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January 31, 2008

Suggestions, Anyone?

Not that anyone's reading this blog yet, but if there is anyone lurking in the ether then I'm looking for suggestions...

As part of the new guitar course I'm on, I'm supposed to pick a song to try to learn (in part or in its entirety). The idea is that over the 10 weeks of lessons I take time at the end of each practice session to work towards performing something 'real' as opposed to just doing exercises.

Here's the rub, as Ol' Bill used to say... I joined the class mid way through, so I only have limited time to learn a song and I'm short on ideas as to what's achievable.

Having heard me play, "Teach" suggested that I have a crack at "Little Wing". He didn't specify whether that was the Hendrix version, the one by SRV... Derek & the Dominoes... Dolly Parton...

(Okay, so Dolly's not on the list. Just checking if you were listening!)

I've been looking up how to play "Little Wing" on YouTube (as one does these days) and I'm not sure I can actually manage it. The main problem isn't necessarily the song, it's that I have to perform it on the acoustic and the song lends itself more to the electric, what with all the double stops with hammer-ons! I could, of course, 'reimagineer' it, as they say at Disney.

So, last night I got to thinking that maybe I should change tack and choose another song. Right now I'm leaning towards something relatively basic and repetetive (i.e. achievable) but funky sounding like Jack Johnson's "Taylor".

If anyone has suggestions for alternatives then I'd be more than happy to hear them. Remember, nothing that requires the player to be a virtuoso, and nothing that requires an electric guitar.


In other news, we're off to Amsterdam tomorrow for the first time in a year! The last time we visited what I like to call 'Sin City' was over New Year's, 13 long months ago. We're only there for a few days, but hopefully it'll give us a chance to unwind. I won't get to play guitar at all, but maybe I'll take one of my harmonicas along so that I have some musical release if needs be.

January 29, 2008

Classic Albums: The Who, "Who's Next"

The first thing to say is that I'm not a huge Who fan, as I never really listened to them as a kid so, apart from the soundtrack to "Tommy", which for me was somewhat hit or miss.

I do, however, appreciate The Who's style of musicianship. My primary reason for getting this episode of the "Classic Albums" series was to find out how they created their sound, both in terms of the guitar work and the orchestration as a whole. On that level the DVD didn't give me much insight. Some, but not much. The main focus on the creative side seemed to be the use of synths and Keith Moon's contribution on the drums.

Having said that, once the character set-up was complete, which was a slightly weak beginning to the show, the origin of the "Who's Next" album was actually fascinating. You really got a sense of the time. Pete Townsend wrote the songs as a musical statement which was intended to be reflective of the zeitgeist of the time, or perhaps more that it was allegorical about what could happen if the world carried on down the path it was going. It was, after all, the era that popular music became political. It's a shame that these days the ability of music as a medium for expression has been diluted and much contemporary music has become disposable. Perhaps musicians just aren't angry enough any more.

January 28, 2008

Full Of Eastern Promise

What do you need if you can't make it through an Arabian night? Try a sextonic!

I was thinking back to some of the more interesting stuff I learned on my last adult education course and remembered one of the cooler scales that we were taught. In the same way that a pentatonic scale contains 5 notes, the sextonic is made up of 6.

The particular sextonic scale shown below is really great to jam on as almost any combination of notes will give you a fantastic exotic sounding tune.

I've shown the scale in E, with a typical 2 octave run highlighted. Why is E a good choice? Well, if you play the scale starting on the root on the A string then the low E is left free to 'drone' on, instantly adding a bassline and doubling the complexity of the sound. You can even hit the open A, drop down a string and repeat the lower note pattern to add more colour.

If you're looking to break out of the usual scales and modes then a sextonic may be just the ticket.


I managed to get out of bed early on Saturday morning and headed over to the Westminster Adult Education Service centre in Pimlico. I was expecting the journey to be a shag, but in fact it only took me 40 minutes door to door, including a necessary detour to fill up on coffee. I was the first person there, so I took Blackie (the Ovation 1861 Balladeer) out, perched on her case and set to practicing. Since getting Red, I’ve really been focussing on playing electric, so I expected it to take a while to get the feel for the acoustic back. It didn’t. That’s the neat thing about Ovation guitars: their necks are nice and narrow so the transition from electric to acoustic and back again is relatively painless.

