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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.

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