Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Video Blog: Revisiting California Dreaming

California Dreaming - it's been three years, why did I wait so long?!  Some Ulli Boegershausen Mad World in there as well.  Just a dodgy mobile phone video but with Zoom H1 audio.  Nothing special, but I haven't done a video blog in a while!

JAW



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Friday, 30 March 2012

When the world is against you...


Still gigging on Thursday nights and still enjoying it.  Last night it seemed the world was against me - I'd fallen off my bike while riding home from work two days prior and banged up my knee and left arm on the road. I was wearing gloves at the time but still managed to smash blood blisters under 3 out of 4 left hand fingernails.  Not to mention breaking a nail on my right hand :(

I was tempted to call in sick, but instead I popped a couple of painkillers and headed in.  I knew I'd regret it if I didn't go.

It was quite a windy night threatening rain, only ten people were there.  I sat down as comfortable as I could with one knee I couldn't bend and got stuck into it.  I chatted between songs with a nearby table of four, who graciously filled my glass with wine :)  It turns out they'd heard me while walking past a few Thursdays previously and decided to come down to have a listen.  Yah! That's the thing I'm hoping for.

It turned out to be a good albeit quiet night, left fingers hurt but I played through regardless.  I even put out my less-played more difficult songs, to keep them fresh.  There was nobody left by 8:30; Joel who organises the kitchen made me a delicious pizza and I shot through.

When the world seems to be against you, that is most definitely the time to keep going - with all things!

Friday, 9 March 2012

A Gig!


I've played twice now at the café down the road from me, and they are still keen to have me back.  I'm enjoying it - sure, to 90% of people you are just background music, but the 10% of people actively listening give you the audience interaction that makes it nice.  I find my brain scrambles up a bit due to performance anxiety; stuff I'd play okay by myself in a relaxed environment doesn't come out as clean in a proper performance situation.  But, play through.  That's why I always encourage you to play a song from start to finish, playing through your mistakes, it teaches you how to play through your mistakes when you need to.

I also need to slow down, performance anxiety causes speeding issues!

I discovered that a few songs in my repertoire are too rusty to play, and some are a bit rough.  There is a bit of re-learning and practise to do.  However I found that I could play non-stop for 1 hour 50 minutes without repeating anything.  Not bad.  And it's all good stuff, there are no "fillers" in that.  It does include just short of 25 minutes of Dark Side of the Moon too :)  But it would be nice to polish up a few rusty ones, and learn a few more easy ones from tabs just to extend out the song list; Blackbird and Mad World spring to mind.  Just to have good coverage for different audiences on the night.

Speaking of, so far the audience have been primarily "an older crowd" (ha ha)  late 30's early 40's, but also a lot of 50+.  Some kids, but not many.  That works out alright for me, my selection of music ties in with the late 30's early 40's :)

I have been asked for a business card once per gig by someone from the audience.  Weddings, partys...at this point in time it's still a hobby for me and I'm avoiding weekend work (I play Thursday nights) so I've been politely declining.  My day job pays a lot more than a gig does!

From the café owner's point of view I've been good for them - the first night they had advertised "local acoustic guiarist" and packed the joint, 70 people, and had a record takings.  The second time they didn't advertise, smaller crowd, which was nice because I felt less pressure; boost confidence.  It will be interesting to see what happens, crowd wise, whether me being there makes any difference.  The café is near the entrance to a shopping centre, there is a lot of people walking past; will it create interest?  We will see.

Safe to say that folding stuff has been pressed into my hand at the end of the night; not to mention a glass or two of red wine along the way.  Just the way I like it :)

I was asked about my amplification by one of my mates, I'll repeat it here.  Very simple.  It's just the little Ashton Busker amp (BSK158) that I bought a few years back to replace my home brewed amps...because it sounded so much better. It has a 12V battery in it but I'm playing it plugged in. It has a surprisingly clean and crisp sound, it gets muddy if you start to crank it or the acoustics of the area are not nice, but I guess that is the case for all amps.

Ideally I'd like an AER compact 60 acoustic, the best amp I ever tried on nylon. However since I'm only running my little 15W amp at 75% volume tops, I hardly need 60W. And I don't have a lazy $2k to spend on an amp. The sound I can get out of the little Ashton is not that far off what I got out of the AER when I was comparing them, so it will do for now.

I think the key to sounding good is a good foundation - I started with a quality classical guitar (Esteve 1GR-11) and I put in what I thought was the nicest sounding pickup for a nylon that I could find (B-band A6T). Amplified I'm only after a "true" sound, that is what the guitar sounds like unplugged. No reverb, no delay, no effects, just some EQ to make up for any environment imbalance. If the lay of the land is nothing but concrete I sweep out the mids, if it's open and grassy then up the mids. Trebles and basses generally stay flat.

So the gig is going to keep me busy - I'll give you updates if anything interesting happens...or anything uninteresting happens!  For now, it's good to interact with an audience, it's what I've wanted for quite a while.

Friday, 24 February 2012

What's happening February 2012

Well the day job is taking up a lot more time than it used to, and unfortunately that's not going to go away for quite sometime.  The mining boom in Western Australia seems to be boundless, even with a lot of the world on shaky ground.  Make hay while the sun shines eh?

