My kids bought me Rock Band for Christmas. Ostensibly, this would be construed as them recognizing my interest in the guitar and music. In reality, it is more along the lines of me buying my wife a Telescope for Mother’s Day. I haven’t been able to get near the game since hooking it up.
The version I bought, I mean they bought for me, included a drum kit and microphone in addition to the guitar controller. The first reviews I got based on solo play with the guitar controller, was that it was not as good as Guitar Hero III but had a couple of interesting features. Then, they got together with friends and played all three instruments (you can add another guitar controller to play bass but the package only includes one guitar controller out of the box). That is when the transformation occurred.
They are already avid Guitar Hero players. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great game. The primary difference is they play Guitar Hero as a video game. They stand there with the controller in a trance and hit the notes when they fly by on the fretboard. Although they play it a lot their interaction is no different than with "Call of Duty 4" or "Gears of War". With Rock Band, they are actually rocking out. They actually move to the music, which I've never seen happen with Guitar Hero.
The only explanation I have is there is some kind of social networking thing going on. Rock Band creates interaction with the music that comes from the players collaborating as an actual band. I would say the game designers met their goal in my household anyway.
At any rate, it will be awhile before I can get close to it to try the game out. That is ok given it takes a lot of my time just keeping up with playing the real guitar!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
My kids bought me Rock Band for Christmas. Ostensibly, this would be construed as them recognizing my interest in the guitar and music. In reality, it is more along the lines of me buying my wife a Telescope for Mother’s Day. I haven’t been able to get near the game since hooking it up.
Friday, December 28, 2007
In my previous post I described the approach I took to building a pedal board and the finished product is pictured at the right. Notice there are some open slots just waiting for the next hobby oriented purchases!
I went with the hard case from Coffin Case because of its relatively small size and I can close and latch the cover when not in use. This helps reduce clutter in the house and also protects the equipment from the family cats who like to eat wiring for some reason.
I had wood from a crate that held Port wine that I cut to size for each pedal base. I put holes in the cut pieces that matched the holes in the pedal base, countersunk the holes, unscrewed the base and reattached everything with the thin wood piece on the bottom. From there, I added the Velcro to the wood. This way, I can quickly return the pedals to their original condition without having to deal with peeling Velcro off the original base. I've inserted a picture to the right to show how this came out on a wah pedal.
Once you have your Velcro “hook” side of the backing on the pedal base you just line up where you want the pedal to be and place it on the two-level pedal surface. Be accurate because the Velcro sticks amazingly well. You will be able to drop your case from a truck and your pedals will not come loose!
Another approach I took for the pedals was to strap them to the wood using nylon zip ties, and then apply the Velcro strips. This was for pedals that had overly short screws in their bottom panels. I couldn’t find longer equivalents that would fit without risking messing up the threads. Again, I was just being accommodating in the event I ever sell any of the pedals.
From there, it is just a matter of connecting each pedal together with cables in your signal chain order. I chose to purchase prebuilt ¼” cables although there are kits where you can cut and terminate them to custom lengths. Last step was routing the power cables from the Voodoo Power supply to each pedal. The Coffin Case provides a slot to accommodate your power strip or power supply. I actually used this to hold my Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal and attached the Voodoo Labs – Pedal Power 2 Plus directly to the two-level pedal surface with Velcro. I inserted a detail of this on the right.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
As you continue with your guitar hobby and accumulate effects pedals you will need to organize them as a pedal board. When I got to that point I was amazed at how little information I could find on how to make a pedal board. Hopefully this post will provide you some shortcuts.
First of all, a pedal board can be literally that; pedals attached to a piece of plywood. Here is one of Eric Johnson's arrangements as an example. Maintaining an efficient practice rig and portability is a priority with me. The approach I ultimately took after searching the Internet, talking to friends, and getting advice at the guitar store was acquiring a hard case, a power supply, and using Velcro to secure the pedals in the case.
