strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Failures - the greatest teacher

A collaboration with another guitarist fell through recently. I think that ultimately the issue was one of communication. The other guitarist had suggested we work on a song together. Having not really collaborated with anyone, I was eager for a chance to see what it could bring. I suggested a cover song by a band that featured two guitarists in dual lead type roles so that we would both have a sort of chance to shine. Now, full disclosure, this other guitarist is advanced beyond my current abilities. He’s posted covers of Van Halen, Eric Johnson, Yngwie and many other great guitarists. I had no illusions going in that I was going to need to raise my game.

I suggested something by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy or some equivalent band, assuming the hard rock or metal genres would be more to his liking. He suggested “Bloodstone” by Judas Priest, I’m sure in large part because there are multi tracks available and we could use the original vocals and other parts as needed. So, we’ve been working on this project for a couple of months now. I’ve done all of the heavy lifting when it comes to the mix, and the video editing as well.

He had waited until I recorded drums before starting on his parts, since drums are typically always going to be the foundation. I finally recorded drums about a month ago and we’ve been slowly adding bass, rhythm and he had finished all his parts to include the entire solo. His parts sound great, he clearly has honed his cover game.

I had been a bit lazy in listening to the original track, as I've never really cared about getting a cover exactly note for note. Some may say that’s a cop out, and they may be partially right, but I know for certain that I just don’t care about trying to mimic someone else’s song to the nth degree. That being said, I do see the value in learning the most difficult parts, just to raise your playing to a level you apparently aspire if you like a song well enough to cover it.

So, as I started to record my parts, he quickly noted some problems. I was playing a rhythm part differently than him, and he wanted our parts to match up. I think he’s ultimately correct in this case, it probably does sound better for the rhythm parts to lock step. So, I fixed that in fairly short order as it was a simple oversight. But, it does start to illustrate where small fractures were forming.

Without ever discussing it specifically, I gather he assumed we were going for a faithful rendition of the original. Now, as I said before, that’s really not my thing. I honestly don’t get it, you’re never going to sound as good as the original and what would be the point? I get it as an academic sort of exercise, because you can learn a lot about the player, the recording and songwriting process in general. But, when I’m recording a cover I try to stay close, but I don’t sweat small variations.

I had been making regular comments and suggestions about how I would record my parts and I had stated early on that I wanted to divide the solos up, so that we both would have our chance to wail a bit. This song is like many Judas Priest songs in that both Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing have solos. The Glenn Tipton is the initial solo and it’s a pretty laid back and easy part. It’s followed by K.K. Downing, and his solo is “The Solo” of the song. It was my intention all along that we would divide both sections so we both would have part of the Tipton and K.K. bits.

The K.K. solo wails from the onset, and there are two fairly distinct parts to it. The first part is a single position sort of classic rock riffy bendy part and then there’s slight pause and a fast descending triplet bit. I’ve been working on the whole thing, but I knew I was going to take longer for the second half. I had said a few times that I thought I would divide it up that way, with him getting the bulk of K.K.’s solo including the descending bit and some other bits after before there’s this pedal ascending section we could play in unison.

Like always, I have to divide my time among many disciplines - guitar, keys, drums, bass, vocals, video editing, visual effects, cinematography, model building, etc. I don’t choose to spread my focus in so many directions, it’s just about following my muse. So, it had taken me awhile to finally get where I thought I had a passable version of the solo.

Another note is that I had been using tablature that although perhaps wasn’t note for note accurate, it was pretty close to the original. The original track is very noisy, and there are definitely parts in there where it’s a true challenge to hear what K.K. is playing. All that to say I wasn’t sweating getting it exactly “right”. I don’t see the point.

Well, I recorded my solos yesterday and frankly I thought my part of K.K.’s solo was my best playing on the song so far. I don’t mean it was the best playing on the song in general, I just know myself and I was happy with my take. I was a bit surprised when I very quickly got negative feedback from the other guitarist. I didn’t save the conversation but it was essentially “I don’t like it.” Now, in fairness that may be just be unbridled truth. I gather he wants to get it note for note and in that metric, it’s definitely going to fall short.

What I didn’t hear was what specifically he didn’t like about it. Tone, bends/intonation, rhythm, clarity, vibe, all of the above? He suggested I take the Tipton bits, he play the KK bits, and then we play the last pedal bit in unison. If we were in a JP cover band and we played other songs where I would get “The Solo”, the scenario would be different.

