:

JAW Hysteria solo snippet.mp3

If you listen carefully you'll see that I'm not quite there yet, the tempo is inconsistent (brain anticipation of what's to come) and first bassnote after the start of the syncopated rhythm came in maybe a 64th too early. It's not easy stuff, but what I like about this challenge is that it's not so much a _guitar_ challenge as a _brain_ challenge. My fingers don't stuff up because they are too slow, or too inaccurate, or let fret buzz through - they stuff up because they are simply confused!

Anyway, maybe have a little try on that, slowly, and perhaps what I'm saying might make some sense ;)

Monday 17 May 2010

Should I give my tabs away for free?

A few weeks back Vic Jazzguts posted a video talking about free lessons; he only left it there for 2 days so it's gone, but it did get me thinking. I've got a lot of random thoughts about my free tabs, in no particular order:

  • I like to arrange songs by other artists, so I don't own the copyright. Even though arranging requires additional effort on your own behalf, and results in the creation of something different - really, you should seek permission before selling something you don't fully own, and some sort of cut should go back to the artist.

  • Producing a tab is a result of how I think. I don't work things out totally from ear, and I like to write things down as I work them out. Where "writing down" means typing into tab editing software - pencil and paper are so twentieth century. So once I've arranged a song, a tab exists. I can either do nothing with it, or do something with it.

  • I've got a day job, my livelihood doesn't rely on making money from tabs. However I wouldn't say no to making money from tabs, hence why I put a donation button on my tab page, for people who want to saying "thank you" with a dollar sign.

  • Some people's livelihoods _do_ depend on making money from tabs. By "doing it for free", I am taking potential income away from them. Okay that's a whole world of arguments and debates, akin to movie piracy, but the bottom line is if I had a tab to Naudo's "Stand By Me" for free, and somebody else had a similar transcription that they were charging for, where do you think the average punter would go?

  • I take a lot from the internet for free. Free software, free information, other peoples free stuff. I'm putting something back into the universal cookie jar. If there was nobody putting stuff into the universal cookie jar there wouldn't be anything to take, right?

  • I'm quite passionate about the guitar as a hobby, almost to the point I can't understand why every person on the planet wouldn't want to play the guitar, or at least some sort of musical instrument. So every time I get a "thank you, you inspired me to start playing/keep playing/re-sparked my interest in the guitar" I get a warm fuzzy. I get an even warmer fuzzy when somebody posts up a video of them playing something they learnt from my tabs. Then when I see they have modified the way they play from mine I get new ideas and new directions...and when I see they have played it better than me I force myself to swallow any pride and ego, and celebrate in their joy and success.

  • I've maintained that when I am doing public performances I won't do it for free - I won't do other musicians out of a job. Even if I don't need the money, and I just do a gig for the enjoyment. This is tied into me earning an income from a day job, and the struggling musicians trying to make a living. If I won't "undercut" other musicians at gigs, isn't tabs the same deal?

  • Sigh, I'm going to have to say this one out loud, and you probably won't like to hear it. I knew that if I put tabs out I would become popular. It's about value adding, giving just a little bit more than the next guy. Seeing a video you like _and_ being given a free tab is always going to be more popular than seeing a video you like "no tabs available". For guitarists of course; non-guitarists don't care about tabs. This is by no means the primary reason I started doing tabs - in fact, the primary reason I started posting them was that I was constantly nagged to. Perhaps somewhere in me is ego that still needs to be squashed and put back into its place.

Well that's about all that springs to mind just now on the subject. At the moment I'm still posting free tabs (one went out yesterday in fact); and generally I still need to make them as part of the arranging process, but not so much anymore. I'm secretly keeping all my Dark Side of the Moon tabs to myself (the ones on YouTube are woefully out of date) thinking that one day I might make an instructional DVD/book. Do I (a) keep putting up free tabs; (b) stop giving out tabs; (c) charge a fee for tabs that are legally released with copyright holders consent; (d) charge a fee for tabs on the sly without the copyright holders knowledge or even (e) give them out only by email when people ask?

It's a tough one.


