Posted tagged ‘electric guitar’

The Aging Learning Guitarist Keeps On

February 11, 2015

I’ve got to keep on keepin’ on
You know the big wheel keeps on spinnin’ around
— Steve Miller, Jet Airliner

At this point on my guitar learning adventure (as previously chronicled in such posts as The Impatience of Learning Guitar and Manchild with Guitar), I’m trying to challenge myself to play in more difficult territory and perhaps be able to claim to have some intermediate skills eventually, rather than to be just a beginner.

I’m still taking lessons from the same rock guitarist and music producer I’ve gone to for several years.  They are funny kind of lessons, but they have evolved over time and suit me.  I bring in a piece I want to learn how to play.  One time it was a simplified, if still complicated, Bach tune, another time a very fast (for me) blues-rock number.

I’m not quite sure what Eddy thinks when I bring along something like these to learn, at the edge of what I’m able to do.  He very patiently goes through each piece with me as we work on phrasing and technique.  As a working musician and quite a good teacher for a young guy, he’s a master at simplifying, if only temporarily, until I get up to speed on difficult passages.   I tend to throw my hands up in dismay at my effrontery in even thinking I can play them.  But we work through that, and with more practice than I like to say, I make progress.

Because Eddy loves to work with music, even my efforts, he’s taken to recording them in his home studio.  I think he likes to record me because I’m not going anywhere in particular with what I’m doing, and there are no expectations or demands or requirements on him for the finished results.  We just get to play around.

I now have a half-dozen or more recordings of my renditions.  They sound pretty good after he’s done splicing and editing them meticulously together.  They’re fun to have and to show off to any friends or family whom I can impose upon….  And I get to learn a little about music production, although half the time I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about.

All Along the Watchtower

My latest project is to learn to play All Along the Watchtower, that wonderful version of a Dylan song by Jimi Hendrix.  I think that’s my favorite Hendrix tune.  So I gathered together a bunch of instructional videos off of YouTube, got some sheet music together and backing tracks, and presented it to Eddy as what I wanted to do next.  I have to hand it to him, he didn’t blink, and started putting the backing tracks and the original song into ProTools to work on.

I want to do it like a Ventures tune, an instrumental version including the voice parts, which you don’t find done so much.  Although I had started trying to learn the opening rhythm section and the first intro solo, it was a bit of a shambles.  It’s another example of me ruing my ambitiousness.  So we’re going through the song step-by-step.  We’re up to the second solo and it’s starting to sound not too bad.

Hendrix was a monster player, as every guitarist realizes.  He played like there was absolutely no barrier between his musical will and his hands and fingers expressing that will on the guitar. And he must have had incredibly strong hands to bend the strings like crazy as he does.  Eddy has got me cheating on some of the more extreme bending, but it still sounds good.  And there’s one very fast passage so far — I’m working hard to get it into my fingers so I don’t have to think about it, and just do it.

There are many great solos in this song, and even if I’m not able in the end to play any of it very well (although I hope for better than that!), I’m still learning a lot by pushing at the boundaries of my ability in this way.  Even if I feel like a schmuck when I flounder, as I often do….

Useful Guitar Learning Resources on the Web

In my guitar journey, in addition to the useful sites mentioned in previous posts such as the great Robert Renman’s two — Dolphin Street and Master Guitar Academy — I have found some very good additional sites.  Almost all of these sites have a free lesson component and then offer lessons or material to buy.  The proportion of free on the ones I’ll note here is quite high.

The kind of free instructive material is also important — some of the most commercial sites just offer fragments to entice you rather than anything useful.  I think the better sites like Renman’s are actually very smart marketing — I’ve learned a lot from his free stuff and I’ve gone on to buy several lessons I wouldn’t otherwise have been interested in.  I know the detail and care he puts into them.

1) Fundamental Changes — Lots of lessons “In the Style of ….” (Dave Gilmour, B.B. King, Keith Richards, etc.) which are good for picking up new licks, and also many videos on theory and technique (Harmonics on Guitar, Chromatic Notes in Solos, etc.).

2) Fret Jam — Very clear and well taught videos (and written material) on many aspects of guitar musical theory, in particular.  For instance, one recent free lesson is on “Suspended Guitar Chords — How and When to Play Them.”  Another recent article is “The Best Guitar Chord Software & Chord Tools On the Web” which will lead you to a number of other good and informative sites.

3) Fachords — Although it also has free video lessons, the most interesting part of this site I find are the free online Guitar Apps .  These include a scales finder, a chord finder, fretboard trainer, speed trainer, interactive scales harmonization, and more.

There is just so much good guitar instructional material on the web.  I am guilty of buying more books, having more links and downloading more videos than I will probably ever go through in the detail they deserve.  I just wish it was all available when I was a kid, when I made my first unsuccessful stabs at learning the instrument.

