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October 30, 2008


I so need a break. Work is driving me INSANE! I'm stuck with using some software which not only doesn't work, but it doesn't not work in the same way twice, if that makes sense! Errors are not reproduceable. Imagine, for one moment, that you were lumbered with a calculator which not only would not give the same result twice for the same calculation, but which was churlish enough to switch itself off at random.

Magnify 1000 times and you have a measure of my frustration.

What it means is that I've had to spend more time with 'real' work the past fortnight than I have with guitar, life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

About my only advancement is that I now think I've got the chord changes down on Oasis' "Supersonic". It seems that the tab I had was woefully incorrect (or at least incomplete), which meant that I was switching back to the verse before the guitar solos ended. D'Oh! I had planned on spending the whole of this evening playing, but as I've just been asked to work all weekend, that may not happen as I'd rather work now and play later... I have plans for Friday night, all of Saturday and possibly Sunday night, which doesn't leave much time for being a slave to the wage.

Looking forward to the Magic Ship gig tomorrow night (Friday 31st, Half Moon in Putney). Should be good. I'm certainly not going to miss that for work!!!! I managed to miss both their debut gig and the warmup for this one, so I'm two for nothing, coming into the third.

Okay, well that was my break. Back to it, I guess...

Oh, and it's half term at WAES Rockschool, so no class tonight, plus our band couldn't find a suitable rehearsal space this week, so it'll be next week before we get together for Round 2!

October 27, 2008

Songwriting Using A Magic Decoder Ring

In my last post I mentioned that I have to write a simple song over Rockschool half term and that Teach showed us a simple way to find the major and minor chords in any major key, using the guitar as a magic decoder ring.

Over the weekened I had a crack and it and found that something surprising happened. In previous songwriting attempts I've always thrown loads of chord changes in, occasionally switching voicings on the fly and so on. My approach wasn't very structured in that I'd strum a chord then think "what would sound good after that?". When I sat down and applied Teach's method, first by strumming the I-IV-V majors) followed by the VI-II-III (minors) I obviously had a much more limited palette. Now, we're allowed to modify the chords for our song, but the point is to think about what we're doing logically rather than haphazardly.

So, I screwed around with various chord patterns, but ended up basically coming back to an 8-bar format using I-IIIm-V.

Erm... I think I was in the key of A...

|  A  | C#m |  A  | C#m |
|  A  | C#m |  E  |  E  |

Something like that. Rather than playing full chords I was plucking and slapping the strings a bit using three fingers making an 'E major' shape, which I guess means that the chords were actually inversions. Sounded very cool and relaxing. You get tension building from the switch from the major I to the minor III, with an 'optimistic' sounding partial release when you hit the V.

I need to fool around with it more, but it sounds like a decent start to a pretty little etherial tune...

Oh, and based on Col of Axevictim's recommendation I invested in a Korg Pitchblack tuner yesterday. A very cool little device! Easy to use. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

October 24, 2008

WAES Rockschool, Week #3 (I Think!?!)

We're coming into half term, so we have a break next week. That's probably a good thing, given how my work life is killing me at the moment. REAL LIFE SUCKS! If you get the chance, learn guitar young, become the mysterious sexy one in a band, act like an delinquent a-hole and ride that ticket all the way. Seriously. It's the best advice that career officers won't give you at school.


Rockschool! I have to say I'm liking Teach's style more and more. He has this insightful 'cut to the punchline' kind of methodology. You're there to learn music but look, there's a guitar in your hands, let's use that to figure this stuff out.

Case and point: last night was about starting to look at song structure with a view to writing our own material. First up... what's a major key and how do you find the basic chords within that key?

Did he start with the whole interval thing as most do? Nope. His approach was basically to say that if you want to play the major chords in a key, find the E-shape barre chord with that root note. Easy. That's your I. Directly below it is your IV chord in the A-shape. Two frets up from the IV is the V, again in A-shape. What's the I-IV-V? Basic structure for many, many songs. Now, anyone who's played for a while could tell you that, but what about the minor chords? Well, without going into the ins and outs of relative minors, modes and all that he basically said 'don't use your brain, use your guitar'.