After about 10 minutes of jamming, the teacher, Gerald, arrived. Had a chat with him about the course, what I wanted to achieve and so on. He really put me at ease and said that I really was good enough to play in a band already. He said that I might actually be a bit too advanced already for the ‘intermediate’ course. I told him that really any structured learning would be a good thing for me right now. I need focus. I kind of see the course as being a driving force to keep my momentum going. There’s a fixed schedule which means I can’t afford to fall behind. I’m already hoping that there’ll be a follow on course in the summer...

The other four people on the course were pretty diverse, both in terms of personality and skill level. None of them were the cookie-cutter shredders from the course at Morley. Not that there’s anything wrong with shredding, but if you’re in a class that’s trying to do a scale exercise, what’re you doing trading metal licks with the guy next to you? Gee, when did I become a conformist? I’m going to have to work on being obnoxious if I’m going to make it as a Rock God.

We started off the lesson with a finger-picked version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb". Now, I know what you’re thinking! I’m better than that, right? And yes, maybe I am, but even so, sometimes going back to basics is a good thing. Hey, I’m still going to be practicing it, in case I’m asked to perform it live in front of the class.

The next two hours were actually pretty packed. We covered a couple of different pentatonic boxes and the extended pentatonic run up the neck across positions 1 and 2 (starting on a single note from box 5 on the low E). Pretty basic stuff, huh? BUT, one thing I’ve always done when moving up the neck using a pentatonic scale is to fret with my index and third finger then slide up using the third. I often get in trouble as I tend to overshoot on the slides. Gerald suggested that a better, more 'correct' thing to do is to fret with the index finger, then move position and use index and third. When you come to use one pick per string, that equates to playing the first note, sliding then hammering on. Likewise, when you descend you pull off then slide down using the index finger. I have to tell you, realising that it was possible to slide with the index finger was a real "D’Oh" moment for me. Just goes to show that however much you think you know...

We also covered 16th note strumming patterns with muting, such as the intro riff from George Michael's "Faith" (and pretty much everything by Jack Johnson).

Add into that another "D’Oh" moment when Gerald pointed out that strumming full chords on the first beat of a bar then partial chords at other times was one way to accent the rhythm, rather than just trying to play the first strum louder. I mean, I do that a lot of the time, but I never actually thought about focussing on that technique.

I guess the main other thing we did was to take a look at improvising with the pentatonic, sticking to the 3 highest strings moving from Box 5 to 1 to 2. Limiting the number of notes to 6 in each position really helped me to lock onto a position and express myself within that framework as opposed to trying to get a huge range of different notes in. If it’s good enough for B.B. King, it’s good enough for me, right? Sometimes I try to keep myself open to all the possibilities of running up and down the neck and across the fingerboard and I end up not seeing the wood for the trees.

The last main thing from the lesson was that Gerald has asked each person to pick a song they’ve never tried playing before and to try and learn it by the end of the term. He’s suggested that I have a go at "Little Wing"! presumably the version by Hendrix. Eek! Stretched target alert! Since I’m already 2 classes behind and about to miss the 4th as we’ll be in Amsterdam next weekend I’d best get down to learning it! I may actually back out of "Little Wing" and shoot for something else. I always wanted to learn "Come & Go Blues" by Gregg Allman, but the alternate tuning he uses scares the bejesus out of me.

Oh, and the first DVD from the "Classic Albums" series arrived over the weekend: "Who's Next" by The Who. I'll let you know what I think about it when I watch it sometime this week.

January 25, 2008

Broken Teeth...

The bullet has been bitten. I’ve signed up for the remainder of the catchily named Guitar Improvers Intensive course with the Westminster Adult Education Service. There are 7 more lessons to go (I’ve missed 2 already), but I can only make it to 5 of them, starting on the 9th February... that is unless I can get my tail out of bed bright and early tomorrow morning.

There are currently only 4 other people on the course and it’s acoustic-based, so I don’t know whether it’s going to fulfil my requirements, but y’know, a step forward is a step forward, even if it’s just a small one.

Other than that, I’ve ordered a number of the "Classic Albums" series on DVD. The shows take, well, classic albums and dissect them, looking at how they were recorded and all that good stuff. I’ve ordered the following:

Cream, "Disraeli Gears"
Steely Dan, "Aja"
The Who, "Who's Next"
Fleetwood Mac, "Rumours"
The Grateful Dead, "From Anthem To Beauty"

I caught half of the "Rumours" show the other week and it was fascinating, showing how simple the creative process was in theory, but how complex it was in practice. I keenly await their arrival.

