Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald -

Saturday, February 16, 2019

$200 Guitar Review: Monoprice DLX strat-clone

 Back when I started playing guitar in 1837, we had to make do with rusty chicken wire stretched between a limb cut from a briar bush, and we liked it I tell you!!!

 Not really.  I had a super heavy thick ply body explorer made by a company called Hondo, which I believe was an Idonesian manufacturer in the 80's.  It was "ok", better than prior generations had.  Having said that, it was plywood.  The neck was literally as thick as a baseball bat, irregularly sawn with a thick laquer that was super-sticky, thin, small and soft frets that were quickly worn out.  The tuners were plastic wanna-be Schallers that slipped really bad.  Crummy humbucking pickups.  The bridge was ok for what it was, a hard tail with solid saddles, maybe made of brass.  The truss rod didn't work, and the action had to be kind of high because the frets were pretty poorly slotted.

 It was about $275 in 80's money. Uhg.  I replaced it with my first "real" guitar, an Eddie Van Halen-era Kramer Pacer Imperial, about $500.  Half of a THOUSAND dollars!!!  Paid for by teaching guitar lessons, but still living at home so I managed it.  

 A few weeks a go a student of mine John Butts brought in something he couldn't resist trying: a $200 strat bought from, the HDMI cable-selling online company.

 What I first noticed: an actual Wilkinson bridge.  I don't know if the metal is case-hardened, but the bridge is I believe as thick as any Wilkinson I've encountered - in other words it doesn't appear to be a cheaper version.  The aftermarket version of this bridge goes for about $100 by itself.  The bridge posts have inserts, and the tremolo bar is not the basic screw in type.  Very unexpected at this price point.

The fit and finish is apparent at this point.  Where the pick guard is cut out you can see it's parallel with the sides of the bridge (the front of this particular bridge is at an angle, don't go by that...).  It appears symmetrical from side to side.  Pick guard alignment is usually the easiest tell for a hyper-cheap guitar.

 The nut was cut well, and again the fit/finish here was good.  No "we're in a hurry" filing marks on the nut, the edge is flush, the slots parallel and the appropriate widths. The clear coat is also not showing evidence of runs here, and the cut of the end of the neck is again parallel to the nut and doesn't betray sketch tooling.

 The height was good as well.  They didn't err on the high side - it's "quite low" but not too low, a tricky thing on a cheap guitar.  

 In the picture below you can see where most cheap guitars go wrong, or hide a multitude of sins: the fret ends.  These were perfectly flush with the edge.  No evidence of glue slopped around (or used to fill in undercut frets to make up the gap (common with more expensive guitars sometimes)).  It is a 2 piece neck - there is a separate fingerboard instead of one piece, but this is good in a cheap guitar as it will be dimensionally more stable.  

 The finish is a thin satin alcohol urethane I'm presuming, over knot-free maple.  The grain was actually fairly tight as shown here, and straight.  The fingerboard was of a lighter color - something you wouldn't expect on a "nicer" guitar, but has zero functional impact. 


 In the next picture you can see what is maybe the most important arbiter in a "good" guitar versus a bad quality instrument.  The tightness of the gap (or lack of one) where the neck meets the body; the accuracy of the manufacturing and assembly will be evident here.  My Hondo from the 80's was considered "ok" - you couldn't slide a pick in there, but you could maybe get a business card in.  On the Monoprice guitar it's perfectly tight, and straight: again, basically no evidence of sketchy tooling, say 90% perfect. It's hard to get the round part that falls away to not be wavy along the edge, and they did a pretty good job. The fit all the way around the neck joint appears to be uniformly tight.  This would be better than much more expensive guitars in the 90's, and a lot today.  This really sets a standard IMO: there is no reason a more expensive guitar should show any gap or bad milling here these days.  I presume this is the result of latest generation CNC milling.  Also note the neatness of the fret ends, which were nicely beveled, and again perfectly consistent on the sides:

Partially evident in the picture above, the action was setup "quite low" - with zero buzzing or fretting out.  The frets were nicely polished.  I cannot attest to the hardness of the frets or how long they'll last, but given this is aimed at the "quasi-beginner" they'll last long enough.  

 My only beef is that they're of the super tiny old-school Fender size.  A medium jumbo should be the default these days, but that is not really an issue for a $200 guitar. 

 It played well, the tuners were good Chinese Schaller copies and didn't slip, stayed in tune.  The pickups are fairly generic and neutral; not offensive.  The paint/finish was effectively perfect, the flame-veneer looked nice. 

 So here's the bottom line: should a beginner buy this?

 No.  I am guessing that the **$99** Monoprice version is the same guitar, minus the flame-veneer and the Wilkinson bridge. 2 items you don't need on a first guitar.  I would recommend that one instead, or...

 There is a European chain store called Thomann that sells a house-brand of foreign made guitars that are very cleverly specced for their price under the brand "Harley Benton".  I have not played one but they appear to recently be gaining some notoriety in Europe as being a giant-killer purchase.  Barring attempting to order a custom guitar from China, the next step up guitar past the "starter" guitar I would say would probably most likely be a Harley Benton if it turns out they're of a decent build quality, but I can't vouch for that just yet.  They appear to have taken the Chinese contracted-guitar builder business to the next level QC and specification wise, with some very well thought out choices. 

 I would have been loathe to write such a column 15, even 10 years ago.  Fact of the matter is, most "name brand" guitars are built "outside the U.S." - in China or Indonesia.  You're effectively paying for quality control and the name brand on a cheap/sub-$500 guitar.  Despite what is said on YouTube, you can actually order a good quality guitar straight from China if you know how, and are willing to take something of a chance. Thomann / Harley Benton appear to have perfectly understood how to take the sketchiness out of that process for a small up charge (I say appear to because as I've said, I've not actually encountered one yet, so caveat emptor....). 

 Regardless, entry level guitars are now pretty effectively what would have been considered a "professional quality" guitar 15 years ago.  The only precedent for this would have been the first 2 years of the Fender Squier series in the mid-80s made in the Japanese Fuji-Gen factory.  The lower end Ibanezes appear to have a fairly good quality control standard, perhaps the Japanese are still "Japanese" in that regard despite their cheap guitars being built in Indonesia or "elsewhere".  I would have said Ibanez holds the upper hand on fight-to-the-bottom guitar war, but I think as of about the middle of 2018 onward we've reached a new low price wise, and a new quality standard. 

 I literally cannot imagine a good guitar being cheaper, or the quality getting better at this sub-$200 point.  This is partially due to China winning the trade war, but also largely due to advances in computer aided design being coupled so closely to super accurate milling machines.  The accuracy of the neck joint, fret slots, frets (probably auto-cut?) and glued surfaces (fingerboard) and how that adds up in the manufacturing process is a watershed event. 

 There is no reason to have a "bad" guitar in the year 2019.   


Friday, February 8, 2019

Prediction: there will be an A.I./GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) Learning VST Plugin That Will Revolutionize Audio Mixing by 2020

This could happen this year, but certainly within 3 years I would think.

A VST plug in in which you provide a target sound - an example of what you want, basically as many conformal-equalization/convolution plugins do now, but...

... it uses confrontational machine learning based on post-processing a sample of your novel sound.

  The tricky part would be to eliminate pitch from the process, I think. You don't want the plugin to try to pitch correct your guitar input to the target sample's pitch.  Another aspect that might be difficult would be integrating a time constant so that it doesn't just try to do an FFT/convolution/bin based transform.

  There are already plugins that claim to have neural-net based algorithms involved with evaluative processing.  This is not the same as what I am suggesting, in that those plugins are implementing existing IFR tools to alter the sound, as opposed to directly replicating the sound from scratch.  In other words, GANs are already used to make an input - a picture of someone - appear to be someone "new", modified by a GAN having been trained on a data set.

The GAN doesn't know it's changing things we have labels for: colors, shading, angles, etc..  It's just making the data fit what we want it to do.  In the same way, you'd feed your GAN plugin an example of guitar sounds you like, then it would morph your guitar sound based on making an output data set fit your expectation-data set.

This might work really well if applied to speaker simulation, since present convolution based plugins are only applying math linearly with a single value as the input function.  A GAN applied to an example data set of a range of dynamic values into a speaker (equivalent to a bright face versus a dark, high eyebrows or low, etc..) would be able to create a new data set (function applied to a d.i. guitar signal) that would alter the data set in a similar non-linear way across the input range.