I think the fundamental problem here is that we both see ourselves as lead guitarists. I’m not trying to argue I’m of his caliber, at least not yet. My idea with dividing the tracks up was so that we both would get a moment to share the lead but I was still deferring more than half to him, and it’s the more challenging/impressive part of the solo.

Without saying it, I’m getting the feeling he’s always seen his role as the main lead guitarist and I was the rhythm guitarist who might chip in with a simple line or two. There’s nothing sinister about him feeling that way, it’s just not how I see myself. If he had suggested I work on the part some more and made specific mention of what he felt was falling short on my part I would have likely listened and made an attempt to get closer to his expectation. I still don’t see the point, but I was trying to be a team player.

All that to say, I felt the tone of our whole collaboration went demonstrably south when he criticized my part, suggested he play the whole thing without giving me an out to fix whatever the problem was. I didn’t ask for that, and maybe he would have been receptive if I had, but I feel like I’m right in assuming he wants the lead and has all along.

Which is totally cool. I get it. I’m cut from the same cloth. So, after all this very considerable rambling, I realize this project was probably doomed to failure from the start and I’m just as complicit. I’ve known that I likely would never want to be in a band with another lead guitarist. I know there are many great bands who have successfully achieved this relationship, but a big part of my assumed band role is going to be as a songwriter and I’m not likely to want to turn over guitar roles to another player. I have no problem with another instrument doing their own thing, but I want my own space dictated by me, not someone else.

I thought we could find a happy medium where we would both get a chance to shine, but I feel like he wants to be the Lead Guitarist in any scenario. I’ve learned that I will not likely function well in collaboration with other guitarists, at least if they see themselves as lead guitarists with an equal editorial say.

The only negative thing to come out of this is I think it’s probably put a strain on our friendship and that’s too bad. The blame is probably on me. If I feel like someone is being disingenuous (note, feel, not know) about something I just lose trust and it puts up a wall. Ultimately this is just a cover video, it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But, I start to wonder at all the positive comments made in the past and how genuine they were and how genuine any in the future would be. I felt like I finally got the real opinions about my playing, and unfortunately they were distinctly different from all others before.

As always, failures are the greatest teacher. I have learned that I really need to work more on my playing, both for playing entire takes at a level adequate for recording audio and/or video and that I’m not at a level as a soloist that I want to be. I’ve also learned that before going into a project with anyone I need to ensure that roles are strictly spelled out. I doubt I’ll do a similar project anytime in the future. If I want someone to play on a track, I’ll likely finish all the other parts first and then let them know exactly what I need. I’m not saying I’ll never collaborate with another lead guitarist, but I’ll make sure I go in with eyes wide open next time.

G.A.S. Philosophy

Asking the Important Questions, Episode XXXVII - G.A.S. Philosophy.

So, fellow G.A.S.ers, (you know who you are), what's your philosophy of gear acquisition? (whether money is a consideration or not)

More is always better?

I only buy what I will use?

Buy all the things?

This is important, think of the children.

My personal approach (since you asked) is primarily based on the unique sound any given instrument (or gear in general) will provide. In descending order of importance it's usually - sound, feel/playability, appearance. They're all important, but it's a hierarchy.

I'm not compelled to own more than one version of any instrument, even though I know they can all sound different, even two guitars that came off an assembly line or equivalent on the same day. Most of my guitars were inspired (and named) by the players I have idolized for so long:

Les Paul - Jimmy

Strat - Eric (J)

Tele - Andy

Jackson - Eddie

355 - Alex

J Bass - Geddy

My other instruments all have specific uses, even if they weren’t necessarily inspired by certain players. The new PRS is an example. I don’t have any particular player who inspired me to get the PRS, I just know they’re great guitars and I’ve heard many people use them to great effect. I still have other instruments I plan to buy in the future, but it’s unlikely I’ll ever get a second version of any I already own. I will say that within the PRS lines, there are a few other versions that offer different sounds/pickup configs that I’ll likely consider.


Back to school

Back at the books tomorrow after a very long break. 2018 was a strange trip for many reasons. Drama on many levels, mostly external. A repetitive strain injury shifted my music focus for several months and its effects still linger, albeit not as limiting as before.

I’ve decided to accept that “Christmas Armistice” will not reach its final form for a long time. I think I have a path forward for a much improved version in the near future, but I’m putting my idealized version on the back burner as further study in new disciplines is required.