Hard case from Coffin Case – Model SK-110: This was a rugged case that provides a platform on which to affix the pedals plus you can close it up and latch it when not in use.
Voodoo Labs – Pedal Power 2 Plus: This device will power all of your pedals on the board in minimum space as opposed to getting a bulky power strip and using the transformers you typically have to buy as an option for your pedals anyway. This way you do not have to deal with batteries or excess cord clutter.
Velcro – 3M Industrial Strength: This is just a roll of Velcro hook and loop fastening material, each with a self adhesive backing. I used the “hook” portion of the Velcro to affix the pedals to the Velcro “loop” like material that is used on the surface of the pedal board.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
It’s Christmas Day and I’m eagerly hoping I receive the Jimmy Page Limited Edition sculpture I put on my Christmas list! And I did, sort of….
Turns out only a limited number of the 3,000 figure run was available for shipment from Knucklebonz in time for Christmas. So, I have a rain check. At least I have a reservation for one.
I am lamely attempting to equate my situation to a Christmas story parallel; “The Gift of the Magi” maybe or “A Christmas Carol”. In reality I’m more along the lines of “A Christmas Story” and madly in pursuit of my own equivalent of “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and 'this thing' which tells time.” So, I have no way to claim any sort of redeeming value from my suffering.
Still, with that said, we’re talking about a piece of rock history here. Led Zeppelin just came off their triumphant return to the spotlight with the potential to actually tour again. It may even end up as one more thing my descendents have to deal with at my estate sale. Still, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a kid getting a BB gun for Christmas!
Sunday, December 23, 2007
I recently went to visit my good buddy at Guitar Center on a quest to add a Marshall amp to my gear collection. "Ahhh...you want a piece of the Marshall Mystique", he says, which conjured up images of Jimi Hendrix with a backplane of Marshall stacks behind him as he burned his guitar at the Monterey Festival. Just seeing the logo is enough to do that. I had to get a Marshall stack of my own to tap into the mystique.
My salesman outlined the history of tube amps, why they sound like they do, and demoed spring reverb by shaking the unit. Cool! Of course, I wanted to get the stack, even though my primary use would be in my home but he talked me out of it. Something about if you put the volume to a level where it would warm up enough to get good tone; you wouldn't have any paint left on your walls.
With that said, he pointed me to the Marshall DSL 401, a 1 X 12 all tube combo amp. At 40 watts it is the smallest of the JCM 2000 family. “Not much mystique in this” I recall thinking to myself even while acknowledging I had no place to store a stack much less be able to play it with family and neighbors around. He recommended I try it out and set me up in a back room and let me go at it.
Mystique! Somehow this amp channels the Marshall Mystique. Between use of gain on the clean and overdrive channels and use of your guitar volume you can get some great tones out of this amp. Best of all, you can get all this at near bedroom volumes if you need it.
I gave it a home of course. The mystique isn't the stack; it's the tone! Once you hear that tone you feel a direct connect to Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, and of course, Jimi. That’s some mystique!
Doesn't mean I still don't want a Marshall stack....
Friday, December 21, 2007
When you take up the guitar in middle age you want to move fast and make up for lost time. Doing this just means taking the same systematic approach you’ve taken in living your life to this point. One important aspect is availing yourself of the valuable resources at your fingertips thanks to the Internet.
I recently outlined a set of resources that have helped me pursue my midlife guitar goals and when roaming the blogosphere yesterday I encountered a couple more I wanted to share.
The Boomer Chronicles has a recent post regarding The Berklee College of Music out of Boston and that they provide instruction online. My first instructor went through the program there and spoke highly of it. Since I have to hold down a full time job with lots of travel, doing a program in Boston would not be possible. However, I earned an MBA online at the University of Phoenix for the same reasons and that worked well. If the Berklee program is set up the same this could work out great. Check out the post and the Boomer Chronicles.
