Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Q&A: Alternating pick

I had an interesting email that I tried to best answer a few weeks back; it was out of my area of confidence - being specifically *not* about fingerstyle! - but I had a crack at it.  I thought it might be interesting to my fingerstyle mates here; and even better, some of my not *solely* fingerstyle mates might be able to offer up a better answer than I did! :)


Hi Jaw,

According to you, using a flat pick is not your forte :) but your experience should be able to assist me.

If I am going to learn alternate picking, should I not alternate pick all my notes/songs/scales etc ALWAYS anyway after that ? If alternate picking is so much more better/efficient why isnt it just the standard type of picking taught from the onset ? I clearly understand the benefits of alternating pick, but I am having a problem understanding why anyone would revert to "regular" picking if its inferior to alternate picking. So for example: Once I learn alternate picking and I am given 3 notes to play, I will simply alternate pick all over them, it will feel smoother/faster, why wouldn't I? What will I miss if I completely do away with "regular" picking ?

Sorry if it all sounds repetitive, its impossible to Google such a question and I'm just trying to make sure that I describe it well enough for you to understand my beginner dilemma!


Greg, you sound just like an engineer! The best way of thinking of course :)

But when we put down our technical physics based ways, and have a go at thinking about what we are trying to achieve - sound, groove, style - alternating picking shouldn't always be performed. For instance, say you were playing just four bassnotes in a bar and you wanted to accentuate the same thumping sound; you would downstroke each one the same.

And if you were playing offbeat, playing notes on the "and" (one and two and...) they will want to have that "and" sound you'll get from upstroke.

I'm not suggesting that on beat is always downstroke and off beat is up, although it's probably a good starting point to help you "feel" what the groove is doing. I'm talking from more a rhythm style than lead style, but the message is similar.

Shredding for instance would probably be non-stop alternating, you need the speed - but even then I'd suggest that occasional downstroke notes would line up on beat.

I think if you close your eyes and feel the music, and put the mechanics out of you mind, you'll know where to downstroke and upstroke. That's really easy for me to say however with a lifetime of guitar mechanics behind me that I *can* do with my eyes closed, but I could have come along a lot faster if I got more into what I can only describe as "groove", where the music is coming from "you", not through a series of optimised efficient programmed movements :)

Hope you find something in that ethereal vauge gut reaction from this 30-years-in-guitar-still-leaning, who hasn't held a flat pick for more than five years :)


Friday, 6 May 2011

What's happening May 2011

I managed to get a good break over Easter, the whole week in between in fact. Even spent at least two nights in front of a campfire with another Floyd enthusiast; we worked through Dark Side of the Moon several times, him singing and me on guitar. It's a deviation from fingerstyle - where we do everything, unsupported - but while you are having a few whiskeys it's a good excuse for sloppy playing, and reverting to simple strum patterns not worrying about the melody so much. It's good not to be solo all the time.

Two days ago a song jumped into my head, and wouldn't get out. This happens a couple of times a year to me, and basically I can't get rid of it until I've arranged it (or at least arranged a bit of it. Yes, I have many incomplete arrangements :)) It is a classic 70's Aussie rock song by Sherbet, "Howzat". Unmistakable bass line and chorus. It mapped out really well into fingerstyle - and I was in luck, there was a great midi on the net when imported almost perfectly into powertab, I didn't need to do much work. And, unusually for me, it is a left hand finger twister! I've put in another good technique which hasn't featured in my arrangements for a while; where you hammer-on/pull off/slide the bass line while plucking a melody note. Your thumb sympathetically wants to pluck that bassnote while plucking the melody note, but don't.

I spent about an hour and a half last night quite engrossed in it, then realised I was abusing my left pinky. I had the good sense to stop at that stage. Yes, I've made it so I have to fret a bass F and a top string A at the same time - which I can do - but I shouldn't :)

More on that later; here is a little snippet of it, quite interesting, I would have recorded an audio bite (need to do that more often) but I couldn't play it up to my minimum standard yet!  *Update* about a day later I recorded a very scratchy demo, still got a lot of work to go but I'm not afraid to share the learning process, warts and all, with my mates :) Still not clever enough to insert as an embedded thing, so here is a link.

Now since switching to jawmunji.com I've been running some polls. It's interesting stuff, and people have been voting. I've put a new one up; if anyone was interesting in some sort of fingerpicker statistic, let me know a good poll to run!

The first poll was "what song would you like JAW to do a lesson on" and the results from 165 votes were:
88 (53%) : Canon in D, definitely, even if it is hard
25 (15%) : Here Comes the Sun, new to fingerstyle I want to learn!
21 (12%) : Wish You Were Here, I love that song
13 (7%)  : Another One Bites the Dust, how do you bass slap!?
11 (6%)  : Anything, I just want to hear your crAZy Aussie accent!
7  (4%)  : Sunshine of Your Love, for some groove

No surprises there, it lines up with the viewing statistics on my youtube channel :)

The second poll was "what is your current fingerstyle guitar" and the results from 132 votes were:
59 (44%) : Classical  
27 (20%) : Big body steel string acoustic  
23 (17%) : Small body steel string acoustic  
18 (13%) : Nylon string crossover/hybrid  
2  (1%)  : Solid body electric  
2  (1%)  : 12 string  
1  (0%)  : Hollow body electric  
0  (0%)  : Other

That was more surprising, I thought classical wouldn't rate as high as that - I thought the steel string acoustics and even the hybrid would rate higher than classical. So I'm not sure if the classical players are coming here looking to get a bit pop/rockier - or the pop/rockier players are coming here ready to get more classical! :)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

When in doubt, medley it out!

