Friday, 22 August 2014

Radio Guitar

I may have mentioned that I listen to a lot of podcasts on my long drive to work. I listened to the radio in the past, but got bored with that. I went through burning podcasts to CD to playing them from my phone once I had a way to plug it in. I listen to shows about music, science, technology, comedy and other assorted shows that take my interest.

Since the demise of the mighty +Six-String Bliss: The Guitar Podcast I have sought ways to fill the guitar-shaped hole. Some of the community members have been inspired to start their own shows, so I listen to:

None of these could be called regular, but the guys are doing them for fun when they have the time.

There are also a few others that I've found:
There are probably more. A few I've listened to are no longer active, but you may be able to find archives out there. There's probably enough to keep you busy for years.

I only just learned about the one from GAK. Will check it out soon.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Still got the blues

I've been keeping fairly busy musically. The band I mentioned a while back is starting to get somewhere. I'd played a few times with the bassist, but last week we had a rehearsal session at a local studio with a drummer. That really makes a difference and I found myself really going for it on the solos. The new tube amp was sounding great. I used a few effects on my Zoom G3X for variety. We're building a set list of covers. I thought we needed another guitar to fill the sound on some of them and we may have someone joining us next time. Stay tuned. We need to come up with a band name. We're a bunch of older guys playing blues, classic rock and southern boogie. Could probably come up with some pun on that.

I'm still doing the +ArtistWorks course, but need to get back to working through the lessons and submitting some videos. I ought to find some areas of my soloing to get suggestions on. I also have some extra learning material after winning a competition by +Licklibrary - Online Guitar Lessons. I now have DVDs for the styles of Billy Gibbons and Gary Moore. I've started on the former and am incorporating it already. I'm playing most evenings. I need to learn more songs for the band as well as developing my general playing. It's good to have a focus now as I was lacking direction between bands.

The new PC is mostly working fine. I've had some audio issues. The sample rate for the interface does not always get properly initialised, so audio ends up playing too slow. I had a workaround until it seemed to sort itself. I think there may have been a driver update. Unfortunately the problem came back this week. I've not being doing any recording lately, but I'll need to get this fixed somehow.

To try and get the PC nearer to silent I purchased a NoFan CR-80EH fanless cooler. It's an interesting design that should work on my 65W CPU, but when I got it installed I found that the temperature was going over the specified maximum, even with no load. I could only check this from the BIOS anyway. I also had some issues installing it. I had some contact with the manufacturers in Korea, but they couldn't come up with any answers, so I've sent it back. I'll probably get something else with a quiet fan. The AMD cooler is just loud enough to be annoying.

When I do get to some recording I have a new set of plug-ins from Linux DSP. They were on special offer for a while and I couldn't resist. I'm still learning to use things like EQ and compression, but these come with detailed manuals that I need to read.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Bigger and better

A while back I blogged about my PC. It has served me well for about seven years, but has been showing signs of age lately. There's some hardware issue that causes it to lock up at times and it seemed to struggle with modern web video, e.g. HD Youtube or G+ video hangouts. Things have moved on a lot since I built it, so I finally pulled the trigger on a new build.

I've gone with AMD processors in the past and sort of know what to expect from them, so I went with the A8 6500. The price is reasonable and it's a 65W chip which should run a little cooler than some of the others. I've used nVidia graphics that came on the previous motherboards, but this processor incorporates Radeon graphics that should be supported on Linux.

Motherboard is a Gigabyte GA-F2A88X-D3H (eh?). I wanted a couple of PCI slots for my old cards. This seemed to have all the connections I need, but won't support any old IDE drives. I didn't order an optical drive as I was thinking of re-using my old one, but it won't work with this. It's not expensive to but a new one, a big change since I paid about £150 for a DVD/CD-RW combo drive many moons ago.

I've gone for 8GB of memory for now. It's from Crucial, who have a good reputation. I've never had memory with heatsinks on before. I don't plan to overclock, but I want everything to be stable.

Storage is via a 120GB Kingston SSD for the operating system and a 2TB Seagate for data.

I paid more than previously for a case to try and keep the noise down. The Cooler Master Silencio 550 has foam on the sides and a door on the front to contain the noise. Power is from a Be Quiet L8 350W PSU.

All the parts came from, who I have used in the past and have no problems with.

It was pretty easy to put together. It's easier in a large case. I like the screw-less drive mountings. It's a shame nobody has come up with a simpler way to wire up the case switches and lights. There was a moment of drama when a glass lampshade above the dining table dropped into the open PC. Luckily it didn't break, but it gave me a shock. It's a new light, but it looks like the glue failed on that shade. Something else to get fixed.

I installed my old M-Audio Delta 66 audio interface and my Freeview TV card.

Installing Kubuntu Linux from a flash drive did not take long. Everything is working nicely. Linux hardware support is really good these days. It's probably easier than Windows. I have an issue with the sound distorting that I still need to investigate.

So is this PC really quiet? It's certainly quieter than the old one, but not silent. I used the standard AMD CPU cooler and I can hear that. It may be annoying enough to replace, but I don't really hear anything else. I've run a few tests on the things that were stressing the old machine and this one has plenty of spare capacity.I'm hoping it will last me a good few years. I still need to set up the recording apps. I'll be using the KXStudio suite again.

I need to copy files over from the old machine. I tried it over the network using both Samba and SSH/FTP, but both were incredibly slow. What I could do is to just mount the old drive. That should be the quickest way. I intend to keep the old PC as a spare in the study. My kids use the computer a lot for schoolwork.

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.