Thursday 22 April 2010

How do you know if you are getting any better?

Well it's pretty easy to tell in the early days, you'll start fretting notes without a buzzing noise, it won't take you 30 seconds to fret a chord before you can strum it, and so forth. But what about when you are past all that, you can play a riff or a song, and it felt good. Was it good? Was it in fact fantastic, or was it in fact pretty poor?

First up, especially for my mate Oliver, I've got to say "it doesn't matter, as long as it felt good to you." That's the personal triumph, the win over the challenge. You gave yourself some joy and goodness knows we all need some joy.

But I believe part of getting better is throwing yourself to the wolves, and seeing if they eat you up, or you eat them up. Josh (thanks for the tip Rom, he's an excellent read) would say "Why are guitarists such haters?" and I echo the sentiment. So if you do throw yourself to wolves, be prepared for unconstructive criticism.

And it's hard to take criticism for something that is an outpouring of *you*, it is your emotion, your feelings coming out on the guitar. You are digging deep when you play the guitar to others, you've got your heart on your criticism will equally dig deep. Look, I'll just say it: you're gonna have to get over it. Within that criticism may be positive stuff you can take away with you and learn from, the rest, you are going to have to just let it go. Ignore the negative destructiveness - or stick to the comfort and security of playing purely for your own personal joy.

For me, I was already thick skinned before I started putting stuff out there, thanks to the internet. I had run various site messageboards and often got a "You are an idiot and your stuff is stupid". At first it would ruin my day, and regardless of how many people would rush to my rescue "don't listen to that guy JAW" it was always that knife that stuck, the 99 other positive comments didn't pull it out. Several years before it ceased to have an effect on me.

With youtube I had to get even thicker skinned, there is even more "you" being put up for potential ridicule. I think as you get older you get less sensitive. Thank goodness!

So jump in, put something out there, be upset by haters, then let it go, and in between get some potentially useful feedback. For example, on youtube you might get "Your playing was out of tune" - relisten to it; hey yeah, I never really noticed. I must take more care to correctly tune up. "Your tempo sucks" - relisten to it; I *was* playing fast, and speeding up as I went! I must get over that performance anxiety, and must practice playing against a metronome. "Ha, your face looks funny" - yeah okay, I have guitar face, and you know what - I don't care :)


Monday 19 April 2010

Half song playing guitarists & the control freak

A couple of emails I've had recently with fellow guitarists inspired me to spiel up a blog entry, but I fear it is not going to go anywhere. Let's see!

Half-song playing guitarists; if I were to estimate a percentage, I'm guessing that 90% of people who can form an E chord on a guitar are half song playing guitarists. It makes sense, when you first start out on the guitar, you want, nay, *need* something that is going to inspire you. If you took up playing the guitar out of your own free will (wasn't forced on you by well-meaning parents) then you probably did so because of some riff that you fell in love with. So you learn that riff. And a few others.

The problem is that a riff is not a whole song; and probably, that song contains a whole lot of stuff that _isn't_ a riff, so you don't really have a chance of being able to play the whole thing as a complete song. It's a guitarist half-song.

That might be enough for you; pick up a guitar and noodle your favourite snippets. But don't expect any audience to appreciate it. A listener wants to hear a song from start to finish, it's just the way it is.

(I'm in the land of cover music by the way, the rules change for originals and improvisations.)

So what are your choices, when you are one bloke/blokette with a guitar, and have finally/thankfully become sick of playing half-songs? I see three excellent choices, in reverse order of recommendation: 3 - learn fingerstyle, that's where I went; 2 - learn to sing and play guitar, either just strumming or strumming with some picking either finger or plectrum; 1 - don't be one guy playing a guitar, play with other musicians.

Singing and playing guitar is great. Someone who can hold a tune while playing the guitar will engage an audience easily.

I rarely play with other musicians, but of late when I do I've realised that I'm missing something special. The style that I play isn't designed to fit in with other instruments, it's solo fingerstyle, trying to be a one-man-band. So I'd have to drop that style and go for lead, rhythm or bass. None of them really appeal, so I don't think I'd fit in a band.