Oh, I also put an eBay bid in on U2, "The Joshua Tree" from the same series. Not really a U2 fan, but hey, variety is a good thing, right?

January 23, 2008

Mind If I Jump In The Middle?

Way back when, I did a couple of terms of the Morley College "Electric Guitar: Improvers" evening class. Although at the time the material was a bit too challenging for me, I benefited greatly from the structure and also from playing in a group setting. My practice was directed and inspired. My playing improved exponentially.

In the end I quit going mid-way through the third term because the teacher was replaced and the new guy's lecturing style just didn't work for me. That's not to malign him at all, it's just that I found I stopped improving. If anything I ended up going backwards and rather than look forward to class I started to dread going. Not a good learning environment.

While I've wanted to go back, and even tried once (made it through one class), the same guy's been there ever since.

As part of the Fillmore Five Project I started looking into alternatives... too late, as it turned out. All the courses for Spring 2008 have started already. Determined as I am right now I asked myself:

"Can I jump in the middle?"

I found one class that will actually let me join half-way, but what with being busy this weekend and then having a trip to Amsterdam planned the following, I'll only get to go to 5 of the 9 sessions. I've asked them whether I can get a reduced pro-rata price. Cheeky, I know, but if I pay full price it'd be about equal money to get the same number of lessons from a personal tutor. We'll see what happens. The course is primarily for acoustic guitar, which isn't ideal (poor Red), but it's a great chance to practice networking, plus it'd help me get over some of my issues surrounging playing music with other people.

Of course, I may also be jumping in on the learning curve at a point that's too steep. My classmates may already be too far ahead of me. I'm torn: my heart says I should just go for it but my head says I might be able to spend my time and money better. Hopefully this dilemma isn't the start of my resolve cracking... nope... not today!

January 21, 2008

Spice Of Life Open Mic, Take 2

Well, I survived my second open mic at the Spice of Life! This week the standard was definitely not as high as last time. That's not to diminish the fact that each and every one of the performers had the guts to stand up and put their thing 'out there'. I was actually surprised how much focus this week was on the 'singer/songwriter' side of the fence as opposed to 'musician'.

Okay, so I actually took heart in the fact that one artist only knew 3 open chord shapes, changing key between songs by moving a capo up the neck. Unfortunately, with most of the acts, the singer/songwriter side fell short, too.

There were noteable exceptions including:

A duo called Maisy's Wake (pictured above), doing the two guitar harmony thing with one of them channelling Paul McCartney's look from the Sgt. Pepper days.

A cheeky chappie calling himself 'Tom on the Guitar'. He played really well, but did the 'showman' thing a bit too much for me, dangerously leaning towards cabaret.

Some guy over from San Fran who I didn't want to like... but I did. Kinda acoustic Neil Youngish... kinda not...

The standout performance for me was by a guy called Bobby Long. Charismatic stage presence, vocally think 'Ray LaMontagne' meets the wideboy character Noel (played by Tom Hardy) in the movie "Scenes of a Sexual Nature" (2006). Young. Given half a chance I think the boy might make it. He has a MySpace page here.

I won't be able to make the next Monday night offering, but on Tuesday 30th January they're premiering a monthly best-of-the-best evening at the Hard Rock Cafe which I hope to go along to. I don't think I'll be eating the food! Given my schedule it may be that these meetings may be the only ones I can make in the near future.

A Good Beer Buzz In The Morning...

Overall this was a good weekend for the advancement of the Fillmore Five Project.

There was one disheartening moment, where my husband, Tim, pointed out, as he does from time to time, that no matter how good I'm getting at jamming, I still can't play a single song from start to finish. It really bugs me when he says that. I don't know why I let it get to me so much. I realise that he's trying to be supportive in his own way, making me focus on the finished product. What he doesn't get is how fragile my musical ego is. I'm running on high right now and for once have faith that I can succeed. When he comes up with stuff like that it makes me lose faith in myself and my motivation crashes.

