Sunday, 13 April 2014

Triple time

My latest video exchange with Paul Gilbert involved me playing some triplet pull-offs. He picked up that I was actually playing three 1/16th notes. Actually it may have been somewhere in between the two. It's a subtle difference, but they are different musical feels. This is the sort of thing you need a guitar teacher to tell you.

He's given me a few examples of songs that use triplets to listen to. I should really know this as I've played various music that uses triplets on guitar and djembe. I obviously didn't have it as well ingrained as I thought.

This is what I sent him. It's part of a series of lessons with this sort of groove.

One of his suggestions was this

Paul is actually touring in Chile at the moment, so he recorded his video to me in his hotel room. The guy is really dedicated to this course.

Another feature of the ArtistWorks site is a course in music theory. I've done the first part of this. There was a lot of stuff in there I didn't know. The quiz was fairly tough, but I've passed to allow me proceed to the next part.

My daughter has been pursuing her own guitar studies playing along to some of her favourite songs. We just recorded one of those. She did bass, guitar and vocals. The drums came from a video I found of someone playing along with the song. Youtube is a wonderful resource.

This is the drum track we used.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

It's all theoretical

I'm taking yet another on-line course at +Coursera. This one is on musicianship. It covers the basics of harmony and melody with some emphasis on ear training. In the first week we had to recognise 2nd and major 3rd intervals. I know I should be able to do that anyway, but it's an unconscious thing and I need to work on it. I can often pick out tunes on the guitar by ear and get most of the notes right, but by improving my knowledge of intervals I would hope to make this easier. As with most things it needs lots of practice.

This course has peer-reviewed assessments. This week we had to find some songs in the key of C major. It's not the most common key for popular music. I found a site that listed such songs, but a lot are actually in A minor, which has the same notes, but is by no means the same thing. Anyway, I found a few, partly from that list, but I checked to make sure they really are in C.

I have another course on music theory in a few months. I regret not doing more music when I was at school. It is possible to make great music without knowing this stuff, as many people do, but my analytical brain likes to know what is going on. I should ask my daughter as she is doing music GCSE and working on the theory grades too.

I plan to keep doing courses on things that interest me. It's better for me than randomly surfing the web. It's made me cut down on that to make the time for learning. You can pick up a lot of things by surfing, but there is no focus and I need that. The big one will be Introduction to Linux later in the year. I hope that will fill some of the gaping holes in my knowledge. It's amazing that all this stuff is free. Mind you, I have paid for another year on the Paul Gilbert course at Artistworks. Still having fun with that.

Oh, and on top of all that I have the beginnings of a possible band project. I found a bassist who wants to do some blues and rock. We've met a couple of times to play through some covers. We'll have to recruit some others if we are going to gig. I've been doing the singing, but I know my limitations. Stay tuned...

Sunday, 16 March 2014

All you need...

I've just finished working on this course from +Coursera about the music of The Beatles. I've not got my final mark yet, but I did okay on the quizzes, so I'm assuming a good pass.

It's been very interesting to learn about how they crafted their songs and has led me to listen to lots of them. I've had to use Youtube as I don't actually have the albums or many of the singles, apart from the number 1s CD. I may pick some of them up some time.

+John Covach did a very good job. It's a real shame he can't play the music or even quote much of the lyrics for fear of the copyright police. This should be counted as 'fair use', and it's not as if they need the extra money.

This is part of my on-going efforts to educate myself. I have some other courses on music theory coming up as well as one on Linux to expand my knowledge. These are all free, but I intend to keep paying for the Paul Gilbert course on +ArtistWorks too. I just have to ensure I have enough time for those things I want to prioritise.

I've just embarked on another possible band project with a local bassist. We're working on various blues and rock covers. It's very early days, but we'd both like to gig at some stage. I'm covering the guitar and vocal areas for now. I want to attempt more lead stuff, so I'm working on learning some solos and expanding my musical vocabulary to improvise my own.

On top of all those I need to record tracks for some +Six-String Bliss: The Guitar Podcast albums. I've done one acoustic cover. That used my new MXL 990 microphone.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Taking the Mic

I'm still plugging away on the Paul Gilbert guitar course. I'm trying to put in an hour a day, but have been slipping lately. There isn't a fixed practice schedule, so I tend to work on various exercises from lessons I've already seen for a while and then go looking for some more. This will either be the next ones in the sequence or I'll find a video response that looks interesting. I'm learned a couple of new songs from those.

I've had four video responses from Paul now. It takes around a week for him to do these, but he's doing a lot of them. They are mostly done from a studio, but I've seen one done from the back of a car somewhere in the UK.

I may be taking on too much, but I've also enrolled in another +Coursera course about the Music of The Beatles. I'm hoping that I can fit in watching the videos when the study is occupied. Although I've heard the band all my life I've not owned their albums and don't know all the background. One of the introductory videos explores some of the available books. There are plenty of those that go into minute detail of how they recorded, the gear they used and the stories behind the songs. I'll look out for those, but I'm loaded up with books right now. Currently reading Guitar Zero about how our brains handle music.

We're also doing some family tree research at the moment. We're concentrating on my wife's family. They have been in Arlesey for a long time. There's a local project based around those men on the war memorial as we commemorate the centenary of the First World War. We have a lot of family photos, but don't know who they all are.

The studio has had an upgrade in the form of an MXL 990 condenser microphone. I've been wanting a decent microphone to use instead of my Zoom H4. That does a good job, but it is difficult to adjust the levels on it and I'm not sure it's ideal for voice. I've done some vocal testing that sounded good. I also tried it with my classical guitar. I've not played that much lately, so I was a bit rusty.