I ran across this post yesterday on "I Am an Offering", a site that has some easily digestible coverage of music theory. What theory I have learned to date has really benefitted my progress. However, I still have a lot of gaps in understanding. This site has helped and also provides information on another online resource; musictheory.net.
Hopefully these will be of interest. Let’s Rock!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
In my previous post I describe a recent revelation I had regarding parallels between the waterfall and iterative methodologies in the software world and methodologies for learning the guitar. I left off at the point where I had hit a brick wall in attempting to learn Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train". The best thing I ever did for my continued progress was drop it and move on to other areas.
I continued practicing the fundamentals; scale exercises, learning new licks, and working on speed. At the same time, I continued exploring new songs. GuitarWorld is a great resource as it includes transcriptions in each issue. A few months later I picked up “Crazy Train” again and iteration two was much improved.
Although I hadn't been practicing “Crazy Train” specifically, I had been building my chops by working on other songs and continuing to learn new licks and build speed on my scales. I was able to hit about 80% of the song at its actual tempo such that it was recognizable compared to only hitting the intro at a reduced speed on my first iteration.
The premise of all my posts is maximum results in minimum time for us midlife wannabe rockers who want to make up for lost time. When starting out, you will make the most progress by iterating through a variety of songs and technique exercises rather than slogging away on one song in a waterfall approach. I know it is gratifying to be able to play one of your favorites beginning to end. But, if the song requires technique you do not yet posses, move ahead to new territory. The key though is to incorporate those difficult technique areas into your daily practice routine.
For example, I incorporate the licks for “Crazy Train” that I still cannot handle into every practice session. Once you feel you have improved in those technique areas, do another iteration. The critical thing about iterations is that you measure the outcome of each as I have indicated in previous posts. I guarantee that after you compare a second iteration to a first iteration you will realize this is the quickest approach to developing your technique baseline.
If you keep this up you will reach the point in no time where you have mastered the fundamentals such that you could quickly learn a song whatever methodology you choose to follow. I'll be here trying to keep up with you :-).
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
In the software business there are as many methodologies around how to create good software as there are around becoming a good guitarist. As I worked on developing my guitar skills I stumbled on the fact that there is a relationship between the two. First, a brief outline on software development methodologies.
Software methodologies fall into two main types: waterfall and iterative. In waterfall, you plan everything up front and move through the project in a sequential fashion like water running over the falls. In iterative, you do everything you would do in waterfall but in much shorter cycles. You use multiple cycles to reach the end product rather than one cycle over a longer timeframe. While there are raging debates over which is better, I will outline how this is relevant to accelerating your progress on the guitar.
Let's say you set out to learn Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train". This song requires techniques such as hammer ons, pull offs, tapping, palm muting, harmonics, alternate picking, and most of all, the ability to do all these at a tempo around 140 beats per minute. If you are already an accomplished guitarist, you can learn the song quickly. If you are more of a novice with ambitions to get better, not so much.
I took an initial run at learning this song thinking that if I kept slogging away I would learn the song as well as all of the requisite techniques. After awhile I reached the point where I could play the intro cleanly at speed and little else. In hindsight, I realized I was following a waterfall approach to learning this song.
The waterfall approach calls for planning everything up front and my problem was that my “plan” lacked a key prerequisite, the base resources needed to complete the project, or, in my case a stronger foundation in technique.
In my next post I will outline how I stumbled on this revelation and how I improved progress by adopting an iterative approach.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I recently posted a comment on a blog that was asking one of the perennial learn to play guitar questions; acoustic vs. electric, which told me I should outline what my own experience has been. After going through the startup process my conclusion is that you should learn to play on both guitar types and starting on an electric gets you there the quickest.
In my first post I described how an umpteenth listen of Jimi Hendrix's version of "Hey Joe" got me to finally commit to pursuing my life long dream of learning the guitar. No surprise that I started off with an electric guitar. However, I believe my interest in the electric also helped me make quicker progress, and picking the guitar up in middle age should be all about maximum results in minimum time.
