Friday, June 27, 2008

The More I Play the More I Want to Play

I’ve talked recently about stepping outside my guitar comfort zone. Whether it was adding my own twists and turns during transcription study or finding other guitarists to jam with or mentoring others, what’s been behind it all is that I’ve been getting myself prepped for guitar camp.

This is not like the Camp Granada that people in the baby boomer demographic remember while growing up but is the National Guitar Workshop. I’m signed up for a course on Roots Rock with David Grissom as the guest artist. My original goal was to put some extra practice time in so I would get the most out of this course but it has started getting out of hand. Seems the more you play the more you want to play.

My playing is improving due to added practice, which makes playing more fun, which makes me want to play more. It has crowded out a lot of other activities including my blogging time but I’m going with it while it lasts. Maybe this is the kind of rush seasoned players experience getting ready for the big concert. I guess I’ll only know once I get seasoned and this upcoming workshop is the next step. I’ll post some info on what goes on there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

To Mentor or To Be Mentored

I’ve written recently about having the opportunity to do jam sessions with other players. Since these guys are experienced musicians I’m learning a lot. I had the tables turned on me recently and was in the position of being the more experienced player. I found you can learn a lot that way too.

We had friends over for dinner and one of their kids was a beginning guitar player. Since I’m looking for any chance possible to play with others I suggested we get the guitars out and make some music. I found out that is easier said than done.

My initial thought was we’d do something like in the recent jam sessions I was in, basically trade solos and rhythm back and forth. It was apparent though that he was not far enough along where that would work. His exposure was learning to read music note by note rather than on chords and scale forms like I was taught. I was beginning to panic and then I thought in terms of reverse engineering how I was mentored by experienced guitarists.

Since they figured out how to pick material that adapted to my skill level I tried the same approach. We ended up picking a song out of his lesson book he could do and I accompanied him on rhythm. I then showed him a simple blues progression and outlined what sorts of notes he could play over it. For me it reinforced what I already knew and highlighted areas I need to learn more about.

Turns out you can learn as much mentoring as being mentored.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Moog Guitar Debuts Tonight in Music City

I ran across an article in the local paper this morning about a showcase hosted by the National Association of Music Merchants at 3rd & Lindsley, one of Nashville’s local music venues. My interest in this was that it was something happening locally. But then I started reading up on it and it's more than just another synth guitar.

Of course, me like anyone else of a certain age remembers the advent of the Moog synthesizer and the impact it had on the music of the day. This is the first guitar from the Asheville, North Carolina company that bears the Moog name. What makes the guitar unique is its sustain and muting features. This guitar can provide unlimited sustain that even Nigel Tufnel would appreciate and it can mute strings automatically.

Nashville award-winning guitarist Kenny Vaughn along with Fareed Haque, lead player for Garaj Mahal will be demoing the guitar tonight at its official debut. For those that can’t attend in person take a look here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rock ‘n’ Roll Is My Golf

A coworker dropped by the current issue of Baseline magazine, an Information Technology trade journal because of a “Changing Careers” article. Seems Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are semi retiring to becoming consultants. Some, like Brian Kilcourse, are using their new found spare time for rocking out.

Now, for CIO types, semi retirement as a consultant is more along the lines of going from a 24/7 job to just a full time job. Nonetheless, Brian Kilcourse has extra time in comparison that he uses to pursue rock and roll addictions going back to the 70s. Rock ‘n’ roll is his retirement pastime rather than golf and he sees it as “…loud, pointless and cathartic.” Not sure I see the “pointless” aspect although if you look at life in terms of the grand scheme, what about life doesn’t seem pointless in comparison? Pointless or not, it’s sure fun!

One product of this pastime is the release of original music on CD. Unfinished Business and Megaton Melodies can be found at CD Baby. So, yet another poster child reinforcement for the main purpose of this site; there’s no correlation between age and your ability to pick up a guitar and start making music. Get out there and start rocking!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Prep for Playing With Others; Add Variables to Your Practice Routine

The largest adjustment for me since adding jamming with others into my guitar journey is learning how to interact with a someone vs. a something. I’m not talking so much about the tension and satisfaction of making music with others as one reader puts it. It is more along the lines of someones are variable and somethings are not.

When I practice against the metronome and backing tracks I've become used to their predictability and my ability to control everything. My short experience playing with others showed me there is a lot less I can control other than showing up and doing my best. Everything else is about adjusting to changing variables in order to complement the playing of others. Hopefully the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s difficult; for me anyway. But, the recipe for dealing with difficulty in this hobby is practice!

Since I don't have others to jam with at every pactice session I'm trying to get better at dealing with variables by playing through an amp whenever possible rather than through my quick practice rig and headphones. Although convenient, I realize that interacting with digitally modeled amps through headphones is a much more controlled environment than a real amp and room dynamics. The amp also seems less forgiving and thus better highlights aspects of my playing needing improvement.