I need to record my acoustic for the Six String Bliss 70s project soon. Something I want to try is to record it with both of my microphones plus the pickup. I've got enough inputs to do all of those at once, so I can do a proper comparison. I'll try to do that soon and post the results.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Where did I put my flares?

The Six String Bliss podcasts have come to an end (unless the hosts have a change of heart), but the community lives on. We're going to try and keep producing albums for our own enjoyment. There are actually two projects in progress at the moment. One was proposed as a 'quick and dirty' 'EP' of songs from the 70s, but seems to be growing into more of an album based on songs people have reserved. The other is to cover songs from the original Woodstock festival.

I plan to contribute to at least one of these. I have a couple of ideas for 70s songs. They are songs that I know pretty well and have wanted to record anyway, so this could push be into getting that done. One will be a stripped-back acoustic version whilst the other will be a full band arrangement where I aim to play all the parts. I usually shy away from programming drum tracks, but will give it a try this time, with a MIDI file I found as a back-up.

I've not decided on anything from Woodstock yet. There are loads of possibilities, but I need to do some listening to make up my mind. I'll see if anyone wants to collaborate.

Forum stalwart JMan is blogging about his recording process, without giving away the actual song(s). This is very useful as many of us are not too organised in how we record and could do with some tips to make it run smoother. I could do with a bit more structure to how I work, but I don't know if I will ever be as organised as JMan.

I'll be using my usual toolset of Ardour and Hydrogen (from the KXStudio repos) plus various plug-ins. I may use my Zoom G3X for effects and amplifier emulation, but I need to check in on the state of Guitarix again soon.

Meanwhile, I'm still working hard on the Paul Gilbert guitar course. I've had two video responses from him now that were spot-on for what I needed. He puts a lot of emphasis on muting as this is vital for playing loud without extra string noise and is also fun for 'chikka' noises. I was working on an exercise using this last night that was crying out for some wah. I've only gained a wah fairly recently on the G3X and am slowly learning to use it.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Star struck

A while back I posted about taking some private guitar lessons. The lessons were good, but getting to them proved to be a pain. It was only a few miles from the office, but getting there after work could take a ridiculously long time. Regretfully I had to give them up, but Stuart left me with lots of material to keep working on. We did an extended last session about chords.

I had also been looking into some of the on-line courses available. I liked the look of the Paul Gilbert school from +ArtistWorks. I like Paul's teaching style. They had some special offers at the end of the year, so I treated myself to a three month subscription that started last week.

The school consists of lots of lessons grouped as Fundamental, Intermediate and Advanced. In his introduction Paul recommends that everyone work through from the start and I can see why. He includes lots of good tips in each video that are applicable to most players on basics like tuning and holding the pick. The latter is different to what I have always used. He uses his thumb and two fingers. I'm giving that a try and finding that I need to use a lighter pick to get smooth strums.

Fairly early on he introduces muting, which is a vital skill for electric guitar. Some of the exercises are fairly tricky, e.g. playing left-hand muted strums between each note of a pentatonic scale.

One of the big selling points of this site is that the instructor will give feedback on videos which you submit for specific lessons. I've sent in my first one and have another ready. I used Cheese to record the first one, but then had to convert the video (using Handbrake) to a format that they accept. GUVC offers more options, but I still had to convert the file. This is my second video. I can't send it in until Paul responds to the first. That seems to be taking a while.

I can't post Paul's response as it's locked into the site, but if you join then you can see all of them. He gives different suggestions for each person, so that makes for a lot of extra material to learn from. It's actually overwhelming how much there is.

The site has various social aspects including a forum and 'shout out' board that Paul participates in. There are also some interviews including this one with Dweezil Zappa. The whole thing is eight parts and they cover a lot of ground.

There is a free acoustic school you can join to see how it suits you. This is fairly basic stuff and I have only looked at a few of the early lessons. There are lots of other schools for different instruments and genres. Everything from classical to bluegrass.

ArtistWorks has an affiliate scheme. If you join with this link then we both get a free extra month. I think the prices are pretty good as you are only paying the equivalent of one private lesson each month.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Still pondering the upgrade

I wrote some thoughts about building a new PC six months ago. I still haven't pulled the trigger, although I did get an SSD for the current PC. I need to re-install that to make it operational again.

I've just been putting together a shopping list of components. This ought to give me a big performance boost, mainly due to the CPU.

  • AMD APU A10 6700 4.3GHz: Nearly double the clock speed of the current unit and double the cores. I don't really want to have to get a separate graphics card. This should be enough for the few simple games I might play. It's a 65W TDP model, which I assume means it will need less cooling than the 100W models. From what I've read Linux has support for the graphics, but there's not a huge amount of information on this
  • Biostar Hi-Fi A85W Socket FM2: Just a generic ATX motherboard with the PCI slots I need for my audio interface. I don't need much from the motherboard. I've used smaller boards before, but they can be fiddly to work on
  • Corsair 8GB DDR3 1866Mhz: 8GB is probably enough for now. Not going for anything too fancy as I don't plan to overclock
  • be quiet! PURE POWER L8 400W: 400W is probably more than enough. I mainly need quietness
  • Fractal Design Define R4: A friend has this case. It has some sound-deadening material in it. It will be under my desk, so size is not a major issue
  • SANDISK ULTRA PLUS SSD 128GB: This will be the boot drive
  • Seagate 2TB BARRACUDA 3.5" SATA-III: The data drive. That's far more than I have now
  • I've not settled on a CPU cooler. Not seeing too many that say they work on the FM2 socket. Looking for something up to £25. Any suggestions?
  • Audio interface and DVD will be moved from the old PC
That lot comes in at around £500. Making it totally silent could add around £100 for a better power supply and cooler. Some of these parts have got cheaper since I looked a few months back. I probably won't be buying anything until the new year, but they may get even cheaper.