Tuesday 21 December 2021

Asymmetric Right Thumbnail Shape

"Heeeyyy" in my best Fonzie...hmm...
that's showing my age.

"Thumbs up for Christmas!" Well in fact this is more about how I've been shaping my right thumbnail for a while. I've spoken about nails before but this is a new trick that is working well for me.

A problem I had was my right thumbnail being so long that when I bring my hand down real low to the fretboard and I really dig in, my nail will catch hold of the string, pulling it up and for a loud awful slap bass sound, it's not good.

I want some thumbnail length for the tone I like, so I had to have this perfect thumbnail length balance between long enough for tone and short enough that it doesn't catch.

So I put two and two together - have the left side of my thumbnail short so it doesn't catch, leading up to some length on the right side for the tone I am after! It took me a while to get over having a non-symmetrical shaped thumbnail (okay, I'm still getting over it) but not only did it cure the thumbnail catch problem, but I think it has improved playability and tone at the same time! It's only a minor difference but you end up with the correct attack angle for all positions - when I'm low down palm muting the strings, or when I'm high up classically picking.

I recommend giving this a try, I'm giving it a thumbs up <groan, thanks dad...>

Saturday 20 November 2021

2021 End of Year Stocktake

This is what is laying around at the moment, quite a lot of songs that need a recording. Shout out if you would love to see one of these songs done and recorded!

Ready to be recorded:

Chicago - If You Leave Me Now
The Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Cream - White Room
Dragon - Rain
Bob Dylan - It's All Over Now Baby Blue
Queen - I Want to Break Free

Tidy up, get tab finished so they can be recorded:

The Eagles - Hotel California
The Animals - House of the Rising Sun

Back list - some have work done, some are wish list.

Adele - Rolling in the Deep
CCR - Bad Moon Rising
The Beatles - Blackbird
Daddy Cool - Eagle Rock
Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Steve Miller Band - Fly Like an Eagle
Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks
Eric Clapton - Tears in Heaven
Bach - Toccata (Sky Version)
Bob Dylan - Knocking on Heaven's Door

Songs that I need to get Tabs done:

The Wiggles - Rock-a-bye Your Bear / Where's Jeff
Lipps Inc - Funky Town

Sunday 31 October 2021

What's happening October 2021

It's quiet in my house this 31st October 2021 - my wife and three kids are still asleep. It's a special day, my oldest turns 18. this very day. Many, many years ago, when she was not quite 3, I posted a video of Pachelbel's Canon in D and mentioned "I decided that I would learn to play this tune for my daughter's wedding. Seeing as she is only 3, I've got plenty of time to practise." She is not planning a wedding, so I still have time, but wow, where has the time gone?  YouTube first post 28th may 2006; 15 and a half years ago.  This blog first post 25 Aug 2008; 13 years ago. No plans on stopping :-)

I've got songs to record, I have been playing them through every few days.  I keep adjusting them, heh, nothing is ever finished. I have also being running an experiment, a song I have had on the back burner for a year or so, Bob Dylan "It's all over now Baby Blue", It's a simple melody, the chord progression is cool, very Dylanesque. Because the melody is simple and there is plenty of rests, I have been jazzing up the bass line. So jazzy - that the experiment - so as to improvise it every time.  Nothing written down. The beauty of the chord progression and the style of song is that pretty much any bass note is fair game, even notes clearly not even related to the chord or the progression sound jazzy and fine, so the improv should be easy, don't even need to think about what note to play.

You know what?  It isn't easy! But it is cool - it is forcing me to think differently. I find that I will miss coming back in on the melody because I'm pre-occupied with what I'm doing on the bass line.  Most songs where I have learnt a bass line, they are fully on autopilot.  You don't need to think about them.  But improvising a bass line, you need to think, and then suddenly your thumb independence is out the door. "I can only do one thing at once!"  What I think the result of this experiment will be - because I've already noticed it - is that the independence becomes more fluid.  You won't rigidly play _exactly what you've learnt_ you will mix it up.

