Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Put a new kit guitar together...

Warmoth parts. Metallic Jovian Thai Tea Borealis color. Stainless frets. Now for some decent pickups...

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="The backside of the guitar (before I ruined it....)"][/caption]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Prince Says Learn How to Play Real Guitar

... instead of Guitar Hero:

Windows of Attention

You never finish learning how to "do" music.

Which goes against all conventional thought.   Let me explain:

When my parents went to school, they had "math class".   They didn't change subjects every semester, and per grade they did not go from "Algebra I" to "Geometry I" or some such.  Because it was all considered "math".

In my continuing series of harangues about motivation, I'm going to suggest that in the effort to streamline "education", by compartmentalizing monolithic concepts ("math") into smaller ones ("Trigonometry II") people are unlearning the notion of both how to view undertaking learning a very large concept and the time/effort required to do so.

It's occurring to me that most new students arrive with preconceived notions of "how long this is going to take".  For adults today,  it seems that the expectation is based around "semester" long lengths of time.   Things that may have taken Eric Clapton years to work out, by hours of daily ardent study and practice, are expected to be "mastered" in a couple of months.

It doesn't work that way.  "Playing an instrument" is like math, or grammer, or physics.  It's as big of a subject as the medical field, astronomy, or anything you care to think of - Einstein credited playing and instrument to giving him insight into discovering the properties of E=MC^2.

Which is why learning to play music is FUN!

It can't be summed up in one book ala "Guitar for Dummies", or the experience of getting through all the levels of a video game, or buying a "Learn at Home" DVD.   It goes on and on and on and on and on.    It is not close-ended; it is the math of the number of notes in existence x every human's subjective opinion of how you arrange those notes.

Which is endless.   The pursuit of music appreciation requires more than a few seconds of concentration, more than a few minutes every day for a couple of months.    Which isn't to say that if that is all one can presently one can afford one shouldn't do it, but that the process of learning it should start "now",  and that because it's such a deep subject the reward of studying it is equally deep.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why Doesn't Fender Fix Input Jacks on Strat-style Guitars?

I've seen a lot of guitars, and how they age.

The number one problem I see is that the input jacks on Strats go bad.   The nut comes loose, the jack itself twists around, and ultimately breaks a wire going to it, or the component itself.

Fender is a funny company.  They've sold untold thousands of that classic model guitar, and it's seemingly infinite variations.   Which is why I find it remarkably ironic - and dumb - they don't take the initiative to fix something they have to know is broke!

It can't be because they're "preserving a classic design" - because frak knows they've changed it enough times.  I can think of many simple ways they could easily fix the situation in tooling, and while it might seem expensive to make a completely "new" part, it would be smart:

  • they would set a precendent in the industry, that is besotted with countless uses of that same dumb design;

  • it would be an obvious improvement pros would recognize;

  • it would prevent the syndrome of a beginner guitarist, having purchased or been given one of their cheaper models from basically quitting because "the guitar is broke" (and likewise, not buying anymore Fender products)

  • it would prevent people like myself, guitar teachers, from having to explain why their $120 cheapo Strat needs maybe a $50 bench fee to resolder a wire on a $.10 part.

I know I will be explaining this to many people in the future.  It won't make sense to them.   It's like GM using the same bolt for a common auto part since 1956, that always works loose and breaks, and never fixing it.   For the longivity of a company that manufactures something for retail, that may not be a good idea from a QC perspective.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gig Entropy: Playing Live Is Always a Compromise

Unless you're playing with Sting or some such.

Your sound will never be "right" live.  You'll always be fighting something.

You will be too loud on some songs, too soft on others.   Some solos will feel like you've got enough gain, other's not enough, then you'll end up with too much.

Maybe your amp will be in a weird place, and you'll have to step around something delicate to get to it.  Your cable will keep wanting to get caught on a nail on the stage.  You wore the wrong shirt, and it keeps interfering with your picking hand.

Suddenly midway through a set the singer's monitor is blowing you away.   Or it starts ringing.   The cymbals are piercing.   Or you can't hear the bass player who cues you on a part in a song.

Maybe people are dancing too close to the front of the stage, and now and then they bump into your pedal board.  Maybe a fight breaks out between a pair of Ultimate Fighting Champs, and somehow a 150 lbs. wooden table lands on your wah pedal.    Maybe the neat "rain" stage effect that is supposed to blow away from the stage starts blowing onto your guitar and gear.

The venue you're at likes the temperature to remain a steady 65 degrees.  Which makes it closer to 60 at times, and your fingers don't want to work right.

Or you've got to walk on stage during a song to get ready for your part in said song, and your guitar has gone out of tune.    Or the weather is constantly changing, and your guitar doesn't want to stay in tune at all.

Somehow, the set list changes and a song is counted off that is 10 patches away on your pedal board, meaning you've got to figure out how to make the song work with a completely foreign sound.   Somehow, the band decided to change the key of a song at the last moment and you practiced it in a different key (with different fingerings/chord voicings).   Somehow,  a song has been added to the list that you haven't played in months.

I've only recently come to terms with this phenomenon:

gig entropy.

I'm a notorious perfectionist. That doesn't work in reality, which I've always known.  The trick, I think, is to alter what "perfect" is.  Having a proclivity for perfectionism has a more evolved meaning for me now.  It now includes the pragmatic expectation for "disaster", AND the reality of knowing one can't absolutely prepare for it.

Which is aggravating, but mentally more freeing.

I have not played as well as I would like because of the above mentioned annoyances/problems.  I couldn't realistically have prepared for them, and wasting mental energy doing so is actually a less "perfectionistic" approach to a gig.  Learning not to have expectations is a bizarre mindset, but one that actually makes sense in that unless you think in a generally vague way (I don't), you'll NEVER meet your own expectations.  Thereby short-circuiting the possibility of a "positive" outcome.

