Thursday, 20 November 2008

Loss of Cohesion

I was just messaging with a guy on youtube about "loss of cohesion"...you know, when you are playing a song, maybe one you know exceptionally well and have been playing it for 5 years, and still you'll be midway through and you completely lose the plot and basically have to stop and start again.  Possibly the most embarrassing thing you can do as a guitarist eh?

I don't think loss of cohesion can be prevented.  Guys like Tommy Emmanuel can simply launch into some default "recovering" improvised thing, then eventually get back on track and people will never even noticed he fluffed it.  I used to occasionally terminally brain fart and basically have to start over again but these days worst case is having to stop and replay from the last key section.  Most of the time if I fluff it I can sort of strum some nonsense and reconnect back to where I should be without dropping the beat, but it is still obvious that I've lost cohesion.  I've got a long way to go before I can fudge past it like The Greats can; I think that requires an extensive knowledge of music theory and being well practised in improvisation.

I think getting over losing cohesion isn't about practising to death note for note, it is more about learning what to do when you _do_ lose cohesion.  So, when practising if I lose cohesion I don't stop and restart, I keep going maybe strum the current chord or do some percussive slaps, at least keep a bass note alive, but keep on beat and meet up at the next key intersection.  For this reason if I am going to start playing a song I already know quite well, I will _always_ play it from start to finish, irrespective of whether I botched it midway through.  The more you botch it, the more you will learn what to do to "play through".

We will always botch it.  The important bit is how you recover.

As for miss-struck notes or fret buzzing or some other awful single note mistake - well that's a different matter.  At least you can play through that without missing a beat ;)

Monday, 3 November 2008

Play for an audience!

Now it's only taken me 30 years to realise, but GO PLAY FOR AN AUDIENCE.  Let me explain.

When you first start learning to play the guitar, it's pretty rough, go and hide out of earshot when you are practising.  This will help the people you live with not hate you and guitars for the rest of time.

Typically you will get the right hand reasonable early on, bit longer if you are fingerpicking.  There are only so many patterns you can do with 6 strings - okay, there are infinite, but you'll use only a few in most of your stuff.  The left hand you'll get chords going early on too, but the left hand has to do so many different manoeuvres that you'll be "learning" that hand for the rest of time.

When you start to be able to play a whole song or two, you'll probably have really bad tempo and you'll do lots of pausing while your brain is trying to co-ordinate left hand and right hand.  It's okay, it's how we learn!  Eventually all that stuff going on in your "fore" brain moves into a very convenient "muscle memory" part of your brain.  Convenient, because you don't actually have to think to play the stuff, it just happens.  You can actually have a rudimentary conversation while playing, or after a few quiet ales wonder how on earth your hands know what to do because "it sure ain't me doing that!"

But while we are trying to push the song into muscle memory that's when we get a bit bored and tend to move onto something different.  The curse of half-song playing guitarists.  Don't do it!  This is where audience comes in.

Unless you have a really, really, REALLY good friend who will listen to you, ie, an audience, I suggest you use a video camera as an "audience".  What an audience does is force you to firstly learn the whole song by memory, but secondly, learn it to an acceptable level that won't have the audience looking for the door.

The video camera is great; you feel like you are performing for an audience - you'll probably feel anxious - but importantly you can watch yourself and see where you are getting it wrong.  You can then practise the areas you struggle until they are smooth, aim to eventually post video on the internet to see what the world thinks of you ;)

The next battle, once you are comfortable playing for a camera, is finding a real audience.  I recommend music shops - "test" a guitar and play your songs.  Okay, nobody is _really_ listening but it still feels like an audience so you have to be able to play the songs well.

Where I'm coming from with all of this is about turning your music into that is something "about you" to something that is "about the listener".  Going from being someone who entertains themselves into someone who entertains others.  Playing the riff from smoke on the water with bad tempo hitting the occasional wrong note might amuse _you_ all day; people have been put in jail for trying amuse others doing the same thing.

Only by playing to an audience do you become an entertainer - which is where I think we should all be aiming.  What's the point if you can't share your stuff with your fellow man?  Ultimatley would anything, even if you had the entire world at your disposal, be fun if there was no-one to show it to or share it with?

Obviously the next audience is a real audience - open mike, busking, cafe gigs.  That's where I'm heading - I'll let you know how it goes when I get there :)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

...and done

Well a few days ago I found several hours and finally got a version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love captured on video that I didn't hate.  It is hard to play perfectly in one hit.  I can play it without dropping a beat fairly reliably now, but to get every note crisp and clean - pretty much never.

So I did some choppy choppy hacky hacky editing to punch out 3 obvious mistakes...you probably won't notice ;)

Done!  Now back to Jealous Guy; you'll be pleased to know that I have worked it all out, just need to clean up the tab and practise!

Friday, 10 October 2008

This >''< close...

Well I managed to find a spare hour last night and set up to record my next video for youtube, Naudo style "Crazy Little Thing Called Love".  I've been playing it on and off for over 6 months, it is really hard to play but I thought I could fudge through it.  I was wrong ;)

After take 13, even if I was to splice bits together from good parts of other takes, I still wouldn't have been happy.  I'd also formed a blister on my left hand in an unusual spot due to the unusual fingering required to play it.  In the past I would have pushed on and got something in the end, this time I thought "Nope, there is no hurry, I'll try again another time."

Did I mention it is hard?  It is fast and there is a lot of right hand moving between string simultaneous multi finger and thumb picking.  The left hand requires a fair bit of dexterity, but that doesn't really represent a problem.  It is just the right hand, like all Naudo's stuff, that makes it extremely difficult.  On at least 80% of the takes I had a brain fart and lost the rhythm.  Not acceptable for a video.  The other 20% were just played sub-par.

It is the right hand that makes fingerstyle so tricky, especially Naudo/Tommy Emmanuel/Michael Chapdelaine fingerstyle.  After about 3 years of playing that sort of piece, I'm getting close, but some of the right hand techniques still don't come naturally and I have to forceably push them into my brain.

So good news and bad news everyone; good news is you didn't get a sub-par rendition of the piece, and bad news you didn't get anything at all ;)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Sloppy Techniques

I had an interesting comment posted on one of my vids the other day, basically the guy said he was finding chord changes hard when doing "proper" chord fingering, for example a 3 fingered A in the open position, whereas I was barring an A with my first finger.  He wondered if doing that sort of thing would form bad habits.

Well, I can add to that - I find myself thumbing baselines on the 6th string, sometimes putting a pinky down on the soundboard as an anchor, I even have been known to sit with the guitar on my *right* leg!

But seriously, I did have classical lessons early on and technique was really rammed down my throat.  Maybe it was the late 70's/early 80's, but for years technique seemed very important.  Wrist position, thumb on the middle back of the neck, etc. 

Over time, when I stopped having any lessons, I got sloppy with my technique, like plonking the guitar on your right leg (you just don't look cool playing guitar in the classical position - teenager era).  However some things were taboo, for instance, I would never consider putting out a pinky anchor!

In the more recent years, after seeing some amazing guitarists using "dreadful" techniques, I was forced to re-evaluate my stance.  Now it is a case of "if it makes it easy for you, and it is comfortable, then do it."

Lets look at "easy":
  * it should be easy to perform quickly and accurately;
  * there should be no short term/long term discomfort or pain in performing the technique.

Generally, since mankind has been playing guitar-like instruments for hundreds of years, the established techniques taught should be best.  Let's face it though, firstly, what is "generally" the best technique might not be the best for you.  Secondly, innovation is what drives development.  Would Jimi Hendrix have come up with such stuff if he was playing the guitar the right way up?  Would Elizabeth Cotton have created "Freight Train" if the guitar wasn't strung upside-down - i.e. playing the bassline with her fingers and the treble with her thumb?

Okay, they are extreme cases, but the point is there:  Typically, perform the generally accepted techniques, but if you are getting better results with "bad habits" and it's not hurting you, then why not.