Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - chip@chipmcdonald.com

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Syntax and Learning to Play Guitar

 I'm here to proclaim a revolutionary new approach to playing guitar!

 A student of mine came up with it, it's brilliant: the "Barry Jackson Tennis Ball and Rubberband Method".  I was introduced to this by Barry in person, "geez Chip... Can't I just squeeze some tennis balls and strap some rubber bands to my fingers instead of doing all this hard stuff?"

 I don't suggest the reader pursue this route.  I managed to talk Barry out of it, but it was difficult.

I tend to use what some call "big words".  I just do, I'm not trying to contemplate how to use said Big Words, I'm trying to elucidate an expression of meaning with a nuance that is more specific.  I would like to think I do the same when playing guitar.

 An example is in the following:

A shortcut is a way to get to your destination faster than the "established" way.

A trick is something a magician does to make you think something has happened that has not.

 People are looking for shortcuts all the time.  Effectively there are not any.  On guitar and in music in general, it's just that the routes to one's destination are varied and subjectively better or worse than others.

 The problem I see is in syntactically ignoring the context.  A shortcut actually, literally gets you to your destination.  As destination I must point out, one has to know exists and where it is before one even starts their journey, in order to make it as direct as possible. 

 A trick makes you think you have done something, when you have not.  As it turns out, I think there are a few tricks that can help you learn music and the guitar, but they're just that - tricks. 

 I can tell someone "go down that trail and turn right at the fork that you can't see from here".  Maybe you're not too sure about those directions.  Maybe you don't know about the legitimacy of turning right, or maybe you read on the Internet you should turn left, or that there is a turn in the trail before you get to the fork where you can cut through the woods and save half a mile on your trip.

 That's a mess, you might still make it to your destination but it's not exactly a wise or optimal methodology.

 Instead, I can show you a trick: stand on this box, and you can see the fork I'm talking about, and how it leads to the Magical Coffee Shop in the Valley You Can't See Yet. 

 You'll happily traipse off down the trail with no hesitation, knowing you know where to go.  The trick showed you where you were going and how to get there, but it didn't get you there.

 Meanwhile you walk past the sounds of people walking around in the woods, the guy who said his name was "Frost" that argued with you that you should go left at the fork instead of right.  It was tiring walking to the coffee shop but you got there in time to relax outside while you watched all the energy depleted, decaffeinated people stumble about around you on the hills making up the valley.  Most will give up and turn back.  Some will fall down the side of the hill and arrive without money and with broken bones.  Others will be devoured by the Gravy Train Bear, or forever lost in the shallow trench.

 Taking guitar lessons is something of a trick, but not a shortcut.  There are no shortcuts.










Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Irony of Prince Being a Musician?

 It would seem the number one comment I noticed after Prince's death is something along the lines of the following:

 ".... yeah, and he could really play guitar, and other instruments!".


Recently the video of Nick Jonas of Jonas Brother's teeny bopper fame failing at trying to play a basic solo at a concert made the rounds.  He's obviously marginal as a guitar player, and it's not like the Jonas Brothers - or hardly any other pop act these days - create "their" own music.

 There he was, though, trying to do something he obviously couldn't in front of a crowd of people.

 The precedent was sort of set when Madonna tried to play through some bar chords on a song on a tv show.  The unspoken premise being in "reality", everyone is in on the secret:

 Pop stars are no longer expected to be actual musicians.

 "Wow, look at Madonna!  She's playing guitar!!!".

 A novelty?





 As a kid in the late 70's I HATED, DEPLORED seeing people lip sync.  Not only that, but my parents most of the time would not accept the notion, or "people in general".  

 We've passed through that to being cynical, to be accepting.  We've gone farther, into a weird fractured land where some people still believe in what they see, while others just don't care anymore.  People pay $$$$ to go see pop acts (emphasis on "act") either partially, or fully aware that they're going to see people miming to prerecorded music.

 "Chip, in the future, people will pay lots of money to knowingly watch people pretend to be pompous about pretending to perform music they didn't create".   Ok, sure.

 Prince started at the end of the pre-computer assisted music era.  People had no choice to be musicians in order to make music.  People took pride in it.  Now Justin Bieber is lauded for trying to play guitar, as if he's somehow going into uncharted territory, and risking his health and safety for doing so. 

 Not to denigrate Prince at all, but... you know, the idea of a pop musician not only being able to play an instrument, but multiple instruments, and to write their own music shouldn't be an outlier phenomenon.  It didn't use to be.  That it has become that in the 21st century is a sad reflection on what culture has been reduced to.




Sunday, April 17, 2016

Band Rooms: You Are Where You Eat

 The following was the result of contemplating something I saw recently, a video of the Smashing Pumpkin's performing for a VIP crowd. 


 I think there is something to be said for having an interesting place to create music.


 Thinking back, the most creative bands I've been in seem to also have been associated with where the practice room was.  It's character.

 An 18th century church makes for more interesting acoustics than an 6"x10" tin shed.  The difference in acoustics affects things in ways I'm pretty sure basically nobody really contemplates.

 In a room with a long decay time, with an impressively colorful and complex set of reflections, one might be less prone to playing fast tempos.  Because beyond a certain speed, the decay time of the room, and it's amount, blurs the evidence of one beat being distinctive from another.  It turns to mush.

 Conversely, sustaining notes on melodic/harmonic instruments are enhanced.  There is maybe more impetus to let a phrase be based on half notes, or whole notes, instead of busy 16ths.  There may be more moments of stacatto rests, where the room itself fills in the space between notes.

 In a small, or acoustically dead space, all musical ideas are presented in the same sterile environment.  The increase in clarity makes density a more musical option.  It also makes awareness of other musician's contributions more evident and distinct, which likewise changes the band dynamic.

 The way it looks is important as well.  Mundane surroundings yields mundane results.  There is something to be said for the practice space that is filled with the common detritus of the "rock band", cables strewn everywhere, bad asian rugs, a defaced Metallica poster.  One can't confuse the environment for an Office Space.  You're not there to write TPS reports.

 Bright florescent lights in a Default Generic Conference Room: the mere fact that there is nothing to distract you from being completely aware that you are in exactly that is counter-creative in my opinion. As evidence of this theory, I present the following examples.  I posit that because the environment is so incongruent with The Rawk Muziq, it not just makes the sound smaller but the vibe contracted as well.  In turn, if one had wanted to create said music, that disconnect would work against it arriving at it's final form.

 In the aforementioned Pumpkin's footage, they play a loud rawk and roll song in what could be a room at a Hampton Inn, Anywhere USA:






 It's disconcerting.  I've done gigs in such places, and it's always a strange vibe.  The music doesn't fit the room.  There is a little bit of thought given to decor I think with those ceiling sconces, but the rest is pretty much exactly what you think it is.  "TONIGHT: MULTILAYER MARKETING MANIA SEMINAR and SMASHING PUMPKINS".

 I know why he has to do that, but it's still weird.  One would never have thought of seeing such dichotomous (?) imagery in the Glory Days of Hair Metal, or the Carefully Managed Image-neering of the 90's and Naughts.  But there you have it: YouTube reducing a veritable velociraptor of a band to the rat wallowing around in the fish tank at the zoo, pun intended.

 Being OCD, I browsed through the other examples, to clarify what the boundaries of Rawk Environment were.  There is this one that maybe comes in second place:





 A little bit more moody.  There are the "basement dreams of stardom" halogen track lighting, and this time a wall sconce against a bit of Hyatt Approved Cherry.  Kooky late 70's Hotel Carpet yields a little bit of non-linear to the occasion I think.