I've realised recently that I really need the context of a band to make me pull out all the stops. If I'm playing rhythm guitar then hey, anyone can learn a strumming pattern, right? If I wanted to I could sit there and strum out a whole song. The reason I don't do that on a regular basis is that it's just not where I'm headed. If I'm recording a song or playing live with other people then sure, I'll play the chord progression, over and over.

The flip side is that playing lead isn't about 'playing a whole song', it's about adding colour and maybe a solo, which I can do. Hey, maybe one day I'll do the power trio thing with just me, a bassist and a drummer, but not right now.

The one positive from the discussion was that Tim's said that if I write a couple of acoustic songs then he's willing to stand up at an open mic and sing them with me. Now that's something I could work towards.

On balance, the positive stuff outweighed the negatives over the weekend. Fired up by the need to prove I can play a song all the way through I turned around and learnt Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" on acoustic and a decent one guitar version of The Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash" on electric. I swear Red Dog (my shiny new Les Paul) is possessed. If I plug it in and try to play stuff using my head it comes out okay, but not great. If I disengage my brain and just let the thing play itself it totally ROCKS! Duane... is that you in there? Maybe I should hold a seance... not an exorcism, though. Oh, no. Whoever's in there has work to do! Which reminds me, as I'm trying to immerse myself in music I rented the Jack Black movie "Tenacious D", which focussed on the search for the satanic Pick of Destiny. Not exactly Oscar-winning material, though the intro sequence was cool!

By random chance I ran into the bass/guitar guy from last Friday night whilst online (frikkin' small Wide World of the Web). Had a chat about music etc. Turns out that he doesn't play in a band as such, but with people he grew up with. Sounded like they were looking to start gigging, playing Led Zep covers and so on. I let him know that if he ever runs across intermediate level players who want to get together and jam then to point them towards me. Who knows, eh? Explore all avenues.

Having nearly dropped Red a couple of times last week when the freebie guitar strap that came with it popped off mid-twang I decided to get a new, better strap. It came in the mail on Friday. I also found a top tip online about DIY strap locks. Rather than spend money on expensive locking mechanisms which don't always work and which can damage your axe, simply purchase 2 bottles of Grolsch... the kind with the wired cap.

Buy beer, drink beer (optional, but a bonus) then pull the rubber gaskets off the cap. Simply put your strap on then lock it into place using the gaskets. Sounds daft, but it really seems to work.
Whilst online I found a cool website with videos demonstrating how to play various classic rock riffs (click here). Had a go at The Eagles "Life in the Fast Lane" intro. It's actually a pretty simple run but the addition of flourishes like the string bends and the muted 'chug-chug' sound after the repeat of the first lick make it sound really cool. I think I'll be spending some time practicing that one as it's immediately identifiable.

Last but not least, I got my first Robert Randolph & the Family Band CD, called "Unclassified". As I understand it, it's their first studio album. To me it's a seems like a good introduction. Their sound is mainly groove based which lends itself to jamming. The first three tracks and one or two towards the end are standout pieces. Some of the middle tracks are a bit too 'safe' for my taste, but hey, it's an album that seems to be about laying it down every which way. Variety is always good. I'd definitely go check them out live if they ever came to town and consider buying other albums.

Well, it's Monday and Tim's studying for his next exam tomorrow so I guess I'll be off to the open mic at the Spice of Life pub again this evening, all being well. If I do go we'll see whether I'm ready to network yet, or if I'm still going to hang back in the shadows and just soak it up.

January 18, 2008

Not Even "Almost Famous"

I watched Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" for the first time last night since seeing it in the movie theatre. On the big screen I thought it was a really cool movie, mainly because of my fascination with 70's blues/rock bands opon which the movie is based.

I still enjoyed the movie on the small screen, but I didn't feel the immediate connection with it that I did, oh, 8 years ago. My issue wasn't with the movie per se, but my perceived displacement of the characters.

Allow me to explain...

"Almost Famous" is an amalgamation of writer/director Crowe's experiences as a young staff writer for Rolling Stone. As I understand it, the storyline is based on the time he spent touring with the Allman Brothers in the 70's. There are many, many references to the Allmans in terms of characterisation, background props (such as a prominent re-created posters based on the Fillmore East live album) and even the brief inclusion of a character called Red Dog, perhaps the most famous of the Brothers' roadies.

