Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald -

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Educational Value of the First 3 Dave Matthews Band Records

    I find myself revisiting the Dave Matthews catalog, as I have a acoustic guitar student that needs a bit of a challenge in a specific area: 16th note rhythms.

 Without delving into the more repetitive funk catalog - with the likes of Chic, Ohio Players, James Brown et al, it escaped me for a bit to think of something the student could reference that wouldn't be too repetitive (although that wouldn't be a bad thing).

 The 2000s!  

 The first 3 Dave Matthews Band records/cds are very unique.  They feature very busy, guitar intensive themes in a pop music setting.  Something that I don't know of having happened before or since.  

 There have been other high marks "guitar lesson era wise", but I would say a couple were even dependent upon being ancestral to the DMB era.  I would tentatively suggest Jack Johnson's popularity resides in echoing some of the pseudo-funk rhythms of DMB, and maybe Jason Mraz benefitted from DMB popularity as well.  Early John Mayer I would argue relied a lot on superficially sonically having many of the same ingredients at the pinnacle of the DMB era.  Years beyond, in a more deprecatory way Ed Sheeran perhaps benefitted: it now seems like there has to always be a "present default acoustic-singer artist" where there hadn't been one since the songwriter era of the 70s.

 Because it was pop music - very popular music, as in for a few years maybe a 1/3rd of my clientele was motivated to learn Dave Matthews Band songs - the average nascent guitar player had a fairly high bar set for them, but also the reward factor was very high.

 The perceived social popularity of "playing guitar" has a magical, invisible effect.  Motivation is mostly determined by it I've found; and motivation elevates.  The "average skill" level during what I think of as "the Dave Matthews era" was a peak only matched by when I started teaching back in the late 80's during the Hair Metal Era.  

 The biggest thing was 16th note right hand subdivision, followed by strumming and single note combinations being such an integral part of DMB songs.  Effectively in "high gear" technique wise, it allowed a lot of students to transition to other things.  I'd go as far as to say from this era a particular local artist sprung to being a national success, which lead to other things - but I digress.

 16th note right hand parts;
 Articulate single note lines;
 Overall uptempo phrasing;
 Prerequisite partial/full bar chord fingerings -

Leeds the novice Dave Matthews Band fan to many other things, because the variety of the above allows for more options than a lower bar.  


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Musical Narcissists?

  I recently saw somewhere that there are people that want to take a revisionist approach to music history.  More specifically, in regards to the venerable Yamaha DX7 keyboard, that they were "never cool".

  There are certain DX7 patches/sounds that I like, but there are a lot I hate, that were overused IMO during the 80s.  The reason they were overused, though, is because THEY WERE COOL.   I would suggest we're in a transitory phase for the DX7 where it's becoming "classic", but not classic enough in the sense that people have decided to base songs around them again.

 There were keyboards originally marketed for a certain kind of music: the Hammond organ, Farfisa, Rhodes, etc. that were used in a "cool" context at the time, but then re-entered creative music use later.  The Hammond sound - a "church organ" - evoked a certain thing, maybe "what you hear in church", "what my parents like", until it faded out and then came back in a different context.

 Now it's just "a Hammond sound".  Which can be found in all genres of music, and doesn't imply a specific era anymore.  I think the DX7 is about to become a similar thing, the "uncool now" connotations fading to become another classic.

 BUT, I made a post on a message board about the concept of "Musical Narcissism".   Something I've seen many, many times: thinking one's perspective is magically "cool" enough to say another's is not, despite evidence to the contrary.  I don't care for disco, but it was definitely a cool thing in the mid-70s; likewise, there are a lot of disco references in modern pop music; it's faded away long enough to now be a "classic" sound choice.

 Below is the quick blathering post I made on the topic:

It was very cool at the time.

People that want to say something isn't cool that was once in style - bell bottom jeans, horn rimmed glasses, gated reverb, whatever - are the musical equivalent of being narcissistic. They think their subjective opinion is an empirical scale that is always ascending, when just about everything can be a parabola.

One either feels cognitive dissonance when revisiting an old place, because the context around it has changed - or they reject reality as it once was.

If one wasn't around when the DX7 happened, then saying it was "never cool" is musical narcissism: they're ignoring reality while not realizing people *see* them ignoring reality.

I *don't like* the DX7 sound in a modern context, BUT - I *can* imagine it being popular again if recontexturalized. The sound of the 80s carried a lot of tropes with it simultaneously, which makes it easy to mock (or dislike), but those things can be used in a fresh way individually (tinkly DX7 patches, rhythmically timed non-linear reverb, Yamaha or Linn drum machine sounds, etc.).

If anything, the DX7 lends itself to... overtly cheery sounds, fey pads, which is not my taste but a lot of people definitely liked. I wish I had a "DX7 remover", along with a "non-linear reverb" remover - which could happen with ML/GAN trickery."


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Golfers Make Good Guitar Students?

  The Augusta National has just passed in my hometown.

Golf equivalent of a perfectly preserved 1968 Marshall plexi

 Which makes this post a bit late, but now that I'm "here", I'd like to say:

 Golfers make for good guitar students!

 They usually have a more humble attitude towards expectations upon starting.  Perhaps because you're always humbled playing golf, but it's good to know where the target is, but not to expect to reach it next week.  Or next month.  Or next year.  Golfers seem to have a better grasp on the long view.  

 Which is good for playing and making music.  Reflexive immediacy, expecting things NOW has wrecked modern society: nothing worth doing is easy.  Music has been devalued monetarily, but it still plays a role in the daily lives of most everybody; it's a significant thing that takes time to learn as a skill, craft, and to create.

 Golfers also seem to have a good awareness of practice concepts.  There isn't one overriding method in golf, many approaches to honing skills, and in different aspects.  Which of course translates to learning to play the guitar.  Some people try to "learn" to play guitar the way some people play Putt Putt: just wack the ball hard and it will hopefully bounce off some things, maybe a clown and an orange barrier, and somehow careen into the hole.

 Which is comical, but as I'm writing that I'm realizing there is profound truth in that.  If you watch people play Putt Putt/miniature golf, some just can't help but to just randomly "wack" the ball. It's a waste of time, but they can't help themselves.  Why are they bothering to do an activity in such a ridiculous fashion?

 Because it worked one time!   

 They got a crazy dopamine kick off of it, and tied to the "success" the feedback loop created means they try to recreate the moment again... and again... and again.  They're not getting better, they're not increasing their skills, they're not scoring - they're wasting time.

  Maybe a complete novice somewhere got a hole in one first time out playing real golf.  But probably not....

 On guitar, it's similarly deceptive as the miniature golf accidental hole in one, AND more involved than the real golf hole in one.  But the same feedback loop applies: the novice accidentally knocks out something they didn't expect.  Maybe for the first time they play something that sounds "pro", or recognizable. 

 They get that reinforcing dopamine kick.  Which is good!  It should act as impetus to play more!  But unfortunately - and I think this is a byproduct of 21st century society - that experience is interpreted as "I did that easy, it took little effort; I can do it again, recreate this experience endlessly, with the same effortless ease!".

 Furthermore, what wrecks the new student is seeing a gazillion people on Youtube seemingly pulling things off with effortless ease!