 Dramatic color can save the oppressively stentorian, when combined with a high ceiling:





 This one is a little bit better, there is at least rock and roll iconography displayed to momentarily distract and remind, ala the Common Rock Band Room.  Also, there is the more subdued lighting, more elaborate color, and also the Perpetual Chaotic Cable Topography one expects in the Common Rock Band Room:




This one is a curiosity.  Dare I say it, it invokes a certain "basement band room" vibe, but with notable twists.  Dimensioned, portraitured lighting that despite being florescent, has been placed in a non-conformal fashion.  Unusual room design.  Odd floor plan.  Bonus points for the reflective mylar HVAC insulation.  There is also an actual curtain, navy blue, and spotted is the requisite Persian rug:






Here we have a trickier exposition, in that it violates the number 1 rule of post-MTV rock iconography: the brick wall.  However, note that the brick wall is not just a "Home Depot Contractor" wall, but uses a specifically unique architectural brick, arrayed in the more haughty column fashion.  Also note the evidence of slightly decrepit floor, base of the wall, reconditioned water heater, retrofitted but proudly industrial electrical.  This is a wall that is a survivor, therefore it is rock and roll, and in turn this is a potentially good place for rock and roll music:




 Next up we have the "ingredients found at the Hyatt, but more rock and roll".  Fairly conservative color scheme, cherry/mahogany moulding,  but with a more raucous architectural poise.  Dramatic lighting, dramatic recessed and high ceiling.  An interesting room.  But what makes it work is DIM LIGHTING (as noted by the videographer...):



 This one is interesting, because it shows how having a crowd up close can defeat the Moderately Bland surroundings.  For the more popular band, having a crowd at the practice room yields a certain dynamic that is conducive to The Rawk and Roll:


Now we're getting somewhere!  This next video enters into the realm of "looks like a cool practice room, dude" territory.  In turn, the vibe begins to match the music.  Is it too dim in here?  This is the threshold one seeks for the Creative Potential Band Practice Room:





Behold!  The "Primitive Early Gig" look,  which can also be the Cool Band Room doing double duty:



 This isn't to suggest having a vibey practice room will make a mediocre and untalented group of musicians suddenly artistically valid (that is definitely not the case), but given the options one should encourage the almost strophic acceptance of the staid artistic environment.









Friday, February 19, 2016

Are You Doing Art, or Peeling Apples?

 In the video below, the common denominator in all of these examples is muscle memory. Humans can do amazing, unbelievable things with repetition. A lot of technical guitar playing is not unlike the skills demonstrated in this video.

  These people did not just mess around a few minutes and suddenly gain these abilities. Does anyone doubt that in all of these examples, the results came about by sheer, mind-numbing repetition? And that there was a time when all of them did these same movements at a very, very slow pace?


 It seems I'm having to spend more time with students now emphasizing the fact that they will have to put time in at a very slow rate, and properly.  I can help with the "properly" aspect, but practicing at a slow rate, with discipline, is on the student.   

 I also find some people expect that what I show them will somehow be perfectly executable by the end of the 30 minute guitar lesson.  What can be done in the less is to get the timing right, movements right, comprehension of what's going on, but mostly what is beyond that would be magic.

  I'll write it again: playing fast is really the easiest thing about playing an instrument. If you have the patience to approach it in this simple, mundane fashion you can definitely do any specific movement on guitar quickly.  There are some inherent physical differences between people when it comes to reflexes, and basic quickness, but overall it comes down to repetitive practice.

  But then conversely - just because you can do something that is physically remarkable doesn't mean it has anymore artistic value than the guy peeling the apple at breakneck speed. It's a neat thing, but you've got to use it outside your comfort zone and take a chance, otherwise ... 


..... you're just peeling an apple.


(video brought to my attention by Paige Patton)


Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie: Scary Elegance as Art

 
(note: this may not seem to be typical "guitar lesson content", but actually it is....)  


I saw - saw - David Bowie for the first time as a co-headliner with Nine Inch Nails. 
It was a very clever show, one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve seen. As his set progressed, Trent Reznor came onstage to sing with Bowie. Then another song, but one of Bowie’s band would leave, then one of Reznor’s would come onstage.
This progressed until it was Nine Inch Nails, but with Bowie singing Reznor’s songs. Bowie bows out, and it’s just Nine Inch Nails. 
Very clever, completely dispenses with standard operating procedure at a concert. Executed flawlessly, in a very naturally evolving way. That his music could flow so seamlessly into Reznor’s is a testament to his oeuvre. Bowie’s music spanning my entire lifetime, through a “set” that documented how he stayed on top of trends, and set trends, all the way up to the Modern Era. 
What I remember most from the experience is how captivating a presence he was in reality. Everyone knows of his theatrical delivery, combined with kinesthetic/dance motifs. Veritably Madonna before Madonna, always changing his “look and feel” in brilliant and novel ways. 
But live, a few feet in front of you, it’s different. There is an X factor at play. Things come across that a camera does not resolutely pickup, that lens distortion and depth of field conspire to obscure. 
He did a cross section of his characters that night, Thin White to Ziggy. His facial musculature as he sang, it’s composure, for each song was different. The timing of how his brow fell on a sentence, the tension in the cheek muscles. His posture made his clothes fall in a very particular way, and depending on the character, it might be perfectly still, or unsteady. Very subtle movements you can’t see on television. 
The net effect was two things. One, “this person is completely committed to this character”. Not evidenced by a coarse stage acting of the raising of the eyebrows, but in the gravitas of the tension - or lack of - in the facial muscle movements. On the movie screen, you get a hint of this on a tight closeup with a narrow lens with some star actors.  Though as part of that you don’t see the poise of the person. It’s not the same effect. 
When it’s in front of you, it’s extremely compelling; like an exotic animal, it’s art. This guy stalked around the stage as different personas for an hour, for each song, illustrated a different “animal”, a blend of effects he physically created. This was educational for me, because you read anecdotes from people talking about the “physical presence” of a famous or historical person, and you think it’s hyperbole - it’s not. Some people on the planet have what I might call an “extroverted kinesthetic high I.Q.”, and awareness of what their physicality is conveying in conjunction with being able to manipulate it for effect. When people talk about Bill Clinton’s “personal charisma”, or Elvis’ “charm” - as if it’s something you don’t know, they’re saying it because they realize perhaps it really is something you don’t know. 
Just like having a high musical I.Q., or verbal intelligence, I think this can be a phenomena that is a top-percentile bracket that one just does not commonly experience. In turn, being aware of such a thing could be completely off your radar. 
In this sense I think seeing Bowie live is actually something akin to seeing history in front of you: a rare, unique individual. I can imagine how someone with this subtle control of personal affect could become famous in other ways, for better or worse. He used it to maximal effect for art. 
Two (yes, I remember I wrote “two things”) - that character-induced effort to control facial musculature was having an impact on his vocal delivery. 
It sounds silly, but when you talk with a smile on your face you sound different, even if you think you are being neutral in your delivery, than if you frown. With Bowie, jutting out the angle of his chin, holding it there, or holding a sideways frown - while singing imparted a subtlety to the sound of the delivery. It yielded the conviction required to sell the character. It imbued color and character. Something that is mostly lacking in 21st century vocal delivery, with it’s perfectly-mediocre, staid execution. 
I’m not the biggest Bowie fan, apart from a handful of songs I like greatly. I thought his show would be interesting, but I did not expect captivating. Something akin to enjoying watching Nicholson flip out, or Walken simply be “Walken”, except in 3D in front of you; but with much more potency than is conveyed through secondary media.
It makes me wonder what it’s like to see someone like a De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, 6 feet in front of you in real life portraying a character. Is it a similar potency, that while diluted through a lens still comes across? A thought I would not have pondered prior to seeing - literally - David Bowie.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Exponential Math * Chaos = Creativity

 This occurred to me a few weeks ago.  You *can* formalize the process of creativity!