To find the minor chords, start from the I, move down 3 frets and in the Em shape, that's your VI. Follow the same procedure of playing the Am shape beneath it then moving up two frets and there are your II and III chords. So, if you're composing, you have 6 of the 7 fundamental chords in that key. How about the VII? The diminished one? Not writing a jazz song? Don't worry about it for now.

So, in the space of 5 minutes he gave us budding songmeisters the tools for writing a song in any major key, using the guitar as a kind of 'magic decoder ring' type affair. For me it was a great revelation. I knew all the theory already, but having it circumvented to get people writing songs right off the bat? Very cool.

Over half term we have to each write a simple song using that technique... chords for verse, bridge, chorus, the rhythm and a melody. Next time we'll pair up, teach our partner our song, learn theirs and then perform them.

It may all seem very rudimentary, but sometimes getting back to basics is a great way of moving forward.

October 23, 2008

The Band With No Name?

Actually, we may have a name, but it's a working title so no hints right now.

This is us... the motley crew!

Let me introduce you. From right to left we have:

Rich: bass
Jo: vox and Pretty Kitty slinger
Jonathan: drums
Bo: guitar
Ken: guitar

Last night was our first time playing together so none of us knew what to expect. Overall it didn't go too badly. It became pretty clear early on that everyone else has put lots of work into practice, learning the songs in terms of chords, leads, changes and so on over the past week. I hadn't had the time to nail the changes so I was playing catchup. I also hadn't had time to learn "Strange Brew" so Bo stepped up and taught me how he plays the song on the fly then took the lead.

Let me just say that I needn't have had any worries about whether the other guys could play. They certainly can.

"I Wanna Be Your Dog" (The Stooges) went well from the get-go. "Supersonic" (Oasis) took a couple of run-throughs but wasn't too bad overall. "Wild Thing" (The Troggs) was a fun interlude. Even though I'd not learned it, "Strange Brew" went strangely well, as did a few little jams we had along the way.

I was really not in the zone when I first got there. About 30 minutes into the session, though, the other guys took off for a fag break. I stayed behind, closed my eyes and just noodled. Click. Found it. Things started to work.

Looks like everyone was happy with the band so we're going to keep at it!

Rock-stardom on the horizon [cough]? Don't know. What I do know is that I'm a million miles from where I was at the start of The Project, holding my own in a band-type-situation. For once I'm actually kinda proud of myself!

October 21, 2008

All Work...

And no playing, makes Ken a very frustrated boy.

Work is sucking so hard right now. No time for any fun. Companies who release software with so many bugs that it makes us poor saps want to go postal should be held accountable!

First band practice tomorrow. Haven't played since the weekend.

October 19, 2008

Random Post... Online Metronome

I usually steer clear of online metronomes as they often suffer from slowdown with CPU load. Having said that, in this day and age, practicing in front of a computer seems to be 'de rigeur' given all the lessons etc on YouTube. What with Rockschool I've been reintroducing 'rigorous practice' into my routine, which means that I needed to get back in step with a ticker. I've got a couple of physical ones but they're clunky to use. Google just found an online one that I actually get on with!

Check it out here.

October 17, 2008

Rockschool Week #2

Okay, so the 'situation' with Rockschool became a lot clearer last night. From what I gathered, for WAES to get funding from Rockschool themselves (or the study materials, accreditation etc at a reduced rate at least) they needed the numbers. Not enough people? Sorry... pay full price per student. With two new folks joining in this week we have a full compliment and we are ready to ROCK!

Rockschool isn't specifically about rock, though. It's more about popular music of any type... y'know, giving you the building blocks to play and write songs. Funding is available up to the Grade 3 level, so that's the exam we're shooting for at the end of the school year in June. To get to Grade 3, we'll quickly run through the other grades, too.

Here's a more detailed guide:

Grade 1
These should be played at 80 beats per minute (bpm) in a straight feel: quarter notes.

Group A Scales 1 octave
• C major scale
• A natural minor scale
• E & A minor pentatonic scales

Group B Chords:
• Power chords: B5, A5, G5 Two note chords to be played as a continuous sequence
• Major chords: A, D & E
• Minor chords: Am, Dm & Em

Group C Riff. The riff is played over a four bar backing track. The initial riff pattern is given and candidates are asked to complete the riff by playing the same pattern over a different chord in the subsequent three bars.