 It wouldn't be real time at first, since you'd be applying the process to single buffered time frames - 5 ms chunks overlapping by a 1 am maybe - on a 3 minute input file.  So for each buffered frame you'd apply the GAN function with that frame's input level of sample for the 5 ms (which I think means you'd have to train the GAN on a similar matrix derived from the same time base, 5ms/44.1 khz).  Repeat until EOF.

 I think that such a plugin could be used for "finalizing" guitar sounds and mastering, but also perhaps even for mixing, provided your example target has a similar instrumentation as what you're giving it for an input to transform.

 It would be revolutionary, because it would probably make the bedroom recording result sound deceptively close/identical to Whatever Established Professional Recording one wanted, if "trained" properly.  Or at least one could create a mastering spectral curve/harmonic balance that matched an input data set, that would either create weird artifacts to instrument sounds (in order to make the match) or if the input set was close enough, bring it to the Uncanny Valley and perhaps make it sound strange in that respect as well.  Which would be interesting, and probably attract attention unfortunately for a few years as producers abuse the sound for it's novelty.

 Or, it could simply work very well and "fix" whatever you record to sound as much like the sound of something else you wanted.


Monday, January 28, 2019

"How Long Will it Take Me To Learn Guitar?" - Addendum

 No, I don't have an answer for that, as I've written about in my book.  There can't be a definitive answer for that.

 However, I have thought of a way of looking at time spent practicing guitar in a specific, efficient manner.

 Malcolm Gladwell has his 10,000 hours for mastery. I'll say you need to do those 10,000 hours at least 30 minutes at a time.  Generally, for most "challenging but within grasp" singularly mechanical/kinesthetic things:

10 minutes can show a temporary improvement, under "skilled direction / coaching" (in other words - by me. :-))

  It won't stick.  It will go away in less than a few minutes possibly.  Muscles have become limber, and the beginnings of muscle memory are happening.  The constant focus clarifies the kinesthetic awareness of movement, it starts to become familiar.  My usual adage is "go home and keep at it for as long as you can" because...

15 minutes WILL make a semi-permanent improvement.  

Provided the mechanics of something are reduced to their simplest, most concentrated form. At 15 minutes it will "stick" for 24 hours - until your muscle memory fades.  If you do another 15 minutes, you'll maintain that, and another 15 minutes you can extend it another 24 hours, etc..

30 minutes straight: a sweet spot. 

At this point if you do it again within 24 hours, you will actually be "building on top" of what you've accomplished the previous day.  Provided you do the exact same thing, which is extremely difficult for most humans.

45 minutes, the amount where the next time you play you can "see the horizon"! 

This means you retain a bulk of the skill set you acquired previously, and you then gain the beginnings of having a "yardstick" in which you can judge - or at least feel - when you can accomplish something.  Knowing whether you can play something ceases to be a question mark.

 This is super important from my standpoint of running a business!  If everyone I taught practiced at least 45 minutes a day, I would keep students for a very long time.  Because, at this point I'm not having to do psychological therapy to try to convince you you'll get better - you'll SEE that you can get better.

Again, the caveat being if it's one specific goal: a phrase/technique/passage/part.

 I face two issues as a business: the student not playing enough daily, and then having to be a magician to make up for that lack of playing in a 30 minute lesson, AND "mission creep": wanting to accomplish too much in one week.  WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY too much!

 Expectations in the 21st century are crazily out of whack with reality, for various reasons I won't go into.

1 hour.  Big gains!

  At one hour a day, on the day after one will experience the semblance satori: enlightenment.  Skill will be compounded, and the yardstick phenomenon cited above becomes clearer, and suddenly - one sees that most anything that a human has done on guitar is doable!  Well, hopefully one sees that.  If you apply your efforts accurately and consistently.

 This is a bench mark for parents to realize. This is the big takeaway, and that is:

learning that time spent on something almost always has a pay off! 

 Even the kid that is goofing around for an hour.  A human can't do something focused for an hour and not learn something.  It's not possible.  

 Let's say somebody gets really  hyped up about playing some little bit from a Favorite Song.  And that's all they do for an hour. Maybe not spectacularly well, or perfect, but when they do it the next day they'll realize "hey... this is easier than it was yesterday!".

 That is why taking guitar lessons is more important than football or soccer.  You're never going to get that self-awareness of "yesterday I did something I specifically couldn't do for an hour and today it's easier" from football practice.  It's too diffuse, too general, and too diluted among a distracting group of people.

 When one practices alone, on one thing, for 1 entire hour, it will still be there the next day as "bonus".  But another hour does something very special:

2 hours: magic kicks in.

2 hours, either back to back or across 2 days, is special.  That's when the sensation of "I'm getting significantly better" happens.  The beauty of that being it's very motivating!

 Not 2 hours of kinda messing around, but 2 hours of something specific, applied repetition. A guitar solo, a specific chord change.   It can be just a simple song with open chords.  Play that song over and over for 2 hours, the next day you will definitely feel you're technically much better.

 There is zero ways around it.  YOU WILL FEEL AND KNOW YOU'RE BETTER.  Repetition is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing in the world.

 Most people have not done anything very specifically skilled, constantly focused, for more than a minute at a time.  These days maybe not even that long.  Play something very specifically for 2 hours - your muscles will be stretched out, you will have developed a muscle memory, you will have crossed a boundary where what you're doing takes very little mental effort and is becoming ingrained.

 You will be stronger the next day. You will be able to retrieve the muscle memory faster.  You will reach the satori-state faster.  You will be able to focus your effort faster, compounding gains.  Maintain an hour a day and that in itself becomes compounded.

3 hours plus: the land of the professional...

 I won't lie. I think each hour past 2 has a modifier of about a ... 20% reduction in practical gain in ability.

 What happens here is the mental wielding of concepts and phrases, exploring combinations and marking down, mentally, the results.  While you don't get as much physically I think from 3,4,5 hours of practice as you do out of the first 2, what you gain is in mental manipulation of your acquired skill set.  It's where "sounds" start getting labels based on experience.  It's the land of memorization and mental agility.

 Practice that Eric Clapton solo for 2 hours with the song.  In the 3rd hour you're not going to get physically better, but your "situational awareness" changes.  You can relax for starters, and you can contemplate how what you're doing fits in with the whole in a proper way.  You can listen to the pick attack, the nuance of the vibrato and bending, the amp sound.

 At 3 hours you're committing it to memory.  5 years later it might take you a moment to refresh your recollection of how to do it, cobwebby, but it will be there.

 Has the reader ever sat down and played the same song for 3 hours?  Honestly?  I'm guessing probably not.  The difference in being able to scratch through playing something, and having COMMAND of it, is in this. It's difficult practicing out past the point of "I'm pretty sure I have this", but going further is what makes someone a pro. 

 All of the above time spans are referenced to one day.  It's just the way it is, you can't get around it.  15 minutes, 30, an hour, 2 hours - that's what happens.  The great thing is that the above is FREE.  It doesn't cost you anything to do, and if you can get to each of those landmarks you'll gain something that is literally applicable to any other skill.

 Back to Gladwell: I believe his assessment is generally true.  You CAN be a "master" on guitar in around 10,000 hours.  Whether you do that at a rate of 8 hours a day or 30 minutes at a time.  In other words, you may as well strive for it - mastering an instrument before you die is better than not, right?  You can do it slow or fast, but it's predicated upon those 10,000 hours accumulating under the above parameters.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Impressions - Being Human is Data Compression

 I just tried to make a video for YouTube.

I was doing an extemporaneous analysis of the bootleg multitracks of the Beatle's _Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band_.  So I thought, hey, I'll just go through each track and babble about what strikes me as it happens.

 As it turns out - and I knew this, but it was not illustrated to me so viscerally - I think a lot.  I did an hour straight on trying to get out of my mind thoughts about just the second section string track and the vocal track.  I was trying to be "not super detailed, not overly OCD".  I skipped a lot, what I perceive as being "a lot".

 What I don't perceive as being "a lot" is what is condensed as "what I'm hearing".   To unpack what I'm perceiving on just 2 seconds of part of the strings track could really take easily over an hour.  Translating instantaneous perception to what is in reality "slow motion" human "music theory" jargon. 

 But then also, the implications of it.  How it strikes me emotionally, but then also what I think the context is, and the timbral sound, and the ambience. 

 I stopped after realizing I could probably make 4+ videos on each part.   Whether anyone would care I don't know, I halfway think I should just do it just to see, or for merely the sake of it.  What is interesting is that in the literal process of doing it, I realized how much information the idea of



reduces, as a human.  It's somewhat token based, but also a blend of other compression and sorting schemes.  