Ironically, the performance videos were once the “heavy lifting” part of these projects, but that’s now the easier component. It’s all the post production tasks that require an elevation of my skill set. My problem is that once I achieve one step in a project, my mind starts wandering and I get all these ideas that require a whole new set of skills.

 

Workplace Drama, Part Deux?

The drama from last summer apparently is rearing its head again with the same provider making accusations of misconduct and wrongdoing against multiple employees. I’m not sure if I discussed it here, but this person had been one of three temporary acting chiefs and ultimately lost that position because of increasingly erratic behavior and outrageous claims against multiple people. Things had seemed calm for several months, but supposedly this provider had been looking into other people’s records and made an accusation against another provider that resulted in a suspension. This is all second hand info, so take it with a grain of salt. The source is an honest and reliable person, but I have a feeling there may be some added drama to the story, whether an intentional exaggeration or not.

Following that, it seemed that this accuser appeared emboldened by this action and resumed the campaign against everyone that had rubbed them the wrong way, including yours truly. At this point, I was fed up with the bullshit enough that I sent an email to our new chief as well as his boss and included the memo I had written back in June. He spoke to me in person about it, and although non commital about anything specific, seemed to agree with my points and endorsed that this issue was a problem centered around the source and not the accused. I’ve not heard anything further, and honestly I don’t expect them to take any serious action other than telling this person to do their job and mind their own business. I’m wondering if this person will go even further off the rails to the point they must take action.

My experience with the leadership at work (in my seven years there) is that they avoid conflict and try for a quick and quiet resolution. Which usually doesn’t involve dismissals or transfers. If nothing else comes out of it, they got a detailed description of how I work now, so there can’t be any protestations of ignorance if there are any issues in the future. There shouldn’t be, as I’m following the same procedures (as directed and endorsed by my supervisors and our colleagues at the regional office) that I’ve always followed. I felt it was important to make sure our relatively new leadership chain (the clinic chief has only been here a month or so, and his boss around a year) was aware of my process.

I’m hoping the leadership will finally understand that this is a purely personal episode and this person is pursuing vendettas against multiple people to serve their own ego and not for the good of the organization or our customers. I stated that this episode was hurting morale and hindering our ability to care for our patients, and I’m hoping if nothing else that will mean something to them. We’ll see.

Letter From Home Practice

I’m trying to slowly get back into the groove after the previously discussed elbow issue. This is an excerpt of me practicing Letter From Home (Jason Vieaux arrangement of the Pat Metheny song). It’s recorded with a Fuji XT-3 using the onboard mic, so the sound is a bit inferior and noisy compared to my usual condensers. The final version will be with a good condenser mic or two and I’m thinking I’ll use this as my audition for the Berklee Online guitar program.

Get to Know Your Camera!!

Here’s a short experiment with my new XT-3 and slider. I’m trying out a variety of shots and angles to add interest. No real B-roll in this video, that’s for future projects. This is a means to practice for future music videos and silly bits. I find the only way to really learn something is to do it, make mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes for future projects.

For bored camera/video geeks only:

Camera settings are important and noise reduction is great for noobs like myself. This is a slightly improved version of the original video, now with noise reduction applied. It's a bit softer and it doesn't work on all clips, but overall I think it's a better look.

Some lessons learned:

Automatic and manual settings both have their uses, it's important to know which and when.

For ISO settings I think manual is going to be preferred most of the time, unless there was some compelling reason to have it adjust due to quickly changing light. Not sure what that would be, but it's possible I suppose.

For focus it depends. The auto focus is great if you're moving around, but if you're static it's probably better to go manual and leave it. Again this depends on what you're doing. If I'm shooting a music performance video and I want it to stay focused on my guitar, I'll probably go manual. The auto-focus is pretty good, but the occasional focus hunting can get distracting.

Lighting is always critical and I already knew that, but I'm trying to learn the situations in which I can get away with more ambient/natural light. Color temp changes gets distracting.

Time Marches On

It’s been a relatively busy few months, but nothing of singular significance has warranted an update. I made some changes and upgrades to the home studio to include trading in the Apollo Quad 1st generation unit to Vintage King and replaced it with the newest iteration Apollo X 8P unit. This design is somewhat more oriented to patchbay use and so I also got a Switchcraft patchbay and a whole bunch of cabling for the studio. The rearrangement and running of cables took the better part of a few weeks. It’s mostly done now, although I’ve got the odd cable to run here and there.