 As a guitar teach I see this phenomenon in a lot of people, and it's difficult to combat.  It's an unseen aspect of teaching guitar that is tenuous, hopefully I'm able to help people with that.  Watching Youtube certainly doesn't help, it's creating a negative feedback loop as described above, whether people realize it or not. 

Golfers realize watching doesn't make them better, they know pretty clearly they have to DO, they have to practice/play as much as possible.

 "But that's not fun!" some will say.

 That's the problem: not realizing the value in what you're doing.  It should be perceived as a lot of fun.  You're learning to do something that only a tiny, tiny portion of the population of the whole planet can do.  Unlike golf, something in every day life for everybody, almost a constant.  It should be thought of as "I'm at Amen Corner, and I just made a chip shot in a situation Tiger Woods did".   Except in golf, you can't replicate that experience without being a member of the Augusta National and have extraordinary golf skills.  
 On the other hand, you *can* replicate a phrase Brian May played in Bohemian Rhapsody, or a riff Billy Gibbons played.  Without leaving your house, and you can show your buddies you can do it, and you can build on millions of such examples the rest of your life.

 But you're probably never going to make a hole in one in Augusta.  Knowing that creates a good attitude towards learning to play an instrument.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Another New York Times Piece on Guitar?


 This time an oblique swipe at guitar solos.

 It's curious that they seem to like to write articles implying "this thing I'm writing about, heh heh heh, we all know is passe.... but *I* know what cool about it, I'm be self-referentially cool by telling you".  

"It's easy to dismiss the guitar solo as an outdate, macho institution"

 Pretty much the Rolling Stone formula of non-musicians being critical of POPULAR musician's choices.  It's an inclusive trick: because you're reading their article, you're included in their Hip Circle.  

 Meanwhile I'm trundling along giving guitar lessons, in which wanting to learn to play solos is anything but dead.  


Monday, March 28, 2022

Should You Boycott Harley Benton?

 So some guys on YouTube say you should boycott Harley Benton because the guitar at the top is a rip off of the guitar below it:

Harley Benton Nylon NT
Taylor TZ

  At least, I think these are the 2 guitars in question?

 Which is the gist of my post here: they are similar, but not exact - despite hyperbole.

 Many differences: knobs, fingerboard extension, sound holes are different, body size/geometry different, bridge different.  They look similar (unless I've got the wrong guitars?), but it's variations on a theme.

 A theme that Taylor didn't invent.  The first thing I think of when I see both is a combination of the following:

Godin MultiAc


Ovation Adamas

Rickenbacker 360

 The aesthetic is a combination of established elements.   From a design intellectual property standpoint, there is nothing new.  From a functional standpoint there isn't, either.

 Nobody is buying the $400 guitar thinking it's a Taylor.  But more importantly - and this is the real point - Taylor isn't losing any customers for it's $2,200 guitar.

 Nobody is walking into a Taylor dealership, thinking they want the Taylor and then settling for the Harley Benton.  Nobody.  Just like nobody walks into a Fender dealership wanting to order a Custom Shop Stratocaster, and then settles for a Harley Benton strat.  

 Which is a whole lot closer aesthetically and functionally than the Harley Benton and the Taylor.

  Unless one wants to restart the stratocaster clone wars and go off on a jihad against everybody that makes a strat style guitar, the Taylor vs. Harley Benton issue is a non-issue in my opinion.   The guys in the Youtube video sells both Fender and PRS: do they want you to boycott PRS Silversky models.......?  


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Tube Shortage Hype Part 2

  It looks like Mike Matthews has gotten around the Russian sanctions somehow?   That story seems a bit obfuscated, in that it's not *Russia* imposing the sanctions - as the stories I've seen tell?   

However, digging through Chinese websites reveals a number of "small" companies claiming to be producing tubes.  As well as selling *Russian* tubes, which leads me to posit:

 You probably can get Russian tubes through a Chinese source on Aliexpress.  China is still doing business with Russia; and while the prices aren't cheap, I would suspect some of the older "established" shops are fencing tubes from the Tesla plant.

  It also looks like the Pjvane plant in China has acquired the Changsa Shuguang tooling?  So again, I think in a few months once the backlog shakes out there will be more stable sources.  


Monday, March 14, 2022

Is the Amplifier Tube Shortage Hype?

   Much is being made about the Coming Tube Apocalypse: that sanctions on Russia means "it's going to be impossible to get vacuum tubes soon!".


 From what I understand a number of tube specialist companies have already run out of stock.  As well as a couple of amp companies.

 The problems is.... as far as I know there are only 2 tube manufacturing facilities in Russia.  One is owned by Mike Matthews / Electro Harmonix.  I believe EH rebrands their tubes for a lot of "names", Sovtek, TungSol, Svetlana, Mullard.  In turn I would expect these to disappear.  

 But JJ makes tubes in Slovakia, which as far as I know has no export restrictions.  I see JJ tubes more often than anything else; and China has a few plants that have been making OEM tubes forever.  There is no reason these will go away.  Furthermore, there was a time not too long ago there were much fewer plants producing new tubes than what we have now, without the Russian sources.  

 So I'm not afraid that tubes are going away.  There is a run on tubes right now, and people have marked up the prices accordingly.  Thought they've marked up a lot, it looks like you can still get sub-$20 12ax7 preamp tubes on Aliexpress right now - close to $12 if you buy in bulk.  Shuguang, some claiming to be Russian NOS.  Not graded, but they're there.  

 What I expect to happen is that once China notices (probably via metrics on Aliexpress and Amazon drop shipping), as they always do, ramp up production to take over the market.  There will be $12 12ax7s again, and reasonably priced EL34s, 6L6s and 6v6s again by the end of the year.  

 BUT - there will be people making money off of the "scarcity".  Guitar amp companies, even amp repair guys, have stocks of tubes.  in fact, it used to be you'd see them sort of casual brag about it, "oh yeah, I buy boxes and boxes of them".  They won't be running out of tubes, but they'll no doubt charge accordingly.  I would think this *shouldn't* affect amp prices on the lower end, because companies like Fender and Marshall have bought pallets of tubes before this came up, and aren't picking over them like a boutique company would.  And the boutique makers in general have equivalent supplies.

 I suspect the Larger Boutique manufacturers, though, will get a bit of a margin boost.  Or not.  If China doesn't step up and we get an OPEC like tube supply chain, then I think they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot: as new generations of guitarists happen, the desire for tube amps over modelers wane.  This will just hasten making actual tube amps more marginal.



Monday, March 7, 2022

Acoustic Guitar Purchasing Dilemmas (circa 2022)

 As a general rule, I think for most people the following made sense for the past 20+ years:

 Buy your first "introductory" guitar.   One takes a chance here, because it's probably not going to be very playable or sound nice.  This is usually without advice from me, and usually takes the form of a guitar that comes in a "pack" deal, somewhere in the $100-150 ball park.

  What I'd advise then would be a "compromise" guitar.  Something better than the above, but not a "real" acoustic guitar.  The advice would be to get the nicest possible with a solid spruce top, with consideration for a pickup system.  Epiphone and Seagull/LasSiDo has been a good choice in this category, .

 Then, I would advise to try not to buy another UNTIL one could afford either a Martin D28, or a 600-700 series Taylor.  Because - in between you're either paying for cosmetics, or another compromise, and these 2 are effectively where "professional, standard issue" acoustic guitars start.  But the main reason was - and I've been saying this for decades now - 

 "there will come a time when it will basically be impossible for you to consider buying a Martin D28.  Try to get one now if you can".

