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April 28, 2008

Action Plan Update... 247 Days & Counting

Yes, it's that time again. Time to revisit the ol' Action Plan.

I just looked back at the last update (here) and was surprised that not much has changed. In light of recent events, though, I'm now able to put some meat on the bones. Here we go...

1) Record Demos
I've been trying to decide which songs I want to record. My plan is to do a couple of covers and one or two originals. As and when I have them in the can I'll post them here. Hey, I also set up a MySpace page a while back, but have yet to format it. That'd be another good repository.

While I think about it, I need to maybe make a page on this blog and put a permanent link over on the right.

My current thoughts on song choice are:

"I'm Going Home" by Hootie & the Blowfish. Okay, so I'm not going to take any crap about covering Hootie. Their 1995 debut CD, "Cracked Rear View", was above average 'New South' rock. They suffered from being over-played on the radio. Once they made it onto "Friends" they were toast, any semblence of 'cool' being completely shattered. They became popular.

Why choose "I'm Going Home"? Well, it's got a strong chord progression in E major and the lead guitar is textbook major pentatonic with a few colour notes thrown in. It sounds impressive but it's actually easy to play.

I'm not going to dwell on it, but yesterday was incredibly frustrating. I'd got 99% of the way through recording a decent version of the song, including vocals (which surprisingly weren't bad!) and through my own stupidity I lost the lot... well, everything except a 3 second clip. Less than impressive. Even when doing demos I have got to set up a work process that minimises the risk of losing everything and then STICK TO IT!

Rant over... move along... nothing to see here.

Other possible covers, include:
"Over & Over" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Again, a simple chord progression and pretty basic grunge guitar. The powerful intro riff gets things rocking and from there on in you're flying.

"Walk Away" by Ben Harper
This was one of the first songs I learned by listening to the record and figuring it out myself. It's a pretty 'claw-hammer' song in G with a walking baseline. Over the weekend I was noodling around on it and had a 'eureka' moment. In the bridge there's a section where I was playing the second fret on the low E string with my index finger, then having to switch to the first fret on the B, deadening the note. By using the thumb-over-the neck technique to fret the low E I managed to get the piece to flow much better.

"Angel" by Matt Nathanson
This one's more like a nugget of a song than a real song. Blink and you'll miss it. If I can get some decent vocals going, though, it's a nice piece.

On the originals front, I was thinking about doing something bluesy, maybe an 8 bar blues (to be a little different) in a BB King stylee. I also have a pop song that I've written the music to, but have yet to figure out lyrics for. Working title: "Your Own Time".

Oh, I've also been taking Red out for a walk, which usually leads to a vamp on the E7#9 shape, moving it around the neck and adding fills. Noticed that when playing on the acoustic, letting the low E ring out isn't too much of an issue, but when overdriven on electric it muddies everything. Solution? Use the thumb again! Hit the low E to play it, but when using the moveable chord shape, make a fist to dampen the bass note. If I can get a decent recording then it'd be a good demo of the harder, funkier edge I can get. Think "Foxy Lady" for the new millenium!

Finally on the demo front, I may do some stuff on video instead of just audio. I realised that I have software which allows me to overdub, so I can actually record using a mic to get better quality sound.

Back to The Plan...

2) Find Other Musicians To Play With
I'm still processing my recent experience playing with "The Sociables". It gave me the hunger... the desire to run with a pack rather than starve at home, alone. It also taught me that practice rooms are actually accessible. I've looked up a few locally and on Saturday I visited one of them, Husky Studios, which is less than half a mile from our loft. I had a quick chat with the receptionist, took an up-to-date list of their rental equipment and checked out their notice board. I think it's a good idea to print up an advert and post it there.

Studio Lounge is also close by, and is slightly cheaper than Husky. When I get the chance I'll check them out, too. Apparently they were used to record a lot of the Stock, Aitken & Waterman stuff in the 80's. I'm not certain that's a good thing...

I've had a few responses from band websites, notably Party Sounds. We'll see where they lead.

3) Get Out There
I'm going to focus on finding other musos for a bit, but I'm still going to consider doing the open mic thing. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll get to check out a couple of new ones, maybe network a bit. Items 1 and 2 are my priority right now, though.

And I'm going to add number 4 to the list:

4) Sing More... And Improve!
I've managed to convince myself that I can hold a tune well enough that it's worth trying to improve my vocals. I'm going to look into courses. In the meantime I'm going to try to sing more and record myself more, to see where I can improve.

In other news, I just finished reading "Guitar Man" by Will Hodgkinson. A most inspirational novel! Axe Victim put me onto it as it chronicles the adventures of a guy who decided one day that in 6 months time he'd be playing guitar in a band. Sound familiar? It's not great art, but it's funny and contains many 'I've been there' moments. Like Axe said, I AM Guitar Man!

I can add one more to the summer's concert list: Jason Mraz at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Tickets went on sale on Saturday at 9am.

Last but not least, I really need to find a way to make more time. A good choice would be to change job. This morning it took me 2 hours to get into the office, which sadly isn't unusual. My average commute is about 3 hours a day. If I can get those hours back somehow, I'll be much more productive on weekdays.