Grade 2
These should be played at 100 bpm in a straight feel: quarter notes

Group A Scales 1 octave
• C & G major scales
• E & A natural minor scale
• C & G minor pentatonic scales

Group B Chords:
• Power chords: B5, A5, G5 Three note chords to be played as a continuous sequence
• Major chords: C, F & G
• Minor chords: Am7, Dm7 & Em7

Group C Riff. The riff is played over an eight bar backing track. The initial riff pattern is given (two bars) and candidates are asked to complete the riff by moving the same pattern on to the indicated root of a different chord over the subsequent bars.

Grade 3
These should be played at 60 bpm in a straight feel: eighth notes

Group A Scales 2 octaves to be prepared in the keys of G, A and B
• Major scales
• Natural minor scale
• Minor pentatonic scales
• Blues Scales

Group B Arpeggios 2 octaves to be prepared in the keys of G, A and B
• Major arpeggios
• Minor arpeggios

Group C Chords:
• Barre chords: G, Am, Bm to be played as a continuous sequence
• Dominant 7 chords: A7, C7, D7 & E7 to be prepared in open position or in barre chord form

Group D Riff. The riff is played over an eight bar backing track. The initial riff pattern is given (two bars) and candidates are asked to complete the riff by moving the same pattern on to the indicated root of a different chord over the subsequent bars.

Right, so... I should already be good to jump into a Grade 3 exam and pass with flying colours. When you list it out, it sounds like a lot of stuff, but it really isn't. Similar patterns in different places on the neck.

BUT... that doesn't mean I'm jaded about the whole thing. Oh no! First thing to say is that "Teach" is really good. I was impressed with his style last week, and this week he continued to move the group along at a pace yet zone in on individual difficulties. He's got a great attitude and has ready answers for all our questions. He's basically said that he's going to teach us the syllabus but also give us lots of extra useful stuff on the side.

The biggest thing I learned last night was that my right hand technique sucks! I learned to play in isolation, back in the days before YouTube... in fact I started even before the internet was born! How scary is that?!?!

Anyway, so I started off playing by anchoring my right hand to the guitar using my ring and pinkie fingers, placed on the pickguard (I had a Squier Strat) below the high E. That's not bad per se, but it means your hand is doing all kinds of stuff it really doesn't need to. If I needed to palm mute I'd move it back and down onto the strings pretty haphazardly. In the fullness of time I taught myself to lift my fingers off the guitar body and use the inside of my forearm as a location point instead, with my hand hovering over the strings. Again, not bad but in sweaty situations it kind of leads to positioning mistakes. My view on playing an instrument is that as long as you're consistently getting the sound you want out of it then that's fine. There are things that you can do to help yourself, though.

Teach suggested that we use the bridge (or at least the strings between the bridge and the tail-piece) as a locator, then if we needed to mute, just pull our right hands forward. Sounds good. Feels weird, obviously, as it's something 'different', but clearly gives much more control and positional accuracy. Put that on the list for homework! I think my wayward right hand technique probably explains why I have difficulty getting up to speed when picking as I invariably lose accuracy. I'm now keen as mustard to get back into practicing scales etc so that I can unlearn that particular bad habit.

The next thing on 'homework' was a repeating pentatonic exercise. Play first 4 notes in box position 1 then loop back to note number 1. Repeat 4 times then start on note 3 and repeat up through 2 and a bit octaves. I know a few pentatonic drills but somehow I missed that one. Obviously when you get the the high E-string you turn around and go back down in reverse.

Oh, and strumming/muting! I've always relied on my left hand lifting off pressure to mute when strumming. Teach explained that you really want it to be a combination of right and left hand muting, so to practice both techniques. I'm really crap at right hand muting when strumming, so I need to practice, practice, practice!

That's the thing about playing guitar... you think you're getting good then BAM, you realise that in some areas you totally suck! You also realise that small changes can make a huge difference. Frankly, if I manage to change my right hand technique and it improves my picking then the course will have been worth the price of entry just for that!