 The human input/output buffer is massively parallel, obviously.   An epiphany for me is that what probably makes me a "naturally overtly talented musician" will work against me in this context.  It might be informational for a student, when I forced to condense things into a 30 minute lesson, but when allowed to expand in this way without that temporal boundary it's an ocean of information to wade through and collate.

 I've been thinking deeply about music since I was very, very young.  There are pictures of me with headphones on when I was 4 years old, pictures of me plucking at a toy piano at younger than that.  The ... internal array, the framework of my perception being built for decades now, is a way of compressing experience.  It's what humans do, catalog, sort, and collate experience.  For musical moments, it's definitely too much to try to unpack into a video explanation of said perception in a completely accurate fashion.  It would take a brain download to do that, but the question is can I rise to the challenge of being able to *moderate* it well enough to make gradations of decompressed-perception, to present a pragmatically granular explanation of "thought" that can be of use to somebody?

 I don't know.

 For a few years I've been mulling the idea of making a video series on the title of "Speculative Musical Anthropology", where I babble on what I *think* are connections between different pieces of music from a common background/influence.  I've jettisoned that as YouTube has allowed the corporate copyright-claim jihad to obliterate doing video on "things that could reference copyrighted material", despite the allowance for such a thing under the premise of education.  I don't want to go gangbusters into such a thing only to have it taken down; and I'm typically not motivated to do things if they're inherently likely to be stilted from the outset.  Pursuing the middle ground is the most difficult thing of all, of course.

 I'm stilling cooking the idea, though.  Let me know your thoughts if one cares about said subject.  I know I need a "Youtube presence", but the option-anxiety of possibility is immense.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Problem With DAW Plugins Not Officially Discovered: Scurrilous Experiments and Non-scientific Conclusions - PART TWO

(note to the glitterati that has contacted me, that either chooses to be argumentatively rambunctious or reflexively pedantic in a ego-needful way: I don't really care, as written in Part One this is errant, off the cuff extemporaneous "speculation".  As such I'm not willing to debate about it, nor do I care if you want to make a mental ego-measuring contest out of it: I don't need to do that, why do you...?)

.. part two, where Chip further digs an unfounded hole.....


The temporal number crunching.  This is where Ye Old Infinite Resolution steps in, but wait! I'm not talking about it in the "traditional sense", give me a moment...

 In the analog domain, your distortion pedal is instantaneously changing your guitar sound.

Every moment you play, yields

1) a unique level
2) a unique pitch
3) a unique harmonic content

 Every moment.  With zero latency, with perfect parallelism.  From a processing standpoint, in software you've got to address those 3 things based on an instantaneous sampling reduced to a single number representing level.  To get a result from your function, you have to determine a modifier for those 3 things.

 This should be perfectly digital model-friendly, it would seem.  The problem I think, is that you have to do math on the single sample one at a time serially, or you have to do it component-wise and then add it together.  You're applying basic math to the number to represent the change in level, the change in pitch, and the harmonic content.  It's really just one number across a set of numbers  - a grouping of 1,024, or some such.  A processing "clump".

That "clump" then leads to another clump, etc..  The math applied to each clump will be the same.
The buffer is NOT instantaneous, however.  So while in theory the sample rate is "fast enough" to represent any audio signal, the software is trying to modify that signal faster than reality.  It's not that the analog world has Infinite Resolution, it's that it has Infinite Parallel Processing Power.  It's not doing anything in a buffered state.  It's not doing anything serially, or in modules paralleled.   No clumping.  One continuum.  The variability changes with infinite granularity; all aspects are not fitted to a curve and composited serially. 

 Comb filtering is (effectively) errors in sound that occur at mathematically regular intervals across the spectrum.  It's my belief that as a byproduct of the math in software happening temporally, clump by buffered clump - but with metered regularity of delimited by the buffer size - that across a longer time scale (a second, 2 seconds), there is a "temporal comb filtering" happening.

 "Temporal Comb Filtering": yes, I made that up.  Normally one describes comb filtering as an instantaneous phenomenon.  "Here is the sample of this moment, and we can see peaks at 100 hz, 200 hz, 400 hz, etc.".  What I am describing is this happening at some ratio across time.

 The buffer z is processed, then z+1, then z+2, etc..  But, because the same math is being applied to every buffer, there could be artifacts/errors introduced that creates a harmonic series only seen in multiples of the buffers.  On a waterfall plot it would be buried among the resulting signal.  A number being rounded up or down, 1,024 times modified by whatever other functions,  creating an artifice that is not visible in a graph, or even a waterfall plot because - how do you know it's an artifact when it's the result of math on a test signal that's changing?

 The rest signal is *variable*.  Guitars are not perfect signal generators.  The math applied to a perfect sine wave would be confusing, because you are making a function that is intentionally truncating values to yield distortion.   You have no way of knowing if your mathematical system across time is making a harmonic series alteration that is not linear to a Real World Analog Amp.

 Even if you have a sweep, or a set complex wave, you wouldn't know because you can never measure it against an analog equivalent perfectly.  Comb filtered sound can measure frequency wise as being "close" - but again I claim the human mind can discern the difference across a large sample set.

 Your brain realizes "there is a commonly reoccurring series here" that doesn't happen in the analog world. A non-humanly testable phenomena, and a non-scientifically testable phenomena.

 The result being, for most distorted guitar sounds I hear an amount of comb filtering I don't like in the mids/highs.  When that doesn't change - it sounds "digital" to me.

 I first had an inkling of this thought when the first Line 6 gear came out.  When I first heard it I was super impressed - it does sound like, in time slices, the real thing.  But then, if you hold a chord and spin the dial while the presets go by, you'll notice a harmonic coloration to *all* of the presets.

 That is software artifacts I think, and it's evidenced by comb filtering in the same manner on everything.  All digital sims have this I realized, when I tried the Fender Cyber Twin for the first time: spin the knob, and there it is, comb filtering.  Plug into the Vox modelling amp next to it, spin the knob - all the presets have that comb filtered sound, maybe at a different frequency/spread.

 Once you hear it, it's always there.  You can fool yourself into thinking you don't notice it, but it's there.  Every electrical system is going to have comb filtering artifacts, particularly speakers, but it's not a fixed thing between devices.  And it's state-variable; more or less evident depending on the input signal.

 As an example of this, I'll point to a video by John Segeborn that is tremendously great and educational.  In this video he plays the same thing back through different models of a Celestion Greenback speaker.  You'll hear comb filtering on each as a "shhhhh" harmonic coloration, but it will be different on model.  Which is fine - that's what speakers do.  The problem is when your software is adding another coloration on top of that one, or homogenizing it:

  In each example you can hear a spike in treble.  BUT, you're not just hearing a spectral peak, it also has comb filtering: a vaguely "smeary" sound, that changes in dominance depending on the signal.  My belief is that humans are super sensitive to this, and THIS is what software is messing up in sims.  I think it is too linear in general to signal level in sims.

 So, at some volumes it might be spot on.  At other levels it's too loud, or maybe buried by the upper harmonics.  This interaction is flawed in digital recreations I think.

 I think.  I do not feel like trying to provide proof or documentation.  I've been (unfortunately) doing all sorts of tedious comparisons and tests for years at this point that has led me to these assertions.  I think there is a problem here in the comb filtering and harmonic decay linearity.  I could be wrong.  Harmonic decay errors, and comb-filtering problems.



 Here's a yet another free idea I wish I had the resources in which to patent, but I don't:
Without a doubt, at some time within 3 years a company will come out with a post-processing VST plugin that will use A.I./confrontational machine laerning to conform a track output to mimic anything.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Problem With DAW Plugins Not Officially Discovered: Scurrilous Experiments and Non-scientific Conclusions - PART ONE

 I've spent... wasted... thousands of hours tinkering with variations on setting up processing chains in DAWs. 

 I know "in theory" things are Perfect, and "digital sound" is a myth.

 Except, I've never been happy with recorded sound, my own or with others in the post-digital age.  It's always been a nebulous thing, and it's always been something that has been attempted to be quantified by the usual parameters:

  • Time domain;
  • Spectral;
  • Bit rate/depth
  • Digital timing (jitter).

 These things have all been sorted out in the year 2018 to a very fine degree.  In theory, it's not only perfect - it's beyond perfect, because there is more theoretical digital dynamic range than there is in physical reality.

 ... but still I'm left unsatisfied.  Particularly by guitar sounds, but pretty much everything.  It occurred to me last year I was "chasing the dragon": after thinking about it - I kind of don't like most recorded guitar sound.  Even the Most Famous ones.  Even the ones of my favorite players.

