Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - 2021

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Impact of the Beatle's Documentary "Get Back"

  Maybe about half of my students in the past few weeks have brought up the Peter Jackson created "Get Back" Beatles documentary.  It's made a visceral impact on a lot of people obviously, but it's interesting to note what people take away from it.  

... when I played in a Beatles tribute band, long ago..

 - "Being in a band looks interesting!"  Yes, being in a band has ALWAYS been interesting.  What I feel I miss in being a guitar teacher is the ability to convey "that which has more implications for being interesting than *literally* you can imagine".   Which leads to...

  - "Wow, it takes more work making music than I thought!"   Does it?  Another thing I can't convey adequately in lessons is the premise that *making pop music has no rules*.  This is both good and bad; it's why 99.9% of what is created is not good, but it's also why both *the pursuit of the good is a reward, and actually getting "good" is a prize you can't get any other way*.   

On the other hand: there ARE rules being made. Most professional musicians today have very exact, presumed rules they follow that DID NOT EXIST 30 YEARS AGO. "Rules" about how you "write music" to conform with preconceived notions. "Rules" about how things should be recorded, how they should be performed in order to conform to pre-existing *expectations* that DID NOT APPLY TO THE BEATLES. Or Led Zeppelin. Or the Rolling Stones (definitely not). Or Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, et al. Post disco-era in the 70s the process itself changed, and computer recording has made people think the process has to be a particular way. Which leads to..

 - "I didn't know that's how you made music!" Well, that's just one way.  You're also not seeing the process they each undertook at home.  Note they *came in* with music and ideas.  While there were some bands, post this era that spend insane amounts of money to sit in a recording studio for $2,000 an hour, hoping something would just materialize out of thin air, the one thing missing in the documentary is the side of "messing around at home to find an idea". 

- "That's not how things are done anymore, is it?"  No. It's not, in a number of ways.  Ways that are endemic to the business itself, but - also in ways that the artists, musicians accept!  

 The biggest change that has happened in the past 10 years is that "most musicians" now think of themselves as "business people" FIRST.  It's at the top of their minds.  It's not that making money, being successful wasn't part of music before; it's that now people dwell on it, make their entire focus being *first* "how is this going to be profitable?*.  

 Instead of "what do I want to create?".   

 The only point in _Get Back_ where this modern philosophy was evident, was in the discussion about what to do with Paul's song "The Long and Winding Road".   Lots and lots of discussion, mainly about whether it fit "the Beatles", whether it was too this or that, on and on.  A great song, which became a hit in the U.K. if I'm not mistaken; but they're discussing it as if it's too "strange".  

 Modern "bands" have that attitude at the front of their minds *all the time* today.  Instead of the .02% of what the Beatles and their organization was thinking about, it's 99%.  

...and that's why modern pop music is not worth listening to.  That's the gist of the cognitive dissonance this movie has made in a lot of people: "wow.... the Beatles *really were better*, that music really is better than what I "thought" I liked made today".  The pre-MTV era was better; they were making great art for it's own sake.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Trends in Guitar Music Circa June 2021

  The last trend I've noticed would be "Polyphia Collage" based music, which just now seems waning.   

 At the moment, for the first time in awhile I would say that trends towards styles has settled down.  I don't see any new ones, but a sort of... kerfluffel...?  Of already established styles.

Wylee is Taking Note of Your Influences

 I would see this as a period of consolidation and reflection (so profound).  I think that without any major things happening, people are going to gravitate back towards their true musical identities.  What I mean by that is that I see a lot of people, and students, getting blown towards the Latest Cool Style, even though it may not reflect the kind of music they would choose to listen to without outside influence. 

 For instance, there was a time everyone wanted to learn the Self-Accompanied Percussion Solo Acoustic Guitar style.  I had a lot of students wanting to learn to sneak ostinato patterns into their strumming.  At other times it was Loose Nirvana Chording, more recently it was Tim Pierce in the Pocket Perfect Soloing, and then there was the Polyphia Phase that happened before covid.  

 Right now I have maybe the most diffuse assortment of interests among students, which sounds like a negative, but I call it a positive.  There doesn't seem to be an overbearing artificial influence happening, and students seem to be interested in nailing down particular things again.  

 YouTube had accelerated the premise of "gotta learn this Cool Happening Thing now!" by promulgating lots of perfectly produced videos, extorting either how easy (never the case) or how cool (subjective) the New Way is.  For the past 5 years, having this constant influx tugging at the *eyes* of students has made people, I think, a bit distraught over whether what they thought they wanted to do on the guitar was cool or not.  

 With no New Major Thing grabbing attention, I think it's leaving room for people to get back to their center, so to speak. A positive phenomenon. 





Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lead Guitar Tips from.. The Tech Lead?

 Hello, The Guitar Teacher here.


(...that's a contextually funny in joke, trust me)

 I believe there is some kinesthetic overlap between typing and guitar playing.  

 When you touch type you're using sublimated muscle memory to press something that represents an alphanumeric character. You don't think about the act of pressing the key, the key representing an alphanumeric character, the character being part of a "word", the word being something you have to consciously spell before your type it out, the word part of a sentence, sentence structure, paragraphs, composition.   

 You touch type (hopefully) from a stream of consciousness, controlling your thinking between the immediate future - your buffer memory, and a more "distant future" of your compositional sense, how what you're typing relates to your overall intent.  

  In my opinion, guitar playing should be this way.  You shouldn't be thinking "I need to put my finger "there" to make the note "D" sound".  "D is part of the D diatonic scale, which is part of a D major triad consisting of D, F# and A, and that's a subset of diatonic harmony," etc. etc. etc..  It should be a reflex if you really want to "speak" when improvising.  You don't speak to other people the way you would write a book, would you?  

