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!

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"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!

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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 :)

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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! :)


  1. Pretty early for me this morning (5:32 am), next thing I see old Jaw has written something (hmmm... sorry I'll avoid the word "old", in case you're concerned about arthritis).
    Yes I was right about stretching before playing, however I've never done it myself. But my left hand is pretty basic most of the time. I still remember the advice you gave once on this blog, about bar chords, where the force has to come from the arm, not the fingers, more than ever you should apply that.

    Personnally I have never managed to use tabs (however I played a lot of piano reading sheet music), I guess the reason is that there are too many options to play the same note, too many fingerings, it never works for me. The only song I remember entirely learning from tab is the boring Stairway To Heaven, back in my youth.

    By the way, I haven't had time to add more players in the fingerstyle database, but I've already experienced the convenience of making nice discoveries thanks to it. Jake Reichbart is beyond good, it is insane, I can't help compare with Naudo, it is not as flamboyant, more sober (and not as crazy), but like Naudo there is an amazing knowledge of music theory that can be deployed instantly on the fretboard, shame he would never play acoustic, his smooth jazz sound doesn't really appeal to people who are not specially into jazz I guess.

  2. Morning R!

    I'll accept the "old", I'm forty next year :) They say forties is the new thirties, or something.

    Using arm - check, still always try to, quite often I "rest" my thumb during a series of barre chords by taking it off the back of the neck altogether and going 100% arm. Only when it's convenient chords though :)

    Pinky damage has been from sideways over-stretching, repeatedly even when it hurt. Not much I can do about that, except stop when it hurts and stretch before playing (which I have been, which does rule out "just squeezing in a 5 minute play", it takes half of the 5 minutes to have a stretch!)

    We'll stick to calling tabs a guide then eh?

    Fingerstyle database - I've added a few, and some requests came through which I reviewed and added. Jake was from my sub list, yep, really appreciate his stuff. Since putting out a few more links to the fsdb, and allowing robots to search my cgi-bin, the use has gone up a bit, it's in the top 10 pages hit on my page. These things take a while to catch on, if they catch on at all, but so far I've benefitted from it, and so have you, so why not eh? :)

    I do plan to fix up the sort feature - if you have a sort on, and then give a thumb, it goes back to the default sort. That annoys me. If there is anything else that annoys people, let me know!

  3. HI Jaw,

    I am a big fan of your work, and have learned several of you naudo rearrangements. I know that you have had some contact with Naudo and his friend Juan. I was wondering if you had any insight into naudo's understanding of music. It is obvious that he knows the guitar inside and out,and is perhaps the best guitarist I have ever seen. And, based on my observation I doubt that he reads music notation. I came across some blurb saying that he was never formally trained and learned from playing with other musicians. I just wonder if he intuitively understands harmony or if he thinks about things like major, minor and dominant voicing, or inversions. If we could only gain some insight into how he understands and visualizes the guitar and musical relationships with the fretboard. Just some food for thought.

  4. Hey Bill - I think you're thinking what I'm thinking about Naudo :)

    That is, he just has this "understanding" of music. I once said somewhere, and I think it is still the best analogy, that he speaks the language of music like we speak the language of English. It is so ingrained, so very fundamental to his core being that it completely natural, like this conversation we are having now.

    Okay, add in 40 years of continuously playing the guitar to get skills - and refine those skills, pushing the boundaries of tradition - for example, heavy use of left hand middle finger for chord bassnotes - very effective in fingerpicking, everyone should be doing it.

    He would hear a song, and the language of it is immediately obvious to him, and he will remember it. I think he has an above average memory, but he's not photographic. If you got him to play a song that he had heard once, he will play all that style of the song, but he won't get every word, inflection or even verse in. Much like if you had read this and then was asked to restate what I have said. You'd get the gist of it, but it wouldn't be word for word.

    I don't think he thinks about major/minor/inversions/etc. I think he's learnt music in the same way our kids first learnt to talk - if you hear language enough, try sounding things out yourself, have positive reinforcement in conversation, you will eventually be able to talk. Without being able to read, without understanding how to conjugate a verb or the difference between a noun and pronoun.

    I bet if he played a song, and then you said "now play it in a different key" he wouldn't be transposing; he is tracking the intervals between the language that is the song, and he would do it effortlessly. Like the serious jazz players do - except add thumbing a bassline and filling out the middle as well! Chord inversions in different positions just happen based on where he currently is on the fretboard and what he needs in the melody. He does know his inversions though, I'm quite sure he's learnt that one like learning the times tables.