 Music is a series of events quantified by time, and multiple pitches.  We have 12 notes to choose from, but in multiple registers, and in multiple combinations.  Which can overlap in that many more combinations, and on different rhythmic increments, groupings and beats.

 Additionally there is what comes before, and after a said instance.  How fast or slow the series occurs, and how it relates to the underlying pulse of the music.

 Numerically, that is an incomprehensible number of combinations.  Music theory attempts to qualify these moments in generalized terms, in order to bring a sense of form to the perception of "music".   But it cannot possible quantify exactly the value of each iteration.  An ordinate system of trans-human complexity would be required, and it would be meaningless to us as mere humans - like looking at GPS numbers and knowing a location is a rock on the side of Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina somewhere.  It is scaled beyond what is pragmatic.

 Complexity.

 In the process of creating music one wrestles with the bounds of what is going on with that complexity. Combinations of choices that are compounded by other choices, until the creator has to decide to either stop where a greater comprehension fails, or to trudge on into the chaotic unknown.

 At that point there is experimentation, trying things that one doesn't consciously know where it leads.  Chaos.

 Blending that manipulation of awareness of the edge of the possible mathematical combinations, is where new things emerge.  Understanding this premise is important, because everyone tends to fall somewhere on a scale between trying to full understand every aspect, and throwing caution to the wind and hoping things work out.

 Different musical artists lie on that scale in different places, and there is no right or wrong, of course.  Being unaware that this is going on, and being "out of place" within that scale is where problems occur.  Being in the right place results in productivity, the wrong aggravation or perhaps "artistically conflicted" results.

 But it's all letting about math that leads to beyond-human-comprehension and trying to steer the resulting chaos into some sort of order that is "creating".













Saturday, December 12, 2015

Misha Mansoor on the Reality of Superlatives



 In this interview Misha Mansoor of band Periphery discusses the notion of "what is the best (guitar)", and how it doesn't make sense to get into that mindset.

 I'm always asked "who is the best, what is the best", etc..  Same answer: there is no "best", only what you like.   Learning not only what you like, but why you like it is part of the experience of the lost art of music appreciation. 

 What I like about Mansoor's answer is that he references the precept that it takes time, and it's something each person has to do as individuals as part of the process.  Even if I though I knew what/who was "the best", me simply telling you the answer wouldn't give you any knew information.  In fact, it would do the reverse: it would make you try to evaluate what you do relative to what is in your experience an abstraction.

 I might be able to elaborate on my answer very specifically.  But at some juncture there would be a breakdown between my explanation and your comprehension.   Because of one of two things: either I would use a reference or term that you previously were not aware of, or if it stayed within your sphere of comprehension, there would have to be something I weight more heavily than you.  Because otherwise, you would have already come to the same conclusion!

 Hence, as a music teacher I can help someone gain the mental tools to more concisely grasp the above abstraction, but it's not as easy as just giving one answer.   As Mansoor alludes, because music is such a vast and tenuous thing, seeking precise, empirical parameters is a fallacy.

 You can have complete and strong beliefs regarding what/who you like in something that is art, but that is not the same as knowing what/who is "the best".   It's art, not basketball.

 At 38:08:








Monday, November 2, 2015

It Looks Easy - Expectation Bias and You

  Something of a role-reversal has occurred just recently I've observed.

"Historically", the Fancy Technical Lick the guitar hero du jour would execute would be considered something of an unreachable, ephemeral level of ability.   This person would be revered for his or her accomplishment.

 However, in the YouTube age, one gets to see basically anything taken apart (perhaps in dubious fashion) and presented as mere mathematical pieces, to be assembled at home by the viewer like a piece of musical Ikea furniture.

Mistake #1:  "If that guy I've never heard of on YouTube can do it, obviously anyone can do it".

 If anyone has had the same background and practice habits as said Anonymous Average Musician, maybe.  If a person cannot presently knows they cannot play or fully comprehend something they are seeing someone else do - then they can't make that call.

 "Here's a video of Some Guy at a playground basketball court, almost dunking from the free throw line.   Oh, he shows the steps involved.  If Some Guy can do what Michael Jordan can do, then so can I!".

 Maybe.

 But not after just watching a video, taking the right number of steps in the right shoes, lifting your arm at the right time.  Maybe the goal was a foot or so lower.  Maybe the free throw line was a little closer.  Maybe the guy is taller than you.


 If your goal is to be a good basketball player, watching one video and running and jumping at the free throw line is a complete waste of your time.

 Yet, this is exactly effectively what I see a lot of people wanting to be a good guitar player doing these days.

 Mistake #2: "I've been doing this for almost 2 weeks!  I should be able to play this phrase/section/song by now!"

 Again - if you can't, and you think you should be able to - does that make sense?  Can you evaluate the veracity of your conclusion?

 YouTube gives the impression one can shortcut the learning process.  It's really more like short circuiting it, by making a connection that doesn't make sense.  As it turns out, the planet is huge, enormous, there are a gazillion good guitar players living on it.   When a person plays something in front of you who isn't a Big Time Music Star, that doesn't mean either what they're playing is easier than you think it is/was.   It means you're getting a preview.  It's like people speculating on what the story line of the new Star Wars movie is going to be by seeing the poster or the trailer.  You can do that, and you might end up getting one or two things sort of right.  But you are not going to be able to claim you know what the movie is about without sitting in the theater the whole time like everyone else. There isn't a Cliff Notes version. 

 It takes time, a lot of time.  Time to consolidate hundreds of things at a non-specific point later in time.  How you progress through that consolidation determines how long it takes, but chances are there are many things to bring together you can't perceive.  Minute things about technique, and how you hear things.

 I once encountered a guy that claimed he knew how to play a VanHalen song, and proceeded to show me.  Inexplicably, he began to play a mangled version of "La Cucaracha".   I said "ok, hey, how about playing that VanHalen song?" at which point he said that was it, "Come On Baby Finish What You Started".  After some musical forensic detective work, I deduced how he came to this notion that what he was playing was the VanHalen song.  Someone had shown him a part of it wrong.  He tried to fill in the rest, and proceeded to practice something that was so far removed from the actual song I couldn't recognize it.

 Along the way he picked up some bad habits, and his sense of timing was skewed after effectively practicing what he was perceiving improperly to begin with.  He not only wasted his time jumping into something improperly, he basically made himself worse as a musician!

 I'm not saying everyone is likely to do that, but the warning is that if you do what is effectively a shortcut, what you're short cutting is going to inevitably bring you down.  There are things that you can watch visibly get better in a few days, but most aspects of playing takes multiple weeks and months to see improvement, and some can evolve over years (like vibrato).  Don't be a Luke Skywalker, you must have patience.

 Seriously, patience.  I am often told, every week, "you have a lot of patience to teach!" which I do, but also consider that if that is the case - maybe that has something to do with why I have the resources and capacity to be the guitar teacher?  A large portion of what I do is trying to convey the gravitas of what I ask a student to practice.  You will definitely get better if you have the patience to practice properly - it's almost impossible not to! 

Mistake #3: "Look at those 4 year old kids playing guitar perfectly!  Guitar is easy!"