You aim for "good", and try not to think beyond that.  Very difficult, but makes for a better mindset - as opposed to "frozen with possibility, good and bad".

Thursday, February 26, 2009

So, what are the chords to "Revolution" by the Beatles?

Intermodulation distortion does some interesting things to perception.

There's a G#/Ab on the bass, it then goes to an F#/Gb.

The guitar is so distorted that it's easy to imagine you're hearing other notes in the overtones.   The ironic part is that to mimick that sound you need really bad and nasty solid state distortion - the sound of a guitar direct into a mixing board.

Which makes it one of the harder sounds to emulate live.   It sounds "wrong" to just do power chords on the root, but there's no alternative.  Unless someone has an EMI REDD console they can loan me...?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Motivation: the most important element in learning guitar

Unfortunately,  something I can't "teach".

The biggest obstacle I see students have these days is the lack of pure,  simple motivation.

It's one thing to "want" to play guitar.    It's another to have to play guitar.   Like anything else, iIt comes easiest to those who are most motivated - who want to do it the most.    The problem is that modern life impedes the process of "getting motivated".

There's 1,000's of people that can play guitar fast these days, right?  Plenty that can cop any lick you might hear,  people that can play with their toes, upside down, every Nintendo video game theme song, anything.   You know it, because you can see it on YouTube.

Which is stultifying.  What can you do that hasn't been done before?

You can attempt to be yourself, which is the most difficult thing of all.   It's the only way today: the chance to be unique by default.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Marketing guitar lessons and how I think the Shamwow Guy is Chris Walken's meth-head nephew

I try to watch tv like a good citizen. It doesn't work; I have to time shift BSG or catch Bourdain's show when it happens to work out.

On the other hand, I've learned something new and apparently important about tv advertising, which somehow I can't seemingly avoid:

1) You have to have a spokesperson with a curious accent;

2) He has to be manic, and speak sort of like the voice-over announcers for the warnings in pharmaceutical commercials - the verbal equivalentofnothavingspacesinyourspeech;

3) The item you are selling must be $19.95;

4) Along with this, that price must reflect either a 50% discount, or include an extra item that has absolutely no relevance to the item being advertised;

5) (this is the important part!) - YOU CAN ONLY SELL IT FOR 5 MINUTES AT A TIME!

It's the Shamwow Marketing Formula. "It sells itself, right". I've since seen a couple of commercials for other items that follow this exact premise. Theycanaffordtoadvertiseontv,soitmustwork,right? <g>


So what I take from this is that I really need to change my answering machine message at my office.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Something" Deconstructed

I get asked "what style of music do you listen to?" a lot.

I don't have an answer for that question, because I don't listen to just one genre.

I have favorite music.

Having said that, there are songs/pieces of music that I think are fairly transcendent and/or worthy of being given the moniker "Close to Perfect".

Of which "Something" by the Beatles/George Harrison comes to mind at the moment.

As I think of it:

The theme melody is brilliant in it's simplicity; but also because it's a chromatic theme.  Unlike such things usually are, it doesn't sound clownish or self-important.  It's immediately recognizable as a lone melody (the height of accomplishment as a musician IMO) and even better it starts the song.

The intro drum roll is perfect as well IMO.  As is the production; the dry, not to dead not too ringy tom sound.  Not too hurried, not sluggish, not too hard, not too soft touch.

The choice to leave out cymbals on the first verse is brilliant.  Makes it very understated, focuses attention on the vocal, of which again Harrison's voice sounds perfectly soft and executed.  The lyric itself - something in the way she moves - is a simple musing that is simultaneously profound.

The strings are not overbearing, and are perfectly mixed.  The washy Leslied guitar sound builds and recedes perfectly; the sweep is also timed perfectly (something I can't really replicate when playing this live).   McCartney's overly-fat woofy bass sound fills out the spectrum in as "warm" of a manner as possible, without being intrusive.

The little warbly/tremoloed guitar accents on the bridge are a perfect touch, very subtle as a contrast to the timing of the vocal.  Everything to that point is a delicate balance of being *almost* too sparse of an arrangement. Wonderful.

Then the recapitulation of the main theme: the strings suddenly swell, great dramatic contrast, perfectly arranged/mixed.

The middle 8: bombastic, which complements the lyrical shift to a sort of confrontational content.  It also sets up the solo -

which I think is in my Top Ten Guitar Solos list.  It's perfect IMO.

The tail-out section following the solo bookends nice, with the little brash descending chromatic phrase right before the last repeat of the theme - fade to the strings.

About as perfect as it gets.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ed VanHalen Likes Stainless Frets

Also just saw VanHalen raving about stainless frets, about how it's the greatest invention for guitars in recent history.

Which is true IMO.  I presently don't have a guitar with stainless fret wire, but wish I did.  I'm always having to meter-out fret wear by making sure when I do an absent-minded vibrato exercise that I do it on frets that are less commonly used than others.   Although I'm not sure why this is a problem for Eddie, since he probably can have a new guitar every day if he chooses.

/ I need a new neck

One Finger Pentatonic Scale Exercises?

I just saw a video of Paul Gilbert demonstrating position shifting tips.

He recommends practicing pentatonic scale patterns with one finger at a time:  I do, too, and have been for YEARS now.

In fact, it's sort of surreal how similar how he went on about the subject compares to what I've been saying (as some students know).   IMO it's very methodically logical, and for some players at a certain point in their ability it's exactly what they need to do.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm on tv: Check out my band on Comcast OnDemand

Go to "Get Local" "Beatles Special"....  The audio level is a little low (I don't know why it's always like that?) so you may have to turn the volume up a bit....

/ I've yet to have a chance to watch the whole thing so caveat emptor