 Furthermore, I think post-digital the aspect I don't like has been exaggerated.

 At first I thought I was hearing simply a spectral response I didn't like.  This is a way of thinking that I believe 99.9% of the musicians on the planet think like in regards to sound.  It's not a wrong way, but it's not comprehensive in 2 ways that not heard or read anybody discuss.

  •  The dynamic linearity of "effect simulations" are non-linear to reality.
  •  By default of the necessity for serialization in FIFO digital processing, phase relationships of non-Fourier transform processing has a "sound" when trying to mimic "near signal truncation" effects (distortion) - possibly leading to comb-filtering noticeable across time.


 This is a very, very subtle thing and I'm quite sure very few people can consciously perceive what I'm going to describe, but it's real:

  Software emulations of analog gear usually consists of a means of reproducing a spectral response or balance over time.  Meaning one expects (excuse my ham fisted notation)  x(fn1+x*x1),(fn*x2) to yield a frequency distribution that is the same as an analog device.

 The acceptable result is not expected to be perfect.  The analog devices are not perfectly linear, and the math is expected to be a "close approximation", which it usually, remarkably, is.  The functions yield a nice approximation of an instantaneous spectral response that sounds like The Thing Being Emulated.

 For my first Perhaps Imaginary Gripe I think that there is a substantial temporal difference in the math in the box versus the analog realm.  Mainly, in the timing of the non-linearity of the decay of the harmonic distortion spread dynamically.


 Ok, what that means is that say for a classic "overdriven tube amp distortion" on a single note that is struck hard, as the note dies out in the first few ms there is a balance of low to high frequency content.  You hear a brash noisy "csryshhhh" on the attack and THEN you hear the lower harmonics, and as the note fades across the initial 100 ms the harmonic "blend" dies out at differing rates.

 What I "think" I'm hearing is this discrepancy:  with the digital simulations,

  •  The high frequency square wave upper harmonics last too long;
  •  As the note fades, the high harmonics fade at the same rate as the lower;
  •  This rate doesn't not change when you change how hard you play.

 With a real analog sound, those three things are reversed.

 So there is an Uncanny Valley (look up the term if you don't know what that means) wherein the mind hears a blend of harmonics - in the single "time slice" of awareness - that sounds almost exactly like the Real Thing.

 What the mind *doesn't* perceive precisely is that the way it's decaying doesn't match the real world.  But it's my pet theory that we can only internalize the examination of our internal "audio buffer" in single instantaneous time slices.  It's hard, or impossible, to really quantify the nature of how it falls out.


 I also will theorize that this is due to evolutionary survival requirements.  The way things decay harmonically is also implicit in the way nature sounds at a distance.  The rustling of leaves, for instance: that has a particular decay characteristic, which is different than the sound of A Large Threatening Predator Brushing Against a Bush.

 The aggravating pedantic arguments placed by people wanting to assert themselves that humans are strictly limited to *acting on* information consciously testable is proven to be a fallacy in this example.  You can test 1,000 people by playing them the sound of an animal walking among nature, trampling on the ground, and while the auditory cues are only milliseconds in duration they'll all be able to say "sounds like an animal walking around".

 Play them one 100 ms example, and they won't have a clue.  Yet, across a large sample set (10 seconds), those tiny little sounds that only last a fraction of a second subconsciously conveys a very specific story: "large animal walking around behind you to the right, 20 feet away".

 So no - I'm not impressed by arguments of "the ear can only hear 20-20, 44.1/16bits captures all the information we can perceive", because it's based on primitively testing the instantaneous awareness of untrained people on test tones.  Your mind, as in the example above, makes an assessment across time of what it's hearing.  It's not *consciously* analyzing the frequency response, decay characteristics, phase relationships, etc. - your subconscious mind is doing the heavy lifting and returning a result that says

"something isn't real about this "amplifier" you're hearing".

 Comparing one single time slice to the victim amp doesn't mean it's identical temporally 100%.  That the technology gets very close is baffling, but I claim your cerebellum does tricky processing *across a sample set* that defies quantifying by instantaneous measurement parameters (frequency/level).



 So you hear the simulated amp, and it reminds you of the real thing on an instantaneous basis.  But as you play it, you become less and less convinced.  You can't really put your finger on it...

.. but I claim the way the note dies out, the way the spectral balance changes, and the way that responds linear to your touch is giving your cerebellum a picture that only it is privvy to computationally.



Saturday, December 22, 2018

Penance For Suburban Band Practice and a Lowered Bar

 The kid next door is trying to put a band together:

The Literal Shed in Which Rock Music Is Trying To Happen....

 I can hear them in their shed next door, a sub-sonic thump that's fighting my "Brad Mehldau - No Chaff" Spotify playlist I'm listening to at my desk.  The room I'm in is at the back of my house, adjacent to the shed in the backyard of the neighbor's house.

 I can't complain.  


 Well... he or one of his buddies threw a Miller Lite can over the fence apparently last week, they'd better not do that again.  

When I first started playing guitar at 15, I found myself jamming with every drummer and bass player I could find, to little avail at first.  I was extremely precocious and admittedly didn't suffer the less than adequate, or anyone less than actually completely motivated by art in music. 

 See, at first there are 2 basic categories:

  • the nascent musician that really wants to play music and accomplish something
  • the person that just wants an excuse to hang out.  

Actually, a musician can get very far under that second category just by being in the right place and sticking with it, but that type tends to annoy me.  I have wasted much time with stealthed versions of this type, I advise the reader not to do the same.

 Regardless, while I was running through the local musician offerings, one by one, we made a large audible racket in many a suburban locale.  In the 80's everyone wanted to be in a band, there wasn't really a shortage of drummers and bass players, despite the guitar player ratio being about 30:1.  I found myself jamming in every residential neighborhood in Augusta Georgia, near Augusta, and some non-residential areas in and out of town. One time I found myself  in the middle of a literal corn field, in a shack that some guys had built out of pallets and ran extension cords to from somewhere beyond the field I couldn't even see.  Their friends would crawl up on the outside and look in, ala _Mad Max Thunderdome_.... 

 That was the first year I played guitar.  I had been telling people I'd only been playing guitar for a year, which was a mistake as I found out later. You can't get with experienced musicians that way.

 Many inadvertent audiences were made in many adjacent houses.  It's worth noting that in the rich neighborhoods the houses are much farther apart and better insulated.  In poor neighborhoods, the walls have no insulation and often are mere feet away from a neighbor.  This creates interesting life lessons in diplomacy.

 At the end of that first year of playing I found myself invited to watch a band practice by an upper classman at my high school, the drum major in the music program.  He played drums in a band with some older guys that actually had some experience, and of course I was probably expected to be Another Audience Member hanging out at band practice.

 I was invited to jam with them on guitar during one of their breaks, and unfortunately for the guitar player I was in the band soon thereafter.  I was fortunate, because I found myself playing with guys that not only could play entire songs, but actually had some musical panache and experience.


 A lot of people heard us in the neighborhood.  I was using the drummer's Fender Bassman at practice; later we'd end up rehearsing in my parent's garage and I'd managed to get a 120 watt Peavey Hertage tube amp from a paper route.  Then a 50 watt Marshall JMP 2x12 tube amp combo I'd run in stereo with the Peavey.

 Our bass player used a variety of amps, a Yamaha bass amp in conjunction with sometimes a tube guitar head of some sort, in a biamp setup, with a pair of 2x15 cabinets, one of which had JBLs.   A very, very potent setup.  Sometimes there were other bass players.  Pictures fell off the wall in my parent's living room.  My parents being accommodating in my pursuit of music I will be forever grateful for.

  Sometimes the police would show up.  Generally it ended up with them hanging out and listening, which is a good sign.  We usually didn't practice later than 10 or so, which in reality is Not So Bad. Particularly these days not a big deal, but back then it was Very Rebellious, but ...

 But back to These Days:

 The guys next door do their thing one night on the weekends. Sometimes Saturday night, sometimes Sunday night.   I don't know them, and I wouldn't tell them this, but...

.... that's not enough.

  I was lucky.  In the above mentioned band I was the youngest, still in school, but we still practiced at least twice a week.  Often times more, sometimes 4 times a week.  We were maintaining about 40+ songs, the standard metal/rock club fare at the time, but also some left-field technical-instrumental things.  I was lucky.  In theory once you're Good Enough you can get by with what the guys next door are doing, rehearsing once a week or less.  You're just going through the motions, you should already know the songs, then go to the gig.