 No.  Those are North Korean kids who have been trained to mime playing to a recording perfectly by rehearsing all day long, the same thing, every day of their short lives. Hopefully you can do as well if you decided to do that for a year or two, 10 hours a day, for a bowl of porridge. 












Friday, October 23, 2015

Learn from Jackie Chan Learning from a Kid

 I just saw this video today, quite candidly remarkable in my opinion.  It is Jackie Chan learning a Shaolin staff form from a kid. 


 I wish all of my guitar students would watch this with the following things in mind:

1) Chan is beyond a doubt a martial arts expert.  He's put in his 10,000 hours, and no doubt had a good portion of natural ability to begin with.  Yet, at 61 he's not above continuing to add to his knowledge base.   He is not looking at his skill set as having a defined ending, based on age, expertise, how famous he is, how wealthy he is. 

2)  Despite being "Jackie Chan", he is not trying to impose any preconceptions to the learning process.   He accepts the kid's admonishing. 

3) In turn, though, consider that the kid is demonstrably a complete expert in this form, and his poise reflects this.  Chan is attempting to learn not just the movements, but the attitude in execution.  This may or may not be obvious - another thing to consider.

4) Chan's approach is measured.  Meaning, he is attempting to glean what he can when he can.  The kid understands this, and is making choices in what to correct Chan on.  Despite his age, the kid is effectively educating.  This is an aspect of personalized teaching that passive books, Youtube, DVDs, etc., cannot accomplish.  You can't learn what Chan is learning by watching this, you will likely be making mistakes and missing fundamental aspects that only that kid could notice in person.

5) Note that Chan does not get upset when he makes a mistake, nor when he misses something.  It is just "there", he accepts the modification, and continues.   So often I am "told" by students "see, I can't do this" or "I keep messing up!" or other such exclamations that belie an misalignment of ego or understanding of process.

 Today's western society is built upon the premise that you "learn" inside classrooms from the generic tutelage of one person doling out information meant to be appropriate for the Median Denominator.  I won't address what I consider failings of that, but will say that it is somewhat of a societal intellectual laziness to not be in a state of wanting to learn all the time.  Not just in a formalized classroom setting. 

6) Chan recognizes the purity of the source.  He recognizes refinement.  He is not trying to mimic this refinement, it would not be logical - that takes time.  So while the kid may only be 10 years old, maybe he's practiced this form for years already, everyday.  It's  silly to expect such refinement instantaneously, even for someone such as Chan.  However, realizing this means understanding what needs to be done in order to start the pursuit of the refinement.  Note the kid's deft footing, assured execution; Chan is capable of this, but is not trying to do that in this moment.  It would be counterproductive, silly - and would not respect the effort the kid has put into this. 

7) Note the ease of which both disengage from the learning mode.  They both have spent time concentrating in what I will brazenly call a zen-like manner, maximizing efficiency, and can switch it on and off (demonstrated by the casual nature of the fist pumping at the end).  That is not for effect, that is two experienced people having learned the advantages of working towards this state of learning.

8) The most important thing is to note how headlong Chan goes into the process.  Obviously gifted from a proprioception standpoint, he does not hesitate to attempt to do the more complicated combinations that he was unlikely to get on the first attempt.  Hesitating would disturb the rhythm of the process.  That is not to say he wantonly tries things, but that he is not letting the fear of not being able to do something wreck the process.  This is a difficult thing, made easier for Jackie Chan because he IS Jackie Chan, in the sense that he is already very respected and does not fear his ego being affected.  In order to have become Jackie Chan he had to not let his ego bury him before he had a chance to acquire skills that garnered the respect. 

 Learning to play an instrument is like learning a new language, literally, combined with something kinesthetically akin to a martial art, with a dose of computer programming logic.  And that is just to acquire the skills needed to use all of that in the subjective pursuit of art, or entertainment.  It is not like cramming for a history test in homeroom, or learning to divide fractions.  It can be, but that does not mean that is the optimal path in my opinion.  You have to soak in it, want to learn as much as possible, and be open to learning whenever possible. 

 "Be like water" - Bruce Lee




Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Snoopy Cadence

Hidden within a Greenday song, one can find IV-V with the appropriate scampering rhythm:




...this is the part in the Greenday song where Linus shreds.

Probably Not Optimal

 Some people will insist they are double jointed, when they are not.  It can be a hindrance if one doesn't realize they are, and are not directed to take the appropriate precautions. 
 
 A few days ago a student accidentally tried to do the following while trying to play a G power chord.  She does know how to do it properly, but at a faster tempo upon playing a repeat in a hurry, her pinky and 3rd finger did something almost instantly I can't do.  

This is not how I recommend one play power chords:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is Your Guitar Sound This Image?






 Pretty frightening, isn't it?

I'm often asked "what amp should I get?", "how do I get What's-His-Face's sound?", etc.

Which momentarily paralyzes me with the Old-Gregian mental intonation of "MAKE AN ASSESSMENT".  Because, I have to on the spot temper my explanation based on what I think the person I'm speaking to knows about both terminology and literal experience with sound.

Both of those things are very limiting factors.  With the visual arts, one doesn't presume it naturally easy to explain - in a sentence or two - what makes a great painting "great".

"All you need to get that Monet poppy-field effect is the application of Le Bete Personne brand alizarin crimson!".  Kind of like saying "go buy This Special Pedal and plug it in, you'd done!".   It's not that simple, and it's not that simple to communicate why it's not that simple.

 So, I'm going to pursue the metaphorical comparison of "What is Wrong With That Image?" as a stand-in for "guitar sound".

 For starters, let's say you've got a really fantastically great basic sound.  By that I mean, like with the above painting, someone can go into a room, and "there it is!" - greatness.

 With the Mona Lisa, it is said you can admire it from different locations in the room, and her eyes appear to follow you.  That's a neat thing, it also seems to manage to somehow translate through pictures as well.  Which is a bit of super-genius geometry trickery by Leo, but let's say you've magically got the equivalent guitar sound coming out of your amp.

 Fine, but of course not everyone can have the Mona Lisa hanging on their wall.  They can, however, have a rendition of it, a photograph. Just as 99.9% of every guitar sound ends up translated through the audio equivalent in the form of "a recording".

 The photographer has to decide on the perfect angle to point his camera at said painting.  One might say this is akin to a microphone.  If the angle is altered relative to the subject, distortion results.

 More fundamental is the quality of said camera.  The greatness of the painting will have a chance of being portrayed better to the end viewer if the camera lens is of an appropriate quality.  Which isn't to say just anything that is good or expensive will work.  The best wide angle lens isn't going to work great, nor is a Red video camera.  Or the most expensive microphone.

 A hidden variable here is the lighting.  The ambient light affects what is being captured by the lens.  The ambient sound of a room affects what is being captured by the mic.  Both can immediately impose their quality on the subject at hand.  Cheap light has a "look and feel" just as parallel sheet rock garage walls.  Capturing both along with the subject affects the end result.

 Then there is how said capture makes it to the "medium".  The above picture was taken with my camera phone of my computer monitor.   A digitization of a digitization.  Did you guitar signal go through a digital pedal at some point?  It doesn't matter how good your camera or microphone preamp is, that property is imposed.  "But it looks like the Mona Lisa!" most will say.  Mostly.

 The camera/mic preamp captures it to a medium, these days digital.  In both cases, maybe a lossy one in the end.  Information will be thrown away.  Before that happens, look at the above picture:
it's obviously a picture of a digital source, since you can see the mouse pointer.   A more pressing problem is the curious composition of said picture, it's crooked and unbalanced with extra negative space and information.  The portion of the image taken up by the actual painting is smaller than what is being added by the process of translating the image.

