Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Poor Pinky

I give my left pinky a hard time. At some stage in my life I worked out how to fret an A with just my pinky, letting the top E and the bass A ring. This extends to any root 5 chord, like B for instance (bar second fret):

Note that only my pinky and first finger bar is doing anything here, the other two are off the strings.

Now being able to do this with your pinky is really handy, because using three fingers to fret root 5 chords is slow and often inaccurate. But look at that poor pinky, the top joint (wikipedia tells me it is the Distal Interphalangeal Joint) is bent backwards, and the middle joint is pushing it hard up against the frets. If I push too hard, too many times, for too long, I strain it. My G chord fretting is similar, I often fret the top G with the D on the second string using pinky. Like this:

Don't be fooled, my third finger isn't on a string - 3rd and 4th strings are open. But as you can see, it is the same principle. I love the sound of a G chord with the D added!

Another thing I do with my pinky is stretch it out to fret a low F and a high A. It's an F chord...well, bass note is F, high A, second string C and third string A. Fourth and Fifth are muted. Yeah, I know, the photo doesn't look like it:

So, what?

Your pinky is probably the weakest finger you own, and yet, for the guitar, I rate it as the second most useful finger after your index finger. So, we should probably take care of it.

So to reduce the amount of abuse I throw at the poor little fella, I try to observe the following, with varying degrees of success:

  • Don't keep practicing the same song over and over, where it features the same pinky (or any other finger) abusing chord structures. That is a recipe for strain.
  • Avoid pinky abuse. If you watch Naudo, you can see he does a lot of strange fretting and I think it is partly to reduce finger strain. Don't put pinky in nasty positions, try other fretting. I should have trained in this fretting technique with my ring finger rather than pinky.
  • If it is starting to hurt, stop. I once did some damage to my hand "pushing through the pain" that took the better part of a year to recover from. Enough said, there is always tomorrow.
  • If you do strain it, rest it. Anti-inflammatory drugs will help, but let me throw a hippy cure which works for me - quarter of a teaspoon of turmeric stirred into water once a day. I've been doing it for years since initially hurting pinky, I'm sure it's made a difference. A proper scientist would stop taking it as a control, to see if the issue returns, but I don't want it to return even if turmeric is just a placebo!
Be careful out there!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What's happening March 2015

I once again find myself in the tropics.  Funny, when I say it like that, you think of white sandy beaches and coconut trees, balmy warm weather.  But no, this is The Pilbara.  Barren vast stretches of red dirt, blazing sun (hit 43°C the other day, that's just short of 110°F for my American mates).  This is the heart of iron ore mining, Western Australia.

I brought an old '74 Yamaha classical student guitar up here two years ago, which lives here, and I re-find it from whomever was looking after it.  I get in plenty of practice, and put in time for learning new songs. Songs jump in my head randomly, and then I have to arrange them.  Even though I have songs I should be working on.  This time it is Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", always loved that tune.  I looked up the chords and they were pretty hard to deal with, I tried transposing up 2 semitones which made it better, but still hard to deal with.  It is quite a chordy sort of song, more than three in this one!

I checked out Naudo's version and what can we say, he is Da Man. He transposed it up 4 semitones which fits well, and made some great chord resolves.  So I've followed his lead.  As usual I changed it a bit to suit me, but it's all done, I just struggle to play it!  Watch this space, still really enjoying it.

Last night, heading back to my room, there was a bunch of people having drinks nearby.  One of them recognised I "was that guitar player" and I offered to play some tunes.  An hour and a half and a tall glass of Baileys Irish Cream later, I bade them farewell and hit the hay.  It's always enjoyable to play to people who have never heard me before, see if they guess the songs, see them enjoy it too.  Generally two out of three people I play guitar for "understand it", they get it, what I'm trying to achieve.  What's more, when people realise that someone playing the guitar doesn't mean be quiet, sit up and listen, it's something that is woven into a relaxed scene - sometimes you listen, sometimes you converse, it's just something that is there and enjoyable - even better.

I've been playing 1-2 hours every night for the past two weeks and I'm back to my A-game.  Fingers are good, I'm relaxed, brain is in the groove, I'm getting good tunes out.  I'm really keen to get a regular gig back in Perth and keep this groove going.

Oh, I ordered a hat.  Monz, who I work with up here, who has a lot more fashion sense than me, I showed him a few I was thinking about getting, he pointed me to the one I ended up ordering.  Apparently it is "like something Bruno Mars would wear".  I looked up Bruno Mars.  Good muso, I should arrange one of his popular tunes :-)


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Open mic with Mike the drummer

I went down again to Shaun Street's Open Mic night, trying something different this time.  He has a backing band (including himself) if anyone needs it.  Since I have played with drummers before, I said "I'll have a crack with the drummer!"

I mentioned this to a few people before hand and there was a lot of "so when are you going to rehearse?" This surprised me, because I was quite sure that if I meet him 5 minutes before we went on stage and sketch out a quick game plan, it will all be just fine.