 But when you're starting out, being able to play with a group multiple times during a week is educational in a way I can't deliver as a guitar teacher.  Playing with other musicians is not the same skill set as playing to the recording - which is also completely necessary, of course.  Learning to listen to the other members of the band is critical, and something that people don't do anymore . It's now a matter of the guys that stick it out long enough that they CAN play in a band, that they finally get with other musicians, and they cobble through things by default.

 That's not the same thing as putting your time in with other musicians.

 The guys I played with initially were really into music for music's sake, and we had no problem playing the same songs over and over because it was FUN.  When you play the same song with a band 20 times it's a very different thing afterwards than just scratching through and going "that's good, we've got it, see you at the gig".  You learn to own it.

 It's a shame that Darn Kids Today don't use their time getting experience playing music with live humans when they still have the time.  It's invaluable.  I never had a problem playing with other people, since I'd been doing it literally since day one routinely every week; and I was "extremely precocious".  But that lack of human playing experience is completely evident in most novice musicians I hear today, and even a lot of so-called "experienced" musicians.  Guys and gals that have chops and are "professional" - but only when everything is a certain way with the rest of the band.

 Yes, I'm complaining in that respect, but I'm hoping someone reading this will take it to heart: playing music in a band is fun.  There is a reason I just got a text from one of my first students - who I taught all the way back from when I was 16 - of pictures of his band playing a recent gig in N.C..  There's a reason most guys that played 30 years ago are still going at it. 
 At least the guys next door are actually playing as a band, it seems These Days it's a rarity.  Outside of playing at church, I don't have any students at the moment that play in a band, but I have a few that, if it were 20 years ago, they'd have already been in multiple bands by now.  30 years ago I would have immaturely laughed at the guys next door; now I'm thinking

"geez, that's a relief to hear someone starting out TRYING to play MUSIC with other HUMANS".

 It's really very pathetic it's come to this.  Something went wrong in the mid 2000's, and the impetus to form bands and play music in front of an audience evaporated, only leaving the praise bands and some die hards on the periphery that find themselves with a fair amount of gigs with the dearth of bands present now.

 I don't find the drummer's kick drum particularly annoying because of the above, despite being able to tell he's probably got his pedal tension wrong.  It's really almost not noticeable in the house (all of those nattering nay-bobs that called the police on my bands were probably just old-school stick in the mud anti-rock music pro-Establishment conservative knobs), and they don't actually play a lot, actually.  I'm afraid it's a Fun Hang Out situation for them, and they'll probably get bored with it in a few months like the half pipe skateboard ramp that ended up rotting on the other side of the fence.

 Which is sad, and sad for me, because I look at both hopefully - "maybe kids, other people are going to get back into playing music in bands?", but I know it's far removed from the Good 'Ol Days.  The tendency is to look at the guys in Greta Van Fleet and go "yeah, but... hey, they're playing together as a band!"; like that somehow is enough these days.  A novelty: humans playing rock music as a group.  For fun.

 And it IS FUN.  1,000 x more fun than a video game, and more rewarding.  How that notion has been sucked out of the thought process of society is scary.

 (....just walked outside to listen to what they were doing...)

Earlier it was _Back in _Black.  The guitar player sounded like he was having tuning problems, tried to tune, stopped... he was tuning as I walked back outside.  Sounds like they're  now trying to do some Neil Young.   The drummer is in the throes of what I call "kinestheticlly-hyper shuffle beat syndrome"; an affliction that attacks novice drummers, sometimes for many years.  Yes, you can sort of play a shuffle over just about anything, but, uhmm.... yeah.

 Well, they're still at it.   It doesn't bother me, I hope nobody calls the cops on them.  Maybe one of them will want to take it seriously, and maybe go "hey, maybe we should get together more often and practice more...?".   But if not, at least they can tell friends, 

 "I'm IN A BAND...".




Friday, December 14, 2018

The "Clean" Sound that Really Isn't?

"Fender clean".

 This is something you're hear/read about.  It's pretty elusive, yes.  Because it's very easy to get on most Fender amps turned up a bit, and nearly impossible otherwise.

 It is NOT a completely "clean", undistorted sound.  It's actually a bit compressed above 1k, and when you play hard the low end distorts.  Which is the trick. 

 Check out Mark Agnesi demonstrating this (ridiculous) strat.  He's going through a Deluxe turned up a bit:

 Note that the chords at first a little bit distorted, the low end is getting saturated.  But then notice the single note lines are not "distorted" per se.

 You can sort of do this on other amps, and on sims.  Kinda.  You have to sort of really moderate your pick attack, and even then you can't really be as expressive on the single string things because the difference between the "soft and chimey" sound and the "aggressive/bitey/distorted" accented sound comes on suddenly. 

 It's also usually the same timbre as well. 

 Effectively speaking it's the quintessential "play soft and it's clean, hit it hard and it's dirty".  But what's really going on is that there is always distortion above 1k, compression, that keeps the treble sounding up front while the low end is make more "present" by adding harmonic distortion when you give it more voltage.  It's not "clean" in reality; if you ran music through it you'd hear bright garble for the most part. 

 The beauty of the sound is that it's very expressive.  There are differences in sound as you play, it's never "perfect"; it's not homogenized.  Which is almost the opposite of digital sims, which can mimic the frequency spectrum perfectly *at one level*, but not across levels.  It sounds "identical" but it doesn't respond identical.  You can practice to try to get the same effect - but that's defeating the purpose, and time is short. 

 If you want that kind of sound, you get the right amp.  The reason I'm writing this is that I've sold off the vintage versions of amps that did this; my Gibson GA-40, and a '65 Deluxe reissue - and now I've got to figure out how to get that back in a more affordable manner, so I've got "Fender "clean"" on the mind.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Vintage That Needs to Go Away: Fender, FIX THE STRAT OUTPUT JACK!

 At least once every 2 weeks or so, I have to give a little speech about how a student needs to make sure they keep the nut tightened on the output jack of their Fender What-ever-Caster.

Pure Evil!

 They put a flat washer under the nut, which is useless and obviously does not work.  For the uninitiated:

 The nut works it's way loose as you plug the cable in/out, and move it around.  I'd guess that after 2 months of  use is when they start to loosen, at which point depending how much and how aggressive you plug the cable into and out of your guitar, the two wires soldered to the jack under the jack plate twist around and around..

 Until one breaks, and the guitar stops working.  Sometimes one is near a music store that can repair it.  Sometimes it's maybe only $35 or so to fix, but closer to a standard bench repair fee of $75 is possible.   At least a week will be lost, maybe more.

 That's presuming the student/Stratocaster owner even knows this has happened and CAN be repaired.  How many people just stopped playing guitar because this happened to their Squire Stratocaster after a few months?  What impact does this have to Fender and other brands for people that end up never staying with it and buying more gear?

 This has been a scourge forever.  The "phono jack" is a design left over from literally 1948 or so, and really can be traced to about 1877.  It's primitive, inelegant, and failure prone.

 I can think of a few better ways of doing it, but I don't have money to patent and manufacture such a thing.  Fender, though - there's no excuses.  Why they continue to use this idiotic part is beyond me, aside from it's sheer cheapness.

 They could easily improve it a lot: simply use a serrated washer, or put a dab of Loctite on the nut.  Or both.  Either nobody at Fender has thought of this as an issue and a fix, or they just don't care.

 Until then, I'll continue to have to waste a student's lesson time explaining they need to keep the stupid nut tight, and that the shorting-noise they're hearing is the result of the jack being loose, and that when it fails they've got to get it fixed.  Ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

How Much Should I Practice This Chord?

Normally I can't specifically answer the "how long will it take?" kind of questions, but I suppose this isn't exactly one of those.

This student is doing it wrong.

  •  Let's say you've got to play a hypothetical song, and it's a slow one: a tempo of 60 beats per minute.
  •  Let's also say that you've got to play a chord every quarter note.  So in other words, 60 chords a minute.  A chord every second.
  •  Let's say the average length of a "song" is AT LEAST 3 minutes long.

 You've got to be able to play a chord 180 times in a row, at a pace of 1 a second.  Sure, most songs aren't based on 1 chord over and over, but you're still squeezing, releasing that many times at least.

 This is presuming a very slow tempo, mind you.  So conservatively, in reality - you need to be able to do twice that, in order to have a little bit of lee way in your ability to be able to say "yes, I can play this song".

 360 times, at a pace of once a second would be a nice target.