Another set of variables I've added is getting family members into the mix even though they tend to enjoy listening to music more than making it. Since this is summer break from school, all I need is to hear someone complain they are bored and I pounce. This has meant learning a couple of Avril Lavigne songs but hey, if someone is willing to sing something I’m willing to learn it so I can get some more practice!

If you have picked up the guitar later in life, playing with others is a great step. Do it sooner than later. To help you prepare, explore some options to add more variables to your practice routines. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One More Step Outside My Guitar Comfort Zone

In a 1991 interview with Guitar World’s Alan Paul, Albert King indicated “I rehearsed to myself for five years before I played with another soul.” Running across this quote motivated me to step outside my comfort zone yet again; this time it was to begin jamming with others.

I started my guitar journey over two years ago and my mantra has been “not ready yet, keep rehearsing to myself.” So, how did reading this quote motivate me to rehearse with others instead of doing the full five years of self rehearsal like Albert King?

Albert King created a distinctive style that has influenced legions of guitarists including Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Although he was inspired by Blind Lemon Jefferson he forged his own path. One example of that is he was left-handed but played a right hand Flying V turned upside-down. That meant his bends are pulling where others are pushing since the the low E string is on the bottom. I decided I was inspired by Albert King to go out and forge my own path too. What I was most daunted by at my stage of developement was playing with other guitarists until I'm "ready." Seemed Albert was telling me to get over it and get with it so I did.

I’m playing a couple times each week now with a work buddy. He’s a seasoned guitar player so has the mentoring role but he gets the benefit of added practice so it’s a good tradeoff. It was daunting at first for sure. After the first couple of sessions though I really wished I had started doing this a lot sooner! Turns out I can become “ready” quicker by getting out there and interacting with other players. It is really accelerating my learning.

If you’ve read any of my posts I’m pretty consistent in the call to arms; I mean axes. This is a great hobby to start in middle age (or any age). Take my advice, forge your own path but keep in mind that you may want to start jamming with others sooner than when you think you are “ready.” You’ll be glad you did!

BTW, here's a great video of Stevie Ray Vaughan in session with one of his main influences, Albert King.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Too Focused on the Guitar and Not Enough on Age

I encounter something new every few days since picking up the guitar as a hobby at age 50. I get feedback from readers (positive and negative) and appreciate both. My “editorial calendar” evolves from there. I have been worrying about whether I focus enough on aging issues. After all, the name of the blog is Guitar Boomer and we boomers are not getting any younger. Then I ran across this quote from Groucho Marx:

Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.

Jeez, he’s right! Not particularly interesting. Then I realize that the real root of my of my editorial worries is that I'm having too much fun learning the guitar to write about aging issues. Reality is that aging and the guitar have nothing to do with each other. It is just that perceptions of the aging process can hold back otherwise excellent guitar playing prospects from getting into a great hobby.

Not saying there aren’t issues around aging. I’m an AARP member now so I'm far enough along to know that there are issues with aging; just not issues that relate to pickup up the guitar and rocking out. Let this article be your catalyst to join or rejoin your fellow guild of guitarists!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How to Eliminate Annoying Pops and Clicks With Your PC Audio Interface

I recommend that you record your playing for an unbiased measure of progress. The only downside for me has been time spent trying to diagnose annoying pops and clicks instead of playing the guitar. Although it seemed to be a complicated problem, the solution was simple and hopefully this can save you time if you have the same problem.

Pops and clicks with a PC audio interface are usually caused by the buffer size being too small. Buffers serve the same purpose as your local water tower. As long as the water department keeps a sufficient level of water in the tank you’re ensured a continuous stream of water and won’t be stranded mid shower. Your Operating System (OS) is like the water department; as long as it comes back often enough to refill the buffers you’ll get the continuous audio stream your audio interface needs. The smaller the buffer the more likely the OS will miss refilling it on time and you end up with the audio interface version of an interrupted shower; pops and clicks.

I increased the buffer size (essentially a larger water tank) to the point the pops and clicks went away but ended up with an unusable level of latency (you don’t hear your playing until it goes through the input buffers to your recording software then back through your output buffer through the soundcard and into whatever you are using to monitor such as headphones). The larger the buffer the longer the delay.

I use a PODxt as my audio interface and the Line6 website had articles on how to use a computer with Line6 gear. My thought until then had been that a new and relatively powerful computer in terms of RAM, CPU, and hard drive speed with the audio drivers properly installed should be golden. Not so it turns out. Seems the newer the computer the busier it is. If it is too busy (no matter how powerful) it doesn’t keep the buffer filled consistently. Duh! Seems perfectly reasonable and wish I had thought of it.

Following recommendations I disabled my wireless card, went into performance options through “My Computer” and set it to “Adjust for best performance”, and disabled a lot of programs set to start automatically with Windows and my Vista base performance score increased by 40%! I set the PODxt audio interface back to optimal latency (small buffer size) and no surprise, it came out sounding great. Now I can get back to actually playing the guitar!