So I spoke to Mike just before we jumped on stage, I mentioned how I only ever play solo and my tempo is all over the place, and I probably wouldn't notice if I was drifting, so it was probably safer if he followed me rather than I follow him.  And that my endings to songs are generally a slow down, perhaps I just nod to indicate to rit?  And I rattled off a list of songs to see if he knew them, a few he was familiar with but "I'll follow in with something appropriate".  I thought it was a good game plan.

Away we went, and I think it worked out well.  A few of the usual things happened when I've played with other musicians - I started playing hard because I felt my sound was being drowned out, kinda "we are competing".  The house drum kit is acoustic, but he was playing with brushes to keep it low.  After the first song I got Shaun to crank up my feedback speaker which helped me hear myself better and I then eased off a little.  When I start digging in I start making more mistakes as I am less relaxed.  Performance nerves already make you tense, you don't need anything to make you more tense.

I called out to him between songs what we were tackling next, and started, and he jumped in at the speed I was playing.  On a few of the songs I realised I went in too slow, or too fast, but since we were sync'ing up pretty well I felt I couldn't just move tempo, so I played out the songs at a speed I wasn't completely comfortable with.

See, it's all solo performer control freak nature ;-)

I'm super critical of myself, but I've learnt to let it go (to a degree) and the bottom line is he is a fantastic drummer, and made everything work.  Some of his drum work was very close to the studio version, some was just nicely improvised.  I enjoyed it a lot, and would certainly do it again, I'm sure with practise I would loosen up and get more of a feel for playing with a drummer.

...but at the same time, it reinforced my love for solo instrumental.  If I had to choose, would I try to integrate into a duo/trio/fullband or would I stay solo?  The answer is, after 35+ years of being a soloist, it's all I know and I've learnt to love it.

After my set the house band (drummer, bassist, guitarist) took to the stage with an open mic singer, she had a great voice, and they rocked out!  During their set patrons to the joint wandered in and I could see they were enjoying the show.  And why wouldn't you, they were great fun, entertaining and sounded really good.

So yeah, I need to get back into my cafe background music style gig.  There is a place for rockin' out with the full band, and a place for nice background music :-)

I really enjoyed the experience, and would do it again, but my love still lies in solo instrumental fingerstyle, in a venue where it fits.

...Oh, I set my microphone up and recorded the whole set.  10 songs, about 40 minutes, here is a few that I think worked out well (ignore my nervous mistakes).  I didn't place the microphone particularly well, so the mix isn't amazing, not to mention the background noise.

Enjoy, if you dare!

The Beatles, "Get Back"

Australian Crawl, "The Boys Light Up"

The Beatles, "Something"

Monday, 12 January 2015

Poll results and Never Tear Us Apart

I hadn't run a poll for a while, which was a shame, I love polls.  So I posed this one: "Out and about...who do you play guitar for?"

The results from 69 votes were:

53% I play only for myself
23% I play for anyone who will listen
18% I play for friends and family
2%  I play small gigs
1%  I don't play guitar
0%  I play large gigs

Other than the usual analysis of "100% of people polled are the sort of people who respond to polls", I didn't find it surprising that nobody plays large gigs and everybody plays guitar. (Except for you, my 1% friend, but I'm sure you will soon).  People who play large gigs or don't play guitar don't need this.

I was hoping for more people who play for friends and family and anyone who will listen.  I spent too many years playing for myself, you are missing out when you hide away.  Sure, there is that "putting your heart on your sleeve" when you play, the opening yourself to potential emotional distraught, but you are missing out on the connection you get to make with other people through music.  What a powerful thing music is!  How great is it to share it!

So my 53% of mates out there, yes sure, practise by yourself to get your stuff up to performance level, but then go play for an audience! It is good for you!  The rest of us - keep playing for audiences, and keep refining and expanding your set - don't ever be a half song playing guitarist.

In other news, Wifey and I watched a great documentary the other week, INXS - Never Tear Us Apart.  I wasn't a fan of my home town band during the day - wifey was - but over the years I have come to appreciate them more.  And I like being able to play Aussie Pub Rock!  So while I was away with work just before Christmas, I had a crack at "Never Tear Us Apart".  I've really enjoyed how it came together as an arrangement.

In other other news, I've been doing some renovations to our bedroom, it is currently completely gutted.  So it's one big concrete echo chamber.  I decided to record "Never Tear Us Apart" in there, for Ultimate Natural Medium Room Reverb.  The play needs work, I'm finding it hard to get the arrangement to stick to my fingers.  Some arrangements are like that.  As for the reverb - well, the sound just gets muddy.  The trebles are nice, but the bass is washed out.  I ran some post EQ to demuddify it, it's tolerable, but it reminds me why I never use any reverb/delay for gigs.  Keep the sound flat and clean - the room is already going to add reverb/delay and mess up the EQ.  And get the tone you want with your fingers - not with electronics!

Have a listen if you like - Ultimate Natural Medium Room Reverb "Never Tear Us Apart":


Saturday, 27 December 2014

"Get Back" Video

I've just uploaded "Get Back" by The Beatles, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss the video process, maybe it will save you some time, I learnt a few new things while creating it.