I do it a tiny amount already - mixing up bass lines and rhythm mids.  Naudo does it a lot. Tommy can play two songs at the same time!  Although, I don't think it is truly playing two songs at the same time, it is programmed in.  I'm sure if you said "Now change the key of one of those songs" he would be able to do it. But if you said "Now play one of the songs 10 bpm slower while keeping the other one the same bpm" - I don't think that is possible without pre-programming it :-)

Saturday 9 October 2021

Strap buttons

Guitarists when performing need to stand up. There I said it. Feel free to add your own exclusions, and they are all valid, but when John Citizen sees a guitarist performing he won't get the same je ne sais quoi if you are sitting rather than standing.

Acoustic strap button relocated

For many a year I have tried to find ways of standing up to perform.  There are two main problems - one - because you generally don't practise standing up, when you do, it's not as easy to play - and two - there are many ways of holding the guitar standing up and I've never liked any of them.

On my acoustic, I initially drilled a hole in the back of the heel and screwed in a strap button more than a decade ago. This was adequate.  Most of the time if I'm playing my acoustic standing up I'm doing simple fingerstyle or just strumming. Since I have been helping out at my local church with music I have been strumming chords - with a pick no less - standing up. The problem with the button in the back of the heel is that the balance is wrong - it is trying to fall away from you the whole time.

I worked out through a bit of research that a strap button on the heel closer to the frets is celebrated (abeit by a minority group) as the best place to put you strap button. I tool a drill to my acoustic and made the modification...

I realised afterwards that I got the angle slightly wrong, out by around 10-20°, it doesn't affect the strength or attachment or feel, but I know I got it wrong! The balance of the guitar when holding it is much better - not trying to lean forward or backwards, and it feels very very secure because the strap comes around slightly.

Now the biggest question you are asking - "doesn't it get in the way?" Surprisingly, no. Fretting right up the top, chords, whatever, no, my hand shape is cupped, like I'm holding a tennis ball, thumb on the back, and the button fits in that cup. It's a good spot!

Classical guitar strap button

Now my classical friends who are a bit squeamish had better stop reading now. I was so convinced by this modification that I applied it to my classical guitar. Sacrilege, I know, but I had already chopped it up putting a two way pickup in it, so what's another hole. I had already tried using a strap with a string around the headstock (yuck!) and I had experimented with suction cups on the body (actually quite good, but I always felt like they would let go at any time, irrational but I couldn't stop thinking about it.)

Because this guitar is three times more expensive than my acoustic, and there is less meat in the heel, and that I got the angle wrong last time, I decided to enlist and expert to drill the hole for me.

I went down to Kosmic Sound and asked if they would do it. They said "We are happy to sell you the button, but we would rather you install it." That makes sense, really. Once it is drilled there is no going back. If the customer doesn't like it, too late! But they gave me a name of a guy who does it, I called him, had a chat with him, told him my plans, asked for suggestions, mentioned that I was apprehensive about it, had put it off for years...and then gave it to him.

A little later that afternoon, done, went and picked it up. I'm going to give a shout out to Mitch down at Profret because he got the angle right, the location right, it is spot on. And he's a great bloke too - we had a chat for a bit, when Covid hit he was out of his normal work for 6 months so set up his shop to repair and modify guitars which he had already been doing on the side for years. You rock Mitch!

So how did it go? Very happy. What surprised me was that some stuff is easier to play standing up! I reckon that is because I hold the neck up a bit higher standing up, when I'm sitting it tends to be out straighter. A high neck angle is more classical style and so left hand fretting is easier. I can't quickly whiz up and down the neck in barre chords like I can when I'm sitting down, because my leg normally acts as a "hold". While standing up you need to back off a bit more so you can reposition, you can't just push or pull against your leg. I'm sure overtime it will get easier as I adapt.

I'm giving this mod two thumbs up - it gets you standing up to play - and it is possibly the best holding position you can get from one small hole drilled in your guitar.

Fretting a high D chord - no worries, my hand shape doesn't go near the strap button.

Tuesday 21 September 2021

What's happening September 2021

Made time to record Something by The Beatles which took quite a few takes and required a bit of audio editing before I was happy with the sound.  I recorded in a different room (oh to have a dedicated music studio) so the mic levels ended up a bit low - the mic position wasn't great - I tried it placed a bit further out, yeah nah.  Don't do that. I ended up adding a bit of compression to compensate (in addition to my usual EQ balance of boosting the bass and trebles a bit).  I feel that compression is only when you want your audio to be LOUD, to fill all the frequencies as much as possible. Like glam rockers from the 80's.  But as much as I like dynamics, there is hollow/pale/wispy/far away so compression it had to be.

