Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - January 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Zany Chip Prediction 2018: the All Chorus Pop Song

 The writing is on the wall, I think.

 The death of the verse.

 The birth of the sub-2 minute long "song".

 A structure of chorus, chorus variant, end "jam" chorus.  Finish.

 It will be even cheaper and faster to produce, and the immediate novelty of it will allow it to unfortunately further destroy the art of what a "pop song" is.

 I think this will happen by the end of 2018.  A Big Name Artist will come out with such a creation, and then start a trend.  At which point, the push back to what was prior will be regarded as "old".  Ultimately, the Industry will want to push the ultimate end-stage product:

a single chorus.

 I'm already hearing "song structure" morph this way, even in some pop/country recordings: the verse is going the way of the link, and when it occurs to someone you can simply use a variation of a chorus for the B section - poof, that will be it, no more verses.

 If you doubt this, go to the Mart of Wal and endure half an hour of moozek heard there, and count how many songs start on the chorus instead of the intro: they don't have intros anymore.  The intro is dead.

 Then, count how many unique lines total are sung, and look at the percentage of the chorus/hook relative to that.  Also note the inclusion of "drops", sound effects that are 1 or 2 bars long used as links.

  Faster to make, doesn't require as much effort to construct.  In turn cheaper to make. And easier to throw out in bulk.  I'm afraid one day the 3 minute pop song will be regarded as an anomaly like Stairway To Heaven once was.  3 chorus structure, with knick-knack noises/sound effects in between.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

All Information is NOT Online Somewhere

 Lately I've encountered a problem that I believe is brought about by the ubiquity of information seemingly available on the Internet. It's a watershed moment in human history, and I think from a human-centric standpoint will be the most defining factor in the human race from now forward. 

 And while I'm prone to say "A.I." at the drop of a non-existent hat, I'm not referring to artificial intelligence. 
 This is a rather obtuse post relative to "being a musician" or "learning how to play guitar", but it's already affecting people and in turn altering my teaching process.  That aside, it's also somewhat disturbing to consider from a Big Picture viewpoint.

 It's a premise that did not exist 30 years ago.  It may have reared it's head 20 years earlier than now, but it really started gaining traction a mere 5-7 years ago.  It's such a profound thing that I think it escapes most serious discussion; it's a sentence/statement that is said aloud very flippantly, with jaded tedium. 

 A statement that was laughable and implausible within most people's lifetimes who are reading this.  There was a period of mild scrutiny, curious amusement regarding the thought for a few years.  Then, maybe 5 years ago or so, it was just merely accepted as being "truth", truth within popular pragmatic reason:

"All information is online somewhere". 

No.  It isn't. 

If anyone wants to debate me on this I'll do so on the basis of, oh, I don't know, a $100 at least of a bet that I will win.  I throw that out there because I'm kind of at a breaking point relative to a Certain Population Demographic that has grown up on that statement being the literal basis of their existence.

 (....I'll get to how this relates to guitar playing, patience...)

 "Oh Chip, nobody really believes that, fully". 

 No, not 100%.  The problem is, it doesn't matter if you think every last bit of info humans have come up with or recorded is online - if you behave like that is the case.

 Learning the terminology of music is one utilization music theory.  Which is to say memorizing vocabulary words doesn't mean you know what they mean, but you can at least recognize them.  That alone is a good step forward, but consider learning grammar doesn't mean you can construct a sentence with the vocabulary words that conveys any information.  The street was painted with cats; horizontally the endeavor was colored.  The form isn't the point.

 Lately students have wanted music terminology to completely explain and recreate the process that a Famous Artist has used to make a Famous Piece of Music. 

 Music is not Ikea furniture or a plastic model kit.  It can almost be misconstrued as what used to be called a "paint by numbers" kit (look it up on the Net, all information is there).  It is not instructions. 

 On a very, very basic level one can describe the ingredients.  But it's not cooking.  You're not going to make pad Thai with music "theory".  You can make something that resembles bland baroque classical music, if you're deaf but studious - but that doesn't fit the description of any of the people I've ever taught.

 At some point the student MUST try to integrate the information I give them, or the fabulous Internet, with the experience of playing and listening.  You're not going to be able to go online and get the exact instructions on How To Be Jimmy Page.  It doesn't work that way. 

 So, I'm getting a lot of students that are saying they are "confused" at a particular point in their development.  This is not new, and this is just part of learning to play music.  BUT, there is now a new aspect: saying "I'm confused", and then reciting something relevant or not from the Internet, in regards to what is an abstract question:

 "Why did Page play that F?"

 I can explain why it works; in a semi-heretical manner.  Why he decided to do it is never, ever going to be online.

 I realize that for younger and younger people, that notion that something can't be fully explained by information online is literally creating cognitive dissonance in people.  It's also wrecking the creative process, because in turn people have given up: "everything has been done, and it's online".