 "Man, Chip, that's a lot!"

 That's only 3 minutes.  99.9% of the people reading this won't bother to do this I realize, but I'm just throwing that out there: you NEED to be able to do this, AT LEAST.

 Maybe you press/strum/release a chord 50 times.  That's half what's really baseline.  A "nice workout" might be all of the open chords (G,C,D, Dm,A,Am, E, Em), 50 times every day.  Then there are the bar chord variations...

 The point being, to play an Average Pop Song you've got to get your musculature to the point where you're in that ball park figure.  So there you go: practice Said Chord 50x a day, at least, and aim for 180 as the goal.  360 to conquer it.  In reality, though - this is why you want to make playing along to recordings of songs your goal: you're "getting your exercise" by doing so, in a more interesting and entertaining way.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

You've Got Problems?

  • "I can't hold the pick"
  • "The pick keeps moving around!"
  • "My third finger won't work!"
  • "My pinky won't work!"
  • "My fingers won't work!"
  • "My fingertips are sore"
  • "I can't get to the C chord fast enough"
  • "I can't always pick the D string when I need to!"

Etc. etc. etc...

 Just about every student I've ever had will come to me seemingly exasperated with a complaint about some physical aspect that is considered either "impossible" or specific to them and nobody else in history.

 I can try to convey the idea that yes, there are elements to learning to play guitar that is challenging - and when something happens that seems daunting, to the point of being "impossible" that in reality - I've probably heard that before.

 Persevering is part of getting better.  If it didn't take that everyone would do it and the ability to play guitar would be commonplace.  And boring.

 A big, big takeaway from learning guitar is the literal skill set of  learning how simple repetition, applied in a very concise manner, always yields rewards.  Rewards that from the outset may seem literally impossible.

 The basic mechanistic things - holding the pick, getting from one chord to another, finding the strings with the pick consistently, etc. - are all individual skills.  Everyone gains ability of these individual skills at differing rates.  It is never, EVER linear.

 By that I mean chances are one student takes for granted what another student is telling me is impossible, and vice-versa. If both can take me at my word when I say "it will balance out over time" then it's just a matter of persevering.

 The caveat is that for the kid that has many, many hours a day to practice will perceive those non-linear discrepancies in skill diluted by the sheer quantity of practice time.  In other words, if you only practice 15 minutes a day and have trouble finding the high E string in an arpeggio, you're going to perceive that as an issue across many weeks.

 Maybe 2 weeks go by after starting to address said issue, and you think to yourself "I've been doing this for 2 whole weeks!!!  I still can't do it!!!".  The guy that plays 4 hours a day literally addresses that problem in the same day he decides to fix it.

 Let that soak in: in the first example the guy at 2 weeks comes to the lesson saying "I can't do this!!! I've been working on this for 2 weeks now!".  This person has put in less than 4 hours of time applied to the problem.  The guy that does 4 hours in one day - he's already got it covered.

 That doesn't mean you can't get better at 15 minutes a day, but skills learned on guitar take  multiple hours.  You can split that up across days, but once you get down to quarter hour playing sessions you're increasing not just the literal length of time it's going to take, but also the mental effort!   

  In reality you'll maintain at 15 minutes a day, it will be uphill to get more skill. Right at 30 minutes you'll get steady increases.  Practically, you need a little more than an hour a day, say an hour and a half, to see "exciting" results.

 Presuming you're applying yourself properly and not messing around practicing.

 Regardless, the point of this post is that everyone I teach at some point will find an aspect of their ability they feel is not "keeping up" with the rest of their ability, and will perceive that as being some sort of guitar playing show-stopper.  It never is.  

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Ernie Ball Paradigm Strings Redux

 I've broke 3 high E strings with the Paradigms.  This last time about 20 days out.

With the first set I had, the high E broke while tuning up, which I discounted as a fluke.  It would seem the high E string is not as impervious as the rest?  Better than "normal" by a bit I would say, but nowhere near the 90 day guarantee.

 I thought I should hang onto the inner packaging but of course I didn't.  It looks like Ernie Ball provides a fairly painless process for the "warranty", kudos to them. 

 I'm guessing the high E string, being so ephemeral in minimal material, does not see the same gains their manufacturing process yields to the rest of the gauges?  Maybe not, but it seems, feels like the high E string will be the Achilles heel of the marketing strategy. 

 I think they should just throw in an extra high E, for the premium price I don't think it would impact their profit margin much. Or perhaps have an extra E in the 3 pack (which is what I've bought).  

 At the moment I've got a set of them on my Suhr I put on about 2 months ago, I'm putting them on my "Jovian Thai Tea" Warmoth right now, and replacing the set on my "at work" "Shenzen copper" Warmoth that the high E broke on just now.

 The Suhr I basically only use when recording, since the frets are nickel and "getting there", so I expect those to last a bit longer.  They're not oxidized and are still intonated, which is a great thing; having "extra" guitars sitting around is useless if the strings are going to need changing if you pick it up, really the main plus for me with these strings.

 I really should just go ahead and change the strings on my Line 6 Variax, they're shot.  I only use it for the occasional "stunt stand in" recording use for oddball sounds (sitar, 12 string, large body).  I may put a set on my '82/'83 FujiGen Gakki Squier Strat today as well.  But I want to record music! So maybe not.

Regardless... The high E's breaking strike me as the strings being "more normal" than the rest.  For Most People that are not playing many hours a day hyper-aggressively, it's probably not an issue.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

That Time When the Not-Well Known Shredder Backhanded Pink Floyd / David Gilmour Like Trump

 Not me - yes I can, but I'd prefer to not be thought of as a "shredder" - and I love Gilmour's playing.

Tastes like Kool-Aid?

  No, I'm referring to someone who played in a Pretty Famous Metal band for a time who is known as a "shredder", technical chops-based player. Let me qualify that statement by saying that's exactly why he got that gig, lest anyone be confused.  I'd prefer not to say the guy's name, I don't want to call him out - I understand the mindset he has, even though I disagree with it and think it's completely malformed and ignorant.

 This guy gives a guitar clinic and said the following:

""Like...Take a guy like David Gilmour. Alright? Everybody looks at him like super-respected, fantastic guitarist, top of the list, A-class guitar players. Now... Why do you think that is? I mean, the guy... I've never heard the guy play outside of a regular pentatonic scale. Have you? I could be wrong. I don't know their music. But that one famous song they have, the Pink Floyd 'Free Bird' song with the long solo...[audience member says 'Comfortably Numb'] Yes. It's gorgeous. It's absolutely gorgeous."

 I'm going to start by saying I resisted going online and writing something snarky somewhere.  That's kind almost as bad IMO.  But I did go online to get the lay of the land as far as what people thought about what he said.  I was shocked.

 People have lost both verbal/reading comprehension skills required for Living in Reality, as well as having being taught to be empty vessels, naive and pliant recipients of direction.  I will explain in context:

 What Shred Guy said was

"Like...Take a guy like David Gilmour. Alright? Everybody looks at him like super-respected, fantastic guitarist, top of the list, A-class guitar players. "

... he's setting Gilmour up.

"Now... Why do you think that is? I mean, the guy... I've never heard the guy play outside of a regular pentatonic scale. Have you? I could be wrong."


 Ok Shred Guy, yes, you're wrong.  I'm going to refer to the first solo in the song, not the outro; Mr. Shred Guy didn't specify, but he did make a sweeping generalization so I'm allowed to be non-general if I want to. 

 In the first solo you're about to bash Mr. Shred Guy (Comfortably Numb) he's not just using the pentatonic scale.  It actually begins with an F# bent to G.

A half step.

 There are no half steps in the pentatonic scale.  He's suspending the D major with the 4th, the G, then he does a similar thing over the A major by playing D-Db: another half step.

He then descends DOWN THE MAJOR SCALE in the key of D as the song changes key to G, over the C as IV.  More diatonic notes ensue.

 Mr. Shred Guy: you're very wrong.  But here's what rubs me the wrong way: as someone presenting himself as a Technical Authority figure, why doesn't he *hear* the diatonic notes....?  He should.  If the Comfortably Numb solo strikes him as Just Another Pentatonic Solo he's not perceiving things as well as some of my advanced students do.  The half step right at the beginning of the solo should strike one as "not pentatonic", not to mention the diatonic scale melodies.

" I don't know their music. But that one famous song they have, the Pink Floyd 'Free Bird' song with the long solo...[audience member says 'Comfortably Numb'] Yes. It's gorgeous. It's absolutely gorgeous."

