Wednesday, 23 December 2020

2020 Stocktake

Sometimes I have a lot of partial works sitting around that I forget about.  When the initial enthusiasm has worn off. Or distracted and forgotten.  Or perfectionism has prevented me from releasing.  It's lucky I mention songs here on this blog when I initially noodle with them, I can revise and take stock of what I need to finish!  Because finishing is important.  Half a page of written lines is not worth much.

Shout out if you would love to see one of these songs done and recorded!

Very close to tab done and learnt:

Chicago - If You Leave Me Now
The Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Steven Universe - Drift Away
Thompson Twins - Hold Me Now
Cream - White Room

Plenty of work done but not as much as above:

The Eagles - Hotel California
The Animals - House of the Rising Sun
Dragon - Rain
Bob Dylan - It's All Over Now Baby Blue

Some work done, but not as much as above:

Adele - Rolling in the Deep
CCR - Bad Moon Rising
The Beatles - Blackbird
Daddy Cool - Eagle Rock
Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Steve Miller Band - Fly Like an Eagle
Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks
Eric Clapton - Tears in Heaven
Bach - Toccata (Sky Version)
Bob Dylan - Knocking on Heaven's Door

Last of my top 15 songs on YouTube that I need to get Tabs onto Patreon for my wonderful Patreon supporters:

The Wiggles - Rock-a-bye Your Bear /  Where's Jeff
Lipps Inc - Funky Town

Sunday, 20 December 2020


Dermatitis, eczema, well specifically Atopic Dermatitis is something that I have dealt with since I was young. The cause is unknown, but I distinctly remember when I was 19 working in a pizza shop, folding pizza boxes, I cut myself (paper cut style) on a box on one of my fingers. The cut took a long time to heal, and formed into this itchy blistery thing, which eventually spread over both my hands. 30 years later it is still an ongoing irritant.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it is red itchiness, blisters under the skin that flare up from time to time, so itchy that sometime in madness you with scratch it until it bleeds, just looking for a bit of relief. If you don't do something about it you will have red raw peeling skin for weeks or always.

Sounds nasty, but with hydrocortisone (a prescription cream) I can keep it under control. I've learnt to "detect" when it is about to start (it's a very minor itchiness on spots on my fingers/hands) so I will hit it with a small quantity of cream just before I go to sleep for 2-3 nights in a row, and that stops it from really erupting. I use moisturiser whenever I remember, that helps, I keep several tubes of moisturiser around the house and at work. I try not to stick my hands in chemicals (covid-19 and all that hand sanitiser has been a disaster for dermatitis sufferers) and I notice that stress can bring it on.

To all my brothers and sisters out there in the same boat - I empathise with you.

So a few weeks ago I had an "outbreak" of dermatitis on the tip of my left index finger. Which is super-inconvenient because that's an important guitar playing skin surface. What was worse about this outbreak is that it was also under my nail. It is pretty easy to shutdown an outbreak on your hands, slightly more difficult on your fingertip, but the hardest when it gets under your nail. I got onto it straight away, twice a day I was hitting it with cream.  But in the meantime - I was playing rhythm guitar with the school band's Christmas Carol night! And if you are going to strum chords with a concert band full of brass, you need to do it with a steel string!

It was the perfect storm.  My supple nylon string fingertip were getting a hard workout on my steel string guitar, the dermatitis was heading under my nail, and cuts were opening up. The actual event turned out great - the nice thing about Christmas carols is it's about community and participation, the music is secondary. So even though I thought my playing was sub par (I had worked out the chords for 13 songs, transposed the yucky Bb and Eb keys that brass and woodwind seem to love by putting a capo at 1, but I only had a few sessions with them to figure out what they were doing for intros, outros, number of verses/choruses...I could write a full post about it) suffice to say the event turned out nice.

I took some paracetamol before the event and grit my teeth. By song 3 my fingertip was bleeding. I was fretting slightly differently to direct the contact surface away, but there wasn't much I could do. Smile and take it. Funny thing about that sort of pain is the longer you push through the less you notice it.

Index finger next day...not so bad, but never what I have in mind for guitar playing

Saturday, 21 November 2020

What's happening November 2020

 I played an open mic gig earlier this month at my mate Shaun's It was great to catch up with him, to chat with some of the musicians there, and to play of course!  I hadn't played out in more than a year, I tensed up and after half an hour my left arm was like a rock!  Apparently I sounded great but I felt it was pretty rough.  I need to do more gigs so I don't instinctively tense up.

Some interesting chaps there, a guy Chris who was a real estate agent, once his kids had grown up chucked that in and is making a living out of music. Said he does a lot of singing with backing tracks for retirement homes and the like, does a lot of busking, weddings and birthdays.  Sounds like it's not super lucrative but he is doing what he loves and paying the bills.  He was playing guitar and singing, which I think is what you should do if you haven't been playing the guitar for 30+ years - learning to sing and playing the guitar will get you somewhere a lot faster than just trying to play fingerstyle.  It was great to chat to you Chris!

Oh, the accountant playing guitar and singing has a great voice, there was some top quality musicians there.  A dude with a bass and a laptop running loops, very groovy.