All of these processes can be sort of slow and iterative based on other demands - work, exercise, etc. I’m still dialed back from full time musician mode because of the elbow, although it’s slowly getting better it still limits the amount of time I can spend playing every day. In the meantime I also traded in my Nikon D5300 to B&H Photo for the newest generation Fuji XT-3 mirrorless camera. I’m still figuring out how to use it, but I can already see the benefits. It’s an amazing camera. Along with this upgrade and the studio changes, I tried to straighten up and organize my various closets and so now I have a camera closet so to speak. I’ve decided to use the extra room with the WinPC as the video room and I’ve got a desk and green screen permanently set up. The closet now houses all my camera gear, and that stash is slowly growing. Every hobby (at least mine) tends have some gear fetishism and acquisition inherent to the process.

I cleaned up the amp closet as well and coiled all the newly extra cables after having changed to mostly snake cables for the patchbay setup. Because of the patchbay I’m now able to split one eight cable snake with four leads going to the vocal closet and four to the amp closet. So, now I have the Royer 122, SM57, and I was able to dust off my Sennheiser e906 dynamic mic and all three are in place for the 65 Amps 112 cab in the closet. I’m still using the default vocal booth setup with the Slate VMS One and SM7. This leaves me two left over leads in the vocal booth and one leftover lead in the amp closet. I also added a 16 channel passthrough to my main desk so I can plug in instrument mics and whatnot as needed. I’ve got one channel dedicated to the DI output from my H&K Grandmeister and I still need to run two outputs to the Matrix GT1000 for output to the Port City OS 212 I have in the main room.

The remainder of the ports are mostly redundant, but it will be nice when I need to mic up instruments or just plug in a vocal mic in the room. The switchbay is essentially ready for use at all times but a couple of the fairly common uses require a patch to be run, for instance the Avantone monitors need a patch cable to be heard. As these are only used to check the occasional mix, that need is fairly uncommon. Tweaks are sure to be necessary as I slowly transition back to a more music heavy mode again. These needs reveal themselves with the use of the gear.

Continuing on with switchbays, I had been holding off for several months as there is a new player in the game with Flock Audio, who are soon to release the first software controlled patchbay. I had wanted to wait until they were released but the release schedule hasn’t been confirmed and they have some fairly draconian return policies. As far as I can tell, you can only return/get a refund if the box is unopened. There doesn’t appear to be an option to return the unit if you decide it’s not what you wanted. For a unit that I think is going to run upwards of $2K, that’s a pretty big leap of faith. I’m going to wait until it’s been out in the wild for several months if not longer and see how the reviews look. It’s a great idea if it stacks up to the hype of Flock Audio. The ability to change routings through software with a few mouse clicks and to have presets saved for various arrangements is quite appealing.

In the meantime I’m glad I decided to go with the typical patchbay setup as it’s really streamlined operations as well as opening up some routing options that weren’t readily available in the past.

Repetitive Strain Injuries Can Go Smoke A Bowl

I’ve been dealing with some sort of lateral epicondylitis/peripheral nerve hybrid in my left elbow for several months now. I think it arose from the resumption of regular practice after the spring semester ear training downturn. I don’t remember any acute events, but as these things go it started to gradually rear its ugly head.

I’ve had point tenderness at the lateral epicondyle but there has also been this weird hot wire down the middle of my forearm sensation as well as a feeling that there was some sort of internal joint swelling or pressure in the elbow itself.

I’ve tried to cut back on my practice schedule, even going so far as taking several days off at time. Unfortunately, there are often seemingly trivial elbow movements in any ADLs that tweak the problem as well. Short of slinging the left arm and not using it, it’s almost unavoidable to not tweak it in some way several times a day.

Finger flexion against resistance is particularly bothersome, and so acoustic guitar and piano can be especially troubling. Despite this, I refuse to completely rest and let my skills atrophy, so I’ve just decided to work through the issue and try to apply some judicious work/rest scheduling. It does seem to be slowly improving, although it feels like it’s taking forever. I know I’ve been dealing with since June at least.

Hey Sports Fans...

That title is actually relevant for this post, probably the first time in the history of this blog. Tiger Woods returned to form after many dry years fraught with personal drama and chronic injuries that seemed destined to end his career far too early. He found himself part of the final round mix repeatedly from mid summer onwards, and was right there at the British Open and PGA Championship (where he finished second).