The mixing of characters and events is actually what's unsettling to me. While the band is based on the Allmans (and possibly Led Zep with a dash of Lynyrd Skynyrd), the lead guitarist, Russel, is predominantly Glenn Frey (Eagles) but the actor (Billy Crudup) also bears more than a passing resemblence to Dickey Betts (Allmans)...


I think the problem is that between seeing the movie at the cinema and watching it again I've read too many music biographies, including: Midnight Riders: The Story Of The Allman Brothers Band (Scott Freeman) and Skydog - The Duane Allman Story (Randy Poe).

And it didn't help that the lead singer blokie was played by the guy from "My Name Is Earl"...

January 17, 2008

"The Mysticism Of Sound & Music"

...or What I Learned From Hazrat Inayat Khan

Okay, so the first thing to say is that I have little tolerance for religious mumbo-jumbo in any shape or form, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in spirituality on some level. In particular, I can empirically see that music has a strong emotional and even physical effect on people. Some forms of music relax you, some make you cry, some make you hit the loud pedal in your car and drive like a maniac.

Hazrat Inayat Khan was a travelling Sufi who lectured on the true nature of sound and vibration as the basic creative force in the universe and how music and dance can be used as a tool to achieve harmony with your surroundings and God (pick one... he wasn't choosy which one you worship). "The Mysticism Of Sound & Music" is a compilation of lectures by the esteemed musician turned mystic.

While this may all sound like mumbo jumbo, most of Khan's conclusions are based directly on observation and it's that very scrutiny of the obvious that gives power to his discourse, making it an engaging and valuable read for anyone with an interest in music.

Some of the salient observations were:

Repetition is very powerful. If you keep repeating a musical phrase over and over it'll eventually stick. If you look at guitar solos, the memorable and powerful ones always employ some degree of lick repetition in the build up to a crescendo. Taken to the extreme, if you hit a bum note then you can trick the listener into accepting it by hitting it a few more times. An old jazz trick!

You can listen to and play the right music at the wrong time. If you're in the mood for (i.e. in harmony with) one type of music but someone plays something you're not attuned to, it'll aggravate and unsettle you.

Music and dance can be used to reinforce a meditative state, putting you on a different (sometimes higher) plane of consciousness.

Harmony and dissonance are basically vibrations reinforcing or countering each other... gee that's Physics 101! Look at music... particularly classical music. Dissonance is often deliberately used to disquieten the listener, putting them on edge. In most chord progressions from popular music you get a deliberate build up of tension followed by release as the sequence resolves to the root, bringing it back in harmony. That's a very subtle form of dissonance, usually existing within an individual chord.

In essence, the book contains insight into the way music can be used to affect an audience. Isn't that the holy grail of all musicians?

January 16, 2008

Intro Idea

Okay, so I'm supposed to be practicing rather than writing songs, but I hit on an idea for the intro to a song so I thought I'd record it for posterity, in case I don't remember it tomorrow...

...and while I'm uploading audio, this would be an example of the kind of quick-to-make, simple backing track I reckon I should be shooting for:

Nothing fancy, just a basic 12 bar sequence that can be jammed over. Of course, at a later date it might evolve into a song, but not today!!!!

Action Plan Update

Okay, so I'm 16 days into 2008. It's a bit early to lay out my whole action plan, but I do have 3 steps. In reality some of these steps will overlap, but I think it's valuable to lay them out so that I have something to focus my efforts.

1) Get Good
As before, I need to start off this year with practice, practice, practice. If I'm not ready to jam with other people and actually sound credible then I'm not going to get anywhere.

2) Record Demos
I've recorded stuff before but I always tend to focus on the detail rather than the big picture. Take the embedded mp3 test file I posted last week for example. It started off as a jam track for me to practice guitar over and I ended up spending hours recording harmonica parts. What I need to do is take a step back and realise that all I need to do is set up a SIMPLE repeating drum loop, add sparse rhythm and then practice/record lead over that. That way I'll actually be spending time refining my guitar playing rather than wasting hours piddling around on the computer. The other side of that is that I fall into the trap of recording what's meant to be a backing track then jump straight into trying to tape the lead on top, usually in piecemeal fashion. What I should do is burn the backing track then go away and spend time polishing the lead performance in its entirity.