And there shows the control freak. When you are solo-fingerstyling, you are completely in control, you rely on no-one except yourself, you're doing everyone's job. The situation then self-fulfills, the more you solo-fingerstyle the more control freak you become, the more control freak you become the more you solo-fingerstyle.

Is there a way to break out, and "let go"? I dunno. Do we want to "let go"? I dunno.

My advice then is, if you have played half-songs for long enough then (1) join a band and enjoy being part of a team (2) learn to sing, the guitar is "backing" for your singing and (100) go down the control-freak solo instrumental fingerstyle path.

(I love solo instrumental fingerstyle)

Monday 22 March 2010

What's happening March 2010

What's happening...mmm, not a lot. About two months ago I thought I'd get involved with the acoustic guitar forum, I was thinking all these monoversations I'm having with you needs to be turned into a conversation. It didn't really work out. For starters, there is so much happening on that forum you can't keep up. But secondly, I don't think I fitted in. There are serious, purist, experienced, professional guitar players that are well knowledged in all walks of acoustic guitar; then there are n00bs and intermediate players looking for info. I don't fit with either of them crowds; I'm too hacky for the purists...and too hacky for the n00bs.

So I'm back here ;)

New guitar is going well. My pickup hasn't arrived yet, WA doesn't stand for Western Australia, it stands for Wait Awhile. But to be fair, the pickup is coming from Finland. When it arrives, then there is a whole new mission of getting a luthier to cut holes in my shiny guitar. So still a while off yet.

I'm still getting used to playing the new guitar. I think I mentioned before you can pick up any guitar and play it to at least 80% potential immediately, but to know it, to _really_ know it, at least 6 months if not a year. You have to get every minute detail locked into muscle memory, those sub-millimetre distances that make the difference between a clean note and a fret buzz. Especially when playing fingerstyle.

I'm on the path and I'm hopeful - with the old guitar I "knew" it, but I was limited by it because of the neck. The risk of errors was too high, there was no room for sloppiness on that neck. And we're always going to be sloppy from time to time, so a guitar that forgives (or you stick to playing stuff that is really easy) is where you need to be.

Arrangements: two on the go, INXS - "Don't Change" - Australian band that "emerged" in my home town, and a personal favourite of my wife. Def Leppard - "Hysteria", a mate of mine is a Def Leppard nut from the 80's/90's and I've taken on the challenge - my wife was also an 80's/90's Def Leppard fan so double win. See, gotta play stuff that others want to hear. Pink Floyd also ticking along, very slowly, in the background - that's _my_ stuff ;)

I'm not sure if I mentioned before but I have possibly the best guitar tuner in the world; it is a Peterson stroboscopic tuner...application for my iPhone! Amazing software for an amazing phone. Too much noise affects it uplugged to get 1/10th of a cent accuracy, but I bought a cable to go from guitar to iPhone so no worries (when guitar has a pickup ;))

Meanwhile, a guy from the Rate My Cover site had been emailing me on and off for a while about Pink Floyd, and was taking on my Brain Damage/Eclipse tab, which is a bit grim because I've changed the way I play it and sounds much better now, I've worked the melody in properly. I haven't tabbed it, and it isn't high on my priorities to do.

I then added two plus two - and thought, hey, the next time I sit down and play some songs, using my iPhone to tune up, I'll then use the iPhone to record it; and send him a copy!

Then I took it further, I'm pickup-less at the moment, and recording a video for me involves basically a whole evening of effort which is a rare commodity, so I'll record my new stuff and pop it on my blog as a shared secret for my six mates who read this site! (Yep Roman, I'm up from three mates to six now! ;))

What I also appreciated about this idea is that the recordings are warts-and-all. If you think my youtube stuff is rough as guts (I do) then this stuff is terrible. It's good to hear the unpractised, half finished, mistake after mistake playing...well, so long as it is "close enough"...for a few reasons I won't mention right now.