He had one week left to break his drought and his redemption culminated in a victory at the final tournament, the Tour Championship. His first victory in five years and a fitting exclamation point for his long climb back to the top. Full disclosure, I’ve been ambivalent about sports for several years. Music has essentially taken over a lot of my free time as well as my hopes and aspirations. Sports are something I tend to casually watch while doing something else, but for several years I couldn’t be bothered. I’d turn on the odd major championship and watch the final holes but never really got that caught up in the competition. I enjoyed watching a shootout, but always felt disconnected.

I started watching Tiger while he was still an amateur and I’ve seen most if not all (there were Army deployments and whatnot sprinkled in) of his victories over the past twenty plus years. Watching Tiger has been observing history, just like if you were able to see Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Ben Hogan, etc. in their primes. It’s been easy to get caught up and root for Tiger, because it’s always felt like you were rooting for history as much for the man. And we were.

Tiger has now closed the gap even further with Sam Snead, he’s only three victories away from taking the all time tournament victory record of 82 away from him. I feel that’s completely within reach, and if Tiger stays healthy we may see that fall as early as next year. The greatest achievement is still a steep mountain to climb, but he’s four victories away from tying Jack Nicklaus’ all time major championship total, five from surpassing it.

It’s always been a tall order and for the past several years most were convinced it was a record that would never fall. Now, it seems like it might just be within reach. Tiger is 42 years old and one should remember that Jack got his final major at the age of 46, and he was arguably never the fitness freak that Tiger has been. Although that’s been a double edged sword considering Tiger’s orthopedic issues with his back and knees.

He’s managed to adapt to his most recent back surgery (out of four?) which included a fusion. Apparently he’s made significant changes to his swing and overall tried to reduce the torque on his body that was the hallmark of his swing for so many years. Watching him these past few months, he may look a bit more controlled but he can still get the ball out there with the young guns and this weekend there were no glaring weaknesses to his game.

He was absolutely on fire for the first seven or so holes on Saturday, and essentially rode the lead all the way to the 72nd hole on Sunday. Not as dramatic or exciting as early Saturday, but an example of his maturation as a player and honestly very similar to how Nicklaus won many of his tournaments, by setting a score and then letting the competition defeat themselves over the remaining holes.

Golf is a sport that I can’t get too excited about on a regular basis, but I’m looking forward to next year for the first time in long, long time. It would be a fitting capstone to his amazing career if he could achieve those two large and long looming goals before he’s done.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/23/sports/golf/tiger-woods-wins-pga-tour.html

Alex III

I got the ES-355 VOS in classic white on Friday and I've had a little bit of time to mess around with it. This is the guitar I really wanted, it's got the vibe I was going for and no major problems. There were initially some small buzzing issues, but it arrived tuned to Eb and tuning up to standard cleared up most of that. It plays great and is very acoustically resonant (not surprising given it's a semi-hollow body). I was happy to discover that the gold hardware is more faded in real life compared to its saturated look in the picture. I'm guessing they thought that was a selling point, but I prefer the faded look. 

I'm having a bit of a Rushenaissance with the new guitar. My AxeFx III has been pretty neglected since I got it a few months ago, largely due to the etflp class. I've started to get back into tweaking it with the intent of recreating some of these classic sounds. I had a set of tutorials for the AxeFx II that I never completed but now the same instructor (Cooper Carter) is releasing a new set for the Axe III. I plan on going through those once available, but I'm already starting to experiment and get the Axe III in running shape. 

Someone on the the FAS forum had posted a tutorial about getting the MFC 101 Foot Controller (designed for the AxeII, but also a fully capable MIDI controller) running with the AxeFX III so I was able to get some basic functionality including patch changes, scenes, individual FX on/off, and expression pedals. I've still got a bit of tweaking, but my first experiment is going to be trying to record a cover video of Xanadu. I've got some plans for kimono/wig silliness as well. I'm hoping I can at least play the bass part as well, although there are a few challenging runs in there that I don't have down just yet. 

I might also record a few snippets of the drum part, but make it a joke since I can't play the whole thing by any means, at least not yet. Some of those triplets are still a year or more away. 

NGD III

In an uncharacteristic chain of events for Sweetwater, the replacement had problems and I've ended up sending it back and asking for a refund. The guitar seemed in good shape externally when I received it but it had this really annoying buzz emanating from inside the hollow body. I tried to tighten all accessible hardware but nothing helped. It sounded like a small washer or screw on the inside that hadn't been tightened down enough and had come loose at some point. It was distractingly loud at certain frequencies. 