3) Get Out There
I'm already on a number of 'find a band' type websites and have been to some open mic's etc but once I've got some material to showcase I need to get it out there and get myself out there more. How? I'll probably set up a MySpace page for 'The Band', but also maybe hand out cards at open mic's..? Find a local music store and put up a notice? Obviously I haven't worked out the details of how to become visible, but it's gotta happen.

Running in parallel with the other action plan steps is another task. I need to get myself an image. Even at the open mic's I noticed that each performer went to the effort of making sure they looked distinctive (with the exception of the blind guy, who obviously got some dodgy pointers from somewhere... possibly a partially sighted or colourblind friend?). Creating an image is going to be a two step process.

First off I have to 'Look Good Naked', that is that I need to lose a few pounds. I'm not at all unhappy with the 210lbs of solid muscle that I cart around each day; it's the additional 20lbs of loose fat gained over the holiday season that's weighing me down. Since coming back to work I've swapped my high-fat, overstuffed foccacia roll lunches for lean turkey sandwiches and fruit. I'm already noticing the difference, much to my surprise. I just have to keep it up to keep it off. I'd settle for the Kenski of 9 months ago on Mykonos island...

The flip side of the coin is that my wardrobe doesn't exactly say 'Rock Star'... it says 'Bloke'. Y'know I could just play stripped to the waist (with the guitar covering my burgeoning midriff) and back-comb my hair, but I think at close to 40 that might not be a good look for me. I ain't Iggy Pop!

Maybe I should start with a new 'do. Something office-friendly by day, cutting edge by night...

January 15, 2008

Open Mic @ The Spice Of Life Pub (Soho)

Last night I went to my first Monday night open mic at the Spice of Life pub in Soho... not to perform, as a spectator. I've been along to their Tuesday night gigs before, which are either a blues jam (mediocre ego fest) or a 'groove' jam (really good).

The format of the evening is that you turn up early, put your name on the list and then wait to play. Each artist gets to showcase two songs per session. It seemed like you were supposed to play acoustic guitar or piano, though there were also harmonicas and a cello in the mix.

The first thing to say is that overall I was really impressed with the quality of the performances, particularly in terms of the vocals. Most of the acts could really sing. There were a couple of stand outs for me, a girl called Amanda whose voice was just amazingly evocative: a hippie-chick with a rootsy folksy style. The other one was a couple of guys on guitar and cello. I think they were Karimi & Moore. Moore's cello work was fantastic, but Karimi's incredible voice was killer. A true talent.

My plan had been to go along and chat with some of the people, make contacts. You know: network. Not much happened this time around, unless you count that I was hit on by a drunk straight woman, but I plan on going back. What was neat about the open mic was the variety of songs and styles showcased. Their groove jam was similar in some ways, but not as structured. The blues jam, which I had possibly unrealistically high expectations of, was a free-for-all ego trip, with each musician competing with the others on stage for their 15 minutes of fame.

Although I didn't network as I'd hoped this time round, I did feel inspired listening to all that original music. I came out of the pub with a few song ideas of my own:

One Last Trick (Before I Settle Down)
The Only One (I Couldn't Get)
If You're Gonna Do It, Do It (Don't Waste My Time)

Okay, so there are no stellar ideas there, but at least my creative juices were flowing.

January 14, 2008

A Decent Start

I made a good start on getting back into playing.

First off, I restrung my Ovation acoustic with new D'Addario EXP Phosphor Bronze strings. The tone went from dull and boring to crisp and bright. It's amazing the difference new strings make on that puppy. It's now a joy to play and hence much more rewarding.

Secondly, I pulled out Red Dog (the Les Paul), amped up, and started practicing again. I was surprised to find that despite almost a month of not playing, my finger memory was intact. In no time I was back up to speed on scales, modes etc.

I made a conscious effort to use scales as a warm up but then progress to jamming over backing tracks and playing along to Neil Young & Crazy Horse's "Ragged Glory" album. I actually love Neil's approach to recording in that the performance doesn't need to be perfect... It just needs to be "real", which means that the totally basic chord progressions are simple but extremely gratifying to play along to. My favourite jam-along track has to be "Over and Over". Once you've nailed the intro lick, you're there in the land of grunge-rock.

I also scanned through a freebie Blues Lesson DVD that had been gathering dust in bottom of my TV cabinet, more as a distraction than anything else. The DVD briefly looks at the soloing styles of a number of blues/blues-rock greats: the three Kings (B.B., Albert and Freddie), Clapton, SRV, Hendrix etc. Most of the lessons were still beyond my reach as a player, but what I did take away from it was the idea that at times adding major tonality to the minor pentatonic is a great way to break add colour to licks.