Frank said...

This is just my opinion, but I wanted to share it quickly...

I think in spite of what you think, you've actually progress quite a bit more then you think since your last "Action Plan Update."

The experience with the band was even insightful for me, and I was just reading your notes! I can only imagine how much you got out of it from a 1st person point of view.

Aside from that, your increased confidence in your ability to sing should mean a lot to your project... I mean, it is easier to "get out there" if you can sing - either in the open mic nights or doing the cafe thing.

Additionally, I must say that I actually like Hootie and the blowfish. So you are not alone, despite the beatings they took. The have a good sound and the lead signer can freakin' sing!

If you have the music for the song "I'm Going Home", can you e-mail it to me (assuming it isn't a commercial / copyrighted version)? Sounds like something I could work on.

Also, I'm gonna grab that book and read it. Thank you for recommending it to me.


Further on up the road said...

Sounds like you are making real progress.

Keep going - you're making me think I ought to get my arse in gear and do something.... I never will I've been like this for years. :-)

Kenski said...

Hey Frank, thanks for that. I don't know if I have increased confidence in my singing, but I'm not going to let that get in the way! With work/practice I hope I can turn lead into gold! Even if I just end up with a Bob Dylan or Neil Young I'll be more than happy. To me, character is more important than technique.

On the Hootie front, I don't have anything tabbed out as I just learned by listening. Don't panic, though, it's easy (or at least my interpretation of it is.

Disclaimer: I'm doing this from memory, so it may not be 100%, but hopefully it won't be far off!

Load up "Cracked Rear View" and turn to song number 6. Listen to the intro 4 bars (the first 10 seconds or so of the song before the drums kick in) a few times and put it on A-B repeat. Hey, slow it down, too, if you like.

The progression goes: open E (easy), G#m (barred 'Em' shape: 466444), F#m (barred 'Em' shape again: 244222) and back to open E. Four bars, repeat. Play through a few times to get used to the way the chord changes feel.

Now, look JUST at the first chord! In fact, listen to JUST the first two strums. Hopefully you can hear that it's a down strum, hitting the low E string, then an up strum, hitting a couple of the high strings. At no time does he play all 6 strings. This is REALLY IMPORTANT to get the feel of the piece. You can re-interpret it later if you like, but to play along to the record (and many others) this is a really important concept. Playing this way gives a much more varied, organic sound.

Try it. Put the record to one side and practice strumming just downstrokes on the low E string, then just upstrokes on the high E. Then do one down on the low E followed by an up on the high E. Now just keep time with your right hand acting like a pendulum, hitting low, high, low, high etc. Now get sloppy so you're hitting 2, 3 or 4 strings at a time. Don't try to play all 6 at once, though. Gee, hope that makes sense. If I had time I'd make a video!!!!! It may help on the upstrokes to rotate your wrist slightly as you strum so that you don't hit too many strings. It's a personal thing, though.

Right, back to the record, still just looking at the very first bar of music, the open E chord.

From memory, the strumming pattern goes: D-U-D-D-U-D-(Rest/Change chord) (D=down strum, U=up-strum)

Same thing goes for all the other chords. Note that on a couple of the barred chord strums he plays a 'chug' by lifting fretting fingers up a bit to get a percussive sound rather than the chord). This is a useful technique and is often used both for texture and to smooth out chord changes as you can actually dampen the strings even as you're moving between chord shapes. If you're not comfortable with chugging yet, though, just ignore it.

If you include the chugs then the strumming pattern for the barres becomes: D-U-(Chug)-D-U-(Chug)-(Rest or Chug/Change chord). Note, still focus on playing partial chords as with the open E.

Play around with that. Once you've got that down you have 95% of the rhythm part.

The only other bits are a couple of bars of 'sha-la-la's interspersed throughout, then for the fade-out at the end.

The chord progression for these bits is easiest to play as open E, G#m (as before), open D, open A. I can't actually tell, but the G#m may actually be a B. They actually sound remarkably similar within the context of the song and the rhythm part is way in the back!

The lead is just Box 1 shape of the major pentatonic with a couple of extra notes thrown in for good measure. Moreover, it's really focused on the A, D and G strings at the 9th and 11th fret, so you're mostly using your index and ring fingers on 3 strings.

Loop the first few notes of the lead guitar and you'll see what I mean. In essence the notes are just going back and forth between the 11th fret on the A string to the 9th fret on the D string. He uses the hammer-on technique a couple of times between the 9th/11th fret to add some flourishes to the lick. Slow down the track and follow along. It's really simple. The only bit that falls outside the pentatonic box is at the end of the intro after he's bent up on the G string, 11th fret. He bends up, releases, strikes the 9th fret then slides down one fret to the 8th. It's a subtle move, but it really adds colour.

From there on in it's just repeating until the solo, which is very similar but takes the pentatonic slightly higher up. The solo's the icing on the cake, though. Once you have the rhythm and intro lick, you have something that sounds 'Hootie'.

Okay, so I've probably made that more complex than I should have by going into extreme detail, but it's such a simple piece that it's worth focussing on technique so that you sound as much like the record as possible!

Hope that helps!

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