The only way I was going to get it fixed was to take it to a tech or ship it back to Sweetwater. I was fed up at this point because it had been two weeks since I originally paid for the guitar and this represented the second time I was going to have go to extra lengths just to get a playable instrument. It was sent back and arrived at Sweetwater yesterday. I'm waiting on the refund now. 

In the meantime I decided to go after a VOS ES-355 that was closer to what I wanted in the first place. These were no longer being made by Gibson, but I found one in great condition on Reverb.com being sold by a reputable brick and mortar dealer in New York. It's on the way and arriving tomorrow. I feel fairly confident that this will turn out well and this guitar is a lot closer to what I wanted all along. 

NGD not without problems, and putting Spring 2018 to bed (finally)...

In a strange turn of events, my original 335 is currently enroute back to Sweetwater, with a replacement to be sent next week. There were several issues when I received it - a strange rubbery sawdust like material was all over the inside of the case, there were several QC oversights with the guitar itself -  smudges, marks, and sloppy painting along edges. The main issues were all cosmetic, but it was a strange state in which to receive the guitar and indicated problems at both the Gibson Memphis factory as well as at Sweetwater. 

Sweetwater endeavored to correct the issues with a replacement, so now I'm just waiting for them to send the new one. They notified me of a couple small cosmetic issues, but nothing affecting playability or tone. These issues weren't a big deal for me, just the indication that the whole process had been rushed or incomplete with the original guitar. I'm not precious about an instrument's appearance. I don't go out of my way to break them in, but I don't get upset when dents, scratches, and other wear occurs. It's part of the natural playing process. However, I do expect a new guitar to look new when I first receive it. 

I finally got my grades for the Spring 2018 semester, an A in the guitar course and I managed to eek out an A minus in the ear training course. I think my final assignment encouraged him to curve my grade a bit, because I was expecting no better than a B given the work I never bothered correcting, even though he gave me the opportunity. I think the complexity of my final project convinced him that even though I sort of avoided his specific approach with solfege and conducting, I have still managed to develop my ear quite a bit. In the case of harmonic ear training it was beyond the scope of his course. He indicated it was more consistent with the final assignments in the 300 level harmonic ear training course. So, there's that. 

I do plan to continue on with my ear training, it's clearly integral to good musicianship and composition. But, I'll approach it at my own pace and prioritize according to my goals and needs. 

NGD...335 Style

I got Household 6 approval and worked out a deal for about 10% off from Sweetwater, so next week I'll be the proud owner of a Classic White ES-335. It's not precisely the Alex Lifeson guitar, but it's very close in spirit and actually more to my aesthetic preference all things considered. I'll break it in appropriately with some Alex flavored licks and excerpts. It should fill a nice niche that's been empty in my arsenal, a semi hollow body that will allow me to cover a wide array of tones. 

Feels good man...

Perhaps in another episode of premature fowl tabulation, I'm just sayin' that it feels good to get back into the regular swing of things where I can wake up each day and prioritize my schedule based on my personal wants and needs, especially in the area of musicianship. I haven't received feedback on either of my final assignments, but I'm relatively confident I should be good for this semester. I received my grade for my final sight singing test, and although I didn't smoke it by any means, I was satisfied with the 86 I received.

This should ensure no worse than a B in that course, and although it screws up my lifetime 4.0 with Berklee (as well as being my first B since 1996), I'm not sweating it because as said before, this course was fairly contrary to my current musical goals.  Full disclosure, I had been phoning it in on the solfege and conducting portion since about the third week. I was basically faking that portion just to receive credit for the course knowing that if I did ever put an effort into those skills it would be further down the road. There were many assignments where I had the opportunity to raise the grade if it was less than an A but I never cared enough to bother. 

Despite this, I am endeavoring to forge ahead with ear training and I intend to make it a regular part of my practice schedule. I definitely learned something during this course and I want to capitalize on that instead of letting it atrophy like I did after the first ear training course. The big difference is that I can go at my pace, and at least for the time being I won't have to focus on the solfege and conducting like before. 

In other news, it feels great to get back into a regular practice schedule. It's not only part of my development as a musician, it's been an integral part of my mental health and well being these many years and I was sorely missing it. A short term goal is to work on audition for the Berklee Online Guitar Program. I think I've settled on "The Spirit of Radio" for the electric piece and "Letter From Home" for the acoustic portion. We only have to submit one example but I thought I would perform each of these and then put it up for a vote on social media (assuming anyone would bother to listen & comment). 