It was one hell of a busy day yesterday. Work then two hours of class then an hour at the gym. In my few spare minutes I managed to look into The Band songlist a bit more, checking out YouTube vids, tabs etc. "Strange Brew" is really turning me on at the moment. I'm dying to try the rhythm part on the electric. "My Generation" looks deceptively simple but I've not had the chance to actually try it yet... oh, and I found a neat video lesson on how to play "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in standard tuning and still make is sound roughly like the Stones' studio recording. It seems like originally it was probably played in an open tuning (G?) and that's how Keef does it live these days. The Band had already discussed whether we should consider doing any covers in open tunings at the meeting on Wednesday and decided that we'd try to avoid them for now as we don't want to be screwing around tuning up guitars onstage...


Hmmm... let's ponder on that a moment...

Let's hope we get that far, eh? I started wondering whether we may actually get out there before the New Year after all. Jo's (the singer) other band have been booked all over the place and she seems to think she'd have no problem getting us in somewhere at very short notice if we can get our crap in a sock (pardon my French!). God, I so hope we can all actually play! It'll totally bite if we're all really keen but we can't get it together. I guess we'll find out what chance we have in under a week!

On that subject, there was a funny moment at the meetup. Bo, the other guitarist was saying that he didn't know what open tunings were, which set off alarm bells as that's pretty basic stuff. I started to wonder whether he knows what he's doing... then we started talking songlists and he expressed a preference for "All Along The Watchtower" over "Foxy Lady" as he could 'already play it'. If he can already play some Hendrix then baby, youse in da band! Hell, you can even stand right up front if you wanna!!!

Other 'Band' news. Rich (bass) says he's been writing loads of lyrics this past week. Will they be good? We'll see! He seems fired up about them, which is great. Him and Jo also seem really keen to choose a band name sooner rather than later. Seems like early days to me, but hey, if they're out there buzzing with ideas then that's a good thing, right? Creativity isn't something you should put on the backburner.

So, this weekend's likely to be pretty guitar intensive. Gotta nail those riffs. Can't be the one who lets the team down.

October 16, 2008

Band Blurp

Apologies! No time for long post today!

Last night: band meetup. All good. Everyone there. Whittled down songlist to top 5 for first rehearsal next Wednesday as follows:

Wild Thing (The Troggs)
I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges)
Strange Brew (Cream)
My Generation (The Who)
Supersonic (Oasis)

Top two are easy. Just need to get rhythm down. Never tried "My Generation" or "Supersonic" before, so we'll see how they go. I think I'm supposed to be learning the backing part to "Strange Brew", which is cool. I like the Cream stuff which uses a repeating riff for the rhythm. Have to learn it, though. Only ever tried the lead on it before.

So. We're focused. We're set. The SET is SET! Plus we're all keen to bring our own ideas to the table to kick around and see whether we can come up with 'a sound'

Side note: very strange last night. Met at the Royal George, just off Charing Cross Road. It seems that every Wednesday they have a ukelele club night and the basement is packed with players, all jamming along at the same time to stuff like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "YMCA". SURREAL!

Oh, and WAES 'Rockschool' (or not) class number 2 tonight. Should be fun, though I do kind of wish I were just going home to wail on some Cream, as it were!

October 15, 2008

Band Meetup #2 Tonight

So, it's been a week since 'the band' got together for the first time. This meetup's all about seeing where we've got to with our preliminary song list, talking directions, influences and so on. Hopefully we'll narrow the songs we're going to play to 4-5 so that I can have them nailed by next week.

A surprise addition to our scheduled 'first jam' songs was Bryan Adams' "Summer Of '69". Not exactly the vibe we're going for, but our drummer was keen as he already knows it, or at least that he had the tabs and it looked easy. I set to learning the guitar part last night. Got most of it down. Still some work to do before I can stand up and pretend like I know what I'm doing. The bulk of the song is just a vamp on open D and open A, followed by a quick Bm-A-D-G turnaround and a couple of open chord noodles, lifting off or adding fingers to give sus2 and sus4's. There's a key change near the end, then repeat. Close eyes. Think big '80s hair. Chug, chug, chug.

I've not really heard anything from the other guitarist, which is a bit of a surprise. Hopefully tonight we'll be able to come to some agreement as to who transcribes the songs, who plays rhythm on what, who plays lead. Most of the stuff we've picked so far is primarily written for one guitar, but that doesn't mean it can't be arranged for two.

