Showing posts with label technique. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technique. Show all posts

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.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Learn to Play the Guitar: Acoustic vs. Electric

I recently posted a comment on a blog that was asking one of the perennial learn to play guitar questions; acoustic vs. electric, which told me I should outline what my own experience has been. After going through the startup process my conclusion is that you should learn to play on both guitar types and starting on an electric gets you there the quickest.

In my first post I described how an umpteenth listen of Jimi Hendrix's version of "Hey Joe" got me to finally commit to pursuing my life long dream of learning the guitar. No surprise that I started off with an electric guitar. However, I believe my interest in the electric also helped me make quicker progress, and picking the guitar up in middle age should be all about maximum results in minimum time.

I started off with a borrowed guitar, Danelectro single cutaway U2 model. Although I tried using an acoustic several times early on, I found it difficult compared to the Danelectro in both playability and production of decent tone. After each attempt, I would return back to the electric and keep working on building my chops and ability to produce better tone. My hypothesis on the difference is that the Danelectro had a thin narrower neck with lighter gauge strings compared to the acoustic; meaning better playability for someone starting out. In addition, you can derive some tone out of an electric earlier than an acoustic given you have an entire signal chain between your playing and the tone that comes out. Granted, this is somewhat of a crutch given you can be more effective at improving if you hear everything in its lack of glory. On the other hand, when you first start out you want to have enjoyment from day one and part of that is that you can generate some tone you appreciate right away.

I continued primarily on the electric for the first eighteen months and then decided to allocate half my practice time to the acoustic. By this time, I had built up my chops, purchased an electric guitar with higher gauge strings and a wider neck, and developed better tone. In no time, I found that I could finally extract something out of the acoustic guitar. I think the progress I made on building my chops plus development of tone got me to the point where I could appreciate what an acoustic has to offer sooner.

In summary, my opinion is that if you want to learn to play the guitar, you should plan on learning to play both electric and acoustic. The objective when starting out, especially if that is later in life, is maximum progress in minimum time. View starting out on electric as a training aid that lets you build technique and tone so you can more quickly appreciate the acoustic guitar for what it has to offer.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nashville Natives: Jack Pearson and Stan Lassiter

I received a comment on my recent post about aging rockers and Led Zeppelin that closed with "Other "old cats" worthy of consideration: Ed Van Halen, John McLaughlin, Pat Martino, Jack Pearson, Stan Lassiter. (go to youtube and search out nashville natives jack and stan)." I went to YouTube, did my search, and they are worth a look!

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.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Getting the Most out of Guitar Practice: Variety is the Spice of Life

Since my blog theme is aging wannabe rockers making up for lost time, many of my posts focus on maximum results in minimum time. Variety is an effective tool in this theme.

I thanked Guitar World in a recent post for getting me ramped up on fingerstyle acoustic in their Holiday Special. This was a break from my single minded pursuit of heavy blues and rock. Since then I have continued practicing the version of “Silent Night” featured in the current issue and begun a journey into the acoustic guitar.

The journey now has me learning the intro to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. A guitar player friend of mine just recommended I explore the catalog of Beatles acoustic work such as “Blackbird” and “Yesterday” so I plan to do that next. Instead of a detour from blues and rock though, this is turning out to be a way to get more out of my practice sessions.

This confirms how much technique and theory you pick up by learning songs, regardless of genre. By working on fingerstyle acoustic I’m learning a lot about chord formation and relationships to scales that gives me new ideas for improvisation in blues and rock.

Do not be concerned about exploring other genres of music in your guitar playing. It helps you achieve maximum results in minimum time by broadening your exposure to theory and technique.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Backing Tracks: How to Make Your Own

Guitar Hero III players know how much fun it is to play along with your favorite songs given they are now using the original recordings. Playing Guitar Hero gave me the idea to create similar play along tracks for the real guitar.

Any reader of my blog knows by now that I am a fan of the TASCAM Guitar Trainer; a must have piece of gear if you want to improve rapidly. As an aging wannabe rocker I use any advantage I can get. One great feature of the trainer is its Guitar Cancel feature, which enables you to cancel out the guitar on a CD so you can play along. I use this feature to create backing tracks for myself like in Guitar Hero.

You need the guitar trainer; I have the CD-GT1MKII although there is now a newer model out. You also need recording software for your PC or MAC that will accept a line-in signal. This could be as simple as the line-in on your sound card or a USB sound card you add on. All you need to do is run a cable from the line-out on the trainer to the line-in on your sound card.

The TASCAM Trainer has settings for that portion of the stereo region you wish to cancel out as well as fine tuning for the frequency range to reduce. Next step is to review the track you wish to use as your backing track and experiment on it with the cancellation settings. When you have the result you are looking for, it is time to record.

Use your recording software’s features to activate record mode and hit play on the TASCAM. You may need to experiment a bit here with the output level of the TASCAM and the input levels of your recording software to get a strong level without overdriving the input.

In many cases, the stereo region you want to cancel out changes within a song, it is really dependent on what the artist and the recording engineers were going for. What I do in this case is either change the guitar cancel settings on the fly to get one track on my recording software or record each portion of the original track with the appropriate cancel settings so I can connect them back together in my recording software.

The final step I add is to record a count-in at the correct tempo so I can attach it to the beginning of the track and voila; a backing track! You do not get the clam sound though if you miss a note or lick like in Guitar Hero; working on that next.

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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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Music Theory: Fret Board Knowledge and your Practice Routine

I incorporated fret board knowledge into my practice routine by choosing a particular key and playing the major pentatonic scales for the I, IV, and V chords of the key in each position on the fret board.

