Friday, November 30, 2007

Immersing myself in some rock tonight

It's just another way to say "I'm going to a TSO concert instead of practicing."

I had some good inertia going with the practice schedule, then Thanksgiving came up and BLAM! Nothing.

I have very little free time between now and the end of the year, and I was thinking about just saying "screw it," and picking a practice schedule back up after January 1st. But I've decided to try to get back into a practice schedule starting Monday.

It may only be one or two days a week, but it'll be something, and then I can kick it into a higher gear in 2008. I've already found that lunch practice works well for me, and it's an otherwise less-than-productive time of day (other than the days I go out to run errands, that is).

Look for an update on the TSO concert sometime this weekend.

--the musishian

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Taking a (short) break

The guitar won't fit in the car when we go out of town for Thanksgiving. With guitar, Aikido and the typing I do for work and at home, my wrists are killing me.

After about a half a week of rest, doing nothing more difficult than icing some cookies or lifting a glass or two of wine, I hope to be well-rested and ready to come back at it.

--The Musishian

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thursday Lunch practice

Another lunch practice (that's 4 practices this week for those counting). About 20 minutes.

1 set of E Phrigyan and cromatic scales, forwards and backwards.
Practiced chords
Practiced "Take It Easy" rhythm guitar
Practiced "Day Tripper" lead guitar - first verse to refrain

I made an effort to slow down my practice this time, and I was able to hit the notes in the scales without making many mistakes.
For "Day Tripper" I was able to go through it several times without screwing it up. I even started trying to figure out the part under the refrain.

Was having some trouble hitting chords today, for some reason. My fingers wouldn't go into the right positions, and kept getting in the way of other strings. Perhaps I need to do some finger stretches in addition to the scales warm-ups, or maybe just more scales.

There's several good hand stretches in Aikido that, once I learn them all the way, I'll probably use to warm up for guitar practice (and probably at my desk job when my hands get tired from all the typing).

Until next time,

--The musishian

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lunchtime practice debriefing

Not only did I practice on Tuesday, I also got about of 20 minutes of practice in at lunch today! Wow, 3 days this week already! Go me!

After only one lunchtime practice, I've decided that I love it. It was a great break in the day, a mood-booster, and, frankly, a way to make practice fun. It's certainly more fun than working...

I did notice that I started out playing much quieter, so as not to disturb any co-workers who were still at their desks for lunch. Which was interesting because it seemed to make me a bit more accurate with my scales. As I got into it, though, I started to get louder, and nobody seemed to notice.

The scales are coming along well--E Phrygian is super-easy for me now. I've also noticed I tend to do scales faster backwards (from high E string to low E string) than forwards. Odd.

I continued to focus on songs, changing from chord to chord, and working on some strumming technique. I also discovered that I had a different Web site bookmarked for guitar help at work then the one I have at home. This site, Guitar Noise, is one I may also check out at home.

Still noticing problems with my playing. Like many things in my life, it's hard for me to slow down. I want to speed up and do the song at the "correct" tempo, but to learn it, I need to go laboriously slowly.

Another thing that tends to get me off track is when I want to sing along with the guitar. A lunchtime practice is good to get me out of this habit because there's no way I'm singing and playing where all my co-workers can hear. That's what Wednesday night Karaoke is for.

All in all, the practice was very good. It was rather relaxing to switch gears during work, and I had plenty of time to practice, eat lunch, and do other things (like surf the 'Net, go for a walk, or, write this blog entry).

Love me two times...

Had the day off yesterday, was able to squeeze in two 15-minute practices in one day, for the first time.

Unfortunately, I feel like I'm hitting a plateau. I'm doing the chromatic and E Phrygian scales correctly, but slowly, and I've memorized the 6 chords I know so far. However, I'm playing the notes very, very slowly, and I'm not good at switching between chords yet. Perhaps it's time to go to Lesson 3 and learn some more chords.

For my "free practice," I worked on the lead part from "Day Tripper." It's really catchy, pretty easy to play by ear, and uses (at least) four strings of the guitar. So it's a good one to learn the strings and to learn the individual notes on the strings. It's also fun to play.

I also re-tuned my guitar yesterday. Since I don't have a guitar stand, every time I take my guitar in and out of its case, it gets a little more out of tune. But it was much faster to re-tune it now that I've memorized the string names. I can just plunk out the note on my electronic keyboard, and not have to take 2 minutes figuring out which string corresponds to which note.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mastering the speed practice

Friday night, home from another aikido lesson, ready to sleep, but I know I don't have to get up for anything in the morning. Before bed, I kicked out a 10 minute practice--2 sets of scales, both Chromatic and E Phrygian, and a quick study of chords. The good news, I remembered the chords. The better news, I was able to get a practice in when I thought I didn't have time.

The only bad thing: My guitar is getting pretty out of tune. Will need to take some time to tune on Monday. Since I no longer have my little tuning device, I have to tune using my keyboard, which is not a problem, just takes about 5 extra minutes. The one good thing about my (near) perfect-pitch--I can tell that it's my guitar out of tune, and not me getting the chord wrong. I still know what it should sound like, and what it will sound like when it's tuned properly. I do need to work on internalizing the correct tones, though. I'm sure it will come with practice.

A short practice is certainly better than no practice at all. I'm happy with myself. This is a step in the right direction. Will post again when I get my first lunchtime practice in, to let y'all know how that goes.

--the Musishian

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lyrics epiphiany

(Author's Note: If you promise to recognize that learning how to write lyrics is just as important as learning how to play guitar and compose melodies, I promise I won't foist critical analysis of rock songs on you all that much.)