 For a long time $1,000 was the Magical Professional Price Point.  The "nice" guitars started there, or from another perspective, that was how much a Les Paul or D28 would cost.  In the late 90s D28s started creeping up in price; by the 2000s it was going up about $100 a year.  

 A D28 now costs $3,000.  While my perspective may be skewed - my income from teaching guitar has lagged inflation, effectively flat for my whole life, I can no longer advise someone to stretch their second-guitar budget to a D28.  Those days are over; trying to stretch $600,700 or even $800 to that Previously Magical $1,000 landmark was a tough ask, but $3,000 is ridiculous.

 Meanwhile, from what I've seen the sub <$500 price point has gotten better.  EXCEPT:

  • Manufacturing quality is sort of all over the place;
  • Traditional woods are harder to find.

 Which is why my advice is somewhat more ambiguous now:

 Try to get a solid SPRUCE top guitar first and foremost.  The Seagull brand is a cut above quality wise IMO; a less traditional choice of cedar for a top, buy probably a better deal if you're looking to get a guitar to actually use in public.  
 Secondly, instead of trying to stretch to get a D28 or Taylor/"?" equivalent,

 Try to find a guitar made of the traditional woods: spruce top; mahogany neck; rosewood or ebony fingerboard; mahogany or rosewood back/sides.  Because this is the formula for what you're used to hearing on recordings as a "standard acoustic guitar".  Scarcity is forcing manufacturers to substitute other woods, some working better than others.  

 What that means is that getting around that $1,000 mark means there are a couple of Epiphone, Yamaha models, and Seagulls that meet that bill.  Those manufacturers still exhibit a fair standard of quality; you're effectively purchasing an "off brand Martin".  They don't have the name cachet, but effectively speaking are still fine guitars.  

 Because where my advice once was "there will be a time when you won't be able to buy a Martin D28", I'm now stating "there will be a time when you can't buy an acoustic guitar made of the traditional acoustic guitar woods".

$.10, YMMV.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Chip is Short... Yeah, but.. No, the Chip Shortage

  A student told me original Boss DS-1 pedals are going for hundreds of dollars on Reverb.  

 So I had to look, it seems ridiculous.  The DS-1 is probably the most ubiquitous, generic distortion pedal there is, at one point I received one as a bonus for buying something else that was only a couple hundred dollars itself; I never used it, but now I've got to go rummage around in the shed to see if I still have it.

 The chip shortage is having a knock-on effect on other things in the guitar gear realm.  The chip in the original DS-1 has gone out of production, and it has nothing to do with the headline news story about the actual "chip shortage".  A lot of integrated chips have gone out of production before the situation occurred with the factory fire + global shut down "chip shortage", but wasn't the cause of any run on pedals except with the Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer variants.

  The subtlety of the 4558 variations that were used in Tube Screamers (and clones) are ultra-cork sniffery.  I've got .... 4 Tube Screamers/variations with one inside, and there would be no way I could tell if the chip was a "vintage" one or not, there are too many ancillary things going on with them in the circuit design.  People compare what they say is "identical" pedals, but they haven't examined the resistor values, the input impedance, what things have drifted out of spec within a "vintage" pedal.  It's not actually empirical, and yet, it's still so close that nobody will hear the difference except the cork sniffer doing the A/B test.  

  I guess I need to go see if I can find the pedal.  I think they're ok, good all-purpose distortion pedals that will get someone by in just about any stylistic situation if need be.  They tend to make everything sound similar, which could be a good or bad thing.  For me, the nature of the way they compress combined with the eq makes me play things I start hearing as "Steve Vai", so I don't use them.  That very thing makes them good for "fast technical playing" IMO for that reason, they help you out so to speak, in that they even out your single note playing really well while maintaining articulation.  But to my ears it's Steve's sound, so I look elsewhere.

 "Chip, in the 21st century a USED Boss DS-1 will sell for hundreds of dollars" - I don't know if I would have believed that 30 years ago!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Craigslist Music Gear Prices are Insane!


 A curious phenomenon has occurred slowly over the past few years.

 Prices on Craigslist are almost wholly unrealistic to the point of being comical.   

 "Back in the day" you expected 20-30% off list price for a new piece of music gear.  Likewise if you *really* wanted to sell it afterwards, it had to be close to 50% list price, or lower.  



 But now, there is this mindset I've heard echoed by a number of people:

 "I'm selling my Something or Other, for (GC price) since it's almost brand new/great condition/similar to when I bought it".

  It's ... peculiar.  Would you have wanted to buy your used gear for basically the same price you paid for it new?  Of course not.  But effectively all of the listings on Craigslist ARE nearly the same price as brand new from GC.  10% off what you paid for it isn't what it's actually worth.

 So there must be piles of used music gear accumulating on the planet!  It doesn't evaporate.  The $100 beginners guitar in the closet that, for some reason, didn't sell on Craigslist for $90 isn't turning into air.  

 I know that there are people that somehow are actually buying used gear for these prices. They're of what used to be the Casual Vintage Guitar Wheeler-Dealer persona.  But it's ridiculous seeing things on Craigslist (or for weeks, months, that are going to end up in a closet, because "it's in mint condition!".   

 Possibly in turn this could be a panacea for music stores.  People look at these prices, and think "well, I can just order that online and have it here brand new in a few days for basically that price".  The Music Retailer thinks "business is good", and doesn't want to budge from MAP, and then the Music Manufacturer thinks "look at our orders; we need to raise prices!". 

 Craigslist seller can wait a few years, and then his price becomes "acceptable"?  Auto-vintage?  Inflated prices doesn't mean everything is going to sell for what you paid for it.  


Friday, January 7, 2022

"Rhythmic tuning" is Just as bad as Auto Tune!

  A company has released a DAW plugin that is supposed to replicate Kurt Cobain strumming, so a keyboard player can "play" a sound with a similar rhythm.

 Which is ... sad as it is, but the curious thing is that in the demo the "strumming" sounds pseudo-realistic - for a 1/2 measure.  It goes wrong after that, which I could explain technically why, but that's not the point.  The demo is lauded by people as being great, but apparently they're all completely not noticing the timing is wrong.  
 The amusing thing here is, after having shown the song it's meant to replicate to "a lot of students", I've noticed similar problems.  There are about 3 different problems with how people play the rhythm I've seen.  

  The impetus of this blog post though, is that I'm dismayed that so many are really not perceiving the timing nuance.  It's really the essence of what makes it "rock", and .... yeah.  While I've noticed this with students trying to *play* things with rhythmic nuance, I've not had a codified example of people not hearing it in the first place.  

 It makes me wonder both how people are perceiving a lot of music, as well as why they enjoy it.  If they didn't then that would make sense, but this is odd.   It's like people claiming to like sushi, but not noticing a difference between Kroger sushi and good sushi.  It's both "sushi", but.... if you can't tell the difference,... how .. why....?  Uhg.

 Is the popularity of music declining?  Rock music?  Micro-rhythmic nuance is an "invisible" aspect of music that is easy to dismiss because it seems to be such a small fraction of the Big Picture, when in reality it's just as important as anything else.  The "foot tap invocation" power is completely missing today, except in the premise that a perfectly on beat kick drum playing quarter notes *does* invoke that phenomenon - but *isn't the only way to do that*.