I still don't add reverb.  The room has already shaped a natural reverb, adding any more is "hiding in the mud".  Maybe because I've never mastered the use of reverb?  I was going to get my eldest daughter to help me with the sound mix, she's done some sound engineering study and has done sound for many live shows, she has a good ear.  After I had recorded this and punched out some missed notes and fret buzzes (I think I counted 8 I was not happy with), alas, she was doing a thing, I just wanted to get it done and posted, so we didn't review it together.  Next time maybe, while I kinda know what I want to hear, that's me, a different ear perspective would be interesting...or it might just create arguments :-)

Speaking of good sound, on youtube I follow Kent and he just blew me away with Sledgehammer. What a great ear for arrangement of a song (although his additional guitar layering from recent videos - I'm not a fan - solo fingerstyle, just let it stand alone, if you want to have a band that is fine, but I'm looking for solo fingerstyle.)  I wonder how much "cleaning up" of his audio he does?  I would say not much, I have listened to live recordings and it is clean as a whistle.  That's what 40 hours of practise a day gets you.  Seems like a lot of pressure to me!

Interestingly, like Kel Valleau, he is doing most of his arrangements in open tuning, that one he said was Db G Eb G Bb Eb so -3, -2, +1, 0, -1, -1  Would we call that an open Eb dominant 7th? Open tunings really fill out a song, so much body in there.  Are people able to keep in their minds where they are or are these songs being played as just muscle memory?  I imagine that with enough mastery of standard tuning, and then some dabbling in alternate tunings like Drop D where you start to "know" where you are for just those simple tuning changes, eventually you can build to actually knowing what you are doing in all these crazy alt tunings!

Proper musicians who know what they are doing.  My hat is off to you all.

Sunday 1 August 2021

What's happening August 2021

I'm supposed to be working on "I want to break free", and I should have recorded videos for "If you leave me now", "While my guitar gentle weeps" and "White room", but instead I've been distracted by adding more into "Something" by The Beatles. Lucky I'm not a professional music arranger with a schedule! 

As I discussed last month my version of "Something" is from 2010 based on Naudo's arrangement. The original key is C but Naudo took it up to D, I followed suit. I have been adding in more bass notes to more closely follow the original song...but not necessary the same ones in the same place, more of a similar feel.

Naudo did his own (brilliant) solo, which I also roughly transcribed, but this time around I wanted the original solo. It is so memorable, etched in my mind forever. I spent some time analysing other solo covers to come up with something that sounds about right sitting over top of some bass notes and some rhythm work. I've got it down, just finishing up the tab. Pretty happy with it...but I was happy with what I did a decade ago, so maybe in another decade I'll do more with it again ;-)

For you interest, here's how the start of the solo looks!

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Pain in the neck

First up this is not a "woe is me, feel sorry for me", no not at all!  I wanted to talk about this because it took me many years to understand and learn a few things hopefully you won't have to do the same!

Question: JAW's neck...can you spot the problem?

So I used to be a pretty keen cyclist, and noticed after my 20km cycle to work down my left arm would go numb/tingly, and my shoulder blade on the left side always felt achy.  I had worked out early on that if I lay on a cricket ball or similar on the achy spot for a while, the "pressure point" would relax and it would come good for a while.  But it always came back.  And it was slowly getting worse.

I went and saw a physio and he identified it as some sort of neck injury, where the nerves coming out the left side of my neck were being impinged up.  He had me do an MRI and the report came back as some deterioration in the vertebrae disc and osteophytes present - also known as "bone spurs".  He said "surgeons won't want to touch it, it's spinal surgery. If you couldn't move your arm and were in pain all the time then they would, but at the moment you are okay."

I stopped cycling and although it didn't go away (bones don't "go away") it was far more manageable. Lay on a cricket ball once a week, the shoulder is only a dull ache, get on with life.

A few years go by, I ask, in passing, any doctors and surgeons that I meet about grinding bone spurs out of neck and they all said the same thing - don't do it unless you have to.