What does that mean in practice? The easiest way to add the major feel is to either hammer-on or bend the second note in the pentatonic scale up a semitone (one fret). To my ear you get a kind of delta blues vibe. It doesn't work well over every chord in the standard I-IV-V, but certainly adds interest when turning around.

I guess if you look at the relationship between the major and minor pentatonic box 1 shapes then you could also add interest by half-step sliding into the 2nd, 3rd or fifth notes in the scale. I'll have to try that...

Gee, do I sould like I know what I'm talking about? Music theory is something I was never interested in until I actually learned some. It's fascinating to me that you can construct a detailed framework for understanding and appreciating music, only to realise that most great music is made when you throw the rules away. You have to take a leap of faith and let the music come from your heart instead of your head.

What else did I learn this weekend? Red Dog plays best with a heavy pick. I'm using a Jim Dunlop 1mm (blue) Tortex one now. Back when I was exclusively playing the acoustic, a floppy 0.5mm one felt better as strumming was a major part of what I was doing. On the electric, control and precision are more important to me.

Finally, I discovered that I need to lose weight. Either that or shorten my guitar strap! The way the Les Paul sits on my belly right now means that it faces down towards the floor which ain't good! Maybe I should add 'lose the flab' to Step 1, too.

January 12, 2008

Chicken Shit

I have to stop being such a chicken shit. Really!

I spend hours wondering what the best way to meet potential band members is, then when I randomly meet a guy in a local bar whilst shooting pool who plays guitar and bass and is into the same kind of music as I am... I run a mile rather than asking if he'd like to jam or if he knows anyone who would.

How the hell do I expect to get anywhere if I don't jump on opportunities like that?

January 10, 2008

Audio Embed Test

This is just a test to see whether an embedded audio player works on this blogger. I'll delete it later... I guess...

PS This was recorded quite some time back on my old plank of a Les Paul copy!

January 9, 2008

Action Plan, Part 1

Okay, so I've set myself the goal of going from being a bedroom noodler to a guitar god with a band (preferably a gigging band) before the end of 2008. The question is, how to I go from zero to hero in 12 short months. I figure what I really need is an action plan, broken down into small achievable chunks.

Step 1: Get Good

Since being credible is a fundamental requirement for convincing other people to play in a band with me, I need to spend some time nailing down the basics. At this time I'm not a bad guitarist per se, but I definitely need to get grooved and find some kind of focus.

I need to commit myself to practicing every single day, no matter what. That's easy when you're young, free and single. Not so easy when you don't fit into any of those boxes. I'm 38, need to work hard to make ends meet and have a husband, TT, whose schedule often conflicts with mine. Over the coming year, though, I hope to have a reasonable amount of free time as TT will be studying for his second Masters degree! TT doesn't know about the Fillmore Five Project... shhhh! Don't tell him! It's a surprise!

Getting good is also a confidence thing. Right now I don't feel ready to put myself out there, even if it's just to jam with other people. I know I probably am ready, but I want to be in the zone.

So, that's Step 1. I'm giving myself until the end of February to get good enough to start looking for other players.

The Continental Divide

Musically speaking I've drawn a blank so far this year, but that's not surprising as I've been in the US for the past two and a half weeks visiting in-laws and friends over Christmas and New Year's respectively. Our travels took us from Kansas City to Springfield MO, then Houston TX and back again.

For me, the highlight of the trip came on our last proper night out. We'd arranged to hook up with a friend of ours from London who was visiting friends of his in Kansas City. Cutting an extremely long and event-filled story short, one of his friends turned out to be into music, too. We spent a while talking shop, getting liquored up and trading shirts... as you do. He seemed like a real fun dude (there's a joke in there, for the initiated!) Hopefully we can stay in touch with him... He did send us a message suggesting that he might try to make his way over to London some day. Sounds like a good time to me.

Anyway, here I am at the start of 2008, starting from zero. What I really need is some kind of action plan to help me get from the gutter to the stars.

January 1, 2008

Demo Room

Coming soon!

This is where I'll post demos once I record them. In the meantime, anything in here is just for testing.