 A great drummer has a subtle wizardry to them that can do that, but with more *nuance* than just "dit, dit, dit, dit". I'm afraid hearing that subtlety has left the building of the generation growing up on music of the last 20 years, that is devoid of it thanks to perfect computer corrected timing.  Except without hearing anything else other than metronomic perfection, there is no experience that has taught that appreciation of nuance.  

 Another reason to take guitar lessons I suppose, but it does not bode well for the future of music.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Impact of the Beatle's Documentary "Get Back"

  Maybe about half of my students in the past few weeks have brought up the Peter Jackson created "Get Back" Beatles documentary.  It's made a visceral impact on a lot of people obviously, but it's interesting to note what people take away from it.  

... when I played in a Beatles tribute band, long ago..

 - "Being in a band looks interesting!"  Yes, being in a band has ALWAYS been interesting.  What I feel I miss in being a guitar teacher is the ability to convey "that which has more implications for being interesting than *literally* you can imagine".   Which leads to...

  - "Wow, it takes more work making music than I thought!"   Does it?  Another thing I can't convey adequately in lessons is the premise that *making pop music has no rules*.  This is both good and bad; it's why 99.9% of what is created is not good, but it's also why both *the pursuit of the good is a reward, and actually getting "good" is a prize you can't get any other way*.   

On the other hand: there ARE rules being made. Most professional musicians today have very exact, presumed rules they follow that DID NOT EXIST 30 YEARS AGO. "Rules" about how you "write music" to conform with preconceived notions. "Rules" about how things should be recorded, how they should be performed in order to conform to pre-existing *expectations* that DID NOT APPLY TO THE BEATLES. Or Led Zeppelin. Or the Rolling Stones (definitely not). Or Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, et al. Post disco-era in the 70s the process itself changed, and computer recording has made people think the process has to be a particular way. Which leads to..

 - "I didn't know that's how you made music!" Well, that's just one way.  You're also not seeing the process they each undertook at home.  Note they *came in* with music and ideas.  While there were some bands, post this era that spend insane amounts of money to sit in a recording studio for $2,000 an hour, hoping something would just materialize out of thin air, the one thing missing in the documentary is the side of "messing around at home to find an idea". 

- "That's not how things are done anymore, is it?"  No. It's not, in a number of ways.  Ways that are endemic to the business itself, but - also in ways that the artists, musicians accept!  

 The biggest change that has happened in the past 10 years is that "most musicians" now think of themselves as "business people" FIRST.  It's at the top of their minds.  It's not that making money, being successful wasn't part of music before; it's that now people dwell on it, make their entire focus being *first* "how is this going to be profitable?*.  

 Instead of "what do I want to create?".   

 The only point in _Get Back_ where this modern philosophy was evident, was in the discussion about what to do with Paul's song "The Long and Winding Road".   Lots and lots of discussion, mainly about whether it fit "the Beatles", whether it was too this or that, on and on.  A great song, which became a hit in the U.K. if I'm not mistaken; but they're discussing it as if it's too "strange".  

 Modern "bands" have that attitude at the front of their minds *all the time* today.  Instead of the .02% of what the Beatles and their organization was thinking about, it's 99%.  

...and that's why modern pop music is not worth listening to.  That's the gist of the cognitive dissonance this movie has made in a lot of people: "wow.... the Beatles *really were better*, that music really is better than what I "thought" I liked made today".  The pre-MTV era was better; they were making great art for it's own sake.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Trends in Guitar Music Circa June 2021

  The last trend I've noticed would be "Polyphia Collage" based music, which just now seems waning.   

 At the moment, for the first time in awhile I would say that trends towards styles has settled down.  I don't see any new ones, but a sort of... kerfluffel...?  Of already established styles.

Wylee is Taking Note of Your Influences

 I would see this as a period of consolidation and reflection (so profound).  I think that without any major things happening, people are going to gravitate back towards their true musical identities.  What I mean by that is that I see a lot of people, and students, getting blown towards the Latest Cool Style, even though it may not reflect the kind of music they would choose to listen to without outside influence. 

 For instance, there was a time everyone wanted to learn the Self-Accompanied Percussion Solo Acoustic Guitar style.  I had a lot of students wanting to learn to sneak ostinato patterns into their strumming.  At other times it was Loose Nirvana Chording, more recently it was Tim Pierce in the Pocket Perfect Soloing, and then there was the Polyphia Phase that happened before covid.  

 Right now I have maybe the most diffuse assortment of interests among students, which sounds like a negative, but I call it a positive.  There doesn't seem to be an overbearing artificial influence happening, and students seem to be interested in nailing down particular things again.  

 YouTube had accelerated the premise of "gotta learn this Cool Happening Thing now!" by promulgating lots of perfectly produced videos, extorting either how easy (never the case) or how cool (subjective) the New Way is.  For the past 5 years, having this constant influx tugging at the *eyes* of students has made people, I think, a bit distraught over whether what they thought they wanted to do on the guitar was cool or not.  

 With no New Major Thing grabbing attention, I think it's leaving room for people to get back to their center, so to speak. A positive phenomenon. 





Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lead Guitar Tips from.. The Tech Lead?

 Hello, The Guitar Teacher here.


(...that's a contextually funny in joke, trust me)

 I believe there is some kinesthetic overlap between typing and guitar playing.  

 When you touch type you're using sublimated muscle memory to press something that represents an alphanumeric character. You don't think about the act of pressing the key, the key representing an alphanumeric character, the character being part of a "word", the word being something you have to consciously spell before your type it out, the word part of a sentence, sentence structure, paragraphs, composition.   

 You touch type (hopefully) from a stream of consciousness, controlling your thinking between the immediate future - your buffer memory, and a more "distant future" of your compositional sense, how what you're typing relates to your overall intent.  

  In my opinion, guitar playing should be this way.  You shouldn't be thinking "I need to put my finger "there" to make the note "D" sound".  "D is part of the D diatonic scale, which is part of a D major triad consisting of D, F# and A, and that's a subset of diatonic harmony," etc. etc. etc..  It should be a reflex if you really want to "speak" when improvising.  You don't speak to other people the way you would write a book, would you?  

In my opinion.  Most people appear to be deciding to consciously do high order math in order to justify their note choices.  That is what I would call an "approach" to process, but different from what I choose to do.  Instinctual choice I think is the point of improvising.  Constructing "sentences" and "paragraphs" from extemporaneous thought, versus pre-planning.  

 Back to typing:

  In the 90s I had my typing speed up over 100 words per minute.  Sometimes I could get it up to a 1:1 or faster speed at an "average speaking voice" tempo, but it's nowhere near that now.  The guy in this video - an ex-Google, ex-Facebook programmer, types at 170 wps - which is very fast, "guitar hero" speed.  I would attribute that to an alpha actinin-3 gene polymorphism (as I've referenced in prior posts), but it mostly down to some simple tips he references within his video.   

 Some of which applies to playing guitar.  Ergonomic positioning, keyboard switches, pitch.  The most important tip being: "don't go faster than you can type perfectly".  I've harped on that before; speed is easy if you're willing to practice something at an optimal tempo perfectly.  You can't do that and not get faster.  Speed is easy. It's very straightforward.