 The end sound of a recording of a guitar amp usually isn't a documentary-representation of the sound, but the guitarist has likely gone through various effects, which add non-correlated information in the form of delay or maybe reverb.  If you are evaluating the image, maybe it's not the negative space you like so much?  Maybe you don't need the delay pedal, maybe you need to make the "painting" as good as possible first?  Then, get the "balance" the same as the image you're referencing, not the wacked-out rendition pictured above?

 The camera and microphone doesn't care if you get the balance wrong.  Or the composition, the wrong angle.  But once captured, there are plenty of fun things one can do to "improve" the original image.

 The above travesty has been "improved" by the liberal application of "filters", color "correction" and "equalization".  Furthermore, "glow" has been added - a subjective modification of Mr. DaVinci's creative muse.

 When you hear a guitar recording, in addition to the capturing of the sound of the amp in the room, the recording engineer has likely added things, made adjustments.  Whether this agrees with the original is subjective.  Regardless, it affects what the end user sees/hears.

 Then there is the vintage trend, which is to say the use of old things to impart character.  The above image has the questionably cool film border surrounding it, thereby "improving" the conveyance of Mr. DaVinci's work.  Likewise, many guitar sounds are similarly "improved" by being distorted by old gear that adds harmonic information and dynamic character that wasn't there originally.

 "How do I get that guitar sound?": I have to consider does the person saying this see/hear past the above manipulation?  Maybe a person actually likes the above picture because Lisa looks like an alien, and that's what is really liked despite the original painting being fantastic.  Or the added glow.  Maybe the punk anti-Golden Rule geometrical composition?  Possibly, maybe another portrait could be substituted and the vintage film border conveys The Feels the viewer likes.

 So, do I tell them "paint the Mona Lisa first"?  Maybe the "Mona Lisa" is a vintage Marshall plexi and a '58 LesPaul through Celestion greenbacks? They only have one part.  Maybe they paint the Mona Lisa successfully.



 They go out and buy said setup, but then record it with their phone's microphone, or they add the "glow" filter in the form of smashing the recording with a brickwall limiter.  Maybe they decide to "improve" the sound by equalizing it in some haphazard fashion.  They record it in their garage, stuck in a corner, with the microphone pointed sideways 5 feet away, and "it doesn't sound like Dimebag's sound!".  In the end, they're not happy, because it doesn't sound like the recording.

 To get the audience/end use to get the best effect of "Mona Lisa" you not only have to HAVE the Mona Lisa in the first place, you also have to not mess up any part of the process in between.  If one sees a nice print of the Mona Lisa, they're not actually seeing it in a literal sense.  They're seeing it lit under near perfect conditions, probably through a multi-thousand dollar camera, to a very high resolution medium, reduced under calibrated conditions by someone experienced in making judgement calls about how to best render a reduction of said source medium to the end user's medium (the print itself).

 Buying the same amp/guitar setup is not enough.  It's also about the speakers, the room sound, the microphone, the mic preamp, the mixing board eq, the person doing the engineering.

 In this sense, amp modelling is relatively successful in the respect that just as you can't portray the exact likeness of the DaVinci painting in a reproduction, it's pretty easy/cheap to yield a conventionally-acceptable rendition.  It doesn't mean your phone's camera shot at the Louvre is literally the Mona Lisa, but these days it's a pretty good representation (provided you don't decide to go Instagram filter crazy).  Guitar amp modelling software doesn't do a good job of creating the source sound IMO, but when it comes to a quick and easy rendition - it's pretty good.

 But if you're trying to get there from the start, you've got to be able to paint the Mona Lisa in the first place.
















































Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I Can Actually Recommend This to Beginners.....



A student yesterday came in with this:


 It's a tiny little Fender-branded clip on tuner that apparently comes with Fender Squier acoustic packs.

 I am loathe to recommend tuners, because a) one should learn how to tune by ear at some juncture and b) most "electronic" tuners are massively fidgety to use for someone not familiar with the process.

 I have tentatively recommended in the past an app called "G Strings" by a Russian programmer I had some input on, that worked well but again, for the beginner is a big tricky to use.  Also the Peterson IOS/IPhone app is probably the most accurate/best I've encountered, but again - not for the beginner.

 The problem with these devices and programs is that in reality, they're too good.

 The brilliance of this little tuner is that it's pretty eager to "announce" you're at least close to being in tune.  It lights up an obvious green in that case.  The user must still understand they have to make sure it is displaying the correct note for the string they are tuning, and the meter shows low/high relative to the target note.

 But that's about all.  The problem with the Snark clip on tuners is that they may be a little more accurate, they're so flightly at the note for the most part you have to be relatively experienced to use it properly.  In addition, they flash different colors for flat, sharp, and it has (as most tuners do) a large display for the reference pitch (440), and other miscellaneous things on the display that isn't necessary for the beginner.

 The problem with the flashing of different colors is, when a beginner is in the process of tuning, their attention is focus in such a way that flashing lights are not interpreted as conveying anything other than specific information.

 This tuner does nothing aside from showing you're flat or sharp - and when you're "in tune" it does "something", it flashes green.

 Unlike every other tuner, it's not too picky about whether you are perfectly in tune.  It is quite literally a well-chosen "good enough".  This is good, because the beginner does not end up chasing their tail trying to finesse a perhaps less-than-great tuning gear for minutes at a time, and possibly getting confused in the process.


It just lights up when you're "good enough".   With this tuner a first time 2nd guitar lesson student managed to get her guitar in tune with  this in less than 2 minutes.  I'd say this is about twice as fast as normal with other electronic tuners, and I'd also say the result was better and less stressful.

One button to turn it on and off, a meter that shows you if you're flat or sharp, and the note you are trying to tune.  That's all.  I presume these are being sold separately at Fender dealers, a beginner should look for them.



Friday, May 15, 2015

Led Zeppelin Ripped off Claude Monet, and Renoir Ripped Off Spirit!

Are these the same...?


Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven" oil, 1870
Spirit - "Taurus" oil, 1868

 I USED TO TEND TO THINK in absolutes when I was younger, a sad, stereotypical thing to do.  It seemed like a possible concept when applied to art, or rather, it seemed like the American thing to do: something MUST excel over something else!

  Right?

 Of course not.

 That idea shouldn't be confused with perfectionism, or OCD personality traits I may have.  It's really just the inculcation of seeking to categorize "the best" as a culture, without question.  It's something that pervades American culture, and not obvious until exposed to other culture's viewpoints. 

 "Led Zeppelin ripped off Taurus by Spirit!".   Well, maybe, sort of. 

 The recent Guns and Roses case regarding musical thievery of an Australian band, and the big payout to the Marvin Gaye estate over the Pharell/Thicke circumstance, seems to have people slavering over potential new sources of "income".  I would like to point out a difference with the Zeppelin case, despite the legal result.

 In this situation, you have two bands fronted by two prolific guitar players.  Coming from a time when they were influenced by another set of prolific guitar players.  One of which is a guy named John Renbourn.

 One can find antecedents to both songs in Renbourn's recordings; delicate oblique harmony arpeggios that sometimes use voice leading to modulate.  In the case of Stairway, the addition of flute is something of  giveaway to this, in my opinion. 

 So you have a musical theme - a chord progression - "depicted" with arpeggios at a certain tempo. 

However, you also have two really different arrangements.  Page's arrangement has a pattern of ascending, then all descending, with a reoccurring accented beat.  Additionally, there are chords added beyond the Spirit rendition, an a connecting melody. 

