strumzilla

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

Filtering by Tag: Practice

Sniffwhistles and snarkbottoms...

Don't ask, it just seemed appropriate. We're in the latter half of May, so just checking in. Not a lot new to report. I've taken this semester and intend to take next semester off from Berklee. A combination of feeling like I was falling behind on some areas I wanted to explore (in musicianship and writing in general), combined with a feeling that one of the courses I was taking still needed some work (Music Compo & Theory) sparked the decision. I've got enough eligibility remaining in my GI Bill (9 years) that I can afford to slow the pace a bit. I've grown a lot by taking up drums, bass, and vocals but I've made a decision to at least try and dive deeper into guitar and keys, which I consider my most important instruments. I'm trying to work more on fundamentals, theory, and improvisation, especially on the guitar. 

I've also started separating practice and composition, so that I try to focus on each on alternating days. I've also accepted that some days I just don't have the mental and/or physical energy to make any progress. I just give it a pass when those days happen.  I've made some decent progress with this new approach (considering I hadn't really written anything since the compo class). I've got one song that's almost fully written, and several that I've made progress on.  I've been trying to compose structures and rough arrangements when I have time at work, as I can essentially accomplish this on my laptop alone. I'm also slowly learning how to incorporate some of my theoretical knowledge in helping me structure these songs. I tend to get inspiration in a random fashion, sometimes as a melody, sometimes as a rhythm. It doesn't tend to come theoretically intact (although rules are totally made to be broken, they can help), unless it's a really simple tune in C. I'm trying to hone those skills so I can naturally fit something in a major or minor key without having to look it up. I'll learn more about this is future compo classes, but thus far we were writing to film cues and not necessarily in the way I would write a song for myself. 

I also started recording my cover of "Life On Mars" by David Bowie. I've been working on the piano part for years now. Rick Wakeman's playing is often deceptively simple sounding but ends up being a technical challenge when you try to reproduce it close to his version. It reminds me of Tommy Emmanuel's guitar parts in a sense. They both play songs & parts that are ostensibly fairly easy sounding as a listener, but they both have such manual dexterity and facility on their respective instruments so that "easy" sounding chords and fingerings are anything but. The biggest challenge for me was that I had been playing "Life On Mars" as just a solo piano piece without any reference point, and this meant I was playing it too fast for vocals to keep up. I had to start playing it with the song so that I would pause long enough for the vocals to fit. 

And when I say cover, I'm making a video of myself covering all the parts. The most important lesson I've learned in recording a video, is that you really need to ensure you can play the part without significant (noticeable) mistakes, because it's a huge pain in the ass to try and fix mistakes after the fact. This is true for audio, but exponentially worse with video. I performed a couple takes and got one that I was okay with, if not over the moon. I think I'll probably re-record the piano once I've recorded all the other parts. My biggest complaint with my performance is that I was following/reacting to the recording and this makes it sound a bit robotic and flat. "Life On Mars" is a good object lesson in recording a full band cover version because it has a variety of tempos and the various parts don't all come in at once. 

The drum track is pretty simple, especially for any capable recording or touring drummer. That being said, my recently intermittent practice schedule combined with my intermittent within intermittent practicing of the drum part meant my first attempt was pretty awful. It was mainly the kick drum parts, as there is this repeating lead in beat that's on the and of 4 (I think) and it's offset from an open hi-hat to the extent that I feel like I have to rock back and forth. I think I need to get a drum stool that raises higher because there are times when I think my knee angle is a bit too acute (I think it's typically around 100 degrees flexion, and 80-90 would probably be a bit more mechanically advantageous). I have started practicing drums daily since then with an emphasis on that song and it's improved quite a bit. I feel like I might give it another go this weekend. After all that, I think the bass, guitar, and maybe the vocals won't be too difficult. There are a couple of high parts "Sailors, fighting in the dance hall" for one, that I'll probably need to make several passes at. My normal approach would be to record multiple passes of each line, but I'm not sure how well that will work with recording a video. I'm more likely to try singing it straight through several times and picking the best single take.  I'll likely gain some more knowledge on the recording of vocals since this will be one of my first times trying to layer vocals as well as adding harmonies. The other nice aspect is that this will also be an object lesson both in song recording, but especially in combining multiple recordings into one music video. 