It's good to see that we're all still keen to do this. Rich, the organiser has procured a bass guitar which was supposedly cheap but decent. He's also 'done himself a mischief' by tearing a muscle but apparently pain killers and beer will sort him out, so he's still coming along tonight. Gold star for effort!

So, beers, tunes and let the good times roll!

Oh, and tomorrow evening is WAES Rockschool Week #2. I think I've done pretty well with 'homework'. I am now the master of the A-string! Spent some time mentally calling out a chord, playing it open then finding the alternative voicings up the neck. To anyone who knows the low E but who hasn't learned the A-string... get to it! Makes forming those A-shape barres much more intuitive!

October 13, 2008

Weekend Transcriptions

Well, finally got the time to sit down with the guitar and transcribe some of the tunes from the new band's songlist.

Obviously "Wild Thing" (The Troggs) and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (The Stooges) were pretty much no-brainers. "Lola" (The Kinks) wasn't too hard once I'd pulled out a YouTube of the band playing it. I'll admit that I didn't manage to get a good sound from the electric for the strummy bit, though. Sounded much, much better on acoustic.

"Hungry Like The Wolf" (Duran Duran) was surprisingly easy to get some decent licks going with. Let's face it, most of the song relies on the vocalist doing his/her bit.

Of course, it wasn't all playing with the guitar. I did have some other household duties to take care of... such as making sure The Boss was happy...

I actually did spend some time on my WAES Rockschool homework, such as practicing 'rigid pentatonics' with the metronome (which felt good) and learning the notes on the A-string. I don't know why I waited so long to get those down. Pretty much I figured out that the three first dots were C, D and E and that F and G straddled the one on the 9th fret. Bingo. The rest just falls into place. I need to keep reinforcing that by playing chords in E-form, A-form and open, but it's really not hard to learn the notes!

What else? After learning the songs I was 'supposed to' for band, I spent some time with "Sunshine Of Your Love" by Cream. I remember learning the first bit of the intro years ago, but I never bothered with the bit where Eric starts playing barre/power chords rather than single notes. It really isn't difficult and it sounds good when amped up.

Oh, and the other thing that suddenly clicked at the weekend was how you could get a warmer sound and more sustain by rolling off the tone controls. Eric did it. Slash did it. Now I'm doing it...

October 10, 2008

Power Failure At Work...

...Might as well start learning the notes on the A-string!

Rockschool Week 1

So, what do I think?

Well, first off, it seems that the curriculum may not actually follow Rockschool as I'd originally thought it would. The direction of the course seems to be in a state of flux and no one really knows which way the cookie will crumble.

Week 1 was all about assessing where each guitarist in the group was at, what they wanted to achieve and so on. I don't think it's going to be bruising any egos to say that five of us were intermediate and up, with one player being a relative new-comer to the instrument. How's that going to work out? No clue. Two more students are supposed to join next week. We'll see. It seems that it's still possible that the course may not run due to lack of interest. We'll find out in a couple of weeks.

First thing to say is that the students all seemed like a good bunch, mostly self-taught. "Teach" is very confident and clear. He burned through a lot of material in the session but the pace seemed about right to me for now. Most of it was stuff I already know, but it did highlight a couple of minor gaps which I need to fill.

The two bits of 'homework' that I think are going to be useful for me are:

1) Learn the notes on the A string. I already know E, so why don't I know A yet?! I think once you know one string you get lazy as you figure you can work it out. Slow. Stupid. Just learn the damn string, already.

2) Get my speed up on the first position pentatonic (two notes per string). Number 2 may sound like pretty basic stuff, but he made it clear that we should be practicing in two ways. First off, spend 50% of the time being very rigid, practicing scales strictly up and down, in time, really paying attention to the working of the left and right hands. His view was that for the 'rigid' part of practice you should aim to 'walk' the two fingers you're using over the fingerboard, so you don't spend much time with both fingers fretting at the same time. I tend to struggle when I get to the high E as my index finger naturally wants to anchor itself to the fingerboard. Teach's assertion was that this was fine for certain licks but at other times could contribute unwanted notes. So... rigid form... scales (not music)... 50% of the time. Metronome, obviously. Tick, tick, tick.