 But watch Techlead's video.  He has a very "technical guitar" approach to typing, that can be motivational I think to practicing guitar (choosing the proper gear, mechanical approach, competitive mindset, etc.), and his videos are "entertaining by an extremely dry wit" as well.




Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Mutagenic Influence of Streaming Services on Art Perception

  I use streaming services a lot.

 In guitar lessons I'm constantly referencing music on Spotify for students.  Inevitably I have to look up a song, and most times the following thing happens:

 Spotify chooses to pull up the LIVE version of a song.  Or an alternate version.

 If I tell a student "listen to this song this week" again - most of the time it's not the definitive version, but a live version, a remix, or an alternate take.  Something about their algorithm (and it seems YouTube music is similar, I don't know about Apple Music) makes it pick the least common choice.

 As I'm writing this I'm listening to the tracks on a "deluxe edition" of In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin, 7 tracks that are rough mixes - not the original versions found on the record that was originally released.


 They have parts that are slightly different or parts that are louder/softer.  It occurred to me a moment ago that for young people that are maybe checking out Led Zepplin for the first time, they're not hearing the optimal, "official" version presented to me when I was a child.  They're hearing a strange version.  They may not even listen to the "real "versions of these songs, much less the album experience in order.

 Curiously, a side effect of this "deluxe edition", or live bias is that it affects the classic bands more than others because they're the ones that have these extra tracks presented to the listener.  Which, don't get me wrong, I love - I'm listening to an alternate mix of my favorite Zeppelin song "Carouselambra" right now - BUT, I remember the first time I heard this album all the way through and thinking about how this song sat in the middle of a record with a lot of songs I didn't care for. Meaning, it told me "these guys have musical influences I don't care for, this percentage maybe", and also that there is a certain breadth and depth to an artist's muse.  

 I fully understood as a pre-teen musicians made music from influences, and the process is not a level, flat plane.  I'm not saying people should have to listen to what they don't want to, I'm just saying this is an aspect that is gone: you don't really know what Led Zeppelin is about just because you listened to "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love".  And even though you may not like the whole catalog (I don't - and I'd suggest I'm a huge Zeppelin fan) you understand what their CONTEXT is about.

CONTEXT is something that has been thrown away in modern communication.  It's deemed not necessary, inconsequential.  Slows you down, not needed.  Which is fallacious idiocy.

  So, there was a period when Napster took over and IPods were the defacto way people listened to music, and people at that time that considered themselves "fans of music" went to the trouble of seeking out these alternate mixes, or strange music, or niche music.  It wasn't super easy, they had to go online, search on Napster, wait.. maybe one day something would be there and not the next.  BUT - the most common, "accepted" versions for the most part (with some notable exceptions) would rise to the top.

 Not the live version of a Jimi Hendrix song from some oddball show, or an alternate mix.  I believe this is the fault of corporate influence putting newer releases ahead of the queue, thinking it will make sales of physical media happen.  A kid that thinks he likes Led Zeppelin searches for a Zeppelin song and takes the one at the top, and it's a crazy live version, or a mix without the vocal: "I don't like this" maybe he thinks, goes to something else.

 What a horrible experience.  The music industry has been upended so many different ways.  Napster/MP3 technology started it, but at least the people that should be music fans got a proper exposure to the right examples of what they were looking for, for the most part.   Chaos theory is all about initial conditions affecting an outcome; the initial conditions for being a music fan in the 21st century has been damped, if not completely wrecked.  




Monday, January 18, 2021

The Best Joe Walsh Guitar Clinic Isn't Actually a Clinic

 I stumbled upon this video a few weeks ago.  It's not a literal guitar clinic, but Joe speaking at Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Tacoma, Washington.   

 He's not addressing guitar players per se.  Initially, he's just talking about his father's military experience, and his efforts at helping vets.  But then he starts talking about guitar parts in his songs:

 The thing is, he details almost exactly things I go into in guitar lessons when the topic of "Joe Walsh" comes up, OR when the techniques he references comes up.  The use of the right hand percussively, pendulum strumming - and the notion that some of his licks "drives guitar players nuts".   
 It's interesting to know he knows what his trademark licks are, and that he understands why they're clever/brilliant.  And an interesting insight into an artist who superficially may seem on passing to be a bit of an addled persona, but in reality is very thoughtful and together.  

 There is also the element of what I think of as the "70's pop objective sensibility" on display here.  These licks are the result of a mentality that is gone now.  He wasn't thinking about how to play faster, how to play better, but how to play something interesting.  

 Which is a beautiful concept in the 21st century: something that is interesting, without requiring a simple extremism gimmick of "faster", "lower", "more brutal", "slower", "more complex", "choppier", etc..  


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Covid-19, Guitar and Television Interviews?

  It's been interesting how, out of the blue, the pandemic has changed so many things.

 Guitar sales hit a record this year, while Guitar Center (finally)(after a BILLION $ IN DEBT) goes into bankruptcy.  

 There has been a lot of talk about the state of guitar in the U.S., it's popularity or lack of popularity.  At first this was driven by sales figures being low last year, or assertions about what "popular" music has guitar (or doesn't).  Quasi-valid statistical perspectives.

 I'm quite tired of mediating everything on stats.  It's not perfect, and it's often distorting by initial conditions or cherry picked parameters.  There was a time when humans made these things called "decisions" based on something called "intuition".   It's what makes us better (for the moment) than a.i. machine learning software; our subconscious processing power still vastly exceeds the best of what is available in computer hardware.

 From my Vastly Exceeding Computer Hardware anecdotal extrapolation perspective I noticed a phenomenon that pretty routinely happened:

 Guitar as an at home tv interview backdrop.

 I can't remember the first one I noticed this happening on.  I wish I'd taken screen shots, because I know there have been some curiously notable people (Dr. Fauci I think?) and some suitably interesting choices (Taylors, Suhrs, etc.).   

 Based on this phenomenon of people seemingly wanting you to know they play guitar (I recall one interview with a doctor where a guitar neck seemed poised precariously almost on a doctor .... for "some reason"), I would suggest guitar is as popular as ever.  

 It is also apparently serving a couple of purposes.  Obviously providing character support for people's identity: people are proud of being a guitar player.   It also implies people are looking at the time at home as an excuse to finally learn to play the guitar.  

 Which I of course think is a great idea....

  As I've said many times, "if you're going to listen to music the rest of your life you may as well learn something about how to play and create it".  It's enlivening to see so many having a guitar seemingly playing a role in their lives, and not just passive non-player characters in life!

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Dawn of DAW Collage Metal

  A student recently turned me on to an artist named Richard Henshall.

 Interesting music.  The first song I head has some guitar sounds that sound "dropped in" on a DAW - "digital audio workstation". 

 Digital sampling first entered the toolbox of musicians in the 80's.  With the Fairlight and Synclavier workstations, later the Akai 9000 drum machine, a musician could bounce a finger on a key/button and playback the sound of an entire orchestra playing a chord for an instant.

 This became known as an "orchestra hit".  Different examples of this style are scattered through music of the 80's, with many examples of voices recorded and made to stu-stu-stu-tter-ter-ter with the bounce of a finger.

 Then later, Pantera happened.  Suddenly noise gates were in fashion, to make choppy stacato rhythms that much tighter. Much metal has been made that is descendant of this style. 

