Showing posts with label skills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label skills. Show all posts

Friday, January 4, 2008

Guitar Lessons: A Great Investment Anytime

Some of my earliest posts on this blog outlined how valuable finding a good instructor was to meeting my goal of maximum results in minimum time. This is more universal than just for someone wanting to make up for a late start it turns out.

I had asked a friend of mine who has played guitar for 25 years and is still active in well paying gigs to review my blog for authenticity. The last thing I want is for anything in a post to steer someone wrong in their efforts; so I like to gather feedback. Seems he read these thoroughly as he has gone back to take some lessons!

He felt trapped in a Pentatonic box and wanted to improve his improvisational skills both for rock as well as jazz. Two lessons into it he is already reporting an overall improvement in his playing; definitely a good return on the time and money invested.

Although I am gratified that someone read my post the main excitement I feel is that this confirms my belief that there is always something new to learn in this hobby and lessons are a great way to achieve maximum results in minimum time.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rock Band: The Collaboration Effect

My kids bought me Rock Band for Christmas. Ostensibly, this would be construed as them recognizing my interest in the guitar and music. In reality, it is more along the lines of me buying my wife a Telescope for Mother’s Day. I haven’t been able to get near the game since hooking it up.

The version I bought, I mean they bought for me, included a drum kit and microphone in addition to the guitar controller. The first reviews I got based on solo play with the guitar controller, was that it was not as good as Guitar Hero III but had a couple of interesting features. Then, they got together with friends and played all three instruments (you can add another guitar controller to play bass but the package only includes one guitar controller out of the box). That is when the transformation occurred.

They are already avid Guitar Hero players. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great game. The primary difference is they play Guitar Hero as a video game. They stand there with the controller in a trance and hit the notes when they fly by on the fretboard. Although they play it a lot their interaction is no different than with "Call of Duty 4" or "Gears of War". With Rock Band, they are actually rocking out. They actually move to the music, which I've never seen happen with Guitar Hero.

The only explanation I have is there is some kind of social networking thing going on. Rock Band creates interaction with the music that comes from the players collaborating as an actual band. I would say the game designers met their goal in my household anyway.

At any rate, it will be awhile before I can get close to it to try the game out. That is ok given it takes a lot of my time just keeping up with playing the real guitar!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Guitar Resources: Great References from the Blogosphere

When you take up the guitar in middle age you want to move fast and make up for lost time. Doing this just means taking the same systematic approach you’ve taken in living your life to this point. One important aspect is availing yourself of the valuable resources at your fingertips thanks to the Internet.

I recently outlined a set of resources that have helped me pursue my midlife guitar goals and when roaming the blogosphere yesterday I encountered a couple more I wanted to share.

The Boomer Chronicles has a recent post regarding The Berklee College of Music out of Boston and that they provide instruction online. My first instructor went through the program there and spoke highly of it. Since I have to hold down a full time job with lots of travel, doing a program in Boston would not be possible. However, I earned an MBA online at the University of Phoenix for the same reasons and that worked well. If the Berklee program is set up the same this could work out great. Check out the post and the Boomer Chronicles.

I ran across this post yesterday on "I Am an Offering", a site that has some easily digestible coverage of music theory. What theory I have learned to date has really benefitted my progress. However, I still have a lot of gaps in understanding. This site has helped and also provides information on another online resource;

Hopefully these will be of interest. Let’s Rock!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Guitar Technique: The Iterative Approach

In my previous post I describe a recent revelation I had regarding parallels between the waterfall and iterative methodologies in the software world and methodologies for learning the guitar. I left off at the point where I had hit a brick wall in attempting to learn Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train". The best thing I ever did for my continued progress was drop it and move on to other areas.

I continued practicing the fundamentals; scale exercises, learning new licks, and working on speed. At the same time, I continued exploring new songs. GuitarWorld is a great resource as it includes transcriptions in each issue. A few months later I picked up “Crazy Train” again and iteration two was much improved.

Although I hadn't been practicing “Crazy Train” specifically, I had been building my chops by working on other songs and continuing to learn new licks and build speed on my scales. I was able to hit about 80% of the song at its actual tempo such that it was recognizable compared to only hitting the intro at a reduced speed on my first iteration.

The premise of all my posts is maximum results in minimum time for us midlife wannabe rockers who want to make up for lost time. When starting out, you will make the most progress by iterating through a variety of songs and technique exercises rather than slogging away on one song in a waterfall approach. I know it is gratifying to be able to play one of your favorites beginning to end. But, if the song requires technique you do not yet posses, move ahead to new territory. The key though is to incorporate those difficult technique areas into your daily practice routine.