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The Impatience of Learning Guitar

August 16, 2013

As I continue to struggle, and to enjoy, learning to play guitar, I’ve come to understand better those stories of teenage boys practicing five or six hours every day for months and years who later turned into an Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck or Robbie Robertson.

Besides all the emotional sides of that kind of commitment, of determination, of loneliness, of raging to master one thing that couldn’t be taken away or denigrated, of fulfilling some kind of inner calling, there is the matter of how much damn time it takes to play anything decent on the instrument.

Where’s that inner fire?

In my sixties, I don’t have anything like that inner fire, or probably even the modicum of talent needed to sustain it, but I still want to improve what I am able to do.  I’m sort of at the cusp of a beginner and lower intermediate player.  I do get deeply unsatisfied about my fumblings, and it pushes me to practice more.

There have been some recent books and other writings about learning guitar.  I’m thinking most specifically about Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.  I mention the book because it looks like it would be well worth investigating, but I just haven’t got around to it.  I should have read it before writing this!

But one of the author Gary Marcus’s points that I did pick up from reading a review, and agree with completely, is the importance of patience.  Younger learners seem to just have more of it than us older types.

Patience, patience, patience, as one practices a piece yet one more time.

For a change from the usual blues or rock tunes and exercises that I usually work on, I found an “easy guitar” version of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

moko back front web I should explain that as a boy, I loved versions of classical music set to a rock beat.  A classic for me is Nut Rocker, by B. Bumble and the Stingers.

There’s also that Moe Koffman album Back to Bach, which horrifies purists, or even regular music fans, with its often disco-like take on some of the classics which appealed to me greatly in my younger years.  And there have been many more – from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to At Vance.

So I got out my trusty ChordPulse software and put together a backing track in 3/4 time with a kind of soft swing style beat, since the Bach music provided the chords to input.  Then I began to try to learn “Bach Joy” on the electric guitar.

The first stage

The first stage for me in learning any piece is a combination of figuring out what fingering is going to work as I slowly puzzle my way through, and trying to get the notes to combine, however haphazardly, into a semblance of the tune at hand.  But I need to have a sense of what the darn thing sounds like….

Some of the typical blues or rock tunes I work on, I have videos and mp3 backing tracks, so a lot of this initial stage is often already well-presented for me.  However, with this, I had to listen to various versions online to get a sense of what the melody should sound like in detail, and then see if the tab on the page let me get anywhere close.  (I’m not using the backing track yet, that would be too much, and confusing, information for me at this stage.)

I divided the music into sections or long phrases that seemed to make sense, and went through each methodically.  I have considerable dexterity in my hands, but little in my ears in seems because it took endless repetition, checking against what versions I could, to start to get something recognizable.

Then on to the next section and the next, slowly, slowly.  A lot of patience is definitely required, but if you can hold on long enough and work at it, you can finally detect some slow facility and improvement in whatever piece one works on.

But then I tried to incorporate the backing track.  The problem was I couldn’t tell at first by ear where I was supposed to be in the music, where the correlation was between note and chord.  So I would play too fast, or too slow, with awful cacophony, and never end up in the right place.

But by sheer repetition I started to hear the chord changes, and where I should be with which note on the guitar.

So then in the next phase, I started to string together all the sections I had learned without the pauses between them, with the backing beat to pace me.   Slowly, slowly again, the seams started to blend, and there began to be moments when my fingers played without me directing too much.

And now finally, after a couple of months, I can play, almost, the whole thing at a decent speed accompanied by the backing track.  But I always screw up one or two phrases on each play through.  So more practice.

Addicted to practice

My music teacher, who luckily happens to be a person of great patience, has taken to recording me in his home studio, partly because he likes to play around with all his fancy equipment, and because it encourages students like me to play better.  But it adds another layer of demand in a play-through, and there are always a few glaring mistakes.  But no matter, he edits the takes and we finally get something that I can show off to my friends and family.

But I continue to work on “Bach Joy” and I’m making fewer and fewer mistakes.  I’ve become, to a certain extent, addicted to practicing.  That urge to try just once more to improve is part of the long patience needed to see any development.  But then, I’m probably just slow….

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Some further notes:

I wanted to provide some praise for ChordPulse, mentioned above, as a straight-forward way to make useful backing tracks on the PC, especially for us solo guitarists.  It has some limitations in the styles and rhythms available, but it covers almost all the bases.  The program’s author also provides some free programs at his website, a metronome program and a four-chord song application among them.  Well worth checking out….

I’ve also written a couple of other posts here on my adventures learning guitar:

Aging Guitar Enthusiast

Manchild with Guitar