Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - chip@chipmcdonald.com: 2020

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Fluency is "Kind of a" Good Thing

 Knowledge and understanding are two different things.


 Something one will encounter a lot - a whole lot - around guitar players, when something musical is explained are the words


 "Kind of a".


"You know, it's kind of a Bm thing with an open string pull off"
"It's kind of an Eddie thing, with a hammer on a bar chord"
"It's kind of a old blues thing when you bend before going into the chord"
etc.

   The reader might expect me to disparage "kind of a" but I'm not.  In fact, I would suggest it's an important landmark to get to in one's "musical journey" as the oligarchs might have said on the show _Undercover Boss_ (everything is a "journey", right?).

 That statement is a verbal macro of the following:

 "I have learned something and know how to mechanically execute it well enough that I can experiment with it or modify it based on my internalized sense of taste".

 "Knowledge" is having learned the notes, chords and mechanical basis of a phrase.  

 "Understanding" is being able to wield that in a way that goes beyond the original idea.  

 The original blues musicians didn't have a lot of "knowledge".  They may have barely known the names of notes, maybe some chords.  However, they fully understood what they played, how it worked.  It's what allowed them to expand on it and turn it into the basis of most of what people reading this listen to.

 It's important one doesn't try to expand one's knowledge base beyond comprehension.  People are very hung up on the idea of "learning" a lot of information without putting it to use.

 To attain understanding requires application of at least 100 fold the amount of time the memorization took.

 Memorizing vocabulary words isn't "learning a language".  Even after having learned some words if you don't have practice using them you don't have any fluency. You're not really able to communicate; in particular, you're not able to communicate abstract ideas. 

 Music is a language in my opinion.  A different type of language from verbal speech, but still communicating in a sense. 

 What a lot of people are doing as intermediate guitar players is memorizing a lick, a phrase, a root note to root note scale passage.  This is almost exactly akin in my opinion to learning a few vocabulary words, and a phrase or two.

 "Donde esta el bano" is a very useful phrase to know.  Maybe a good place to start with Spanish.  Everyone knows "si", "por favor".  Getting "fancy" might be to try to string together "yes, where is the bathroom, please?".

 You can keep learning vocabulary words, but it's going to turn to a muddle.  It's going to diminish the ability to recall simple, basic words as they become a smaller portion of the whole. 

 A more practical approach might be to simply "learn" some basic words, and try to use them when possible.  For a spoken language that's hard, you've got to find someone else that speaks fluently in order to practice.

 A guitar is always there.  You can try things without fear of embarrassment, or for anyone else to participate.  But like with language, you have to try to apply what you've learned.

 In this analogy, you need to learn "basic words" - basic phrases/licks, and then try to actually use them in different contexts.

 It's better to learn one lick and then try to USE it as much as possible, so that you can UNDERSTAND it: do it to the point that you KNOW you've absorbed it, and are confident with being able to use it at different tempos, in different areas of the neck.  You want to know it to the point that you can get into the phrase and out of it to something else without hanging up.

 Ultimately that is "playing", and a part of the process of becoming a better musician.  Being able to USE what you're learning, not just knowing the labeling.




Friday, February 7, 2020

Having to Use Up My Supply of "Normal" Strings?

 I've been going back to my string reserves, which is to say D'Addario EXLs that I bought a large quantity of on sale at a "crazy" price. 





 While I've decided that Ernie Ball Paradigms are the way to go, I'm not throwing away perfectly good strings.  So I've used the D'Addarios for the past few weeks.

 I miss the Paradigms.  Here's what's different (from the reverse perspective):

1) I'm back to having to fiddle with the tuning a lot.

2) they get duller and duller immediately.

3) the intonation crosses the "can't play in tune" threshold within days.

 This isn't something new, I've dealt with this most of my life.  What is new is having forgotten about the above having used the Paradigms for awhile. 

 The Paradigms aren't perfect.  They're a bit stiffer (almost thought "gee, maybe they're labeling a set of .010s as .009s?), and pricey.  But they sound pretty much the same for the life of the string until the very end, as does the intonation.  Then both suddenly go bad.  So suddenly it's startling, within a few hours they will either stop playing in tune, not stay in tune, or snap.  It's really quite strange.  I've been in the middle of a lesson and I have to pick up my spare guitar, because my main guitar won't hold tune for more than a minute.  Very strange.

 Not as strange as not understanding the metallurgy that makes such a startling difference.  It's not like they're carbon nano-tubes or quantum Boson matrix strands, it's got to be a metallurgy process but it seems unreasonable to think it would make such a big difference.  I'm aware of alloys that can be startlingly different based on adding just a 1% difference, but in such a daily, practical demonstration it still seems almost impossible.  I'm not an endorser, I don't get a price break on them - I pay what the reader pays.  But it's a great thing that in the 21st century there are strings that stay intonated much longer than "normal" strings.  It's the way it should be! 

 But I've got a few boxes left of the D'Addarios.  Which are aggravating, I can even see on the tuner they're not as pitch stable almost immediately, and having to change them so often is a big drag.  I'm not disparaging the D'Addarios; I've used all the string brands and use the EXls for the sole reason they were the most consistently reliable.  They haven't changed, but they're not as good as the Ernie Ball Paradigms. 

Maybe EB will drop the price on the Paradigms in the meantime.  Or D'Addario will answer by making their "normal" Xl strings last nearly as long without the high price?