Monday, 31 January 2011

Hold onto that bass note...

...or don't; the choice should be up to you, not up to your skill level. One of the standout features of good fingerstyle players for me is that they will hold onto a bass note if it should ring throughout a measure; even if it is difficult to do so. You can spot the beginners, all credit to them "I played the note!" but the note lasts about as long as it takes for them to refret to the very next plucked note.

Holding onto bass notes can be challenging. For simple in-chord stuff, you can normally fret the whole chord, giving you the bass note and plucking melodies in the chord per measure, before changing to the next chord. When the melodies start moving out of chords sometimes it becomes difficult to hang onto that bass note.  Here are some options:
  • More practise :)
  • Don't hold onto the bass note play it staccato, but do it on purpose to make sure it sounds like an accent, not like "I couldn't hold the bass note".
  • Rework the fingering so you can find a position to hold the bass note more easily.
  • Rework the arrangement to something simpler you can play.
  • Adopt a different technique that allows you to hold the bass note; for instance:
    • Naudo Style middle finger bass note: for example, instead of playing a full first finger barre chord E shape or A shape, play the bass note with your middle finger. Ringy and pinky fingers can do normal stuff in chord leaving index finger able to play on or _behind_ the chord root position. (There are other features of this technique; it's not strength taxing, you can more easily mute strings in the middle of the fretboard, it is easy to pivot around your middle finger...not to mention your middle finger is pretty strong and normally "wasted" in a normal chord formation. Leaving your index finger, typically a very quick and agile finger, for "under chord" work is quite sensible.) 
    • Thumb over bass notes. I refer to this as bad technique, but it isn't really, it's a very handy technique :)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

What's happening January 2011

The earlier reports of the death of "What's Happening" are greatly exaggerated :)

Over Chrissy I took two weeks down South, and then another (working) week up North, so over three weeks I played the guitar maybe twice, for about 15 minutes each time.  I was happy to use the break as a test for the left pinky, which has continued to remain "injured".  What I can report is that it got better, but after the three weeks I sat down for an hour and it started to go bad again.  Just a dull pain when I stretch it too far, or put a lot of pressure on it.  Luckily my brain is working again unlike the first time when I did the damage, and I thought "this is starting to hurt a bit, I'm going to stop now" and did.

So the left pinky injury summary to date is:
* If you are playing something difficult and it is starting to hurt, *DON'T* play through, stop, play something different, approach the piece slowly over days/weeks, build up to it.
* Stretching for me hasn't really been effective for this particular injury.  Stretching definitely helps avoid cramping when you are playing too hard and muscles are tensing up, but it has made basically no difference to the pinky.  I find if I'm relaxed during a session then after the first two songs I'm warmed up; those first two are my stretching.
* Rest, time and not pushing it too hard is slowly, - v e r y   s l o w l y -, improving the finger.

Meanwhile, I love playing Super Mario theme!  It is a zero flick song, it's all standard fingerwork.  Since creating quite few flick-style pieces recently I (a) didn't think I'd enjoy  just plucking ever again and (b) felt that too much flicking was becoming boring.  Trapped!  But this piece is a lot of fun to play, bright and chirpy.  Difficult, I won't kid you, but doable.  I put two maybe three instances of left thumb bass fretting, I don't like putting it into songs because it is "bad technique".  The two occasions I do it there was no real other way to achieve what I wanted.  Trust me, when I've worked out a measure I will try and try and try to get it using standard techniques, and if that fails I might first try to rework it, and as a last resort I'll break into the bad techniques ;)  There is one part where I bass thumb the 2nd on 6th and two note harmony 5/6th on top two strings, sliding down, holding the bass note.  Difficult, I don't get it every time, but great when it works out.  Song is otherwise ready for video though, I think you'll like it, must dust of the camera and get recording!

I'd actually forgotten about "Take me Back" until a few days ago.  Did I mention I have a list of all the songs I can play sticky taped to the back of my guitar?  Once I start playing a song I remember exactly how to play it and what to do...but I can never remember all the songs I can play!  I hadn't written that one down yet, so forgot about it.  Heard it on the radio and remembered it is still in my production line!  It's a pinky hurter, so I'm taking it easy on that one, just once a session is enough.

On the gig front, not good news.  Finally got back from one cafe "I don't have a spot for you" which was good at least now I know.  Other pubs and cafes yet to get anything firm from.  Lunchtimes is as good as out, nobody wants that.  If I want lunchtime, it will have to be busking.  I'm not amazingly keen to go busking again, but if it ends up being that well it's better than playing to the bedpost and dog.

Since lunchtime gigs are out, and it will need to be evenings (cutting into family time which I wanted to avoid), I may as well open the floor to any venue nearby.  There are open mics in a few places within 10kms from my house, but I dunno, open mic is bands, and singers, people doing stand up comedy.  Does a bloke playing fingerstyle guitar fit into a place like that?  I should go check one out to get a feel for it, but again, cutting into family time.

I've sent out a request to one nearby venue that could be alright, currently not doing live music, but who knows.  Yet to hear back.

Also sent an email to another Perth fingerstyle player, Andrew Ellis, he has a regular session and apparently has "guests" from time to time, I could be a "guest"...again yet to hear back.

I tell ya, if this were my profession I'd be starving on the street!
Anyway, welcome back to ramblings.  If I ever say I should stop rambling again, remind me that this is a blog about rambling :)

Monday, 24 January 2011

It's good to be back!

I'm still here, it's good to be back!

Know any good guitar blogs? (other than mine :)) I'm thinking something slightly above "I finally nailed a C-chord!", but maybe not as life-changing, fundamental concept re-aligning as Adam Raffetys blog (not a dig at Adam, love his stuff, but often leaves me feeling overwhelmed and underpowered to take onboard any of it).

Hit me up for some topics this year too, I've got a blank slate at the moment. Nil mentioned "Thumbpick or no Thumbpick", a good subject - I'm still musing over some discussion points.

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 :)