So here you go, here's what I've got so far with Dark Side of the Moon. It's in Apple (iPhone) format, Windows users might need to put on a codec. Note also that the iPhone does dynamic input gain, as in, if you are playing quietly it automatically turns itself up, which doesn't really suit a session recording. It picks up a lot of noise as well, but overall it's okay to get the idea. Sorry about the annoying tapping, I was wearing shoes and my foot tapping is, um, inconsistent :)

Key times for those who want to skip through: Breathe 0:09, Time 2:57, Breathe Reprise 6:19, Great Gig in the Sky 7:43, Us and Them 11:11, Brain Damage 14:24, Eclipse 17:42. Us and Them is still a work in progress, about half way through I was getting closer to what I have in mind, at the start I'd forgotten what I had previously worked out, haven't tried playing it for at least 2-3 months, and nothing is written down. Great Gig is still waiting on the solo. And for a decent player ;)

I tuned in to start with, but I took the guitar from inside the cool house to outside in the humid evening heat, so by the 3rd song it was out of tune, I didn't stop to retune it, sorry! Normally you need to retune a few times for the first 10-15 mins while the guitar "adjusts" even from just getting warm in your hands. Nylon stings - a blessing and a curse. The unecessarily long gaps between some songs is me taking a swig from my bottle of beer. Hey, it was a hot thunderstormy night!

Don't change - I've basically tabbed it, was an epic, I tried to catch all my subtleties this time on paper. There's not actually a lot to it. Unfortunately I realised after I'd tabbed it I should have transposed the key down two steps, I spend a lot of time baoo late now. Playing is sloppy, but by the time the pickup is fitted I'll be ready to do a youtube recording.

Hysteria - still working on the solo. I know what I'm going to do, but I haven't committed it to memory. Lots of mistakes. A few months off yet.

Anyway, it's good to be back, I promise; my six mates, that I won't leave it so long between blogs and I'll keep them shorter!

Monday 1 February 2010

New Guitar

I bought another guitar last Friday.  But before I talk about that, how do you buy a guitar?

"Play guitars, until you find one you like, then buy it."  Pretty simple huh.  Guitars are like women (my apologies if any women are reading this, substitude man for woman). When you come across a guitar you love, you will just know.  Everyone has a different taste, what one person loves another won't...which is great, what a boring old world it would be if everyone was the same!

For a newbie, buying a guitar is probably even easier.  Decide what you want to do - wailing lead rock/jazz/etc, you'll be a plectrum picker on an electric.  Strumming chords and singing around the campfire, you'll be plectrum or maybe fingerpicker on steel string, maybe nylon.  Playing some tricky fingerstyle pieces, you'll be fingerpicking or maybe plectrum on nylon, maybe steel.  Once you know, go buy what you can afford!

My guitar path was a start on nylon classical style, which then became folksy/chord strumming on nylon, which then became rock/heavy rock/heavy metal on electric, which then became fingerstyle on steel string and has come nearly full circle to fingerstyle on nylon.

Now while I was playing fingerstyle on steel I was never quite getting the sound I wanted, and I spent years trying to work out the problem.  It was the way I played.  I realised I could either change how I played, or go to nylon and keep playing the way I played.  I like how I played (I did try to play to suit the steel) so I set about buying a nylon.

I found what I thought I wanted about two years ago; a good cross-over nylon.  It had a cutaway, narrow neck, thin body with a great 2-way pickup in it.  I've been playing it for over a year.  But during that time I realised that I didn't really want a cross-over nylon, I wanted a proper classical nylon!  It took me a while to realise it.  Having a thick neck again was the main driving force.  For tight complex stuff you need that extra width.  Since buying my new guitar (52mm neck at the nut verus the old 46mm) I have already found it easier to play just from string spacing alone.

Herein lies the problem: classical players play classical guitars.  There are plenty of great cross-over nylons with everything you need; well, my old guitar was already that!  But in a classical you won't get a 2-way pickup, in you want a cutaway then it will probably have a narrow neck.

I looked for a while, and nothing turned up.