Then one day my daughter is seeing a chiropractor and getting good results, for a lark I signed up as well, "a check up".  I mention the neck thing, he insists I get an xray. And the xray showed the problem to me far better than the MRI and he was able to explain it to me quite clearly.

For some reason (they always suspect an injury like a car accident but I couldn't remember anything) the disk between my C6 and C7 neck vertebrae has thinned, and the bones at the rear have been rubbing. Road bike cycling would _not_ have helped that, nor does painting a ceiling! When bones rub they decide to grow more bone, and that has restricted the path for the nerves that run out the side of your neck down your arm. That particular nerve deals with the outside of your arm, left pinky and ring finger, that sort of region. So when the nerve is being impinged you get this "referred nerve pain" in those areas.  Meanwhile, my neck and shoulders and back realise that something is going wrong and then tense up "to hold the problem stable/in place", so I have aching muscles.

Answer: C6-C7 vertebrae has thinned, bones have
rubbed on bone and produced two bone spur spikey
looking things, the hole where the nerves come
out doesn't have as much room as it should.

The good news is that some exercises really help!  For instance, if you have a stretchy rubber band, hold it between your hands with your elbows by your side, standing nice and straight, move your hands away from each other and then back, keeping your elbows by your side, do that until you fatigue, wait 30 seconds, then do half the amount you previously did. This works wonders for me! Basically it tightens up some back muscles (we are generally too hunched - back muscles are weak and stretched) and this opens up the nerve passage, less impingement. Laying on the cricket ball pressure points those sort muscles that are always tense, lets them relax.  When the physios and chiros do "dry needling" that works great for me, better than the cricket ball.

Long term it is just about management. Keeping a good range of movement in the neck, building up the muscles that hold your posture in a better position for less impingement. Maybe one day it will get really bad and I will have to consider surgery - I don't like that idea, I'd hate to recover and discover my left hand pink doesn't work properly anymore!  I'll take an achy back anytime over loss of function.

Saturday 3 July 2021

Fingerstyle Arrangement Dynamic Balance

I follow a number of fingerstyle arrangers, and I do tend to focus on cover arrangements, particularly pop and rock classics. It is interesting to see other's takes on songs, and always interesting when they cover the same songs I cover.  I get so many extra ideas to throw back into my arrangements!  But sometimes I see a cover and I just can't get into it, and it largely comes down to, for want of a better term, dynamic balance.

First up I'm self taught so I have zero musical credibility; this is coming from my ear. Dynamics are how we get that extra edge of emotion into our playing, sets us apart from the robots, and that's good! But dynamics have to be balanced. A song, say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has clear dynamics - there's a quiet section, then there's a thrashy section. Your fingerstyle arrangement should capture that. But sometimes I see dynamics that shouldn't be there. An example would be playing a part of a song with a pick (euw) and then the next part with your fingers...unless there is a call for extreme dynamics you shouldn't do that to keep the song balanced.

I recently saw Gabby Quevedo cover "4 Non Blondes - What's Up" and she did some strumming then played some fingerstyle, sorry, it didn't work for me! It put the song dynamically out of balance; putting dynamics where there shouldn't be.  See it here https://youtu.be/9D7cJMzK4G8. Gabby does great arrangements so this one surprised me. Phil Jakes does similar "unbalanced" arrangements from time to time and even the unstoppable arranging legend Kelly Valleau does too. I've seen it elsewhere so it's probably just me, I've done it myself once or twice and never been happy with the result.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself very well here, what do you think?

Tuesday 22 June 2021

Something revisted

It's kinda nice when you revisit a song you haven't played for a while and then get right into it. It tells me that I still enjoy my "back catalogue", even if I haven't played a piece for many months if not years, that I can still get passionate about a song I was once passionate about. Such happened with the well-covered yet quite beautiful "Something" by George Harrison/The Beatles as transcribed/rearranged from Naudo. I found myself adding a bit more McCartney bass to it and dusting off the expression. So much so that I just recorded the first verse of it on my Zoom H1N. Here, have a listen:

Something Revisited:

Give me some interest and I will update the tab for it and post on Patreon!

See how it has changed from 2010:

Saturday 19 June 2021

Another broken nail

Cracked my right thumbnail a few weeks back. Argh. I use my left hand a lot for a right hander, to avoid breaking nails, but from time to time you break one.  This time was right on the part I pluck from, top of the nail to below the skin line. Around a 5-6 week grow out I reckoned.  Too long!  I'm not ready to go fingernail free just now!