Premature Chicken Countin'

I'm not going to break out the champagne just yet, but at this time I've finished my final sight singing test as of an hour or so ago. My week 11 assignment and week 10 resubmits were finished yesterday. I still have to do the final two part assignment for ear training as well as the final guitar sound assignment. The guitar assignments have been easy and the instructor has been cool, the diametric opposite of ear training. 

I haven't breathed my final sigh of relief yet because I'm still waiting for him to try and drop some grade/credit threatening accusation or low ball grade for the individual assignments remaining and even the whole semester. I think in the long run, this drama surrounding ear training will motivate me to continue my studies and having a good ear is definitely one of the most if not the most important aspects of musicianship. I just really hated the way this course tried to teach it. I don't disregard the value of solfege, sight reading and the like but it's been a big distraction and at this point wasted effort in my opinion. 

I feel like so much mental effort had to be allocated for remembering the solfege and attempting to look like I was conducting on the tests that it distracted from the actual learning process for ear training. I do plan on dedicating regular time to ear training going forward, and it's even possible I may revisit some sight reading in the future. It may actually be part of the advanced ear training in the EarMaster program I bought, but at least in this context I can approach it whatever speed I want and not based on the dictates of a theory pedant. 

In the home stretch

Today is the first day of an eleven day break from work that coincides with the end of the Spring 2018 semester. The biggest events are the sight singing and regular final projects for the ear training course. Unsurprisingly, I also have to resubmit the last assignment because professor nitpick had issues. Professor nitpick will always have issues. I'm hoping I can get through the upcoming assignments without resubmits. I don't care if the grades are lower, I'm just sick of this class at this point. I do plan on transitioning straight to more ear training through the earmaster program, but free of the solfege and conducting nonsense. 

I have been fairly strategic about course scheduling in the past and luckily for this semester, the guitar class wasn't particularly challenging. It's actually been a bit frustrating in the sense that I wanted to dedicate more time to that class but had to just keep up the bare minimum assignments since ear training monopolized so much of my time. I'm really looking forward to getting back to my regularly scheduled practice and composition schedules this summer. 

On to bigger and better things

As a sort of follow up to the last post, things are hopefully going to get better from here. We're in the final month of the spring semester and what's a been a particularly challenging ear training course. Mostly this is because a significant portion of the class is focused on sight reading, solfege, and conducting. Ear training as a skill is very valuable to me, and I've already improved quite a bit in this course. That being said, I have no intention to conduct or use solfege with any regularity in the future. For that matter, I don't anticipate sight reading to be particularly necessary in my future as well. 

Not that these aren't valuable skills, but I don't plan or hope to work in a scenario where I would need these with any regularity. I have no aspiration to be a session musician or work in a professional capacity where I have sheet music handed to me that I'm expected to be able to play on the spot. This is where I have a fundamental disconnect with the instructor and the course. He's very focused on those components as part of ear training. I understand how they're being used to reinforce the concept of intervals and getting these baked into your brain so they're second nature. 

What I also know is that this program isn't necessary to acquire these skills. The musicians and songwriters I most admire were rarely trained within any formal program, and many of them know very little theory at all. Again, I don't disregard the skills, I just know that for the music to which I aspire these skills aren't typically involved at all. Artists like Steven Wilson or Tommy Emmanuel have said on numerous occasions that they know very little theory and certainly don't think of it when they write. That isn't to say they don't apply theoretical concepts, it just proves that you don't have to know those specific components to create amazing music. 

Despite this, I have soaked up a bit of these skills along the way, but at least with conducting I'm still basically faking it just so I can pass the class. I know for sure that I've managed to write songs without thinking in these specific terms, although I do apply theoretical concepts to my works. This course has reinforced the value of ear training not only for my instrument but for singing as well. I plan to study more after this class, but I won't be pursuing programs that focus so heavily on those theoretical disciplines. I think I'll gradually soak up more sight reading because it does have some general value in learning new music as well as composition to a certain degree, but I'm not sure I will be forcing myself to get it down to instantaneous sight reading. My approach has been to use reading to learn a piece until it's memorized and usually just on the piano. I can read drum notation as well, but for guitar and bass I think tablature is superior if I really want to learn something quick. 

Drama on television or record is great, elsewhere not so much...