    I can't rave on about him enough...and all that I am saying here is through observation, from a very few brief emails, and from my own experience. After analysing his works for a few years now, I can "see" where you need to go to be like him. It is a path I cannot take however, it is a complete life, you couldn't have a day job and you'd need very understanding wife and kids :)

    But at the same time I've learnt a lot, and collected more skills and understanding from analysing his work than all the skills and understanding I learnt in the first 25 years of playing guitar. In fact I feel sorry for you guys who I've stolen the task of transcribing his songs - I got so much more from transcribing (and rearranging) than just learning how to play a song! :)

    Great comment Bill, one that always gets me fired up. But just like Naudo "feels" the music I can only "feel" the way he works and it is hard to describe. Like describing how you can speak. Not how you learnt to speak, but how you can speak. He's far from the only one, there are many many guitarists that can speak the language of music through the guitar; he just seems to be the one that does it the most naturally and effortlessly. He doesn't seem to have a bag of licks and tricks that he pulls out (although he does if you look closely) - and his technique seems to be free flowing and non-rigid (although it is stylised if you look closely) - all his songs are almost improvisations (although there are key phrases that he's learned if you look closely)...all because he speaks the language of music with his guitar.


  5. Very nice comment about Naudo, Jaw. The question was very relevant too.
    I mostly agree, although I can only suppose.

    I will add something. Naudo is from Brazil. We may sometimes forget, because he plays a lot of pop music, how much his playing takes its root in Brazilian music. I would think that he did learn music theory through the study of classic bossa nova (and other styles) at a very young age, which is equivalent to learning jazz theory, only with a specific Brazilian sense of rhythm. I think Brazilian guitarists normally do learn jazz/bossa chords and theory, even informally. That's why the average beginner in Brazil is struggling with complex chords, when the "Western" equivalent player would be playing the riff from Smoke on the Water. Don't take my word for an absolute truth, but I'm talking from experience, I've seen it.

    So in my opinion he knows exactly how to read and name chords, as well as the way to use complex chords as part of arrangements, tricks like chord substitutions.

    As for reading music (scores), again I can only suppose, but since he absolutely doesn't need it, then I don't think he does.

  6. Hello JAW!

    What kind of saddle do you have? I'm planning to replace my plastic saddle to a real bone-made one, but i'm not sure it would worth it. It's sold as a square piece, it would take hours to sand that hard material down to the proper shape. And, to top it all, my saddle is compensated.

    I listened to some of your previous videos and realized that I love the sound of your Yamaha. That's gonna be my next guitar :) BTW, do you play your older instruments sometimes?


    Hey, this nice comment of yours deserves to be a blog entry: "Why Naudo is the best No.2".

    Well, I don't understand one thing about him: why doesn't he do real gigs for real audience? With such a huge repertoire and professional playing, he should have done some albums and tours. Maybe he needs a good manager.

    You are so true about transcribing! Although I've done only one piece from Troubleclef, but I listen to his arrangements in a whole different way, I discover things in his playing I never did before. BTW, I'm butchering an other arrangement, it needs some more practising, I'm going to post it soon :)


  7. At the moment on the Esteve I've got a plastic one - there are cheap plastics and expensive plastics, if you pick up a square blank and can flex it then it's pretty cheap, if it doesn't bend at all, and makes a satisfying almost ceramic "click" if you drop it on a hard surface, well, it's probably pretty good. I've shaped bone ones - it's not that hard a material to work. Smells "boney" though. I have an offcut of polished granate (glass would do the same job) and put a piece of sandpaper on, and drag the saddle across it. Labour of love, it takes time, but it's not hard.

    I used up all my bone ones and haven't bough new ones, so my recent ones are expensive plastic. I have used cleap plastic while doing shape tests - really, I don't think there is much in it. I can't really hear any difference, but the cheap plastic ones "notch" very quickly where the string breaks across it. They aren't worth the effort icheap plastic one is $1, high quality plastic one $5. Bone $5 if you can find them.

    "Compensated" saddle I'm pretty sure just means that it accounts for string thickness and the different behaviour of wound and non wound strings - probably has a rebate on the G string. You'll be doing that anyway when you shape up your own.

    A good tip is *don't* touch the original saddle, keep that as a reference. I've learnt that the hard way. What will happen is the first saddle you make won't be quite right, and you'll look at the original one with a "oh!" moment, and realise why it is the shape it is.

    When you have a UST it becomes critical that the bridge slot is perfect and the saddle fits in it perfect. Strings are always going to want to pull over a saddle, and any leaning over on a saddle is going to poorly transmit pressure onto the UST. I've been using over-thick saddles and thinning them down. A thicknesser would be great; thinning down on a glass plate is hit and miss. You need a good technique. I haven't mastered it :) I should make a jig of something for creating the perfect saddle - but what I found is the bridge slot isn't perfect anyway; especially when it gets laquered and the coat is uneven.

    Hmm. Why do I turn comments into near-blog entries? :)

    So quickly finishing off:
    * No, I don't play my old guitars. I can't bring myself to sell them, but I don't play them :)
    * Yes, I should write long comments as new blog entries :) Next time!
    * Naudo doesn't "properly" gig because he is comfortable and happy. Juan tried to explain it to me; basically he doesn't have high aspirations to "get out there", he's laid back, getting by, happy. Our Western style of thinking don't really understand that...maybe we need to learn some of that!
    * Arranging - well I reckon you know my fingerstylers path...start with tabs to get some finger skills, move to transcribing to get some style skills, then full blown into arranging to be a Modern Solo Instrumental Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitarist! Look forward to your arrangement.