   This is what freaked me out about the online comments; people argued that Mr. Shred Guy wasn't being derisive - somehow.  Despite statements like the above.  That "one famous song" that he doesn't know the name of?  Really?  And then the audience, people insisting in some instances that he's COMPLIMENTING  Gilmour don't realize he's being sarcastic about the Free Bird comparison?

 Free Bird is a great song.  Yes, it's a cliche to put it down; but it's a classic, and managed to get on the radio A LOT despite being a really long song.  Not only that, but - the guitar, despite being derided as a "doodly woodly" solo is recognized by millions, and is also in turn a classic.  Very few on the planet have the credentials to really criticize it.  Gilmour, Brian May, Jimmy Page?  Another pair of people Mr. Shred Guy doesn't care for.  Regardless, it's fun to mock things but in reality Free Bird is a truly great piece of music, whether you like the style of it or not.

 ...but he's comparing Comfortably Numb to Free Bird for the negative connotation.  Yes, he is.  That people don't get that is mind blowing.

 "but he said it was gorgeous!"

 Yes, but the context of his comments was that he was speaking on the subject of  "should people practice over backing tracks".  His argument is that Gilmour is only known as a guitarist because the backing music sounds "gorgeous" (which it does... but that doesn't mean Gilmour can just be some kid at Guitar Center on a saturday morning and write/play such a classic piece of music... right...?).  It's kind of like (in ironic contrast) how someone is going to build a wall.  It's going to be a wonderful wall  Absolutely wonderful.  

 It's also curious that Mr. Shred Guy apparently hasn't heard of the mega-Top Ten hit by Pink Floyd "Money", or some of their other charting songs?  "Another Brick in the Wall Pt.2"?  Wish You Were Here?  Learning To Fly didn't go that high up the charts, but he hasn't heard _Dark Side of the Moon_?  Maybe he doesn't realize the sheer numbers that one record has sold?

..but sure, Pinky Floyd only has "that one famous" song.  Metal Band has had some success, but outside of the guitar solos I would suggest it's because of the other guitar player/band leader/singer, not the "definitely not pentatonic miasma of changing keys" solos Mr. Shred did.

"Why do you think he sounds so good? He's not even following the chords in that progression. "

 Ironically he's actually very clearly following the chords - he's outlining Dsus4, Asus4.  You can easily hear the arpeggios.  Again - kinda obvious.  That aside, whether he follows the chords or not HAS ZERO to do with whether something is GREAT MUSIC or not!

 There is a mindset of certain "trained" guitarists, usually in jazz, that it's all about following the changes.  A rule that the audience doesn't care about, and plenty of (maybe most great themes) does not follow.

For the person with no artistic sense, no idea of subjective emotional judgement, "creativity" is a math problem.

 Mr. Shred Guy might be referring exclusively to the outro/end solo.  I get it.  But he's making a generalization to address the whole thing.  Even at that, there is an F# in the bass going to the G major in the progression.  His "I've never heard the guy go outside the pentatonic scale" applies here as well, it's his song....

"He's playing in one key, one key. The chords are changing around him."

 This statement applies to everything Mr. Shred Guy did with Famous Metal Band. Not that it matters!  There isn't a rule that says "music must change keys to be good".  A completely ridiculous premise.  The "chords are changing around him" - so what?  You don't like it?  That's fine, but conceptually there is zero wrong with that.  It's not a math test.

"He's playing with finesse. That's why. He's playing with finesse."

 This is a backhanded compliment.  Yes, obviously Gilmour plays with finesse.  But it's also the note choice, however "basic" it is.  I would point out that a lot of Bach relies on "basic", no-extended harmony.  I'd also point out that how complex the harmony is has zero to do with whether it's good music or not.

"And this backing track he's created is what is making him sound so incredibly godlike."

 Yes Mr. Shred Guy, it's great, isn't it? So, why don't you do the same thing if that's all it is?  Mr. Doesn't Play Outside of the Pentatonic knows something you don't? 

"He's created this fantastic wall of music. All he has to do is play with finesse in a key of B minor, and "

 Except in the first solo it's I IV in D major and then IV I the key of G major, but ok.. you meant "just the outro solo"... Yes, it's fantastic what Mr. Never Outside the Pentatonic Scale made.

"let the background give him this world of great sound. That's why. It's not just because of his playing-- his fingering."

... wait. Didn't you just use the word "finesse"...?   It's not his playing, his fingering?  Tasteful, perfect vibrato and phrasing just happens I guessOr maybe Mr. Shred Guy is referring to something else?

 " Of course, he's a fantastic pro guitarist. He has finesse. But that exact playing, without that wonderful background, would -- you know, it's going to sound terrible "

 How does someone read that and not interpret that as being negative?  At the same time, how does one have "finesse" but it's "going to sound terrible"?

-- it would sound like anybody in a Guitar Center. It's just one very basic, conceptual way of playing. "


 Here is what's basic: a juvenile point of view.   One that measures, when nothing needs to be measured, and then takes the step of requiring quantity (only pentatonic/5 notes?  Only 1 key?) and complexity as being the basic of good.  That's what I think of as limited, small-town thinking/mindset.  Appreciating subtlety isn't something children do.  Also, confusing ability with greatness is a childish attitude.  I can play things Gilmour would never have been able to do, and it has zero bearing on what I think of his FINESSE and NOTE CHOICES.

 It's great music.  Only a dweeb would denigrate any aspect of true greatness.  Mr. Shred Guy has never done anything that is Truly Great, and because of his attitude probably never will, if I had to bet on it.  "Truly Great" is sublime and transcendent, and doesn't care about math or technicalities, and most of the times leans towards simplicity.

"But what is genius about it is the world that's created under that solo. Everybody follow what I'm saying?" 

 Yes Mr. Shred Guy.  I follow what you're saying, and I disagree vehemently and am amazed that others think you're somehow complimenting Gilmour by dismissing his solo by backhandely complimenting the mere "backing track".  The "backing track" some would simply call "great music" greatly amplified by a great solo.

 I really have come to hate the 21st century.  Common sense is gone, everything is based on arbitrary rules, a society of lawyers.  "Is this good?  Well, let's see if it fits this criteria!  What, there is no criteria?  Well, then, we must obviously use superlatives - how much does it do something?  Is that enough?  One can do more, or less?  Then it must not be "good"!".    

 "Good" can be more subtle than someone realizes.  Oftentimes when it IS subtle, it's that much more "good".  Mountain Dew in it's bromenated, hyped citric tartness can strike one immediately as "good", sometimes. I can't imagine wanting to drink a lot of Mountain Dew, but it's good sometimes IMO.  Sushi, not the same experience; everyday would be great, and the more subtle the better.  IMO.

 I'm not going to say "sushi doesn't have as many ingredients as Mountain Dew", or "anybody can put raw fish on rice".  Mountain Dew is great and so is sushi; there is no reason to compare or measure IF IT'S GOOD.  Be a human,  just say "I don't like pentatonic music", "I prefer very complex music"".

 Ahrgh.  I hate the 21st century.

(This post to be possibly removed shortly for a much abbreviated rendition...) 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Welcome Death of Genres!

The death of guitar? 

 No, ridiculous hype from a few bored writers.

Also, people who based reality on statistics instead of their own common sense: new guitar sales down doesn't mean interest in guitar is also down.  It means new guitar sales are down.  Where is the tracking for used sales?  Particularly sense seems to have really come into its own, and there is no Craigslist tracking, and how about sales of guitars direct from China?

 On the other hand...

 I haven't had a Musical Purist in a long while as a student.

 Most everyone I've taught in the past 5 years will not simply state one genre of music as their preference.  Usually when pressed, it will cross at least one other "traditional" genre.  Everyone today has hybrid tastes.

 Which is a great thing in my opinion.  I've always wanted it this way, it is as it should be; I've never only listened to just one genre.

 On the other hand, most of my life has been ... wrecked... by musicians insisting on a curiously conservative adherence to staying genre specific.  This is still pretty much true today, but - I see it waning.

 Which means it will take a few years, but hopefully I predict by 2022-ish there will be a pop/rock/whatever music renaissance as people finally let go of staying within the traditional confines.  Hopefully this WILL be the death of the worst affliction to music that was initiated unfortunately in the late 80's.  That would be...

Banal extremism and gimmicks as the basic of style.

 Meaning, hopefully no longer will the following adjectives be used in conjunction with music:

  • The fastest.
  • The slowest.
  • The lowest.
  • The highest.
  • The most dense.
  • The most complex.
  • The heaviest.