So my alternative approach was to buy a good classical guitar and fit my own pickup in it.  I've completely stage 1; I've bought a classical guitar.  No cutaway, no pickup; it's an Esteve 1GR11.  It was kinda expensive, but my mate Rob down at Clef on Hay Street looked after me, lets just say he let it go for somewhere between $AUD2500 and $3000.  A lovely sound and very playable.

Next step is to fit in an B-Band A6T 2-way pickup.  The B-Band in my old guitar is just magic.  The 2-way means an under saddle transducer (UST) and an Acoustic Soundboard transducer (AST).  Under saddle picks up direct sound via the saddle, in-body (AST or condensor mike) picks up all the subtleties of the body.  You mix the ratio to get the sound you want.  B-Band don't use piezo, they use some other technology that they don't really elaborate on.

I _could_ get someone to fit it for me, but since I am actually an electronics engineer, and  have plenty of manual labour skills and the tools, there is no excuse in not doing it myself!

I reckon I've been pretty persistent with my guitars. Some fellas after playing the guitar for a mere 5-10 years will have a collection of 20 guitars.  This latest addition of mine is only my 5th regular "proper" guitar I've bought.  Not bad going for 31 years of playing the guitar!


Monday 25 January 2010

Right Hand...more than likely part 1...

One of my 3 readers, Rich, inspired me to write about the right hand.  It's a good call, because as far as the left hand goes, there isn't a lot of difference between a fingerpicker and a wailing one-note-at-a-time lead guitar shredder, but the difference between right hands is chalk compared with the proverbial cheese.  Each fingerpicker will have his own take on the right hand, I'll try to stay open minded, but I only have one opinion, my own ;)

First up, you need to have accuracy.  I was nearly going to say stability there, but accuracy doesn't have to come from stability everytime .  Somewhere in our brains there is a 3D spacial awareness of self, and we have to tap deeply into that for all forms of guitaring.  There are a couple of shortcuts - for example you can stare at your right hand.  You can put your pinky on the soundboard.  You can rest fingers on strings not in use.  You can just have your arm resting on the guitar.

Each of these things creates a relative hand-to-string position and your brain can calculate the offset of what it is requested to do next.  For example, consider a flat picker, he's just downstroked the G string, his next move is an upstroke is the B string. His brain controls the amount of movement, learned from experience, to perform the task. Do it enough and you'll never miss.  It's only a short move afterall!  It is possible to move to any string next - but the further away the more risk of an error.

If you are just fixing your relative position by your arm, you brian doesn't have a lot of reference feedback to go by - it's a long, error potential causing distance from where your arm rests on the guitar to where your hand is.  If your pinky is on the soundboard your reference is much shorter and there is less error.  For me I find resting pinky down as an anchor is awkward and detracts from playing, but that won't be the case for everyone.  Pinky anchor at your own leisure.

We all look at our right hand from time to time, the visual cue is valuable position feedback for the brain.  Playing staring at the right hand will also detract from playing, it's as if there is only a certain amount of CPU cycles available in your brain, and once you start using your eyes you have stolen a lot of CPU cycles that you could spend doing other more useful things, like looking and making contact with your audience ;)  But a quick glance at the right hand to fix a reference point, especially when you are about to launch into a flurry of activity, is beneficial.

Three treble strings - three fingers; a thumb to move around the three bass stings.  Sounds pretty sensible!  And if you are playing a Travis picking style song, well, the right hand is basically dead still, the correct finger at the correct time moves to pluck the correct string, the thumb, which is a bit more manouverable than the fingers, can fairly easily jump between one or two strings plucking.  If it is a repeating pattern, well that's even easier!

I'm not a big fan of Travis picking, it is a bit formuliac.  It has its place, but you wouldn't want to play every song Travis picking style.

Same can be said for classical.  Picking out a p-i-m-a-m-i (that's thumb-index-middle-annular(ring)-etc) is fairly standard fair for classical.  Nice, use it all the time.  Easy to play because your fingers are right there, relative positioning is almost a given.  Can get repetitive if used excessively.

Let's look at Naudo.  Throw the book out the window, he is playing every string with any finger and he's not just plucking, he's downstroke flicking, part strumming, holding his fingernail like a pick and lead-guiaring, he's slapping and whacking!