For example, I incorporate the licks for “Crazy Train” that I still cannot handle into every practice session. Once you feel you have improved in those technique areas, do another iteration. The critical thing about iterations is that you measure the outcome of each as I have indicated in previous posts. I guarantee that after you compare a second iteration to a first iteration you will realize this is the quickest approach to developing your technique baseline.

If you keep this up you will reach the point in no time where you have mastered the fundamentals such that you could quickly learn a song whatever methodology you choose to follow. I'll be here trying to keep up with you :-).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Learning the Guitar: Waterfall or Iterative Methodology

In the software business there are as many methodologies around how to create good software as there are around becoming a good guitarist. As I worked on developing my guitar skills I stumbled on the fact that there is a relationship between the two. First, a brief outline on software development methodologies.

Software methodologies fall into two main types: waterfall and iterative. In waterfall, you plan everything up front and move through the project in a sequential fashion like water running over the falls. In iterative, you do everything you would do in waterfall but in much shorter cycles. You use multiple cycles to reach the end product rather than one cycle over a longer timeframe. While there are raging debates over which is better, I will outline how this is relevant to accelerating your progress on the guitar.

Let's say you set out to learn Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train". This song requires techniques such as hammer ons, pull offs, tapping, palm muting, harmonics, alternate picking, and most of all, the ability to do all these at a tempo around 140 beats per minute. If you are already an accomplished guitarist, you can learn the song quickly. If you are more of a novice with ambitions to get better, not so much.

I took an initial run at learning this song thinking that if I kept slogging away I would learn the song as well as all of the requisite techniques. After awhile I reached the point where I could play the intro cleanly at speed and little else. In hindsight, I realized I was following a waterfall approach to learning this song.

The waterfall approach calls for planning everything up front and my problem was that my “plan” lacked a key prerequisite, the base resources needed to complete the project, or, in my case a stronger foundation in technique.

In my next post I will outline how I stumbled on this revelation and how I improved progress by adopting an iterative approach.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Guitar Practice: More Benefits of Backing Tracks

In a recent post I described how I create backing tracks using my favorite CDs and a TASCAM Guitar Trainer. Here are some more benefits/options I forgot to list.

Playing against backing tracks really helps develop your chops, especially if you play a “set” during your practice routine of several songs.

Another option is to record yourself while playing along with the backing track. You can then mix it with your recording software and critique how well you accompany your favorite band both technically as well as qualitatively.

Playing along with the backing tracks gives you good practice at handling the guitar adjustments such as volume or pickup selector that may be needed depending on the song.

If you have effects pedals that you use to duplicate your favorite tones playing along gives you good practice at hitting the pedals smoothly. One track I like to play along with is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”. In this song you go between clean electric with the guitar volume turned down for the intro and verse, overdrive for the chorus, and overdrive plus chorus for the solo to duplicate the doubling of the guitar in the original recording. When you are first starting out this is a lot to manage and playing against the backing tracks helps you get comfortable with it.

By definition, wannabe rockers starting the guitar in midlife want maximum results in minimum time. Playing along with backing tracks in dress rehearsal mode fits well into that paradigm because it means you need to exercise 5 or 6 fundamental skills in parallel rather than one or two in serial.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Guitar Practice: Qualitative Methods to Measure Progress

The qualitative aspect to your playing is where the rubber meets the road and relies on the technical elements you measure with your practice log as well as your ear training and development of tone. The best way to measure progress on qualitative elements to your playing is to record yourself.

Recording oneself works great because the recording will not lie while your ear might. My love of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe” was a catalyst to me starting on the guitar. Every nine months or so, I record this song. This has become a hobby in itself as I record the lead, rhythm, and bass tracks and mix them. The advantage of recording multiple tracks and mixing them is that it becomes brutally apparent if you are not keeping good time with the beat as the mix will be muddy.

Each time I do one of these recordings, I have another reference point. I am on my forth “Hey Joe” now and I check my progress by playing them through oldest to newest. Each time I think the new one is great and the previous one sounds like a cat coughing up a hairball. In other words, you can really detect improvement by recording yourself!

The recording approach has another advantage as you can put it out for critical review to your friends. If they are true friends, they will be honest with you! This is a failsafe approach to avoid your ear trying to lie to you.

You measure progress in everything from golf to skeet shooting. Make sure to do the same in your guitar endeavors and you will see tangible evidence of your efforts.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Guitar Practice: Quantitative Methods to Measure Progress

Learning the guitar has all the attraction of great hobbies: mental and physical challenges plus gadgets. The mental and physical challenges can sometimes create frustration so it is important that you adopt some approaches to measure progress and avoid frustration.