So out came the trusty super glue. Yeah, standard, cheap, super glue. If you haven't mangled the nail, if it is just torn, put some super glue in the tear, apply a little bit of pressure and it will join straight back on, tough as! Put a little extra on the join like nail polish, let it dry out. The surface-to-surface contact joints will dry in seconds, but air drying superglue on a surface will take fifteen to thirty minutes.  Kick back, don't fiddle with it, be patient.

If you don't put too much stress on it, it will stay joined until it has grown out.  Lasted a week easy, then tore again. Applied more superglue.  Lasted another week, tore again.  More superglue. Lasted a further week, decided to give up at that point and cut it back to the start of the tear - which was 3 weeks growth, so not terrible.

When you don't want to cut off a nail at the base because you tore it - super glue is your friend!

Friday 21 May 2021

facebook advertising

I learnt something about facebook last month. We all know that it makes money with advertisements, and the targeting of those ads is uncanny in its accuracy.

I have been involved with a children's string orchestra for 5 years now, and recruiting has increasingly been an issue.  When I started there were 55 students, at the start of this year we were down to 26. Yikes! Covid-19 didn't help, and one of our conductors retired, and there are more competing orchestras these days. I felt I wasn't not doing enough, but the numbers had been waning before I was involved - in its heyday it had 80 students and they would turn people away because they were full.

We had a website. We posted on social media. We handed out flyers. We spoke to music teachers. We advertised in school newsletters. We told everyone to spread the word - I found most new students arrived by word of mouth.

We were below the number of students required to remain viable, we were getting close to shutting down.  One of the new committee members said "let's boost a post on facebook."  We posted on facebook fairly regularly, with photos, and videos, and contact details. It didn't seem to have any effect. "It will be around $50 to boost a post for a month, we can target people in the area who are interested in music tuition/school/community". Worth a try, what have we got to lose. Even if we only had one or two enquiries and maybe it led to one new recruit, it would pay for itself.  I made a little promo video, we posted it and then boosted the post.

Well. In the first week we had around 5-6 enquiries, and that continued for the next few weeks. We've had 8 applications come in so far, and have already had 5 successful auditionees, with a few more auditions to come.

Who knew that throwing a fifty to facebook was that powerful.  If I had have known I would have done it years ago. Take note - if you are looking to attract more attention to something you have to offer.

Wednesday 31 March 2021

I want to play free

Naudo posted another play through of the Queen song "I Want to Break Free". It's a great arrangement, after looking at it I decided it's a good one to transcribe.  After many years of studying Naudo's arrangements, I found it straight forward working out what was going on.  All the study has paid off!  So other than a tricky solo in it, there is not much to do to add it to set list.  Here it is - have a look!


Saturday 27 February 2021

What's happening February 2021

I've been stuck learning 4 songs.  That is too many to be practising for a hobbyist, when they are all challenging fingerstyle arrangements. But it just happens every now and then. I hear one of my YouTube fingerstyle arrangers do something that I have to try for myself, and I get 80% of it done in a few hours.  There's the rub, the 80-20 rule, which is so true for so many aspects of life. The first 80% takes you 20% of the time, the other 20% takes you 80% of the time. With 4 songs at 80%, how can I not be playing/finishing them all at the same time?!  But that takes a lot of time!

It's actually 5 songs, but I've lost interest in one.  That's okay, you need to rest songs. A little break, you'll come back to them in due course.

Just attempted to record 3 of them, starting the video editing now.  I've been letting my patreons down - all twenty of them!  I would love to release a song once a month, but it's running about once every three months. My life is so busy. Hopefully out of the maybe 5-10 takes of each song I can put something together and get it out there.

Watch this space! :-)

Sunday 24 January 2021

D'Addario XTC46 unboxing

There are too many strings to choose from. 

A decade ago I decided to stick with D'Addario as my string manufacturer of choice and test only strings from within their range. Because even within their range there are so many to choose from. I later I tested out several of their strings, and then I finally decided that D'Addario EXP45s were my favourite, they have a great tone that lasts for a long time due to a coating on the basses. Phew, decision made, no more testing required.