I've been chipping away at "Any Colour You Like", it's coming along well but slow progress.  Nothing new is happening on the arranging front...just general playing and practise.

In more exciting news, at least for me, I noticed the café down the road was extending out into an alfresco area, which made me wonder if they would be interested in a guitarist.  After previously doing a lot of door knocking "We'll call you" I gave up on trying to find a gig, but there was no harm in trying out one more time.

I discovered that the owners were very keen - they had planned for music, ad had even started enquiring at booking agents - I contacted them just in time!  I went down for a "sound check" and played for about an hour; the place has a nice feel, acoustics are nice and I was quite comfortable. In  previous gigs I'd sometimes get a bit tense, which causes your arms to pump up like rocks, making playing hard.  Don't be tense, relax.  A glass of red wine or a beer helps.  Just one, maybe two, to loosen up :)

My playing was a little rough, no catastrophic failures, but quite a number of fumbles.  Some songs I hadn't played in months I struggled with - but casual listeners don't notice, unless you actually outright stop - and perhaps only a serious listener would detect anything, but they generally forgive you.  To err is to be human.  But it's okay, because now once a week I will have a chance to practise!

Now I doubt if anyone who reads this lives in the Northern suburbs of Western Australia - ha, my own country doesn't even rank in the top ten for readers/viewers - but if you do, I'm playing Thursday nights, 7-9pm at Bbar Café in Gwelup, come down and have one of their rather delicious wood fired pizzas (I recommend the Bbar special), a glass of wine, but most importantly say hello - I'd love to talk to you!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

JAW - Can you arrange (insert song name here) into fingerstyle for me?

No.  Sorry.  But that's a good thing.  Let me explain.

I won't arrange for you for several reasons - I'm already arranging the songs I want to arrange, I think there is a 0.01% chance that you have picked a song I'm already arranging or one that I want to arrange in the future.  Arranging takes me a long, long time.  Very long time.  If it were my business...well let's just say nobody would want to pay the price I'd have to ask.  Arranging is "personal" - I put my own flavour into them, in the style I'm comfortable with.  There aren't many songs I arrange these days that are "universal" - that someone else could or want play the same as me - normally people who do tackle one of my pieces will change them into their own style, which is great, I love seeing what other people do.  My mate Naudo, who is a huge inspiration to my style of playing, I can play at least ten of his arrangements, and none sound like the way he plays them.

But all is not lost with that arrangement you seek!

Now if you are asking this question, and you do have the skills to play a fingerstyle arrangement, there is hope.  If you are asking this question and you don't have the skills to play a fingerstyle arrangement...well don't ask the question until you have already learnt a bunch of other fingerstyle arrangements.  And even then, well...

First up get guitar skills.  Maybe you already have some skills, are keen to get into fingersyle and want to know where to start.  One of the most important things I believe you need to develop, which doesn't often occur in other styles of guitar, is thumb independence.  Go and play the riff I mention here and you will suddenly understand what thumb independence is all about.  At this stage, learning lots of songs from good quality well thought out tabs from good fingerstyle arrangers isn't bad for you at all.  It's even better when there is a video corresponding to the tab. And really push your skills - to be a great player doesn't mean just being able to put your fingers in the right place at the right time, it means doing the hard work and getting to those last little things that make the difference, like holding on to that bass note even when you "don't have to".

Next, start transcribing fingerstyle songs you enjoy that no tab exists for.  I recommend transcribing from a video.  Look at hand positions for clues to chords, loop sections in repeat while trying to play along until you get it.  Type it into tabbing software such as tuxguitar or powertab (the days of pencil and paper for that sort of thing are over, you get so much more flexibility and functionality from tab software). Get all computer nerdy and try out programs like Transcribe! to help find those tricky notes (I don't use it myself) and slow down the video.  And don't necessarily try to play it exactly the same as the arranger, simplify sections, change parts, mix it up.  You're starting on the path to arranging now!

So now, armed with playing skills, and having a good understanding of what other fingerstyle players are doing from your transcribing efforts, arrange!  I've mentioned concepts on arranging in the past a just a primer, there would be books devoted to it, it's a huge area not just limited to the guitar. By the stage of arranging you are into your own realm, you do what you want to do.  Arranging is where you let your style and feeling come to the fore, you are making the music become your own.  Of course it's good to read about tips and techniques such as how to work a bassline into your arrangment, so research!

Now there is a good compromise between just using tabs, transcribing and arranging.  I live in this area a lot:  use music score and midis to base arrangements on.  Music score (such as piano music) and midis are both already arrangements, but are for instruments with a lot more flexibility than the guitar.  With the piano, all the notes are laid out in front of you and you have two hands to attack them with.  Midis don't even have that as a limit!  Armed with the wealth of musical data both (can) contain, you can chip away on the guitar re-arranging into what is possible, here's a video of me pulling apart a midi for clues.

And a final note on transcribing and arranging - by the time you have come up with a full arrangement (depending on how far you take your arrangement) - if you haven't already learnt to play the song reasonably well, you will be pretty close!

So you sure you still want me to arrange a song for you?  No way?  Good for you, that's the spirit.  Get to work!


...and who knows, after all the playing and tabs and transcribing and arranging, perhaps you will want to go to the ultimate in musical expression; cast off the non-original - and write your own songs.  Let me know how you go!