Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ben Folds Album Review: Way to Normal

The reactions to Ben Folds' newest album, "Way to Normal", have been, to say the least, mixed. Some people hail Folds' return to poppy, peppy irreverence as a good thing, while others consider it an "unconscionably awful" album.

As a dedicated Ben Folds fan, I will enjoy pretty much anything Folds puts out with rare exception. And I'm one who has felt his recent albums have been a touch too subtle and nuanced for my personal tastes.

So I'm on the side that is glad Folds has opened up the throttle on Way to Normal. I really like it as an album. At times, it feels like Folds is overcompensating for three albums of easy listening and restraint. I learned about halfway through my first listen that Folds had gotten divorced right before he started the album. The song "Errant Dog" told me that pretty clearly, and I had only to confirm with Google.

I do hope Folds isn't through with the softer sound of some of his other works. Songs for Silverman was an amazing album and includes some of my favorite songs of his. "Time" is an amazingly sweet and selfless breakup song with great lyrics and a haunting melody.

But I'm also very glad that he lays about a half a dozen F-bombs on Way To Normal.

One last note: I am loving Folds catering to old-school and new-school sensibilities by offering Way to Normal in vinyl and live performances from his tour off of iTunes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Capella Karaoke crooning - for charity!

Although I haven't picked up my guitar in months, I have been finding other ways to rock out. For example, I recently sang some karaoke for charity.

The Pod Five podcast is holding a Pod Five Idol contest. Contestants sing 2 minutes of a podsafe song, a capella, and listeners vote on their favorites.

Each contestant chooses a charity, and the contestant with the most votes gets at least $100 donated to that charity, though most everybody who is stopping by to vote is giving money.

I am singing Barney's In the Vent, by George Hrab. I'm playing for Equality Now, a womens' rights charity.

There's some pretty good singers up there, so I encourage you to check it out.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Light my fire

Got together with some friends last weekend, one of whom plays guitar. She's been playing since high school, and I was friends with her as she was first learning.

We had a conversation about learning and practice,and she gave me some great advice. The highlights:
* Practice at least once a week.
* Practice until you get tired. This is enough to to get calluses and build up stamina, but not too much to cause injury.
* Learning chords is good, but learning an actual song is better to help with changing between chords quickly. She suggested La Bamba or some Beatles' songs as good first songs because most songs are only 3 basic chords.

The brief conversation was very encouraging and motivating for me. It turns out that she was only practicing a couple times a week, max, when she first started out. It was really good to learn that I'm, more or less, on the right track, and that it may take a while, but my current practice setup is enough to build strength and proficiency.

So, that goal of playing at an open mike night sometime in 2008 may be realistic after all. Yay! Of course, if I choose a Beatles' song, it means I will have to learn the dreaded "F" chord (insert A minor chord here for dramatic effect).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

No, I'm not having cereal for lunch, I'm finally getting around to practicing after nearly a month of idle fingers (well, idle from strumming, at any rate).

I'm not any worse than last time I picked up the guitar, but I'm not any better. I remember the fingerings of all the 6 chords I've learned, if not always their names, and my scales went swimmingly. And, for the song I am learning (Eagles - Take it Easy), I'm really starting to internalize the strings and notes, so if I'm "guessing" at the next chord, or a guitar solo melody line, I'm pretty good at getting it right. (e.g. Playing by ear. Sort of).

But none of that is translating to improvement in sound.

The other nice thing is that my hands, fingers and wrists don't hurt from overpractice.

I need to start on another lesson, but with such sporadic practice right now, I wanted to get back to regular practice before jumping in to something new. Now that today's practice has clearly shown to me that I'm in some freaky-bizzaro plateau-land, I'll definitely be moving on to put some more variety in my practice. Even if I'm only practicing twice a week.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rocked out?

I've not been able to get momentum going to practice since the holidays, but I'm still around. I've got a lot of other stuff that I've been working on that has gotten in the way. I'm still hoping to carve out time to practice. The guitar is at work now, and I'm hoping to use a couple lunch hour's a week to practice. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My stickers? Iz can show you them?

I know it's going to be a very, very long time until I get any proficiency with my guitar. I've got to keep motivated, and find ways to keep practicing and keep things interesting when the practicing doesn't seem to be helping much.

So, I've decided to start collecting guitar stickers and slap 'em on my guitar.

You know, those cool stickers that all guitarists have on their guitar cases? Or the stickers that rockers make and give out as swag? Or the stickers that come with Guitar Hero?

I've got a couple already, that I haven't stuck on my guitar yet. One is from, that says "Mike Keneally Ripped My Head Off," (and he did, too). The other is not rock-related, but it's irreverant and funny. It's a picture of a cartooninzed nautilius, with the text "Naughtylus: Would you like to see my Chambers?" I got that one from the Gargoyle Humor Magazine.

Though I'd like to save them for my "new" guitar, that I will buy when I am "good," I've decided I can't wait.

I shall try to post pictures of these stickers later in the week.

Practice Notes: I practiced for about 10 minutes toninght. The standard 6 chords, Chord changes in "Take it easy," then a quick set of scales. My fingertips hurt. Not sure if more frequent practices or longer practices will be better to develop calluses. I'm sure both would help.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Rock On!

Pulled out the guitar for a short 7-minute practice, to see what I remembered and how much I've lost/forgotten.

The good news is, I've got a lot of the muscle memory still there. Scales, in particular, were pretty easy.

I remembered nearly all the chords I've learned, though not exactly what they're called. So I can play D minor, but I'd forgotten it was D minor. Same problem with E minor and A minor--I forgot which was which.

My chords sound a lot worse than they did before. Part of this is because my nails are getting long again. Part of this is I've lost a bit of flexibility over the past month. Part of this is I was never terribly good with the chords in the first place, and part of this is my arms are very tired due to an intense Aikido session this morning.

I will need to make the most of my practice sessions, and try to improve, and learn new things. A short practice is all well and good to retain skills, but if the practice is too short, I won't necessarily see improvement during the practice.

My goals over the next couple months will be to get better at the chords I already know, learn some new chords, and pick a song to practice. Ideally, this song will be fun, a bit challenging, and something I can play at an open mike night sometime this year. If anyone has suggestions, let me know.

--The musishian