 No, it only seems that way.  You have to try.

 You have to continue based on being amused by the serendipitous result.  That is being a human.  You can encourage a good result, but it's not guaranteed.  Most importantly, it wasn't guaranteed by any of the humans making music you like; it was only increased in likelihood of a good outcome. 

 The impetus of decisions in music are not online.  They are in the music itself.  Every great song
has it's own internal rules.  Learn the vocabulary, experience it and take notes.  Just learning the vocabulary isn't a substitute for experiencing or taking notes.

  And those last two things are nowhere to be found online. 

 Experience. Take note.





Friday, January 5, 2018

The Mythical Boomer Guitar Solo Aficionado


 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music. 

 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music. 

Somewhere in the late 80's, at the height of the hair-metal boom, something awful happened.  It's sort of related to the evils of "Playing Guitar with a Jock Attitude", but from the observer's point of view.

 As guitar playing in solos became more and more "heroic" in the late 80's, something changed for the worse in the way the listener "evaluated" what they were hearing.  It's overhung into everything today, in that it would seem it's now the defacto nature of how a person listen's to music live today:

 Perfect execution over spontaneous creativity.  

 I had always sort of suspected this as a contrast.  It wasn't until I played in a Beatles tribute band that I became cognizant of it as a reality.

 In the Beatles band I did not take liberties with anything, and tried to execute things as flawlessly as possible given circumstances.  Except in one ironic instance: the outro of the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".  With this song the solo at the end, for various reasons, became something of a showcase spot, and effectively I improvised the end solo - and another 2 minutes or more afterwards.

 The funny thing is, this became a Big Deal Showstopper.  Ironically, because it was the only part of the show that wasn't 100% Beatles content.  So I can take pride in that, given the context, but more importantly it was comments after the shows that was enlightening.

 These shows were mostly filled with Boomer age audiences, which was a novelty in my experience.  A very, very different thing compared to Gen-X and younger audiences.  But the comments afterwards were the most different thing: very specific observations of what I did during the lengthy While My Guitar Gently Weeps solo.

Comments like:

 "I like that Hendrix thing you did in the middle", "the soft part when you started doing the bending stuff, I don't play guitar but that was cool", "that fancy thing you did on the part that goes (tries to emulate the phrase verbally)".  Etc.  

Very specific compliments.  These people were actually listening!

 What a strange thing.  Not  "dude, you shred!!!" or "man, you can play mutha f****** guitar!" - not that I mind that, I love that, it's always great to get compliments, and enthusiastic ones.  Basically the only thing that fuels the Peasant Income Musician.

 But these Boomer age people really paid attention, and appreciated the notion that they understood I was improvising.  

 I never knew what I was going to do for that 2 minute long solo.  That was the whole point, for me it was a nice valve versus the rigid "stentorian rendition of the Beatles oeuvre".  It wasn't perfect, and that wasn't the point.

 I grew up listening to guitar players that from my vantage point were based on that.  In fact, when I finally did see Queen (post Freddy Mercury) it was both shocking and reaffirming how much Brian May improvised.  Maybe a half, or more of what he played was not based on the recordings!  On the live records (Queen _Live Killers_) he pretty much stuck to the recorded versions, but what I saw was someone stretching out on all of the solos.

Which was great!  That's what I wanted, I was hearing Sir Brian May, professor of infra red astronomy, coming up with stuff on the spot, in my presence, that maybe had not been heard before.  Maybe even by him, or even possibly by Any Human In History!

 The most interesting I've heard Steve Vai play is on a bootleg of him around the time of his first solo record, playing in what sounds like a small club - and he's winging solos, embellishing stuff left and right.  Very interesting to listen to.  I'm not knocking Steve, but these days he does nice, extremely perfect renditions of what is for the most part the Expected Recording Solo that has passed Rigorous Introspection and Production Gauntlet Checking.

 Which seems to please his more rabid fans, and makes tremendous sense: 99.9% of his audience, or mostly any guitar player's audience, is probably only going to see you play live just one time.  In which case, presenting the absolutely best rendition of a piece of music is logical.

 Right?  It's very professional.  It's what is expected by every touring act today, and it's also pretty much what is expected by audiences.

 It's also very boring and role in my opinion, and is one of the big reasons I've lost most motivation to go see a "live" band today.  I'm Gen-X, but I'm listening like a Baby Boomer listens I think.  The generation that grew up on pride in their "hi-fi" stereos, their record collection, their knowledge of their favorites artists. Nobody wanted to hear Hendrix or Clapton play the solo from the record - they wanted their experience of that solo section.  This was true for most rock guitarists through the 60's and 70's I think; there was a structure for the solo, but it was a solo - you were expected to take a chance.  You might mess up, but the point was to take a chance.

 Those days are gone.

 There is a difference between performing music, and playing music.

Nobody plays music anymore.