 Like most things in the 21st century, this has to be taken to the extreme.  My first thought is that Periphery took the "overtly rhythmically complicated arrangement" theme and ran with it, alongside the math rock djent bands that seemed to be trying to backwards engineer Morse code.

 Meanwhile "Prog Metal" happened and odd time complexity became That Much More Cool.  Perhaps spurned by Tool, overt compound polyrhythms became a prerequisite instead of the Showcase Bit. 

Concurrent to this the "dance/house music" EDM scene went through a metal-like fractioning of genres, and in turn had created many niche sub-genres based on rhythmic density and style.  I would suggest the producer Photek to be the progenitor of much of this; parts chopped up in DAWs and made to loop back in rhythmically peculiar ways.  A distinctly unnatural sound, created with technology.

 Polyphia seems to be leading the charge today, I'd also suggest maybe Chon.  Rhythmically sliced up "incomplete" parts that feature moments of dissonance, contrasted against partial melody, sometimes unresolved, sometimes "ironically" resolved.  But thematically, a few different parts "glued" together to form a whole.

 A collage.

 The thing about visual collages is that they usually range from being clever ways of yielding a whole image from distinctly individual parts, or almost a whole image, or just an abstract collection of disparate bits and pieces.   It can have a fractal quality; "wow, a giant Mona Lisa made of multicolored tiny images of the Mona Lisa!", "that's a car made of pictures of horses!".   Or sometimes it can just be a hodge-podge of almost recognizable bits, a cutup image of a rockstar glued to a piece of burlap inside a shoebox.  

.... sometimes it's just garbage glued together and called "art".  

 I'm pointing this out because this genre is almost an exact analog to the visual.  Collage as a form is very, very forgivable.  That is because it's my theory "art" requires presenting chaos in an organized fashion. "Organizing" garbage on a piece of canvas presents chaos that can disguise itself as being almost "art" because of that.  So it's a very easy door to open artistically; how far in one goes is the question, and how.

 Note another parallel: a whole lot of effort can be put into the detail of doing a collage.  A LOT of effort.  I'd ask "how many famous collages are there in history?".  I'd almost count some of what Andy Warhol did maybe, but in the case of "DAW Collage Metal" nobody is doing big swaths; Pantera maybe did, the Andy Warhol of the genre? (I think that was a joke?).  But my takeaway from this is the vibe I got as an art major: there are a lot of art students putting things together with other things in a semi-organized fashion, and then putting a frame around it and hanging it on the wall.

  Which is fine if that is truly what you want to do and like.  It's not for me; I'd rather keep working at the skillset as a whole to present just a painting - maybe the equivalent of a pop song.  Listening to Richard Henshall, I hear moments that hint at parts of a larger whole that I'd like more.  At about 6:30 minutes into a song called "Lunar Room" despite the busy metal drumming and loud production, it strikes me as being "Cold Play".  It's like a collage of bits and pieces, where the artist decided to make a nice little drawing of a house down in the corner, surrounding with a lot of "stuff".  

 It's interesting, it's literally like examing a collage hanging on a wall.  I'm an old dude: I still like the "Boomers", Monet and Renoir, Hendrix and Gilmour.  

 Hmm.  1:00 into "Limbo" by Henshall I'm hearing a guitar part that is... another Cold Play/U2 guitar dotted line?  I applaud his effort, and like some collages I will look at it briefly.  The thing that makes me sad in the 21st century is that I wonder if this is a reflex against the seeming impossibility to make a valid statement with less density?  The reason I'll only look at it briefly is that the emotions it creates are fleeting, and not as potent as the components.  I would prefer to listen to Cold Play; or for Loud Existential Bombast Beethoven's Eroica symphony.  For that prog-rock vibe Brand-X or Rush; for the Big Metal Production Devin Townsend.   I want to pig out and mainline the vibe.  

 If I was mountain biking in a pre-injured body 20 year old sense, this would make music that might fit listening to while zooming through certain trails; but it wouldn't be a synchronous experience (a separate project I want to do: music to go along with riding particular mountain bike trails...). 

 Collage metal.






Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Chinese Effects Pedal Buffet Is Now Closed

Get 'em While They Last.....

The days of buying cheap Chinese clone pedals I think are about over.

I used to recommend a $35 two-switch loop pedal to students, sold under a number of "brand names", that is now going for around $75 or more.  

 I'm sure there will be a while before the glut of Tubscreamer copies disappear, but the prices are going back up to the $60-70+ mark.  It briefly became easier to get some of these drop shipped via Amazon instead of having to order straight from China by Aliexpress.  How long you'll still be able to get things shipped from Aliexpress I don't know, but I see the prices creeping up on there.  

 Whether if you order something at this time (May 2020) you'll actually get it I don't know.  Some things I know they ship out of warehouses in the States, but some of the more obscure items I don't know.  

 If you've never owned the "standard" pedals - fuzz, diode distortion pedal, analog chorus, treble boost, one should consider the Chinese pedals as a way of learning what these things sound like, how they "feel" under your fingers. Particularly fuzz pedals, of which there are a gazillion varieties and flavors. 


The Arc of Labeling Compulsion and Genres of the 2000's

 There was a time, back in the pleistocene epoch, when you went to a "record store" to PURCHASE recordings in the form of vinyl plastic records.

 In such places, there would be bins of records.  They would be organized thusly:


 That was it.

 For example, the Star Wars soundtrack wasn't found under "soundtracks".  It was in the "CLASSICAL" section.  Electronic music like Kraftwerk wasn't in "EDM/DANCE" or "ELECTRONIC" or some such, it was not jazz, it was not classical or country music - so it was in "ROCK".

 (Browsing through Spotify nomenclature...) 

James Taylor wasn't "FAMILY FOLK MUSIC" (???).  Rush wasn't "PROGRESSIVE METAL".  The Clash wasn't "BRITISH PUNK".  Black Sabbath wasn't "DOOM METAL".  

 The effective thinking was "if it's not country music, it's rock music".  

Likewise, pop radio stations in the 70's played music that sometimes would be found in the "COUNTRY" bins, sometimes "ROCK" - occasionally even "JAZZ" and "CLASSICAL".  

 Because it was about MUSIC.  Not an exercise in how well something fits a description.  Musicians made music that was labeled after the fact - because it was presumed it would simply fall into one of those categories. 

 It's my belief that's why pop music defied categorization in the 70's.  

 In the 2000's we had Peak Genre Categorization.  I found myself having conversations with students about what bands were "emo" (an invented by the record industry label for promotion) - with zero consensus between different students.  Metal students were obsessed with focusing on specic sub-genres: Northern Swedish Death Metal, West Coast Screamo, Emo-Screamo, whether pig squeals were acceptable but not cookie monster growls, whether there could be a chorus in a song, whether there could be melody, whether there could be one or two guitar players... on and on.

 In the year 2020, nobody purchases music anymore, you subscribe.  But the damage is done; everyone is fitting a niche.  It's ingrained that music has to not exceed parameters.  So now there are a series of about a dozen default categories, more granular than the 70's.  They are fenced off, once shouldn't dare cross.  It's codifed, it's the law.   