While listening to Coverville, I heard a version of Overkill (originally by Men at Work) and had an epiphany. We all know the song--

"I can't get to sleep!
I'm tired of all the, something something!"

--It was played so much in the 80’s that we may even be sick of it. We tend to think of the song’s melody, and only a few lyrics stand out:

“Day after day, it reappears,
Night after night, my something, shows the fear,
Something here and fade away.”

As I listened to the cover version, I actually caught all the lyrics for the first time. And I realized that the song is a perfect statement about anxiety, and its obsessive nature. And it has narrative structure to boot!

The lyrics of the song paint a picture of a guy with insomnia.

I can't get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

He knows that he’s only getting anxious because it’s night, and he’s alone. He knows he’s blowing things out of proportion.

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know will be alright
Perahaps it’s just my imagination

Then we get the end of the verse, which resolves the anxiety. The melody line descends here, which evokes a sense of relaxation and quieting down of the mind:

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat, shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away

In the second verse, though, it seems the anxiety is still there:

Alone between the sheets
Only brings exasperation

So, he goes for a walk to try to distract himself from the anxieties. It seems to work:

It's time to walk the streets
Smell the desperation
At least there's pretty lights
And though there's little variation
It nullifies the night
From overkill

Ah. Now we’ve gotten to the crux (and the title) of the song—Overkill. Which is the anxiety he’s feeling about every little thing, that he doesn’t need to worry about, but he’s worrying about anyway.

The end of the second ‘verse repeats the lines from the end of the first verse, showing that the anxiety does, in fact, go away again.

Yet, the anxiety comes back (the very next day—wait, wrong song), and it’s worse this time, which we know because he’s singing the melody an octave higher:

I can’t get to SLEEEEP!

But, the anxiety goes away, at least for a little while. The end of the verse, like the other two, is always the same:

Ghosts appear and fade away.

Even the form of the song evokes a recurrent, unavoidable anxiety. With the short lines, limited rhyme, and repetition of entire stanzas.

The beauty of this song is it’s such a common experience. Everyone’s gone though this at least once in their lives, where the cares of the world get you the wrong way and keep you up at night. You think you’ve got it under control and you’re calm, but then a stray thought sets you off again.

Very cool.

p.s. if this sort of thing interests you at all, I must recommend an amusing analysis of Jailhouse Rock by maestro George Hrab, from his Geologic Podcast episode 22. Unlike my work, his is edgy, laced with profanity, and very, very funny.

Excuses, excuses

Good excuses, but still excuses, for not practcing since early this week.

1. Started Aikido.
2. Had to finish a job application and walk it over to HR during my lunch hour, when I would have otherwise tried to practice at lunch.
3. Chose to go out to a Guitar Hero event being run by a local radio station. If you played the game, they would enter you in a trip to London to see Led Zepplin in concert. Free trip to London = coool.
4. Rode the bus to work today, did not have room for my guitar on the bus (well, actually, forgot it).

I still feel like a slacker, though.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Aikido = Guitar?

I went to my first Aikido class last night. As expected, it was pretty hard, but it was largely a mental challenge rather than a physical challenge.

Now, it's always hard learning something new, but I have no aptitude for this sort of thing at all. I may have some innate musical aptitude (near-perfect pitch, for example)which helps me along with the guitar, but kinesthetic stuff?

Let me put it this way: back in high school, when I was in the musicals, learning the dance choreography for the chorus parts always made me cry.

Aikido is just like that. I'm not a spatially-inclined sort of person, so to watch two people attack and defend, and try to figure out what they are doing, is not the best way for me to learn.

But, thankfully, there was time for one-on-one practice, where I sorta started to learn what I was supposed to be doing. And I did see places where I was improving during the lesson, which was also helpful. The teachers were very gentle, and very encouraging with the positive feedback and corrections. Even so, it was a struggle not to get really, really frustrated. Scratch that. To not show how frustrated I was. Lots of deep breathing to keep the growing anxiety at bay.

The reason I'm learning Aikido (and playing guitar) is not because it's easy, but because it's hard. I know I'm going to totally suck at first, but if I keep at it, I'll continue to get better. It doesn't really matter what it is I'm learning. And learning how to keep my calm when doing something really, really, hard.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Need more practice, but how?

Practiced today. Did not record. Focused on memorizing the chords I've learned so far. (Note, chords are Major unless otherwise noted) Pretty good with G C D A. A minor is OK, E minor is OK. D minor is a pain in the ass. It's a hard chord for me to form because my fingers aren't flexible. I have to form it from the bottom up; I can't form it from the top down. I shouldn't complain; I haven't even hit the F chord yet in my lessons.

I'm averaging about 2 practices per week. I'm not happy with this, but I'm having trouble finding time to practice. You'd think that finding 20-30 minutes, tops, every day wouldn't be so hard, but it is.

George Hrab, musician and podcaster extrodanaire, says in episode 38 of his Geologic Podcast that, when he practices, he breaks it up into several short sessions throughout the day. So, he'll do lots of 15 minute practice sessions in one day rather than one big session.

I'm wondering if I can apply this to my practice schedule, but in 5 minute chunks instead of 15 minute chunks. Like do scales before work, do chords at lunch, and play around with melodies and songs after dinner. It couldn't hurt to try.

I'm especially enamored with the lunchtime practice idea. Nobody near me stays at their desk during lunch, and without the amp, it should be pretty quiet. Not sure if I should try to ask the brass first, or just go for it and wait for somebody to complain.