In my opinion.  Most people appear to be deciding to consciously do high order math in order to justify their note choices.  That is what I would call an "approach" to process, but different from what I choose to do.  Instinctual choice I think is the point of improvising.  Constructing "sentences" and "paragraphs" from extemporaneous thought, versus pre-planning.  

 Back to typing:

  In the 90s I had my typing speed up over 100 words per minute.  Sometimes I could get it up to a 1:1 or faster speed at an "average speaking voice" tempo, but it's nowhere near that now.  The guy in this video - an ex-Google, ex-Facebook programmer, types at 170 wps - which is very fast, "guitar hero" speed.  I would attribute that to an alpha actinin-3 gene polymorphism (as I've referenced in prior posts), but it mostly down to some simple tips he references within his video.   

 Some of which applies to playing guitar.  Ergonomic positioning, keyboard switches, pitch.  The most important tip being: "don't go faster than you can type perfectly".  I've harped on that before; speed is easy if you're willing to practice something at an optimal tempo perfectly.  You can't do that and not get faster.  Speed is easy. It's very straightforward.

 But watch Techlead's video.  He has a very "technical guitar" approach to typing, that can be motivational I think to practicing guitar (choosing the proper gear, mechanical approach, competitive mindset, etc.), and his videos are "entertaining by an extremely dry wit" as well.




Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Mutagenic Influence of Streaming Services on Art Perception

  I use streaming services a lot.

 In guitar lessons I'm constantly referencing music on Spotify for students.  Inevitably I have to look up a song, and most times the following thing happens:

 Spotify chooses to pull up the LIVE version of a song.  Or an alternate version.

 If I tell a student "listen to this song this week" again - most of the time it's not the definitive version, but a live version, a remix, or an alternate take.  Something about their algorithm (and it seems YouTube music is similar, I don't know about Apple Music) makes it pick the least common choice.

 As I'm writing this I'm listening to the tracks on a "deluxe edition" of In Through the Out Door by Led Zeppelin, 7 tracks that are rough mixes - not the original versions found on the record that was originally released.


 They have parts that are slightly different or parts that are louder/softer.  It occurred to me a moment ago that for young people that are maybe checking out Led Zepplin for the first time, they're not hearing the optimal, "official" version presented to me when I was a child.  They're hearing a strange version.  They may not even listen to the "real "versions of these songs, much less the album experience in order.

 Curiously, a side effect of this "deluxe edition", or live bias is that it affects the classic bands more than others because they're the ones that have these extra tracks presented to the listener.  Which, don't get me wrong, I love - I'm listening to an alternate mix of my favorite Zeppelin song "Carouselambra" right now - BUT, I remember the first time I heard this album all the way through and thinking about how this song sat in the middle of a record with a lot of songs I didn't care for. Meaning, it told me "these guys have musical influences I don't care for, this percentage maybe", and also that there is a certain breadth and depth to an artist's muse.  

 I fully understood as a pre-teen musicians made music from influences, and the process is not a level, flat plane.  I'm not saying people should have to listen to what they don't want to, I'm just saying this is an aspect that is gone: you don't really know what Led Zeppelin is about just because you listened to "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love".  And even though you may not like the whole catalog (I don't - and I'd suggest I'm a huge Zeppelin fan) you understand what their CONTEXT is about.

CONTEXT is something that has been thrown away in modern communication.  It's deemed not necessary, inconsequential.  Slows you down, not needed.  Which is fallacious idiocy.

  So, there was a period when Napster took over and IPods were the defacto way people listened to music, and people at that time that considered themselves "fans of music" went to the trouble of seeking out these alternate mixes, or strange music, or niche music.  It wasn't super easy, they had to go online, search on Napster, wait.. maybe one day something would be there and not the next.  BUT - the most common, "accepted" versions for the most part (with some notable exceptions) would rise to the top.

 Not the live version of a Jimi Hendrix song from some oddball show, or an alternate mix.  I believe this is the fault of corporate influence putting newer releases ahead of the queue, thinking it will make sales of physical media happen.  A kid that thinks he likes Led Zeppelin searches for a Zeppelin song and takes the one at the top, and it's a crazy live version, or a mix without the vocal: "I don't like this" maybe he thinks, goes to something else.

 What a horrible experience.  The music industry has been upended so many different ways.  Napster/MP3 technology started it, but at least the people that should be music fans got a proper exposure to the right examples of what they were looking for, for the most part.   Chaos theory is all about initial conditions affecting an outcome; the initial conditions for being a music fan in the 21st century has been damped, if not completely wrecked.  




Monday, January 18, 2021

The Best Joe Walsh Guitar Clinic Isn't Actually a Clinic

 I stumbled upon this video a few weeks ago.  It's not a literal guitar clinic, but Joe speaking at Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Tacoma, Washington.   

 He's not addressing guitar players per se.  Initially, he's just talking about his father's military experience, and his efforts at helping vets.  But then he starts talking about guitar parts in his songs:

 The thing is, he details almost exactly things I go into in guitar lessons when the topic of "Joe Walsh" comes up, OR when the techniques he references comes up.  The use of the right hand percussively, pendulum strumming - and the notion that some of his licks "drives guitar players nuts".   
 It's interesting to know he knows what his trademark licks are, and that he understands why they're clever/brilliant.  And an interesting insight into an artist who superficially may seem on passing to be a bit of an addled persona, but in reality is very thoughtful and together.  

 There is also the element of what I think of as the "70's pop objective sensibility" on display here.  These licks are the result of a mentality that is gone now.  He wasn't thinking about how to play faster, how to play better, but how to play something interesting.  

 Which is a beautiful concept in the 21st century: something that is interesting, without requiring a simple extremism gimmick of "faster", "lower", "more brutal", "slower", "more complex", "choppier", etc..