In reality, you make progress with each practice in spite of what you may think; you just need to measure it for self-reinforcement. Keeping a practice log is one way to do it.

A friend of mine shared with me that you do not define progress in how many years you have played guitar but how many hours. I include work on scales, licks, learning a new song, and playing for fun in each practice. A practice log for me is simply recording the results in hours. Some of the key metrics for me:

Time duration spent on scales, licks, songs, and fun
Metronome speed for scales and licks (always trying to increase)
Brief notes on the licks, song, and fun (what was I working on)

I just use a spreadsheet to record the data. Over time, you can graph the key metrics and gain insight into your progress and areas where you need to focus more attention. For example, if you see over time that your speed on scales has gone up 10 beats per minute, you can gauge how much practice time you had to invest to get there and decide how much to invest going forward. The key focus of us aging wannabe rockers is to maximize return on investment. Just seeing that your speed has gone up becomes a visible indicator of progress that you may not register on a day-to-day basis.

The qualitative aspect to your playing is where the rubber meets the road and relies on the technical elements you measure with your practice log as well as your ear training and development of tone. I will cover how to measure that in my next post.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Guitar Resources: Technique

Once you have your gear and theory basics, your technique can really take off. Technique for me is the guitar riffs and guitar licks that make up your toolbox. Building speed, accuracy, and improvisation skills are also part of the toolbox.

On my third lesson, my instructor announced it was time to work on improvisation and pulled out a “Let’s Jam!” CD by Peter Vogl. This CD contains a variety of instrumental backing tracks in rock, blues, and jazz styles. My initial reaction was that magic would occur years from now before I contemplated improvisation. Instead, he said don’t worry about that, and had me start playing the E Minor Pentatonic scales I had been learning on top of track 7; E Blues. The magic was here! I had not developed any licks by then but each note seemed to fit magically against the E Blues chord progression. I would highly recommend this CD. When I am working on adding some techniques to my toolbox, playing against these backing tracks is a great way to refine them.

“How to Play Hard Rock & Heavy Metal Guitar, The Ultimate DVD Guide” from Guitar World with Andy Aledort as the instructor has been another valuable reference. This guide is really a prepackaged toolbox. Andy takes you through techniques from classic rock to the techniques of the 21st Century. If you like this one, “How to Play The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis Bold as Love, The Complete Guitar DVD” is another reference by Andy Aledort from Guitar world that you will enjoy.

In the DVD “Total Electric Guitar” Eric Johnson takes you through a wide range of rhythm and lead techniques as well as the techniques of some of his influences such as Jimi Hendrix, Chet Atkins, and Jerry Reed. Again, the reference provides tablature accompanied by video of the instructor demonstrating the techniques.

Another category of references I use is the “Signature Licks” guitar tab books published by Hal Leonard Corporation. These feature transcriptions of your favorite artists along with a CD that you can use as a backing track to play along. You get a description of each track including history and theory aspects of the track. Typically, the CD features regular tempo as well as slowed dow versions of each element of the song.

With the building blocks of gear, theory, and technique basics, you are ready to rock! In the next post I will outline the guitar lore that has really helped keep guitar playing an engaging hobby for me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Learn to Play the Guitar: How to Keep it Fresh

Since beginning the guitar, I have seen many people start with enthusiasm only to get frustrated and quit. As long as you do not expect to play like Eddie Van Halen within a week, there is no reason for your orderly rise to guitar fun to dissolve into a disorderly retreat. Your first task is to avoid viewing the guitar gods as…well, gods (and conversely yourself as a mere mortal not worthy to try) and make sure you are approaching the process in a way that keeps it fun.

I used to operate under the assumption that the guitar gods sprung from the womb, picked up their axe and started shredding right there in the delivery room. As you get into this hobby and begin researching the careers of the guitar greats, you find the reality is much different.

Charles R. Cross, author of “Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix” outlines how years of work followed by years paying his dues on the Chitlin’ circuit made Jimi an “overnight” sensation in London. The reality is more impressive than myth and more motivating for us baby boomers picking up the guitar. All guitarists, no matter how great, had to work at it and keep working at it through their careers. If it were not the case, why do the greats (whoever they are) do extensive rehearsal before going on tour? None of it comes overnight.

Sure, the chance that you will play as well as Jimi or Eddie is remote at best. However, as you progress, you reach a point where that does not matter anymore. Instead, you focus on what you are doing and in developing your own style while still recognizing what the superstars have achieved in their careers. The tough part for many is reaching that point before getting frustrated.

Rather than talk about discipline and sticking with it whether you feel like it or not (this is a hobby and it is supposed to be fun after all) in my next posts I will address what helped me reach the inflection point and what keeps the hobby fresh for me.