 This discounts the entirety of the rest of the song.  In this singular portion, it is my position that Page's depiction of said chord progression has more implicit detail that is substantially unique, added value.  As such, there are distinct ways of playing the components of the progression in such a way that it is immediately identifiable.  The Spirit song much less so - it is somewhat more ambiguous and staid.  The similarity is not in the execution or arrangement, as much as it is "a similar arpeggiated chord progression".

 As it is fairly well known in musician circles that the blues idiom, and for the most part traditional country music, is all based on the same chord progression, nobody makes an argument about similarities between two blues songs on just the progression alone, or even when combined with the same tempo, the same rhythm and even the same blend of chord extension.  It's usually the domain of the nature of the melody, or even one titular aspect that lends a song a different character than another.

 In the above two paintings, there is a common theme.  "A woman with a parasol".  On paper, similar, and if one were to make a primitive drawing of both, one could cite how one is maybe copying the other. 

But, like the blues, a great theme is not owned by either the first person who decided to use it, or who did it the best.

 In the Guns and Roses example (and the Tom Petty case), there was more involved than just the progression, there was a *confluence* of aspects relating to the whole.  The G&R song not only used the same progression/tempo, but the same arrangement, the same drum break, melody over the top.

 The Zeppelin case is different.  There is a great theme present, the descending oblique  inverted chord-modulation idea, but in Page's case there are added facets not present in the Spirit example.  Monet's Parasol is on a hill, the woman (his wife) occupies about a 1/3rd of the painting, is standing, the parasol is green, the child standing with the woman.

 All of these elements are different in Renoir's Parasol.  But look - there is a woman with a parasol, and a child!  It doesn't matter, that's just the basic elements, everything else is different. 

 If Renoir's had been standing on a hill, wind blowing, child in hand at her side, green parasol - that would be different.  This is what occurred in my opinion with the Petty case, and the G&R case.  With the Pharell situation, maybe it's more like he painted a coarse outline of a woman with an umbrella standing on a hill with some grass, and a child, and copied Monet's color palette (very closely...) and used a bunch of loose brush strokes (in a completely unoriginal way, as opposed to Renoir's unique style).  

A progression is not the same as the whole.  There are more chords in Stairway than a blues song, and as such maybe makes it seem like the line between "chord progression" and "melody" is blurrier.  The gestalt of the two songs are made up of different elements, beyond just the progression. 
























Thursday, May 7, 2015

University of London using Confuse-a-Cat (tm Python, Monty) algorithms to quantify a subjective popular art - MUSIC


Attention, University of London: your conclusion,


"Those who wish to make claims about how and when popular music changed can no longer appeal to anecdote, connoisseurship and theory unadorned by data. Similarly, recent work has shown that it is possible to identify discrete stylistic changes in the history of Western classical music by clustering on motifs extracted from a corpus of written scores"

.... is a non-sequiter mush-brain *opinion* that ignores the data set uses progressively iterated information (making your process void, you don't/can't subtract out this aspect), and it's generalizations are not weighted relative to each other. It contains subjectively erroneous quantification ("loud" drums = drum machines, which becomes an *aural* aspect of the late 80's, while equating disco to m7 chords, ignoring the role of the drum machine in disco, and then lumping disco into the same category as funk?).


It does show *something*, just not what you claim. The core premise is absurd: using algorithms to try to show something that is wholly based on subjective tastes, that also incorporates derivative iteration? Next up, statistics to show why Monet wasn't a big deal and Thomas Kinkade is the most important artist in history....


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Design and the Line6 DL-4 Delay Pedal


This isn't meant to be a sales pitch for the DL-4 (I have no affiliation with Line6), and it isn't meant to be a treatise on the transparency of the pedal or lack thereof, or the uber-quality of it's models.



 What I am going to blather about for a bit, is in the nice "rightness" of the gestalt of this pedal.

 It's not my favorite pedal, and it's not what I think is THE BEST PEDAL OF ALL TIME.  I do think as a whole it is maybe the most complete design success I can think of in a pedal.

 In this day and age of tiny pedals being the trend, the series of pedals the DL-4 comes from are of the "Honkin' Huge" proportion category.  I have no problem with that in the case of the DL-4, because effectively you have 4 separate foot switches in a space narrower than the equivalent in the Boss stomp box footprint, and only a little longer.  So as far as I'm concerned, the footprint is utilized well enough.  

 In that footprint, though, I think the space is utilized basically as good as it's going to get.  If one is of the "I don't use rack effects" philosophy, then one is in turn willing to accept compromise, and the pedal is exemplary in this manner.  Do you need more than 3 separate delay presets?  A short delay, a long, and a longer/very wet/wild card?  Tap tempo makes that as flexible as you should want IMO.   So the form factor is great, not a too-large size for more switches than is pragmatic, not so small you wish you had just one more choice.

 In this respect, I get the impression that Line6's choice to use this form factor across the entire line was maybe influenced by that basic premise...?

 The robustness of the metal housing is nice.  Might be heavier than absolutely needed, but being in the "no worry about structural integrity" category is as it should be.  What was Ibanez thinking when they made those plastic-housing pedals?  

 The housing is nice, because it places the switches at  nice height, not some bizarre crazy high altitude, and not at some weird angle.  A sufficient distance from each other.   As it should be, and the knobs are recessed, so they don't get crushed or moved when activating the switches.   As it should be.  

 The knobs are a nice size in that they're not so small you have to "measure" your turning torque to miniscule amounts.  They're basic black, with simple and clearly marked indications of where they're pointed, visible while standing over the pedal.  As it should be.  The pots have a nice feel, slightly damped giving a sense of a nicer build quality - but also just slightly more "sticky" than most,  If you accidentally touch an adjacent knob it's not going to automatically get knocked 10%+ out of adjustment.  Which is a subtle touch, because it means when you're in a hurry (like before a song starts...) you can be confident about reaching down and making a quick adjustment without fear of the "I'd better not try that because if I bump the other button I'm screwed" situation.  Again, the distance between the knobs are a nice amount.  They could have crammed on more knobs/pots, but then - the knobs would be smaller, more cramped, less live-gig situation friendly.

 Ubiquitous basic red led indicators for each button.  That's fine, but also nice to have.  Companies that put multiple buttons on their boxes with no indicators - I hate that.  "I think it's switched off...(oops, it wasn't)".  

 Now I'm going to call out Roland as a company.   Roland traditionally has put an enormous amount of functionality in their devices, but for some reason never implements the potential capability with any kind of real-world awareness, or with a seeming afterthought.  The venerable VS-880 digital multitracker comes to mind, with an extraordinary amount of functions and features - bizarrely controlled by a tiny LCD display, and haphazardly strewn and labeled buttons, conjoined with non-intuitive functions accessed with arcane combinations of steps.  This seems par for the course for Roland, their drum modules, rack mounted effects devices, keyboards, and where they cross into Boss' more elaborate pedal line.  For some reason the Boss DD20 Gigadelay comes to mind...

 Line6 took a refreshing approach in not to trying to "double up" the functions of knobs.  You have your basic model choice set on the first knob on the left (the function and signal flow knob-wise goes from left to right - AS IT SHOULD BE - that's how you're reading this, right?).  All the other knobs provide functions specific to the model selected, nothing more.

 I think they invented something in the "morphing" function range of a knob, in that instead of having to press a switch for something different to happen, the decision has been made to have that happen at a certain point on the knob.

 This can be a catastrophe.  A lot of new pedals try to do this and fail miserably in my opinion (the Eventide TimeFactor comes to mind).   This is where the pedal shines again: the designers made all of the right decisions as to the variability of the functions of each knob.  The mature decision to just have a pair of knobs - "tweek" and "tweez" - to handle the variability of the idiomatic features of each model is brilliant.