I started off with a borrowed guitar, Danelectro single cutaway U2 model. Although I tried using an acoustic several times early on, I found it difficult compared to the Danelectro in both playability and production of decent tone. After each attempt, I would return back to the electric and keep working on building my chops and ability to produce better tone. My hypothesis on the difference is that the Danelectro had a thin narrower neck with lighter gauge strings compared to the acoustic; meaning better playability for someone starting out. In addition, you can derive some tone out of an electric earlier than an acoustic given you have an entire signal chain between your playing and the tone that comes out. Granted, this is somewhat of a crutch given you can be more effective at improving if you hear everything in its lack of glory. On the other hand, when you first start out you want to have enjoyment from day one and part of that is that you can generate some tone you appreciate right away.
I continued primarily on the electric for the first eighteen months and then decided to allocate half my practice time to the acoustic. By this time, I had built up my chops, purchased an electric guitar with higher gauge strings and a wider neck, and developed better tone. In no time, I found that I could finally extract something out of the acoustic guitar. I think the progress I made on building my chops plus development of tone got me to the point where I could appreciate what an acoustic has to offer sooner.
In summary, my opinion is that if you want to learn to play the guitar, you should plan on learning to play both electric and acoustic. The objective when starting out, especially if that is later in life, is maximum progress in minimum time. View starting out on electric as a training aid that lets you build technique and tone so you can more quickly appreciate the acoustic guitar for what it has to offer.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I received a comment on my recent post about aging rockers and Led Zeppelin that closed with "Other "old cats" worthy of consideration: Ed Van Halen, John McLaughlin, Pat Martino, Jack Pearson, Stan Lassiter. (go to youtube and search out nashville natives jack and stan)." I went to YouTube, did my search, and they are worth a look!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
No doubt everyone has seen coverage of the long awaited Led Zeppelin concert in London. The Rolling Stone’s Rock Daily provides some great coverage as well as links to YouTube videos at the concert. What this coverage affirms for me is that the concept of learning the guitar or rocking out in general is a great hobby for midlife and beyond.
Reviews of the concert are generally positive. This one sums it up:
“Page may no longer swagger across the stage, his guitar worn low like a gunslinger as he churns out riffs. And Plant can’t scram and strut like he did in his rock god heyday. But the awesome power and majesty of the music was undiminished.” (The Daily News)
I picked the guitar back up at age 50 after a brief try at it in high school. As the intervening years went by I starting thinking it was too late. This is retroactively embarrassing as Led Zeppelin are in their 60s; with Jimmy Page at 63 and also overcoming a broken finger last month. My thinking is even more embarrassing given the legendary Les Paul is still playing at 92, arthritis and all!
If the years are going by and you have always wanted to learn the guitar or used to play and want to pick it up again, “too late” is not an excuse you can use. Another excuse you cannot use is “Well, of course Led Zeppelin can play in their 60s since they’ve been at it all their lives”. Keep in mind; they started rehearsing back in June. They didn’t just walk out on stage and magically became Led Zeppelin again.
If you want to get back into it, do it! With this site, a million other great sites, guitar stores, bookstores, and most importantly a good instructor to get you started, you have the resources necessary to maximize results in minimum time and start rocking another few decades.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
In a recent post I described how I create backing tracks using my favorite CDs and a TASCAM Guitar Trainer. Here are some more benefits/options I forgot to list.
Playing against backing tracks really helps develop your chops, especially if you play a “set” during your practice routine of several songs.
Another option is to record yourself while playing along with the backing track. You can then mix it with your recording software and critique how well you accompany your favorite band both technically as well as qualitatively.
Playing along with the backing tracks gives you good practice at handling the guitar adjustments such as volume or pickup selector that may be needed depending on the song.
