The downside of not playing out

As I continue on my journey to record and capture some of the music in my head, I have come to a realization. Alas, my preponderance of playing solo, and without others, I lack something of the ability to “fit“. This will take some ‘splaining…

When listening to an orchestra, you hear the whole piece together, where all parts fit. From the woodwinds, to the strings, to the percussion, all the musicians have their own part to play. Isolate one instrument, and you might not recognize the piece. But as you add the individual parts back in, you begin to see the thread.

I have long known that writing for an orchestra is an art, and requires more than just musicality, but the ability to spatially separate the instruments, and to visualize (audibleize?) how they will sound together. It is why the greats (Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and on and on) wrote music hundreds of years ago that still captivate and enthrall us today.

But this is much the same with modern music as well. Think of the simple power trio. Cream was Eric Clapton on guitars, Ginger Baker on drums, and Jack Bruce on bass/vocals. The three of them played together perfectly, complementing, and intertwining their masterful musicianship. Each was borderline virtuosic, but balanced each other out, and the net result was kick ass music.

My problem is that I have almost never played with a complete group like that. Sure, I have jammed with a bunch of fellow axe slingers, belting out some simple Dylan or Zeppelin riffs, trading licks and lead lines. Heck, even some original stuff was shared.

But, playing with a solid timekeeper? Not much, except very early on in my journey with an old Heathkit metronome.

Back to recording

It is clear to me that this lack of practicing with a beatmaster is a problem. Laying down a track, and listening to it is getting better (getting around the “blinking red light syndrome”) as I am sounding more how I know I can. But due to my lousy practice regimen, I slow down and speed up during riffs, and as I map it against the measure markers on Garageband, I can see my imperfections.

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have a problem. Or so they say.

Two things are amply clear.

  1. I need to practice more. A lot more. With more structure. I need to work on matching notes to a beat timing, and to become more aware of that.
  2. I need a simple drum machine, or other aid. Yes, I can do the click of a metronome, but something with the ability to accent the start of a measure, or to alert me to the sections of something I am playing is an aid I need.

Fortunately, these are both simple things to address. Well, except for the blood sweat and tears of practicing.

While I have been playing for over 30 years, and at one time was practicing 4-5 hours a day, my diligence has waned, and when I pick up the guitar, my instinct is to play things I know well, and have riffed to for a long time.

I definitely need to expand in to uncomfortable territory to break out of ruts. I need to work on building a composition one track at a time, and to learn to better use the tools at hand.

One last thing: I am clearly not ready to share my work, but I will admit that I am progressing. One day, I will post a song.

Saying goodbye to an old friend

Today is a sad day, but also a hopeful day. It is time to say goodbye to an old friend, my Fender Telecaster guitar. It is going to a good place, it will be under the tree for a friend’s high school aged son, who wants to learn to play guitar.

Still, it is not without some reflection of my past, that is now going away.

It isn’t particularly rare, or exciting. It started life as a new guitar to augment my, at the time, well aged, and slightly abused Charvel that I bought in 1986. I bought it in 2002, and it came from The Musicians Friend. A “Made in Mexico” Tele, it was a true Fender, not a Squire. At one time the “Made in Mexico” meant an inferior product, but those days are long gone. It was nearly the same quality as the “Made in the USA” version, but about 1/2 the price.

Read more…

The good and the bad

I am back in the south bay for my high school reunion, and I visited two places that I have always loved.

The good: Guitar Showcase

The place to go to find the finest new and used stringed instruments for the discerning player
The place to go to find the finest new and used stringed instruments for the discerning player

Way back when I first started playing guitar, I was introduced to the legendary Guitar Showcase in Campbell. It is an iconic music store, and naturally has a wide selection of guitars (as well as other instruments).

They have greatly expanded the store, and added a lot of floor space. They still have their vintage room (they also put their jazz boxes there, and the PRS guitars, probably to keep us plebe’s from drooling on them) that is fun to browse. I know they will let you play many of them, if you ask, but I have never had the courage to ask.

One thing that has changed is that they have moved the acoustic guitars from the back room to upstairs. And they have a lot more. I played a cherry Taylor nylon string (felt a little strange, a steel string neck, with a radius and all), a genuinely awesome sounding 814ce (I have a 1996 vintage Taylor 814C (no electrics) that is pretty sweet), a dobro resonator, and a few of the spanish made classical guitars (I also played a mid range Yamaha classical guitar that was pretty sweet for $400).

Downstairs, I was looking hard at the Gibsons. They had a few cherry SG’s, the classic, light weight, ultra fast neck, and just gorgeous.  They also had a pretty good selection of Les Paul’s. One that caught my eye was a $2200 Gary Moore signature series. I love the simple finish, and the feel of that guitar. They also had a very cherry Les Paul standard custom for $1600 that was ultra nice. Very light wear, and a truly sweet guitar.

I did manage to walk out without dinging my credit card, but I have to admit it was hard.

The bad: Fry’s Electronics

Being a geek, growing up and living in the bay area, my first stop for tech product was always Frys Electronics. From the original Sunnyvale location on Lawrence Expressway (now a few blocks north of Lawrence) to the other Fry’s, they were always clean, well stocked, and helpful (even if their workers weren’t the brightest bulbs). I bought many a stick of Ram, CPU, motherboard, or power supply there.

SInce our hotel is only a couple blocks from the Hamilton Avenue Fry’s, we swung by this afternoon. I was horribly disappointed. Lots of empty shelves. Product that is poorly stocked, and outside the TV area, it just looked ratty.

I guess I can understand that they are no longer the preferred vendor for tech odds and ends. I suspect Amazon and other online resellers are matching and beating their prices, but I was shocked at how ratty Fry’s had become. An icon from my youth/young adulthood is in decline.

Ah well, 50% isn’t a bad batting average…

Oh crap. I think I am in trouble… (GarageBand edition)

I was cleaning up some programs that I am not likely to use on my new MacBook Air (iPhoto, iMovie), and I figured I would also blow away Garage Band. 

Garage Band is actually a lot cooler than I thought. Damn
Garage Band is actually a lot cooler than I thought. Damn

Before I deleted it, I thought I would open it up and see what it was all about. Then I found the Lessons part.

Damn, that is cool.  Really cool. Now I need to buy widget to get my guitar plugged into my Mac.

I bought the Artist Lesson of Alex Lifeson teaching how to play Working Man. 

Damn, I am going to waste a lot of time with this.

Music Theory

I am a guitar player. Have been for a long time (better than 30 years now). I started with some lessons from a fellow BBS’er Vernon Anderson (He ran the”Rat’s Nest” BBS).

I learned a lot very fast. I do remember the basics of music theory. How to build the scales, all the modes, the circle of 5ths, intervals, etc. But it really didn’t stick. I was too impatient to learn to play cool music, and the theory was boring to me. So I learned Scorpions, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and other great tunes. I got pretty good at just riffing on Em pentatonic (if you can’t play the shit out of E pentatonic minor, you should give up the ‘axe), and playing bluesy licks and riffs.

Then I stalled.  I practiced a lot when I was in college (it was a good excuse to not study), built some speed and chops. Even played out a few times. I picked up Noad’s Beginning guitar and learned some classical pieces (and how to read music).

Fast forward 20+ years. I have been playing more, and picking up my skills again, but I am finally beginning to dive into theory. It is hard, because it is so tempting to just rip away. But I know that if I stick with the theory, the rest of my playing will become much better (and I will fumble less for notes when I am soloing.)