 It's amusing though, that some hybridization is accepted in each "genre" by no acknowledgment that it's occurred.  "Country" music today shares more in common with hair band metal from the 80's and hip hop drum beats than "country music" pre-2000 (I'd go further and say "Post Garth Brooks Era").  European dance music almost always has sampled metal guitar pads, but you'd never see a guitar player on stage with a dj.  Metal bands will have choruses that share identical chord progressions with the lightest elevator-friendly pop music.  

 Superficially it would seem that these hybrids run counter to my premise, but they're very specific hybridizations; new breeds that bear genetic semblance to wolves but are distinctly poodles, huskies, dachshunds.  Mutts are frowned upon in general.

 As a musician/guitar player, it presents a rigid reality.  If you really only prefer one specific hybrid, it works out.  If you like more than one style, then it's cognitive dissonance.  I've seen it happening to others, and myself: do you fence off what you create and do, or allow it to try to create a new "acceptable" hybrid?  This buried context has been stifling, and squashes a lot of interest in doing music for people today.  Which is bad - I've seen people face this without being aware of it, knowing that what they want to do is not *exactly* one of the Acceptable Forms, and instead of deciding to either stay within boundaries or strike out against them, the feeling is "failure".   People just stop.

 Being aware of this view of reality is something the Modern Musician has to know and embrace  because it streamlines the process, while preventing impractical flights of whimsy.  

Monday, March 23, 2020

Lessons Learned?

 Everyone wanted me to switch lessons over to online/video last week, as expected due to the COVID19 SARS-COV2 quarantine.

  I admit I had to hurriedly adapt.  I wasn't set up to do it initially and hadn't discussed what app people prefer, and it turns out there isn't a de facto standard video app.  Presently I'm trying to stay on top of about 5 different apps across my students.

 BUT, that's not what the title is about.  I've resisted doing "online lessons" for years and years, I've had many students move away and request it. The problem is that what I think makes me useful as a teacher is having a more or less instantaneous response to a number of things I see and hear.

 My process on paper is very complicated I suppose, but effectively it's to immediately address things that are being done wrong or ineffectively and offer a solution.  The latency of video prevents that, as well as something I've felt was integral: having the student play along with me leading, in that I can quickly alter the tempo and timing to both lead and allow the student to be able to keep up.

 That's out with doing it online.  

 The flip side is that I have to have a more macro view.  I have to verbalize more where previously I would demonstrate by playing along with the student, providing accompaniment.  Because of this from my perspective I'm compromising, because I can't micro-manage every detail!

 The "macro view" means that instead, I'm having to focus on getting the One Main Thing accomplished.  I've always maintained that if you need copious notes to remember what you need to do at home from a guitar lesson that there was probably too much done in the lesson.  Now it's not really an option in this video format; in which case I've noticed people have become more (from my point of view) "procedural".  One part requires something to be done that leads to the next part; I can't provide accompaniment that matches the tempo the student is at to help this along because of the latency.

 So now it's more cut and dry.  The essence has to be acquired before the next part, so to speak.  Because the only options are to hear the student play it alone, or with the recording full speed.  The mechanical problems that prohibit playing it with the recording full speed have to be fixed, and I have to describe how to do it verbally.

 Although, sometimes the camera allows a closeup of finger angles that is a unique, new aspect. 

These 2 things alter the dynamic.  I can't let a student gloss through something mechanically to try to get the Big Picture of playing a song in focus. I can't try to lead a student verbally as they play along with me, because the timing latency makes that impossible.

 On the whole, though, it may make the work-load task more straightforward to the student.  The lesson seems to go faster and more direct, and while less is addressed it's a little more obvious what must be done (seems like that's the new mantra in this post-COVID19 era...).  What is missing was probably a bit abstract to the student (timing issues, finger placement at speed) but in its place more specificity about what is vital.

 Hopefully, the positive comments are forthright and keep coming!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Fluency is "Kind of a" Good Thing

 Knowledge and understanding are two different things.

 Something one will encounter a lot - a whole lot - around guitar players, when something musical is explained are the words

 "Kind of a".

"You know, it's kind of a Bm thing with an open string pull off"
"It's kind of an Eddie thing, with a hammer on a bar chord"
"It's kind of a old blues thing when you bend before going into the chord"

   The reader might expect me to disparage "kind of a" but I'm not.  In fact, I would suggest it's an important landmark to get to in one's "musical journey" as the oligarchs might have said on the show _Undercover Boss_ (everything is a "journey", right?).

 That statement is a verbal macro of the following:

 "I have learned something and know how to mechanically execute it well enough that I can experiment with it or modify it based on my internalized sense of taste".

 "Knowledge" is having learned the notes, chords and mechanical basis of a phrase.  

 "Understanding" is being able to wield that in a way that goes beyond the original idea.  

 The original blues musicians didn't have a lot of "knowledge".  They may have barely known the names of notes, maybe some chords.  However, they fully understood what they played, how it worked.  It's what allowed them to expand on it and turn it into the basis of most of what people reading this listen to.

 It's important one doesn't try to expand one's knowledge base beyond comprehension.  People are very hung up on the idea of "learning" a lot of information without putting it to use.

 To attain understanding requires application of at least 100 fold the amount of time the memorization took.

 Memorizing vocabulary words isn't "learning a language".  Even after having learned some words if you don't have practice using them you don't have any fluency. You're not really able to communicate; in particular, you're not able to communicate abstract ideas. 

 Music is a language in my opinion.  A different type of language from verbal speech, but still communicating in a sense. 

 What a lot of people are doing as intermediate guitar players is memorizing a lick, a phrase, a root note to root note scale passage.  This is almost exactly akin in my opinion to learning a few vocabulary words, and a phrase or two.

 "Donde esta el bano" is a very useful phrase to know.  Maybe a good place to start with Spanish.  Everyone knows "si", "por favor".  Getting "fancy" might be to try to string together "yes, where is the bathroom, please?".

 You can keep learning vocabulary words, but it's going to turn to a muddle.  It's going to diminish the ability to recall simple, basic words as they become a smaller portion of the whole. 

 A more practical approach might be to simply "learn" some basic words, and try to use them when possible.  For a spoken language that's hard, you've got to find someone else that speaks fluently in order to practice.

 A guitar is always there.  You can try things without fear of embarrassment, or for anyone else to participate.  But like with language, you have to try to apply what you've learned.

 In this analogy, you need to learn "basic words" - basic phrases/licks, and then try to actually use them in different contexts.

 It's better to learn one lick and then try to USE it as much as possible, so that you can UNDERSTAND it: do it to the point that you KNOW you've absorbed it, and are confident with being able to use it at different tempos, in different areas of the neck.  You want to know it to the point that you can get into the phrase and out of it to something else without hanging up.

 Ultimately that is "playing", and a part of the process of becoming a better musician.  Being able to USE what you're learning, not just knowing the labeling.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Having to Use Up My Supply of "Normal" Strings?

 I've been going back to my string reserves, which is to say D'Addario EXLs that I bought a large quantity of on sale at a "crazy" price. 

 While I've decided that Ernie Ball Paradigms are the way to go, I'm not throwing away perfectly good strings.  So I've used the D'Addarios for the past few weeks.

 I miss the Paradigms.  Here's what's different (from the reverse perspective):

1) I'm back to having to fiddle with the tuning a lot.

2) they get duller and duller immediately.

3) the intonation crosses the "can't play in tune" threshold within days.