Meanwhile the WA Youth Strings Orchestra that I am the chairperson for has three engagements this month...that's keeping me busy.  But not so busy that I can't noodle on songs I'm still learning, and finding new ones that I just *have* to try out.

For instance Naudo recenty played Rolling in the Deep which I had a crack at, and it is real bang for your buck.  As in, you get a lot of big sound for very little effort - it is not difficult to play.

Another of my favourite fingerstyle guitarists Jake uploaded Thompson Twins Hold Me Now and it got stuck in my head.  Not quite as easy, and I never play anything the same as the arranger, but after noodling with it for an hour I thought I sound record it so I can listen back.  This is where I ended up, needs more work but this one will be a keeper.

Hold Me Now demo:

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Music Studio

Last weekend I had a real treat - I got a tour of a music studio!

Backstory - my eldest is doing a theatre technical services certificate as part of her studies, my dad's workmate has a brother who runs a music studio, would she like a tour...yes...and so would my other kids, my nephew, my dad and so would I!

Fast forward, we meet up, it's at the back of a house in Perth. I wasn't sure what to expect but wow, it was amazing, beyond anything I may have expected. A local musician Nunzio Mondia has spent several years acquiring  the permits and getting the building done, he is still working his way through final permits to be able to hold concerts there.

As I walked in the first thing that hit me was the delicious smell of wood. Because there is a lot of wood in there. Artistic, much of it non-milled, just polished and beautiful. It was like walking into an art gallery.

Covering the walls are various passive acoustic devices. We had a good lesson on them. I was the most excited, I scarce could take it all in.  There were the usual dampers that I expected, but many acoustic diffusers.  Made to prime number equations brain launched into engineering concepts of constructive and destructive interference...but how does it sound?  For the main room there was no pesky echo or resonances, but the room was not "flat" or "dead".  Nunz explained how careful selection and sound engineering means that the room will actually enhance the natural sound, make the room feel alive.  And you could tell!

Upstairs is a gallery type area; more acoustic devices, a wonderful balcony that overlooks the main studio.  We were treated to a sound example - Nunz himself playing superbly on an Italian Fazioli piano.  A quick google reveals these pianos start at more than $100k. The sound is warm yet bright, clean, fully dynamic from a roar to whisper quiet.  Never heard a piano like it.  My eldest daughter had a turn, I gave her a few minutes and then said "that's enough for you".

There is a control room, again a masterpiece of acoustic engineering.  All the fruit for audio control - he does everything from recording studio duties, live performances, audio/video recording, educational sessions and even live streaming.

I could go on, for quite some time.  Hank Marvin, the legend himself, who lives in Perth, records with him regularly.  If it's good enough for Hank...

Well my youngest daughter brought her cello and I brought my guitar, I convinced Nunz to record us playing a duet as a show and tell.  Which we did, had a bit of fun.  He played it back to us, did some minor tweaking as a demonstration, again, lots of learning.  My daughter and I weren't satisfied with our performances so I didn't ask for a copy ;-)

I look forward to when he is able to run concerts there, I'll be standing in line!  Thanks Nunzio Mondia you are a gentleman and a scholar!

Daughter plays a very fancy piano

Daughter and her grandad in the control room

Monday, 21 September 2020

Sad songs

Music evokes emotion, that is kinda the point. There are some really sad songs, like Eric Claptop's "Tears in Heaven" about loss of a loved one, or Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" about an awkward father/son relationship.  There are however only three songs I can think of that have ever brought me to tears.

Mike + the Mechanic's "The Living Years" is one of them, about death and regret. It did have a little bit of hope in the end.  Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut" is about depression leading to attempted suicide.  Yikes, that one doesn't have any hope.

But the last one, which I reckon has taken my sad song top place, is from the most unlikely of places - Rebecca Sugar's Steven Universe's "Drift Away".  When the animated kid's movie came out last year I watched it with the kids, and when that song came on I couldn't believe it, I lost composure and teared up.  It is a song about rejection and loss of innocence that leads to the main protagonist's anger/revenge/insanity. The way the movie portrayed it certainly added to the sadness, but the music itself and the lyrics, whoa.

My eldest daughter learned to play it on the ukulele when it came out, I come across it again the other day, and still whoa, teared up. In order to understand why, I looked into it and noticed a few things:

  • 6/8 time signature is a good choice for sad songs, not quite a dirge but you can't bop to it;
  • An unusual verse chord progression G-G7-C-Cm which equates to establish-tension-release-sad really adds to the lament feel; 
  • Melody off beat, has that slow falling-behind sad feel;
  • Keeping the verse range down low, then having the chorus up high, for despair-frustration-despair;
  • A nice bridge that leaves the established feel, offering some relief, but then takes you straight back to where you were but sadder;
  • Well written poetic lyrics, good imagery, music alone could make you cry but effective lyrics certainly help;
  • It has a slightly Pink Floyd/Roger Waters feel with a hint of psychedelic era The Beatles, I would say the author is a fan.

This song is masterfully crafted and achieves its goals, my hat is off to the writers. During my obsessive research into it I of course arranged it for solo guitar, watch this space.

I have listened to it enough now that the sadness impact has been dulled - but like "The Living Years" and "The Final Cut" - if I hear them infrequently, whoa. Emotionally manipulative song writers! Grr! :-)  Watch it here