It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks at work and somewhat at school. At work we're hopefully near the end of a cycle that saw one of our doctors going off the rails. She was named an acting chief while they were looking to a hire a new permanent chief after the illness related departure of our former permanent chief.  To distill it down to a few sentences, let's just say she had a bit of a power trip and was butting heads and attacking several people in the clinic. 

We had been friends and supportive co-workers for many years but had a falling out a few months ago when we disagreed about implementation of the Gulf War illness policy. She's relatively new to government service and thought it was within her authority to implement the policy as she saw fit. It isn't, and she can't. But, in most cases we're willing to let individual providers rationalize their own opinions on cases as long as they understand they'll have to defend it if it's appealed or a complaint is filed. But in this case, and as part of her newly acquired (if temporary) authority, she decided the policy needed to change for the whole clinic and had directed our schedulers to change they way they scheduled these exams. 

This is where our big disagreement arose. She has this idea that if a claimed condition doesn't fit within a medical diagnostic criteria, then it's not valid. Something I've tried to explain to her for years is that our specific corner of government service is not strictly concerned with medical criteria. We work in disability claims and it's equal parts legal and even political. The entire philosophy of our claims is based on uncertainty. Our opinions typically include the statement "at least as likely as not", which basically says that if our determination of a claim is that it's fifty/fifty parts for and against the claim, then we grant the claim. 

Compared to what's happened between her and other people in the clinic, this has been pretty tame. Until she decided to go around me and accuse myself and our program analyst of inflating exams unnecessarily.  I have been a fee basis provider for over a year. This means that I am compensated by the exam. In the case of Gulf War exams, they tend to generate not only exams for conditions but also opinions for each condition. So, if a veteran claims four conditions, it results in eight total worksheets and I'm paid for each. The typical claim can generate from ten to twenty exams. Occasionally, that number can go significantly higher. 

I had an exam a month or so ago that was for around twenty claimed conditions but it also generated an equal number of direct opinions as well as fourteen or so Gulf War opinions. It ended up totaling fifty three worksheets. This is the highest number I've ever completed, and it's not typical by any stretch. A typical day for me is around twenty exams. I'm not sure if this is the exam which she questioned, but if not it was a similar one. I've had a few in the forties and many in the thirties. It should be noted that the FTE often don't reach these numbers in the course of a week, much less a day. 

My previous post history tells the story of the relative level of productivity among regular federal employees. Let's just say that they typically underachieve, at least compared to my levels. To make a long story short, she basically accused me and the program analyst of stealing money. Because she questioned the validity of the claims (going back to our fundamental disagreement of Gulf War), then she surmised that meant that any Gulf War related claims/opinions were invalid and shouldn't be billed. Like I said before, she doesn't have this authority. No one at our level has this authority. This is national policy and you're not allowed to take away from a regulation to suit your own needs. For what it's worth, my performance of these exams and opinions was directed before I was ever fee basis and had specific approval by the former chief (on more than one occasion), not to mention that the whole policy was directed by VBA personnel outside our clinic. It's a well established and approved policy that has been in place for a long time before she got here. 

All of this scenario is rather tame to what else she has been doing. To keep it short, let's just say she's accused others of outright fraud, abuse, and even having sex in the clinic. It's all bullshit and an attempt by her to discredit and destroy anyone who's crossed her path. I avoid psychoanalyzing in general, and also because I'm not qualified, but I think her specific pathology has something to do with growing up in an authoritarian regime which tends to encourage similar behaviors in those victimized or oppressed once they possess any power. She's demonstrated a feeling of superiority over others, including her own MD/DO peers. She has never understood that her authority as a doctor is strictly clinical. In the federal system, and in our country for that matter, we don't recognize social castes. Although we do have great inequalities in our country, we don't recognize our defer to people because they are part of a ruling class or aristocracy. She seems to think differently. Although some actions are still pending, it seems apparent they are going to remove her from the temporary position and her application for the permanent position would likely be dead in the water. Honestly, I hope she has enough personal shame to resign from the department if not the government as well. 

Although I know myself and our program analyst didn't do anything untoward or dishonest, it's still stressful to have those sorts of accusations hanging over you, because if they were true they would likely result in termination as well as a permanent black mark on our records. Mostly the stress derived from uncertainty to how far the accusation would go, and that the people passing judgement would be strangers who might be given incomplete and biased information. It appears that nothing will come of this for now, but it's still very troubling to face a sudden unexpected threat to your livelihood. As I have discussed with our program analyst, this was the ultimate betrayal and bridge burning offense from which a person will never come back.