 This isn't something new, I've dealt with this most of my life.  What is new is having forgotten about the above having used the Paradigms for awhile. 

 The Paradigms aren't perfect.  They're a bit stiffer (almost thought "gee, maybe they're labeling a set of .010s as .009s?), and pricey.  But they sound pretty much the same for the life of the string until the very end, as does the intonation.  Then both suddenly go bad.  So suddenly it's startling, within a few hours they will either stop playing in tune, not stay in tune, or snap.  It's really quite strange.  I've been in the middle of a lesson and I have to pick up my spare guitar, because my main guitar won't hold tune for more than a minute.  Very strange.

 Not as strange as not understanding the metallurgy that makes such a startling difference.  It's not like they're carbon nano-tubes or quantum Boson matrix strands, it's got to be a metallurgy process but it seems unreasonable to think it would make such a big difference.  I'm aware of alloys that can be startlingly different based on adding just a 1% difference, but in such a daily, practical demonstration it still seems almost impossible.  I'm not an endorser, I don't get a price break on them - I pay what the reader pays.  But it's a great thing that in the 21st century there are strings that stay intonated much longer than "normal" strings.  It's the way it should be! 

 But I've got a few boxes left of the D'Addarios.  Which are aggravating, I can even see on the tuner they're not as pitch stable almost immediately, and having to change them so often is a big drag.  I'm not disparaging the D'Addarios; I've used all the string brands and use the EXls for the sole reason they were the most consistently reliable.  They haven't changed, but they're not as good as the Ernie Ball Paradigms. 

Maybe EB will drop the price on the Paradigms in the meantime.  Or D'Addario will answer by making their "normal" Xl strings last nearly as long without the high price? 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Local Quantum Wave Function Collapse and Guitar

 Fun title?

 The way humans conceptualize the awareness of the Universe has changed drastically through time.

 Copernicus was obviously a big step, but from then until now there have been many variants on how to present the nature of a simple premise:

"How Things Are".

  For the theoretical physicist, this is a very fluid and non-codified thing.  I'm flabbergasted that in the year 2019 I can no longer keep up with "what is the current best guess at the nature of How Things Are".  I thought they'd settled on 11 dimensions, hadrons organized as quarks, with large problems concerning the ratio of dark matter to "normal" matter in the universe.  

 But then this year, a lot of Big Things changed.  The universe is expanding, but the way it's closed - the process itself - is now thought to be completely different than previously thought.  The idea of dark matter in the universe is now under scrutiny thanks to the discovery of particles flying off of certain particle collisions at 120 degree angles, giving rise to the discovery of what is now being called a 5th force being carried by the "X17" particle. 

 Among what seems like hundreds of very drastic new discoveries about How Things Are.  Most intriguingly being something that makes me watch Star Trek with a completely different attitude: femtosecond light pulses altering atomic composition based on quantum states not being stepped, but transitory.  In other words, when you shine an extremely, unimaginably brief lasting laser at matter, in some conditions you get New Things previously thought impossible. 


  I've always thought in a petulant, arrogantly peasant fashion that the pursuit in theoretical physics of the Standard Model was flawed, and that the unsatisfying descriptions of phenomena in quantum physics are based on incomplete understanding.

  BUT..... this has not stopped humans from both using and exploiting physics on a daily basis.

 The way a theoretical physicist conceptualizes the universe is totally different than the person born in a third world country, who has zero education, yet uses a cell phone.  That person's conception of reality is so scant, full of Objects that just do things with Other Objects, that it's sort of scary to think about.
 Yet this fictitious person might get by without knowing about radio frequency band shifting, microwaves, cell towers, lithium battery technology, positive and negative electron flow in a circuit.  As a concept, the phone just works.

 "MUSIC THEORY" as a term is very monolithic and abstruse, like "SCIENCE".

 You don't need to know everything about physics to get through life.  Not even to do things in science, or to use science.  You can work on cars without knowing the chemistry of combustion, yet it's a technical field.  You can write computer software without knowing everything about silicon photo deposition.  You can design computer processors, without knowing everything about computer programming.  

 Because in all of the instances, people have conceptualized cognition needed to manipulate things in their reality.

 Cognition is a tool for humans. 

Humans make and use the best tools.  

 You should treat "music theory" as a tool.  You don't just acquire tools, you have to learn to use them.   The nature of the tool is how you conceptualize "music".   

 You don't need to have ALL of the tools to build a shelter.  But you do need to TRY to build the shelter.  

 When you learn a "music theory" concept - intervals for example - you should try to be exhausting in learning to USE it.  Be able to reach and find it on the toolbelt without looking, know when to do that, know when to put it back. 

 When you think of "music" intervals are a tool to help you conceptualize How Things Are.  

 You might internalize "intervals" differently.  Part of the "tool" is knowing how they sound, and how they appear as shapes on the finger board.  But do you need to know the names of them?  It doesn't hurt, but you can internalize what you're doing as "shapes".  The car mechanic that looks at your valves isn't thinking about where carbon is on the  periodic table; he knows it's a thing, but for his *conception* of "car engine" it's not necessary.  

 For the guy that wants to work on hot rods, it's a waste of time for him to study petro chemistry.  It's not necessary for him to know How Things Are on that level.  

 For the person who doesn't want to play advant garde jazz fusion, studying Gamelan tonality concepts it a waste of time.

 How Things Are differs for different musicians and their objectives.  I've had students that literally didn't want to play anything until they knew all about what would be effectively music major level "Europan music theory".  I've had students that refused to learn the names of notes and chords because "that's not rock and roll".

 In a way both students are right.  You don't *have* to know what "I IV V" means to be in the Ramones.  At the same time you're maybe missing out on appreciating the music of Frank Zappa or Claus Ogerman if you don't know a bit of music theory.  

 The listener doesn't care.

 The musician simply has to have a tool marked "This is How Things Are".  A conceptual tool.  Without concern with the noise introduced by social media and YouTube; you have to realize that using the tool properly takes time, and is rewarding in itself as you really learn to use it.  It becomes satisfying.  

 A lot of students express immediate dissatisfaction upon learning of the existence of a "tool".  It seems to make things incomprehensible in scale.  Do you need to know the ratio of the diameter of a circle to it's circumference is an irrational number in order to draw one?  No, but you need to know what it looks like.  You may not need to know "that's a circle".  You're not thinking while you're drawing "this is a circle.  This is a circle.  This is a circle".  

 The artist has already conceptualized "circle" as part of How Things Are.  The artist wasn't shown "this is a circle; now you can draw one perfectly".  He doesn't have to know it's called "a circle", but he probably has to practice.  To the degree that it's automatic, the hammer on the toolbelt.  

 At first the circle might be more elliptical, wavy.  As the artist practices, maybe he notices circles everywhere.  Circles in paintings.  Maybe he thinks about what other artists thought about circles.  Does his favorite artist deliberately think about circles compositionally?  Or in some other fashion?  Does he avoid circles?

 A year later the artist isn't thinking the same way about circles.  He moves on, as his awareness of How Things Are is more complete and defined.

 Did Jackson Pollock care about circles?  Obviously not.  Monet?  No.  DaVinci - yes!  3 very different conceptualizations of How Things Are when it came to art.  You need to know what the parameters are for you conceptualization of How Things Are; and not the hoi polloi.