The other 50% of the time he suggested still using a metronome but try to noodle around and make licks etc, sticking to the beat or breaking to triplets for accent.

Now, I've obviously done a lot of this stuff before, but 'rigid practice' has fallen by the wayside lately, so I need to get back into it. Teach really did emphasise that both types of practice are essential for progression.

And on top of that I need to work on stuff for the new band. Our proposed playlist has burgeoned slightly and I think we really need to get our heads together and choose three songs, say, so play around with at our first rehearsal... even if we just got down to one or two, really. It's a 3 hour session, which isn't that long!

I expect us to sound awful the first time around. I mean, none of us have played with each other before, or even heard each other play. We don't know who's going to be good on lead, whether the drummer'll be up to speed or laid back. Nothing.

It's heartening to see that everyone actually seems really psyched about getting on and doing this. Right now I'm concerned that our enthusiasm may cause us to lose focus. I've suggested that for the first rehearsal we pare the list of songs we thought might be fun to start with down to, say, three tunes. Three hour session, three easy tunes? Does that sound about right for a first jam? I mean, I have loads of stuff I could bring to the table if we get bored of those songs... y'know, just get the drummer to pick up a beat then start a groove and wait for things to kick off.

October 9, 2008

Are You Ready To Rock???

Rockschool class number one tonight!

I'm looking forward to it but at the same time I'm wondering what level the course will be pitched at. As I understand it, 'Rockschool' is a formalised syllabus for learning to play guitar/bass/drums (pick one!). You measure your progress by working towards exams. I guess it's similar to the 'Registry of Guitar Tutors' courses, only focused specifically on rock/pop bands.

From their own website:

"Rockschool was set up in 1991 to bring the best in pop and rock into mainstream education. We do this by providing exams, publications, advice and support to teachers and educational bodies."

All sounds good, right? Well, obviously if you're getting one-on-one tuition it can be tailored to the individual and hence within the group setting it's not clear which standard will be taught.

According to the syllabus guide, Rockschool teaches 9 grades as follows:

In Debut Guitar you will be concentrating on playing tunes. A player of Debut standard should be able to play up to 20 bars of music in 4/4 time, using simple first position melodies composed of whole, half and quarter notes and associated rests, as well as a range of basic first position chords. The pieces very often use open strings and melodies move mainly between adjacent strings.

Easy stuff. Nothing to see here.

Grade 1:
A player of Grade 1 standard should be able to play up to 32 bars of music using first position chords and melodies composed of whole, half, quarter and eighth notes and associated rests, tied notes, and dotted half and quarter notes. Performances should include basic legato and staccato playing where marked.

Still nothing too challenging...

Grade 2:
In this grade you are beginning to acquire a range of physical and expressive techniques, including palm muting and the use of double stops on adjacent strings, simple legato and staccato and slides, as well as simple dynamics. In this grade you will also begin to work on your stylistic appreciation.

Ah, okay, now we're moving forward... 'stylistic appreciation'! Can't say I remember The Stylistics too much, but iTunes has most everything now, so I can download some of their tunes...

Grade 3:
This grade continues the foundation work started in Grade 2. As a player you will be encountering syncopated eighth and sixteenth note strumming as well as developing the palette of expressive techniques to include fretting hand vibrato, hammer ons and pull offs, slides and simple bends. The pieces of music are now longer, covering two pages and you should be developing your stylistic awareness, taking into account amp and pick up settings for each song.

WHAT? Amps have more than one setting??? I'm starting to see the learning curve arc upwards towards the lofty goal of musicianship!

Grade 4:
In this grade you use a range of physical and expressive techniques with confidence, damping and the use of double stops and adjacent strings, legato and staccato, slides, fretting hand vibrato, hammer ons and pull offs, and accents, and you are experimenting with a range of dynamics from very quiet to very loud. In this grade you are continuing to develop your ability to play with stylistic authority.

Okay, sounds like Grade 3 only more so...

Grade 5:
You will be confident in a range of physical and expressive techniques. You will be able to demonstrate your abilities across a number of styles and have control over tone and sound adjustments to suit the playing style of your choice. Please note that some of the tunes may now be written out over three pages.

Right, joking aside I'm guessing that I'm hovering somewhere between Grades 4 and 5. That would put me somewhere around a Karate blue belt, right? Watch out, I'm more dangerous than I first appear!