If you have effects pedals that you use to duplicate your favorite tones playing along gives you good practice at hitting the pedals smoothly. One track I like to play along with is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”. In this song you go between clean electric with the guitar volume turned down for the intro and verse, overdrive for the chorus, and overdrive plus chorus for the solo to duplicate the doubling of the guitar in the original recording. When you are first starting out this is a lot to manage and playing against the backing tracks helps you get comfortable with it.
By definition, wannabe rockers starting the guitar in midlife want maximum results in minimum time. Playing along with backing tracks in dress rehearsal mode fits well into that paradigm because it means you need to exercise 5 or 6 fundamental skills in parallel rather than one or two in serial.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Since my blog theme is aging wannabe rockers making up for lost time, many of my posts focus on maximum results in minimum time. Variety is an effective tool in this theme.
I thanked Guitar World in a recent post for getting me ramped up on fingerstyle acoustic in their Holiday Special. This was a break from my single minded pursuit of heavy blues and rock. Since then I have continued practicing the version of “Silent Night” featured in the current issue and begun a journey into the acoustic guitar.
The journey now has me learning the intro to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. A guitar player friend of mine just recommended I explore the catalog of Beatles acoustic work such as “Blackbird” and “Yesterday” so I plan to do that next. Instead of a detour from blues and rock though, this is turning out to be a way to get more out of my practice sessions.
This confirms how much technique and theory you pick up by learning songs, regardless of genre. By working on fingerstyle acoustic I’m learning a lot about chord formation and relationships to scales that gives me new ideas for improvisation in blues and rock.
Do not be concerned about exploring other genres of music in your guitar playing. It helps you achieve maximum results in minimum time by broadening your exposure to theory and technique.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Guitar Hero III players know how much fun it is to play along with your favorite songs given they are now using the original recordings. Playing Guitar Hero gave me the idea to create similar play along tracks for the real guitar.
Any reader of my blog knows by now that I am a fan of the TASCAM Guitar Trainer; a must have piece of gear if you want to improve rapidly. As an aging wannabe rocker I use any advantage I can get. One great feature of the trainer is its Guitar Cancel feature, which enables you to cancel out the guitar on a CD so you can play along. I use this feature to create backing tracks for myself like in Guitar Hero.
You need the guitar trainer; I have the CD-GT1MKII although there is now a newer model out. You also need recording software for your PC or MAC that will accept a line-in signal. This could be as simple as the line-in on your sound card or a USB sound card you add on. All you need to do is run a cable from the line-out on the trainer to the line-in on your sound card.
The TASCAM Trainer has settings for that portion of the stereo region you wish to cancel out as well as fine tuning for the frequency range to reduce. Next step is to review the track you wish to use as your backing track and experiment on it with the cancellation settings. When you have the result you are looking for, it is time to record.
Use your recording software’s features to activate record mode and hit play on the TASCAM. You may need to experiment a bit here with the output level of the TASCAM and the input levels of your recording software to get a strong level without overdriving the input.
In many cases, the stereo region you want to cancel out changes within a song, it is really dependent on what the artist and the recording engineers were going for. What I do in this case is either change the guitar cancel settings on the fly to get one track on my recording software or record each portion of the original track with the appropriate cancel settings so I can connect them back together in my recording software.
The final step I add is to record a count-in at the correct tempo so I can attach it to the beginning of the track and voila; a backing track! You do not get the clam sound though if you miss a note or lick like in Guitar Hero; working on that next.
Learn to Play the Guitar: More Shortcuts for Baby Boomers
Guitar Practice: Qualitative Methods to Measure Progress
Connections: How to Create a Simple Home Studio
Friday, December 7, 2007
The qualitative aspect to your playing is where the rubber meets the road and relies on the technical elements you measure with your practice log as well as your ear training and development of tone. The best way to measure progress on qualitative elements to your playing is to record yourself.
Recording oneself works great because the recording will not lie while your ear might. My love of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe” was a catalyst to me starting on the guitar. Every nine months or so, I record this song. This has become a hobby in itself as I record the lead, rhythm, and bass tracks and mix them. The advantage of recording multiple tracks and mixing them is that it becomes brutally apparent if you are not keeping good time with the beat as the mix will be muddy.