 The choices show that there was input from people that actually play guitar.  What do you want in a ping-pong delay?  Delay difference and stereo spread.  Tube echo - distortion, wow and flutter of course.  Multi-head, sweep delay - each of the models make bold decisions on what you need to adjust, and they're the right decisions.  I'm glad they didn't cram an extra knob on it just to have a tone control on every model, or to have a modulation function on all models.  That "let's anticipate the lowest-common denominator choice", or rather "it seems like it should have this knob, maybe?" approach not being present is again - as it should be.

 The quality of the models I could say could be improved - maybe.  But being delay, I would say that it doesn't matter in a guitar amp setting - in general you are blending the delay signal in at less than a 20% level, and by default the nature of it is typically bandwidth limited anyhow.  The flipside is that I think the character of the idiomatic aspects of the what each model intends to be is captured very well.   Is it an absolute perfect Echoplex simulation?  Maybe not, but then how many Echoplexes sound exactly the same, and how practical would it be for you to substitute the DL-4 with a real one, or Fuller's version, and then do the same with at least 2 other "authentic" delays you would be replicating with the DL-4?   In my opinion as a time-domain solution the pragmatism of the DL-4 can't be beat.

 It's not transparent.  Not an issue with a parallel loop.   Don't have a parallel loop?  Then your set up is most likely of a different philosophy than one that is being asked to do more than one thing perfectly.  I'm not Joe Perry or the Edge, I can't afford to just buy a discrete signal chain for every sound I might want.

 The choice to set it to true bypass or not via a boot-up procedure is a nice addition, but something of a non-sequiter decision to make, for the above mentioned philosophical reasons.  The requirement for that to be in the pedal is an obvious thing, and their choice to implement it this way is again an intelligent compromise.

 I only have one quibble, which is specific to me and what I do.  I wish it did a 4+ discretely modulated multitap for volume swells.  If it did this it would without a doubt be "my favorite pedal".  As such I still require the arcane and obfuscated, now antiquated Yamaha Magic Stomp II; a Big Honkin' Pedal that I really use for just one thing.  I can't even program it without USB and a computer capable of Windows 98 compatibility.  Great.  

 From a grab-and-go standpoint, it is of what I call "second order importance".   I don't have to use it to do a gig, but if I'm going to have something other than an amp with gain, that is the next thing I grab.  Beyond that there is the Magic Stomp, Univibe, various gain pedals, whatever.... but in one pedal the DL-4 offers more creative, *pragmatic* potential than anything else in one box.















Thursday, March 12, 2015

Is the Sam Smith Song a Rip Off of Tom Petty's Song?

Is the Sam Smith Song a Rip Off of Tom Petty's Song?

Technically, here is why it is....

 

"Stay With Me"?  why no,  " I Won't Back Down"....

 I'm not going to attempt to educate the reader to the nomenclature I'm using, so I'm going to get down to brass tacks.   

 The verse to "Won't Back Down" features a chord progression that works as follows: vi for half a bar, V for the second half of the measure, then I for a measure.   This is identical to the Sam Smith song.   The progression repeats twice, then for a third repeat IV replaces I.  On the 4th repeat vi, V, I reappears.

 Structurally, the Sam Smith song is identical, save Petty's "left turn" to IV on the 3rd repeat.  But, both feature a 2 bar progression that does 4 rounds, effectively the same.

 That alone is not enough to constitute "copying", progressions are quite generic typically, and while I think one can argue that a progression can infer a melody, here it does not. However, as I present here, the chord progression provides the context for how a simple melodic theme is copied in the Sam Smith song.

The melody to both songs are based on a descending themes.  Initially, though, the first marker that sets up the recognition of the Tom Petty song is that the Sam Smith melody leads in off of the 3rd to the 5th of the I chord, on the fourth beat and the following 8th note ("and I", "won't you"), stacatto.

 Again, this alone isn't something I consider "super original", I could probably scrape up other examples.  The problem is that within the composite of this section of both songs, it is "strike 1" in my opinion.

 The rhythmic gap in both vocal melodies sets up for both melodies to hit the root of the vi chord on beat 2.  This is what I consider to be "strike 2" - the same part of the chord, on the same beat.  Furthermore, Strike 3 would be that the first syllable in both sustain until the & of beat 3.  At this point I consider the Sam Smith song struck out, but there is more.

 The rest of both melodies work the same way: they follow the root of the first two chords, then land on the third of the I.  Strike 4.

 Strike 5: the 4-& cadence returns as the pickup on the second repeat through the progression.

 Strike 6: on the third repeat of the progression on both songs, the melody's rhythm becomes syncopated over the rhythm section.

 Strike 7: the "payoff" - the hook, of both songs - the title of the songs are repeated as a resolve on the I chord on the 4th repeat of the chord progression.


I could get more detailed, but I don't see the need to.  In my experience of analyzing multiple songs daily during guitar lessons, this is maybe par for the course these days, I've heard more egregious thievery.  On the other hand, the thing about this particular example is that, as shown above, the *composite* across time of both sections has many points that are conceptually the same. 

 In other words, it's not just a couple of notes of a melody placed in a new context (ala hip hop productions), but obviously a contemplated effort to create a conceptual facsimile of the Petty song.  The really bad thing in my opinion, is that these days singers are so well produced that their delivery is so filled with faux conviction, I think that blinds people to the derivative nature of the music itself.

 Which from a guitar playing standpoint is the take away from this post.  Playing with complete conviction is important, it can hide many a "musical" flaw.  Eddie VanHalen plays some things that one could construe as being "musically questionable", but he does it in such a way that the attitude he conveys in his execution blinds one to that.  Same can be said for many classic jazz greats.  "Free jazz" would not exist but for conviction in execution.  Even John Coltrane can be heard on bootleg recordings getting really, really "out" - but you accept it because of how he's doing it, you know that it's part of the process.

 Which is contrary to the Pop Music Machine Process: the conviction is being used to pull one over on the audience.

 $.10. 









Friday, December 26, 2014

A Quibble with Guitar World's "Top 50 Effects/Processors" List

  A friend of mine, one Mr. John Donelly, brought to my attention that Guitar World had published a "Top 50 Stomp Boxes, Devices and Processors of All Time" list.  

 It is kind of a curious mixture of truth and advertising (note that I wrote ".. and advertising", not "... in advertising").  I've played through or owned nearly all of the pedals in the list, save the Seek Wah, the Lovetone Meatball, the Gig-Fx Chopper, and ironically the last one on their list, the Ibanez Flying Pan.  While each of those may be the Greatest Thing I've Ever Missed, I'll just pretend they don't exist for my purposes here today.  In other words, that gives me 4 pinch hitters I'm going substitute later.

The first thing that I noted was the Line 6 DL4 delay pedal being listed so low.  IMO this is one of the most well designed pedals/devices of all time.  It essentially does everything you want a delay to do, gives you 3 (possibly 4) programmable presets, the way you interface with it is "didn't read the manual" intuitive, and it sounds great.  

 Likewise, you can spot this metallic green pedal on a lot of pedal boards.  I would say it's maybe as ubiquitous as Guitar World's #1, the Tube Screamer.  It sometimes seems like an easy bet to say "there will be a DL4 on That Player's pedal board" without looking.  I've had one for a long time, still works great, and do not expect someone to make something more functional.  