I've had a few opportunities recently to look at arranging some new stuff. Since I've got quite a few songs on the back burner half finished, rather than start on something new, I've revisited them with an aim to finishing. Well, not quite...

Rolling Stones - classic stuff, everyone knows a bit of 'stones. They are however not arranged for fingerstyle very often...certainly not as much as Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd and the like. My theory is that the songs are, erm, "simple". What made the 'stones popular was more about Mick's singing, Keith's guitar playing and their general antics. The bulk of the songs are melodically simple. Good 'ole simple rock'n'roll.

But converting that to fingerstyle is a challenge, because there isn't much going on, it becomes kinda dull. Okay you get a verse sorted, you mix one up with some arpeggios, you percussify up another one...but really, some great songs are plain boring in fingerstyle (I generalise; the super-music-savvy types will do something with anything, I'm talking about mere mortals such as myself.)

The solution? A medley! 3 songs from the same band - maybe same album, maybe same era, maybe across an era! Do two verses and a chorus, say up to 2 minutes, then morph into another song.

I've focused a bit on Aussie classic stuff over my time, and a while ago I worked a cool arrangement of an AC/DC song. But it suffered from repetitiveness. So I grabbed another AC/DC classic and had a go at that aiming for medley. Even better, Iggy P had already done a cool arrangement so I've borrowed heavily from his one. (Interestingly, if you look at the youtube version of his "You shook me all night long" he has actually pitch shifted the song down two steps - unless he detuned the whole guitar down a tone, which I doubt. Interesting.)

The one other great aspect of medleys is you only have to learn a verse, chorus, maybe an intro...but you don't *need* to put any effort into bridges or solos. Unless you are a natural improviser, like Naudo, I find I spend just as much time - if not more - working on the bridges, refrains, solos - than I do on the chorus and verse!

I wouldn't like to medley everything, but when in doubt, and when after a few cheap attention grabbers, medley! :)

Thursday, 14 April 2011


I have been communicating with HFA in the US for a couple of weeks now, to get a feel for what it would mean to pay royalties on the songs I cover. It's the right thing to do; I've been in a less-than-gray area handing out free tabs, but since I haven't made any money out if it, I justified it away.

I like arranging fingerstyle covers. I like to share them with you guys. I'd like to provide quality video lessons on the songs so you can play them too. And I want to respect the ownership of the works.

I have all but come to the conclusion that an advertising based model to fund the costs of licensing does not work with the expectations of royalty payments. Essentially, every time somebody downloads a tab I'd need to pay (say) 20c to the license holder. Let me assure you that my intial sojourn into advertising does not come anywhere near 20c per download, more like 0.2c per download! Perhaps I could entice high paying advertisers but I don't ever want to be out of pocket, I don't need that sort of risk in my life.

What I feel would be possible is have an online shop sort of thing where you'd purchase a video lesson and tab - and I'd try my very hardest to make a great lesson - and work out a cost that covers licensing fees, hosting server fees, and a little something in my pocket to pay for my efforts. I suspect it would only need to be in the order of a couple of bucks; in the next week or two I will know what that number would be when I get feedback from the license holders - if I choose to go down that path.

But then it will start to feel like I'm becoming what I told my online mate Nil I wouldn't do - become a "learn guitar" website. It wouldn't be would it Nil? It would be a "learn song by video lesson and tab", for a few bucks to cover the cost of doing this legit? I am completely unqualified to teach guitar, but I can show punters how I approach playing songs they'd like to learn how to play in this style.

If it all falls in a hole and I feel I have to take down everything leaving only the blog (and the youtube videos...I'll leave that for a later discussion) - well, at least I still have my 4 mates to chew the fat with :)

Let me know what you think, I post this post with trepidation, be kind, but firm...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Take the Survey!

A mate of mine who has been pushing me recently about my webstuff - responsible for me setting up Jawmunji.com - "Do it now." "No." "If you don't, I'm going to do it." "Argh, okay, okay." - told me I need to find out what people want, and give it to them. He's far more an "internet entrepreneur" than I am. I've always given people what I like, and what I think they like...but it's a good question, what do people like?

If you were to use my youtube viewcounts as a guide, then most people are after classical and folk...but that doesn't sound right to me.

The reality is that Jawmunji.com exists because I like to ramble on about fingerstyle guitar stuff that interests me. And my mates keep it interesting by challenging my rambles, and giving me new ideas for new rambles. (I'm back to only 3 mates now, according to my blogger subscriber list, the other 18 got left behind at wordpress. I miss you guys)

But hey, one of the rambles I have called time and time again is - "play for an audience!" One of the subtleties in that statement is "know what your audience wants".

So my mate created for me a survey. It will be interesting to see what us fingerstyle guitarists - and the people who like to listen to fingerstyle guitarists - are the most interested in. So head on over to the survey, it's pretty short and sweet, I'll report back later on what the verdict is! :)