Grade 6:
In this grade you are developing the confidence of the advanced player across the range of physical and expressive techniques. You will start experimenting with a range of techniques across a number of musical styles. There is a greater emphasis on personal expression and you will display your own musical personality through ad libbing and soloing. Please note that some of the tunes may now be written out over three pages.

Hey, I might stretch up to Grade 6 on a good day after a few espresso shots. Ever closer to black belt!

Grade 7:
In this grade you are now confident in your abilities across the range of physical and expressive techniques. You will be experimenting with a range of these techniques across a number of styles. You will also be comfortable with a range of rhythms and time signatures other than common time. Your solos will be musically expressive and you will have the confidence to apply modal ideas in a number of soloing contexts. Please note that some of the tunes may now be written out over three pages.

Well, I know what modes are and I use a few of them them on occasion but I don't know that I'd say I'm confident using them.

Grade 8:
You will play effortlessly with a wide range of physical and expressive techniques at your command. You will be able to use these at will across a range of styles and musical contexts. You will be comfortable playing pieces employing a number of different time signatures (including changes from bar to bar) and you will display mastery of a number of musical styles. Your solos will be highly musical and employ techniques across the range. You will also be highly sensitive to all aspects of musical presentation. Please note that some of the tunes may now be written out
over four pages.

Whoa! Grade 8 sounds great, doesn't it? Having said that, when I first read it I kinda thought it sounded like a horoscope. You know, "you will play effortlessly with a wide range of physical and expressive techniques at your command" sounds a bit like "you will have difficulties in the workplace but they will be resolved by an unexpected event". No? Oh, okay...

There's a lot more specific syllabus stuff on the Rockschool website in a pdf document here.

Looking at the theory side, I'm probably punching a couple of grades above my technical playing level. Having said that, 'knowing' and 'doing' are two very distinct things when it comes to playing guitar.

So, what do I expect to get out of the course? Well, when I turned up for Week 1 (actually, I think it was, like, Week 3 that I joined in!) of the acoustic course I did with WAES I initially felt that the material was old hat to me. Nevertheless, I persevered with it and what I found was that while I knew lots of what was being taught I was also having huge gaps in my knowledge filled in, not least of which was stuff like 16th note strumming patterns, chord inversions etc. After the final lesson I really felt like I'd benefited.

Now, if we start out on 'Debut' then it's not going to be much fun!!!! The course blurp said that it was going to be pitched at folk who already play guitar, so I can't imagine they'll go that far back! I guess we'll see. I did discuss my 'level' with the course administrator and she seemed to think it'd be fine for me, but then again, she'd obviously been looking to get more bums on seats...

Oh, and as an aside, I'd originally planned on taking my old LP copy to class, but I didn't manage to get it out of storage in time so I'm turning up at the first lesson brandishing Red... Maybe I should sit at the back...

October 8, 2008

Absolutely Fabulous

Okay, so here's the deal.

We never get invited to charity fundraisers... people probably think we're charity cases, ourselves. Well, we may have been invited to some, but we've never been invited back!

We're never invited to shop at a store after closing time... and been fed free bottomless champagne whilst browsing...

We never get the chance to mingle with 'faces' and 'names'...

And it's my 'policy' that celebs are real people too, so you absolutely do not approach them if you see them out and about in public.

That held true for such luminaries as:

Danny DeVito: Eating at Wagamama with wife, Rea Pearlman
Boris Johnson: Huffing along outside Waterloo Station
Matt Lucas: At the theatre
Bepe from Eastenders: At a Madonna concert
Lesley Joseph: Used to live a couple of doors down
Graham Norton: Eating in a bistro
Christian Slater: On the tube (or a look-alike!)

...and even...

George Michael: Shopping at Harrods
(were you expecting something else?)

But... but...


Okay, so I broke my rule as we were actually introduced to her by a friend of ours, one of the event organisers. That, and the gallon of FREE CHAMPAGNE we were force-fed...

Oh, and Lenny Henry was there, too... sorry for paying more attention to Jen!