 The Fuzzface is down at #28.  I cannot fathom how this pedal did not make the Top 10?  Without this pedal you don't have Jimi Hendrix effectively (hmm.. maybe pun intended?).  You also don't have Eric Johnson, and plenty of famous players and classic songs.  The quintessential sound of a Fuzz Face is not as splatty as a Foxtone, but I would say more iconic.  Also more more practically useful.

 Echoplex at #18?  Again, a Top 10.  Without this device there is no Eddie VanHalen, countless guitar players in the 70's, and for that matter "moments involving delay in an age with you didn't really have many other choices".   Look at the fact that most delays feature an "Echoplex" setting - they have other pedals on the list which has an "Echoplex" setting.  If imitation is a form of flattery that alone should make it higher.  

 The Rangemaster is down at #17.  Granted, a very unknown pedal today BUT again, without this pedal you lose Queen, Judas Priest, lots of Clapton, Tony Iommi, and another plethora of 70's iconic artists whose sound relied on this circuit or a variant.  

 Some of the items on their list I find sort of suspect.  MXR Carbon Copy is really a "Top 50" pedal?  Digitech Jam Man?   The order seems a little strange, too: having worked in music stores most of my life, I'm not sure the Metal Zone should be in front of the DS-1.  I can sort of understand the Electro-Hamonix bias, but the Big Muff being #3 over the Fuzz Face seems a bit peculiar to me.

 As does some omissions.  The ADA MP-1 was a very big seller, and the harbinger of the rack-mount midi-switchable-programmable era.  A good sounding and versatile unit, reasonably priced, well made.  At one point in the late 80's this was seen in almost everyone's rack - it just made too much sense for that era.  

 Similarly, the SPX-90 was a Very Big Deal when it debuted, not only for it's (unique at the time) glowing LCD display (I remember at the NAMM show that year Yamaha having a big room with wall-to-wall SPX-90's, and you could read a book from the alien green glow...), but also because of the then new multi-effect capability AND midi switchable function.  While it did drop out when switching programs if the signal was ran serially, it was THE thing to have visible on stage in your rack for every touring artist for a few years (for better or worse).  Storeable "presets" were a revelation for a $500 device that basically could do every time-domain based effect.  
  So that's two of my wildcards down.  The last two are very related as far as I'm concerned, and their function and retail sales are almost indentical: the Scholtz Research Rockman X-100, and the Line 6 Pod.

 Both fulfilled the same mission - one box that did "everything".  These were the OG "plug in".  For both units, their sound was heavily responsible for a big chunk of recordings during their respective ears.  No offense to the Gig-Fx Chopper, but way more important and definitely should be on that list.

 Some other wildcards: the early 60's Fender stand alone reverbs;  Korg SDD-3000; Ernie Ball Volume Pedal; Binson Echorec and the Roland Space Echo (both of which are more unique and iconic in use than the MXR Carbon Copy IMO); Deltalab Effectron/Effectron Jr. (first affordable digital delay); Alesis Midiverb (first affordable digital reverb (barely...); Alesis Quadraverb (basically came on after the SPX-90 as being the first programmable multieffect that didn't drop out on patch changes, AND could do 4 effects simultaneously)(and had a unique sound; see Jeff Buckley's "ambient" effects); Rocktron Intellifex (offered 8 modulated-voiced delays in one unit); Peavey EDI direct box (preceded the Radial/re-amping signal path solutions); Hughes and Kettner Cream Machine (great idea too soon, low wattage mini-power amp); Antares power soak; Rockman power soak.









Long time...

Sorry for not posting in so long, I only recently discovered a numbered of people were actually reading this routinely!  Sorry!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Going to Sleep to a Metronome

I recently had this discussion with a student about gaining an intuition about tempo ranges, and refining one's awareness of specific tempos.
I recommended something that I know Steve Vai apparently did, which is to go to sleep with a metronome on.  The purpose being, to be able to memorize a specific speed in bpm (beats per minute) and recall it at will.

 Having said that, I will say that while I have tried that long ago - just for the sake of it - I can't do it for no other reason than I've always been an insomniac.  I suggest one try a tempo deliberately slower than 60 bpm, to avoid the "clock ticking" phenomenon, but to also try to use a tempo that is a subdivision of a song one is very familiar with. 

 While I never successfully managed to sleep with a metronome on, I would recount that as a kid I would often "mainline" songs that I like.  As in, as a 12 year old in those days set my cassette player to repeat a particular song I liked over and over and over and over.  Not with any kind of intent - I didn't consider myself "a musician" then - but because I really liked the music.  I looked forward to hearing exact moments in a song - later to realize the things that happen on a time scale measured in milliseconds - a bent note, a snare accent, any number of things.  In doing so I believe the familiarity of being able to ponder the rhythmic events in a song on a minute scale helped me later on as a professional musician.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"I Could Get Used to This" - original song by student Ben Lowery

"I Could Get Used to This" - Ben Lowery

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reality and Expectation

I've noticed a recent phenomenon: students comparing themselves to other people playing on YouTube.

I hear (paraphrased) "I'm not as good as this guy playing this online", or "this guy can play this online so well, why can't I?".

I think I know the root cause of this, and I'd like to diagram why it's flawed, and an unhealthy attitude.

There was a time when "art", as a concept, was universally known as something that was inherently "limitless". Which is to say that, while one could practice the craftsmanship of it, the result was beyond the scope of human comprehension: what came out contained so many variables that it had to be the combination of so many factors it couldn't be readily quantized into a purely formulaic approach.

There is the concept of theory, which merely explains the components and their interactions. The theory itself does not create the result. The result is a purely human thing. Likewise, the mechanics and technique in pursuing a result doesn't automatically create the result, either.

YouTube does not show those two aspects: what went into attaining the knowledge of what created the result, and what effort went into acquiring the technical/mechanical skill that occurred before it went on YouTube.

That process (which is a part of taking guitar lessons) is something that there is no clearly defined analogy for. It's kind of like studying to be a doctor. It's kind of like learning the craft of sculpting, or painting. It requires "anthropological" study, like history - one has to know what came before. In other ways it's nothing like those things at all.

The modern day thought that a process to do something can't be tidily broken down into defined, component parts with a defined, predictable outcome, is non-existent. In the 21st Century, one can take a class to learn to do anything, and in a given amount of time, and with a clearly defined outcome. It's how everything works today: you do not do anything without formal training of some sort, and that training always, automatically imparts exactly what you need to know.

Playing a musical instrument doesn't work that way. Thankfully, it doesn't - or else it would be quite boring. You shouldn't take guitar lessons expecting to be able to do exactly what you see someone on YouTube doing. You probably don't have the exact same motivation, the exact same background, the exact same experiences. Which isn't to say one shouldn't try; because the pursuit of it will create it's own unique outcome. The problem occurs when one sets preconceived ideas into motion about how long it should take, and how much effort is involved.

One should have an appreciation for the variety of results that comes from different musicians, and know that time invested is the only common factor. That time investment can be spread over a week in 1 hour increments, 5 hour increments - or 30 minutes per week over years. As a field of study, there are countless avenues; you can't devote yourself to everything at once.

There was a time when, if a person could make a musical instrument do anything resembling "music", it was looked upon as an accomplishment. There are billions of people on the planet; that on YouTube there are thousands demonstrating different things on musical instruments in varying degrees should not deter someone from pursuing their own musical interests. Once you start playing an instrument, on whatever simple level, you are playing an instrument. You are now different than you were before, and different from the Other People on the Planet that Can't Play an Instrument. That should be a worthy accomplishment in itself; being concerned that there's a 10 year old kid in Taiwan playing a VanHalen guitar solo double speed should not enter into the equation.