Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - November 2018

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.