...until D'Addario recently released the XT range, their latest "coating technology".  So thanks to my patreons I get some USD bucks each month to try out new guitar stuff, I got my hands on a set! 

I ordered a high tension and a normal tension set, partly because I'm digging in more these days and if you are going to dig in then go for harder strings to bring the dynamic range further up. That is, on a normal tension set, if you dig in too far you will max out the dynamics the string is capable of. But at the same level of dig on harder sets, you have a bit more range to go. Additionally in the XT range the tension starts at normal tension, then there is hard tension and then there is extra hard. So hard tension sits in the middle of the range, it seemed sensible. (Okay, EXP45 was the same I just never took note.)

Straight up the packaging is similar to the EXP45s, nice embossing, simple designs. Nice font, nice matt browny dark grey colour. The back actually states the tension - Normal is 28, 32, 40, 28, 35, 44. Hard is 29,33, 41, 29, 36, 46. Quote from the box - "These are strings made to stay, for players who refuse to fade away" - very corny D'Addario.

The corrosion proof bag got an upgrade - zip lock which I thought was a nice addition. Is it as sealed as the old fully sealed bag you used to have to rip open? Somebody decided it was!
The strings themselves are slightly whiter and shinier than the EXPs, and maybe slightly silkier. I don't like the silkiness, but it's part of the deal with coated strings and I've learnt to live with it. They wind on just fine, the E string has the section on one end that is not as tightly wound for easier attaching the string, I'm not a fan I normally put them on "upsidedown". The strings are slightly longer than EXPs, which is good, because I only trim the trebles not the basses, so that when the basses are starting to sound a little dead I take them off and re-string them the other way round. (And then trim them).  You'd be surprised how much sound you get back doing that - I notice that Naudo does the same.  Maybe we are both cheapskates, but restringing means more bedding in time, two weeks before new strings stop stretching so much, even if you pre-stretch them!

The trebles are the same as used in the the EXP45 set.

Straight up - great sound. However I couldn't say whether they are better than the EXP45. The basses bedded in quickly as expected, the nylon trebles take ages, no surprises there. The tone is lasting a long time, also as expected - you would hope they are an improvement on the EXP45. 
One extra variable I added to the testing equation is that I have jumped up a hardness level. So some of the sound difference would be coming from the different tension. That test will need to wait until I wear these ones out and try the normal tension.
So there you have it. D'Addario's new coated strings. So far so good.

Update: so I ran this set of strings for 6 months.  I hadn't been playing out so I didn't need freshest of the fresh strings, but the strings still didn't sound fully dead when I took them off. I'm only playing 2-3 hours a week so they lasted somewhere between 50-100 hours of good sound.  That initial brand new brightness lasts only around 2 weeks, but unlike uncoated strings they aren't dead after two weeks, they are still around 75% of the new sound, and 6 months later probably still 50%.  So from a sound-for-value, and not having to bed new strings too often, they get two thumbs up.  I just put a fresh set on, XT normal tension.

Note that I don't receive anything from D'Addario in talking about their products.

Saturday 2 January 2021

New year, new tutorial!

I started developing a "Tips and Tricks" for my fingerstyle guitar tabs a while back, and kept putting off finishing it, but with a bit of spare time over the holidays I knuckled down and got it done, yah!

Since slowly re-publishing my tabs in (the even more beautiful latest version) Musescore format and releasing them on Patreon, I knew that I needed a little primer video to get everyone started. While the tabs stand alone, and there is always the video I record of me playing them, there are a few tips and tricks I wanted to talk about.

Making videos like these, by yourself, is a big undertaking.  I reckon around 15 hours from start to finish for this little 10 minute video.  All those professional people out there, making amazing looking courses and tutorials - huge huge effort, well done.  I like making videos, but wow, this sort of video, just so much work.

I've also transcribed it, with tab bits, for people who prefer to read than watch a video.  Yah!

Nothing is new under the sun, but maybe there was something in here you'd never thought about!

I'm never happy with the end result when I record, well, any video, I can pick so many faults in them, but each time I make a video it's a little better than the last one. If I keep going, one day I might be good at it.  But for now, it's about looking after my Patreons, and this was something I really wanted them to have access to.

Go have a look! Enjoy! Here is the Transcript and watch the video below: