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 sleeve...so 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!