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January 28, 2008


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.

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