For example, key of G and the major pentatonic scales. Start at fret three of the low E string and ascend the G major pentatonic scale (G Major Form I from the Berklee Method). Next, descend the C major pentatonic scale using Form IV starting at fret 5 of the high e string. From there, ascend using the D major pentatonic scale using Form III. Move up to the next area of the fret board, descend using G major pentatonic Form II, and ascend in C Form V and so on. Choose a different key with each practice and over time you will gain the ability to quickly locate any scale in any key.

The advantage of this approach is you can instantly change keys while staying in the same area of your fret board. This keeps your improvisation a lot smoother. I play on top of “Let’s Jam!”, a CD by Peter Vogl to work on practical application of this improvisational approach. This CD contains a variety of instrumental backing tracks in rock, blues, and jazz styles. It lists the chord progression for each track as well as suggestions on what scales to play in your improvisation. I utilize my TASCAM Guitar trainer to slow down the tempo as needed when I first apply a new technique and gradually speed up until the track is at actual speed.

I have to admit that once you begin improvising using any approach it is thrilling to hear the relationships between the underlying chords and your playing. However, the great thing about this hobby is there is always more to learn. Identifying where you are starting from enables you to use your fret board map and move to the next level.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Music Theory: Learn the Guitar Neck

There is a saying that if you don’t know where you’re starting from, a map won’t help. This is a great analogy for the importance of learning the fret board on your guitar. The dots, birds, or rectangles on the fret board are not just decoration.

In your first lesson, your instructor will cover the fret board, its reference points, and their correlation to the root notes for chords and scales. You can also find millions of sources in stores and the Internet. My problem was I resisted incorporating that knowledge into my practice routine so it was ingrained.

I was getting by in my improvisation efforts; E minor blues for example. I learned each pentatonic form and their reference points on the fret board. However, I wanted to keep improving my technique and make the improvisation more interesting. Whether it is changing the key along with the chord changes, or incorporating other modes such as Mixolydian, it was apparent I needed to buckle down and learn the fret board. It does not work if the chord change is already past before you have found your reference points!

I will outline how I incorporated fret board study in my daily practice routine in my next post.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday Special: Thank you, GuitarWorld!

I started learning the guitar at age 50 as a midlife hobby. Although my family tolerates it, they have not embraced my love of heavy blues and rock.

Then along comes the latest issue of GuitarWorld with a transcription for “Silent Night” using fingerstyle and all of a sudden there is a lot of enthusiasm from the family to the extent they want to join in. The benefit I expected was to explore learning fingerstyle and received in addition something beyond tolerance for my hobby!

There is something for everyone in this publication from the teenage shredder to aging wannabe rockers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Learn to Play the Guitar: Techniques You Can’t Do Without – Alternate Picking

The guitar is a great hobby to pick up in middle age or any age. In writing these posts, I try to focus on things I wish I had known about earlier or am glad I learned about when I did. One of those “glad I learned about when I did” techniques is Alternate Picking.

My instructor pushed me on alternate picking right off after I outlined that my interest areas were blues, rock, and improvisation. Alternate picking is just a two for the price of one thing. You pick the string on the down stroke as well as the upstroke, twice as fast in theory, right? If you have any plans to learn lead guitar you need to work on this technique and no better time to learn it than to start on it day one.

The day one routine my instructor gave me was 16th note pentatonic scale runs with a metronome. It seems very awkward at first but after a week or so, you will never want to go back. Once you become comfortable at a given tempo, ramp up another 10 beats per minute and go for it. If you incorporate this type of exercise into your practice routine, you will get your speed up and whip out those facemelter licks in no time. Really!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Guitar Tone: How to Duplicate Your Favorites

When I started out, duplicating the sounds from favorite songs was (and still is) an exciting aspect of the hobby. “Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC, a long time favorite of mine provides a good example of how you can crack the code on the guitar tones you love.

An AC/DC saying I like is that they have one song but man, is it a good one. I recall late nights in college, beer and buddies, standing directly in the path of speakers driven beyond their distortion limit listening to classics such as “Whole Lotta Rosie”, “Highway to Hell”, and “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)”. So, when I finally took up the guitar, learning some AC/DC was a no brainer. I started with acquisition of “Play Guitar With…AC/DC”, a guitar tab book accompanied by a CD.

This guitar resource is valuable because it outlines the gear and effects used by the artists to reproduce each track. A great feature is that it provides backing tracks with and without lead guitar. This way, you know what it should sound like but can then play the lead part with accompaniment. Most importantly, this resource stresses the open power chords used by Angus and Malcolm Young to create their sound. If you use bar chords instead of the open chords, the equipment and effects pieces will not matter. I spent some time learning some new chord shapes as well as the lesson that there is more to this than just gear!

On the gear side, The AC/DC songbook provided the gear list used by the artists that recorded the backing tracks so I did a gap analysis between the list used on “Shook Me..” and what I already had.

Guitar - I had a Gibson Les Paul Special with hot pickups that would provide the humbucker tone.
Overdrive – I had an Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808 reissue pedal to provide the overdrive tone. BTW, if you are going to get one pedal, it should be the Tube Screamer.
Amp – I did not have a Marshall stack but started by substituting my Fender Hot Rod (TM) Deluxe.
Delay/Reverb – I did not have a pedal as outlined in the list so I played with the reverb settings on my amplifier.

In my next article, I will outline how I tweaked each component in this signal path to achieve a satisfying approximation for the lead in the original recording.

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