Additionally, hopefully we'll also see the end of what I tacitly would say is gimmicks.  Techniques that require unorthodox approaches. Either tapping that approaches piano skills, physical/rhythmic tapping that approaches trying to be a percussionist AND a guitarist at the same time, anything that is trying to be what normally would take 2 people to do, playing with other body parts than the fingers, playing backwards, upside down, using another musical instrument at the same time, ...... yeah.  I think that's about it.

 "Hey, can you show me this clown metal song this guy is doing using a waffle iron for a pick, and all of his strings tuned down an octave with piano wire and he's standing on his head underwater while his right hand is playing Chopin on a Korg Microkeyboard silconed inside a zip lock bag, and his feet are hanging out of the pool playing the kick and snare drum parts to a Pantera song?

  Can you show me that....?"

 How about the old-school "genres: returning?  "pop/rock", "country", "classical", "sound track"?

 No appending of the nationality, or geographical region, or era. 

 Just guitar.  You know, just the music.  Here's hoping.


Friday, November 2, 2018

The WHEN Not the WHERE - a Sentinel For Dunning Kruger: the Stairway To Heaven Bridge!

There are lots of videos on Youtube about the "infamous" Stairway To Heaven Bridge.

 The way I've always explained it is that it is trickery to get the audience from one tempo to another.

 A fact that I haven't seen anyone point out?  Did they notice?  I'm not sure.  Because it seems instead they're very, very hyper focused on explaining why it's much more complicated than you think it is. Completely ignoring the Big Thing Going On, the tempo change.

 The reason I'm motivated to write this is because a couple videos just tell you point blank "you're perceiving it wrong".

 Which is effectively the same thing as saying that Led Zeppelin made a mistake!  Everyone that likes the song and that part of the song - you don't even know what you're hearing!  Wait!  You might not like it, or like it better, once you hear X YouTube expert's explanation of how it really is!  You're counting it wrong, the pulse is not what you think it is!

 Here's my expert opinion, for free like their explanation:

  The Dsus4 "fanfare" part comes in a touch late.  Deliberately.  The first time around is 88 bpm in 4/4, deceptively DROPS A BEAT before switching to the C.  It picks up tempo to about 92 bpm.  The C then deceptively goes an EXTRA 16th (perceived by the audience as effectively a "short beat") before going back to the Dsus4 fanfare (now at 92 bpm) which again drops a beat back to C - which this time continues at a faster 96 bpm, and Bonham puts the snare on the & of 2 - which is congruent with where Page put accents on the C, but then gives you beat 4 on the snare; at this point the AUDIENCE has been shifted to the 98 bpm speed.

 Also note the drums go away on the C chord: you can decide to count that however you wish based on the pulse of the strumming (including one guy that wants it to effectively be perceived as reggae...); but it's how the guy walking down the street who knows nothing about time signatures perceives it that actually (pun intended) "counts"!  That Invisible Listener's Foot is where the pulse is.

But feel free to hear it as reggae, or some sort of odd West African poly rhythm if that's your fancy.  In reality, NOBODY who isn't a musician COUNTS when listening to music.  Nor do most good rock musicians unless something is really amiss.


 "Deliberately".  I've seen a video where someone insists it's a mistake.  Most all ignore that there are ebbs and flows timing wise - which is the essence of John Bonham's feel. There are people who will insist music that isn't perfectly gridded - perfectly on beat - is therefore "wrong".  This is an edict invented by people who don't want to make a judgement call on the reality that some music pushes the beat, some drags the beat, sometimes a mix.  Or least it was until the computer recording era came along.

 "Deceptively".  It is an artistic decision to make this part feel like something happened different,  and was abrupt.  They want to disturb the AUDIENCES inner metronome.  The effect of the sensation of being abrupt, something happened "early" is what is wanted.

 This is why I say it's not a time signature change!  If you're perceiving a different time signature then you KNOW there is going to be a missing or added beat.  The fanfare is 2 measures in the song, the first of which went (deceptively ) as expected for 4 beats, the second time dropping beat is NOT "dood, a measure of 5/4".  It's NOT a big measure of 7 (the rhythmic pattern REPEATS TWICE).

 It's very simple: they DROP A BEAT.  There is a difference: in an odd time you expect a beat to go away or return. You know it's an "odd time signature" - that's the point.  I would guess that people accustomed to the odd time of the Zeppelin songs "Black Dog", "Four Sticks" and "The Ocean" want this to conform to that creative notion.  It's not, it is deliberate musical deception!  And "in ye olde days" music as an art form wasn't that coarse; it would have been crass to have Yet Another Odd Time Signature with The Drummer Playing Across the Bar/Backwards/Poly/Syncopated.

 Because they've thrown the AUDIENCE off kilter they can sneak the tempo up a bit.  Which I claim was the point.

 When they return to the fanfare - at the faster tempo - the audience now expects it to be short.  Of course!  So then they make the following C continue where the audience would also expect it to go the same extra beat as before - a surprise.  It also lets the guitar get away with accenting that cues the end tempo of about 98-99 bpm, and Bonham puts the drum-stamp of approval on beat 4 - but only after one last bit of deception with the snare hitting the & of 2:

in rock music the snare "always" accents 2 and 4.  The AUDIENCE is expected to perceive the & of 2 as a new beat 2 - or was it beat 4?  That ambiguity is the final step, closed by him hitting the snare on 4 afterwards.  BUT, because the & of 2 is after beat 2, a shorter length of time between the "traditional" 2 and 4 has occurred: the listener is pushed "forward", "faster".

 It would seem "a lot" of people want "the tempo change" to happen at that moment.

 This is a very curious thing to me.  Even as a child I heard this section of the song pushing the tempo faster (as other sections do as well).  Yet, effectively all of these videos have one problem in common: they want the tempo to remain steady from before the fanfare section through to the guitar solo!

 Which means, they all want to do some crazy math to reconcile both beats being dropped and added, as well as the slightly late start, and the "early"-ish, 16th-ish change back to the fanfare the second rep, and the accelerondo at the intro to the guitar solo.

 Some guys want to count all the way across all sections, as if nothing repeats.
 Some want to add the fanfare reps into one measure of 9 beats.
 Some want the pulse to be 16ths on the C chord parts to account for the 16th coming back to the fanfare.
 Some want the listener to perceive it as syncopation to an invisible pseudo-clave pulse.
 Some have zanier ideas about it.

 Here's my beef: they all ignore what really should be the most important concept to the notion of "music theory": the only thing that matters is



 The mythical imaginary listener may not be able to use musical terms to explain their perception, but that doesn't mean they don't perceive.

 Music is not science!  It is SUBJECTIVE.  It is the most absurd thing in the world to tell an audience "no, you're not perceiving it right".  That's like insisting cerulean blue in a painting of a sky is ACTUALLY green, "you're just not perceiving it right".  The only thing that matters is perception of the audience.  One can count odd times over anything and insist that's what one is perceiving, but it doesn't matter.

 I will invoke Reverse Speculative Musical Anthropology and suggest that Page/John Paul Jones had 3 separate "songs" and decided to stick them together as an opus.  They had a problem: the 3 parts were different speeds.  They had to connect them together.

 They did that in the "bridge" section very cleverly.  So cleverly that the Scientists of Music do not agree on what is actually happening.  My addition to this pointless affair (because in reality, do you like it or not?) is that you can't remove the AUDIENCE PERCEPTION from the explanation.  Call it "Chip's Audience Perception Rule".


.. is the only absolute in "music theory".  When you count odd time signatures it does funny things sometimes to your perception.  Fundamental "sensations" of downbeat, up and offbeat get messed around.  It's confusing.  Sometimes the artist WANTS that confused impression (these days.. a lot want that apparently).  A blurry sensation of where the downbeat is seems the goal of a lot of prog bands, despite one of the important antecedents Rush making odd times groove being the dictate.  And certainly the king of grooving odd time signatures - Soundgarden - wasn't about making you feel dizzy about the downbeat.  They were all about it.

 Zeppelin didn't want you to feel confused about the downbeat on these parts of the song.  They wanted you to feel unsure about WHEN it was happening, not WHERE!

 For the first time listener to Stairway, they're simply perceiving a beat going away, a 16th being added - and in the process being tricked about the tempo.  Here's another thing: this is my opinion.  Not really an explanation, because - the way you perceive it is reality.  I'm sure there are people that won't, or can't hear it as a tempo change with beats added/subtracted (which is the problem...).  But in my OPINION the above is what is going on in reality.

$.10, thanks drive through.