Each time I do one of these recordings, I have another reference point. I am on my forth “Hey Joe” now and I check my progress by playing them through oldest to newest. Each time I think the new one is great and the previous one sounds like a cat coughing up a hairball. In other words, you can really detect improvement by recording yourself!
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Learning the guitar has all the attraction of great hobbies: mental and physical challenges plus gadgets. The mental and physical challenges can sometimes create frustration so it is important that you adopt some approaches to measure progress and avoid frustration.
In reality, you make progress with each practice in spite of what you may think; you just need to measure it for self-reinforcement. Keeping a practice log is one way to do it.
A friend of mine shared with me that you do not define progress in how many years you have played guitar but how many hours. I include work on scales, licks, learning a new song, and playing for fun in each practice. A practice log for me is simply recording the results in hours. Some of the key metrics for me:
Time duration spent on scales, licks, songs, and fun
Metronome speed for scales and licks (always trying to increase)
Brief notes on the licks, song, and fun (what was I working on)
I just use a spreadsheet to record the data. Over time, you can graph the key metrics and gain insight into your progress and areas where you need to focus more attention. For example, if you see over time that your speed on scales has gone up 10 beats per minute, you can gauge how much practice time you had to invest to get there and decide how much to invest going forward. The key focus of us aging wannabe rockers is to maximize return on investment. Just seeing that your speed has gone up becomes a visible indicator of progress that you may not register on a day-to-day basis.
The qualitative aspect to your playing is where the rubber meets the road and relies on the technical elements you measure with your practice log as well as your ear training and development of tone. I will cover how to measure that in my next post.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
I incorporated fret board knowledge into my practice routine by choosing a particular key and playing the major pentatonic scales for the I, IV, and V chords of the key in each position on the fret board.
For example, key of G and the major pentatonic scales. Start at fret three of the low E string and ascend the G major pentatonic scale (G Major Form I from the Berklee Method). Next, descend the C major pentatonic scale using Form IV starting at fret 5 of the high e string. From there, ascend using the D major pentatonic scale using Form III. Move up to the next area of the fret board, descend using G major pentatonic Form II, and ascend in C Form V and so on. Choose a different key with each practice and over time you will gain the ability to quickly locate any scale in any key.
The advantage of this approach is you can instantly change keys while staying in the same area of your fret board. This keeps your improvisation a lot smoother. I play on top of “Let’s Jam!”, a CD by Peter Vogl to work on practical application of this improvisational approach. This CD contains a variety of instrumental backing tracks in rock, blues, and jazz styles. It lists the chord progression for each track as well as suggestions on what scales to play in your improvisation. I utilize my TASCAM Guitar trainer to slow down the tempo as needed when I first apply a new technique and gradually speed up until the track is at actual speed.
I have to admit that once you begin improvising using any approach it is thrilling to hear the relationships between the underlying chords and your playing. However, the great thing about this hobby is there is always more to learn. Identifying where you are starting from enables you to use your fret board map and move to the next level.
Monday, December 3, 2007
There is a saying that if you don’t know where you’re starting from, a map won’t help. This is a great analogy for the importance of learning the fret board on your guitar. The dots, birds, or rectangles on the fret board are not just decoration.
In your first lesson, your instructor will cover the fret board, its reference points, and their correlation to the root notes for chords and scales. You can also find millions of sources in stores and the Internet. My problem was I resisted incorporating that knowledge into my practice routine so it was ingrained.
I was getting by in my improvisation efforts; E minor blues for example. I learned each pentatonic form and their reference points on the fret board. However, I wanted to keep improving my technique and make the improvisation more interesting. Whether it is changing the key along with the chord changes, or incorporating other modes such as Mixolydian, it was apparent I needed to buckle down and learn the fret board. It does not work if the chord change is already past before you have found your reference points!