Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Exponential Math * Chaos = Creativity

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Misha Mansoor on the Reality of Superlatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

 At 38:08:

Monday, November 2, 2015

It Looks Easy - Expectation Bias and You

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

Learn from Jackie Chan Learning from a Kid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Be like water" - Bruce Lee

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Snoopy Cadence

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

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

Probably Not Optimal

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

This is not how I recommend one play power chords:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is Your Guitar Sound This Image?

 Pretty frightening, isn't it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

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

A student yesterday came in with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

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

Are these the same...?

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

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


 Of course not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

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

Attention, University of London: your conclusion,

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

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

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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Design and the Line6 DL-4 Delay Pedal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

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

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

Technically, here is why it is....


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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