Well go and get your book back, a lot of this is based on the "normal" styles, but if comes down to accuracy, and how to get it.  And that is helped by minimising reference errors.

Stability to start with will minimise reference errors.  I use a classical style postion to get stability; that is, you have your wrist basically locked, your fingers pluck mostly from the second knuckle and your thumb is nearly stiff moving from the joint at your hand.  A wise fella once told me if you think you are playing from your fingers you are probably playing from your hand, if you are playing from your hand you are probably playing from your wrist, wrist-elbow, elbow-shoulder.  I'm still not quite sure what he meant, but I've taken away that if I essentially lock my hand and wrist in a fixed position then I'm probably playing from my fingers like I should be :)

My wrist is at quite a high angle, it doesn't need to be, I just find that is the most comfortable.  If it doesn't hurt and it makes it easy to play, go with it.

So with a good stable right hand position, relative positioning of your fingers is less prone to errors.  Playing top E and bottom E is always going to be easy, you have a wide margin for error, "start out wide and feel your way in". 

What I see Naudo doing is keeping movement to a minimum.  A heavy handed follow through on a single string leaves your fingers out there somewhere and can blow your reference to the next string, whereas a short effective stroke leaves you exactly where you know you are.

Classical players talk about rest stroke and free stroke.  Rest stroke means that as you play a string, your finger follows through and comes to rest on the string next to the original string.  This is of course a good method of keeping a reference, because rather than your hand floating you are physically touching a string, "reseting" in your brain the reference position (because you know which string you are resting on).  This is very similar to pinky anchor or resting your not-in-use fingers on known strings.

I've gone off rest stroke over the years, it is all free stroke for me these days.  I don't like the sound of rest stroke it is always heavily accentuated; I can get that if I need it from a hearty free stroke pluck.

But now let's throw in some flicking/strumming Naudo style in between songs - if that doesn't mess up your reference then a well grounded player you are ("Strumming" is moving more from the wrist or arm, "flicking" is just from the fingers, ie wrist more or less locked.) I've taught myself to flick chord pieces with all three fingers, kinda like a little chip or flick across the chord fragment I'm after.  At first I played them fairly wide, strum style with wrist movement, but it creates the risk of reference loss.  Most of the time after you have strummed a chord fragment the next note is a pluck in the melody, and by gee, you want to pluck the right note!

Looking at Naudo he adds flicks with only his second or third finger keeping his index finger ready at a target string, and the movement contains no wrist.  It is minimalist, and reduces the risk of a missed note pluck.  You extremely rarely see him miss a note; his stability and reference is rock solid so his accuracy is almost 100%.

The other trick he employs to further reduce risk is making sure the whole chord is formed.  If you miss a note and hit something out of chord someone is going to notice.  But if you miss a note, but the note you hit is in chord, it won't sound quite right but it won't sound wrong, if you know what I mean.

And there we come to probably the most critical point of all - what do you do when you make the mistake and pluck the wrong string?  The brain has to quickly re-reference and get back on track.  Hopefully the sound of the one wrong note is enough of a clue to the brain to say "I'm up a string too high" or "I'm down a string too low" and get your hand to take the corrective action. Alternatives include breaking out into a wide chord strum to fill your way through the bar and then pickup in the right place at the start of the next bar; or having a second attempt - many times in a melody if the note comes an off-beat late it could be construed as just adding a bit of lib.  Of course a second attempt means breaking out of the picking pattern you are in; is it possible?  I find these days the answer is a resounding yes; it is possible, just maybe, that I am heading toward true thumb independance...

Sorry my 3 readers, this has been a real brain dump, devoid of structure!  There is so much to say about the right hand that I'd need to spend the time just planning a table of contents of what I have to say about it.  But since this is a place of venting, ranting and rambling, that's all you are going to get for now :)  I'm sure one of my three readers, you know who you are, will pipe up and steer this in a particular direction.  This is a time that a forum would be useful!

For example, I didn't even mention fingernails...(but I have done in the past).  Oh to bring all these things together in a coherent manner! ;)