On the homefront the biggest events have been a hailstorm in March that will result in us replacing a big portion of the roof and several windows. With a 2% deductible, that means we're going to be out about $10K of our own cash. We were lucky that we inherited that amount from my mother's 401K when she passed. And when it rains it pours (no pun intended), because our previously reliable (not counting bulbs) front projector seems to be dying on us. The picture dimmed considerably and when I replaced the bulb it didn't make any difference. We made the choice just to replace it, and ended up choosing a JVC that can display 4K, although it's not a native 4K to the unit. It basically upscales/doubles the image faster than the eye can see, so it will accept 4K signals and it will make 1080p signals appear to be 4K. True 4K projectors are still prohibitively expensive, so we're hoping to get at least five years out of this one (the previous one almost made it that long), and by then 4K prices should have dropped to more reasonable levels. 

At the end of March we traveled to Toronto to see David Gilmour at Air Canada Center and then to Chicago a few days later where I flew solo for his show at the United Center. He exceeded all my expectations. My only complaint is that the time flew by so fast and the next thing I knew the show was over. I really hope he films a show or two from this tour, perhaps the planned shows from Pompeii this summer. His most recent album is probably his best, and his set list was probably more than half Pink Floyd tunes. He played Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Time, arguably my top two choices to see live so everything else was icing on the cake. 

The Ides of March

and Guitardom anniversary number 9. I've made note of this date a few times in the past as it marks the actual day I resumed the mantle of guitar player again. As I've said previously, it was a decision reached after having several months of unencumbered reflection while I was pursuing my MPH at OUHSC. At the time I realized that I still thought like a guitar player, I still consumed guitar oriented music, and I really missed that part of my life although I had essentially put the guitar down for the better part of 15 years. I would say it was one of the biggest mistakes in my life, but my life wasn't exactly empty in those years and alls well that ends well.

It's hard to quantify exactly what has transpired in the last year. This year marks 9 years of steady playing and incremental improvement. I know I'm getting closer to some targets (you never reach "the target" as it's always moving away), and I may actually get to a point in the next year or two that I can say (with a straight face) that I've satisfied myself with the amount of work in a certain direction or on a certain song. My song milestones are the same as they have been for the most part (Eruption, Endless Road, etc.), although I did start working on a project that has lain fallow for the past few months, and I intend to resume.

I began a "Guitar Hero Retrospective" project in the spirit of a project initially done and posted by a guitarist named Ketil Strand. It's essentially a medley of key tunes by the influential guitarists of the modern era (dating back to Django, Charlie Christian, etc.) While I don't know that I'll put together something quite as comprehensive as him, the project was a good way to not only put together a demo I could post for future opportunities, but it would also be a good way to either learn or enhance certain styles that are usually somewhat neglected in my playing.

The biggest determinants for my playing in the past year have been buying a Jazz Bass last winter, putting together a few acoustic numbers to play at my Grandmother Nonie's wake, and then gradually resuming electric, bass, and piano. Once the decision was made to play those songs for Nonie, I only practiced those tunes for the next 6 weeks or so. This fall saw me resume my regularly scheduled programming, with a bit more emphasis on the neglected electrics. In the past I had been trying to play piano in the morning, and then about 30 minutes of bass, followed by 45 minutes of electric, and closing with 45 minutes of acoustic at night.

I'm trying a different approach (as of this week) in which I will probably alternate electric on one night, followed by bass & acoustic the other nights. I feel like I need to get back to focusing more intensely on trying to improve technique, phrasing, etc. and the brief little 45 minute sessions were too superficial. I have also started to learn more parts by ear, moreso by happenstance as opposed to formal planning.

Learning bass lines by ear is quite a bit less challenging than guitar since they're typically monophonic (not counting Geddy and Chris Squire, among others) and the tone is usually cleanish enough that you can discern the notes easier. But I've also spent some time learning a few guitar tunes by ear, and I had started trying to learn some piano pieces by ear, although I set the bar pretty high for my current level of skill. I've really got to make that a regular part of my playing, because I honestly think the key to expressing yourself well on any instrument requires a great ear. I've also got to commit to actually working a bit harder to take all these riffs and bits of songs and forge them into actual tunes I record. I'm guilty of coming up with riffs fairly spontaneously, but stopping short of working them into full songs.

That's what I love about being a musician. There's always going to be something you don't know, and there's always going to be something that will challenge you on multiple levels. Cliche warning: It's the journey, not the destination. It's truly the process of learning, improving, practicing and the like that keeps the truly dedicated coming back. If you don't love the day to day work, you'll never keep it up.

I've got no problem with that...