"Get Back" fitted nicely into my current standard arranging style, it's somewhat difficult to play, but worked out well.  I'm pleased with the arrangement.  If you are new to fingerstyle guitar check out how do I get into fingerstyle? As for arranging songs to fingerstyle, check my previous posts such as Arrangement concepts or Can you arrange a song for me? or How far do you take your arrangements?

I wanted to mix up some creativity with technology, I go through spurts of trying out "the fancy new stuff" and putting a bit extra into my video productions.  Generally, fancy new stuff and a bit extra in video means only one thing - a lot of time.  Quite a lot of time.  Extra time spent recording, organising, producing and waiting for processing.  So what's new this time around, why did I spend so much time?
  • Got a bit dressed up.  As part of Movember, which I have been doing for a long time now, I dyed my hair (and moustache, and eyebrows) black.  Well, okay, it's not dressed up, kinda.
  • I recorded in the spirit of The Beatles Rooftop Concert - I played guitar standing up (which I never do), amplified, on a balcony.
  • I recorded 6 different angles, with the help of my oldest daughter on the camera.  Yes, each was a separate play through, I don't have six cameras.
  • ...but I do have two cameras, and I used them paired to be able to create a 3D video.
  • I spent some time learning yet another video editing package, my usual VirtualDub video editor of choice isn't a multi-scene editor.  I produced two videos - a 2D and a 3D.
So the video recording - I played through 6 times, keeping on tempo even when I botched it (Play through your mistakes).  Which I do a bit when playing standing up.  I don't like to play standing up.  But by playing on tempo and never dropping a beat, the later editing should be easier.  HOWEVER - unless you are playing to a metronome (which would sound forced), you aren't ever going to be able to exactly synchronise one video with another.  So what that meant was each "camera angle change" in the video I had to carefully synchronise with the audio track.  And yes, each "camera angle change" didn't synchronise perfectly, they drifted.  There were three ways I dealt with that - first, I would line the video to the audio slightly ahead or behind and end up slightly behind or ahead - but the bulk of the scene was close to synchronised.  Secondly, I would only use a length of time where it was pretty close to synchronised.  Surprisingly, I was finding 20-25 seconds of playing that perfectly synchronised to audio.  Thirdly - fool the eye.  If it looks like it is synchronised, then that is fine!

What about the audio?  No, I didn't use any audio from the day.  It was all home studio recorded (okay, my kitchen table).  Not only was it not live, I recorded the audio a month after I recorded the video!  Not only that, the audio was bits and pieces from about 6 different takes!  Why oh why JAW would you fool us like this?  Look I'm not fooling you.  In the video, yep, it's me playing.  The audio, also me playing.  All real.  But both were riddled with imperfections.  It is a hard song to play, I've only been playing it for about five or six months.  I wanted it to look and sound pretty cool, so I went a lot further in capturing video and audio than I normally would.  I didn't aim for absolute perfection (impossible) - you will hear plenty of missed notes, fret buzz, and I can clearly see some places where I played a wrong note in the video but miraculously the audio is correct.  I just wanted it to look and sound pretty cool.

3D is an interesting thing.  I have two cameras which I welded up a bracket to connect them together - one camera records the left eye, one records the right eye.  From previous experience the cameras are too wide to be side by side, that tends to "overdrive" the 3D depth.  To reduce the distance between the lenses, I mounted the cameras bottom to bottom.  This gave a separation of about 80mm - I was after 65mm, but this was better than the previous 120mm.  Not many humans have an eye separation of 120mm...

This introduced a problem - the footage was tall and narrow.  I still wanted it to be a normal wide screen video.  So, I rotated the videos, and cropped them hard, sadly throwing away most of the picture, to be 4:3. That means it's not full HD video, which I kinda like.  Oh well.  I then had to further crop the videos to "align" the left eye and right eye.  In my experimentation with 3D video I found you should find a point of interest - something in the middle around the centre point of focus - and crop the videos so that point is at the same x,y location in both the videos.  This helps make up for the too wide lens spacing and any alignment error in the camera mount.  Light physics takes care of the rest - the left and right videos have an outlook that creates the spacial difference that your brain translates to depth. Your brain doesn't seem to be too fussy - the variety of distances and angles it has dealt with (tilt your head - depth perception still works!) I guess means it's prepared to accept - it wants to accept - most stereo inputs and turn them to a depth image.

Putting the images side by side via software (more synchronising - this time synchronising left eye video feed with right eye) will create a "standard distributable" 3D video.  Then chop them up and match them to the audio. It seems like putting two HD video streams side by side (3840x1080 pixels) is too much for most systems to bear in 2014, whereas reducing the width by half (1920x1080) seems to be accepted by most 3D playback systems.  The 2D video is simply one half of the original video.

I haven't worked out the deal with Youtube and 3D videos, so I uploaded both the 3D and 2D one.  I'd hoped that Youtube would automatically play the correct video based on your playback system, but I haven't worked out how, if it even exists.

I've plenty more to say about the creation of the video, if you need more information about some part of the process drop me a comment.  Until then, check out the 2D or the 3D  video!

Get Back
Get Back - 3D