[I suppose I'll lose karma points if I don't mention the cause. Last night was a 'Dress for Success' event held at Harvey Nichols store in London. 'Dress for Success' is a non-profit organisation which helps disadvantaged women back into the workplace by supplying them with suitable interview attire so that they can make the right first impression]

October 7, 2008

Last Call For Rockschool

I've just heard that Rockschool is definitely going ahead on Thursday. I'm 99% certain it's a good thing, though Thursdays would have been an ideal day for band practice. Shit happens. Can't be helped.

The course administrator sent me the flyer (above) to circulate to anyone who might be interested. I'm not certain of its artistic merit (does it scream 'ROCK' to you?) but hey, it's a government run initiative, I guess, so what do you expect?

Apparently it's still just 5 people who have actually enrolled on the course, but another two have 'promised' to sign up. So, although I'm following through on my 'promise' to post the flyer... I DON'T CARE if anyone else signs up. Ha-ha!

'Small class' equals 'better' in my book. 5-7 plus Teach sounds about right to me. Not that I'm greedy, but I WANT ONE-ON-ONE ATTENTION! Initially I'd looked at this course as another networking possibility, but really, finding guitarists in London is not a problem. Finding bassists and drummers, there's the tricky thing.

So, here it is, last chance to enrol before the course starts. Take it or leave it. Yes... I'll still make good on the 'free beer' offer from before... hrmph!

New Band, Meetup No. 1

So, we met up and the initial line-up was decided as follows:

Jo: Vocals
Ken (yes, ME!): Guitar
Bo: Guitar
Rich: Bass
Jonathan: Drums

There were no arguments or major discussions about who should play what. The line-up was pretty much representative of what each person wanted to do! That never happens, right? We're also all pretty much in synch about where we want to come from, initially: classic rock, AC/DC feel, loud but not too complex.

Let's run down a brief bio (as I remember it) of each member...

Jo. Rock chick. Really good look. Great personality. Seemingly fearless. Jo's been playing guitar in a punk band for the past 6 years but they've never stretched past three chords per song and they often didn't make it through a set without forgetting what they were doing. Good experience gigging. Good contacts for getting gigs. She's not leaving her other band, but their drummer has run off somewhere for a year so she's looking for a side project. She also wants to hang up her axe and stretch her lungs a bit behind the mic. Influences: Guns and that whole LA scene, hair metal and a bit of glam. Oh, and I just have to mention that Jo's main axe is a Squier "Hello Kitty" Strat. Lookie, lookie...

...pretty kitty!

Me... well, you know about me. I'm actually more than happy to go down the route of doing 3 minute songs that sound good 'n' rockin'. I got the impression that I was being pitched slightly towards lead rather then rhythm, but if the opposite turns out to be the case then so be it. As long as I'm playing guitar, I'm happy.

Bo. Bo's the youngest of the group. He's in his early twenties where the rest of us span the 30's age bracket. Very enthusiastic. Very keen to get going and get up onstage. His musical first love seems to be Jimi. Ain't nothing wrong with a bit o' Jimi. Bo's never been in a band before, but has performed in front of about 300 people, supporting a mate of his. It must have gone okay, I guess! He has a very 'can do' attitude, which is great.

Rich. The organiser and primarily a guitarist but the first to put his hand up and volunteer to play bass. He's played in 'bands' made up of friends but none of them have got to the gigging stage. Rich seemed very pragmatic and focused on what we needed to do... that's a good thing! He made sure we put together a preliminary covers list which we plan to whittle down so that we have something positive to work on when we get together 'for real'. Tentative first practice is set for 2 weeks' time with an interim meetup for a few beers. Once Jo's typed up the list and circulated, I'll post it here. Ultimately, we'll aim for originals, but to feel each other out we'll shoot for common ground initially.

Last, but not least, Jonathan. When Jonathan first told his story I was slightly hesitant about whether he was going to be the weak link. He only started playing drums at the start of 2008 because of a bet. A mate of his bet him £100 (roughly $180) that he wouldn't be able to get in a band and play at a festival. I forget the timescale for the wager, but I think it was 2 years. I may be wrong... maybe it's by the end of this year! Sound familiar? Anyway, I did the maths and realised that it meant he'd only been banging skins for 9 months. Throughout the evening, though, I became convinced that he knew what he was doing and remembered that the drummer from the metal band I'd jammed with only had a year's experience and she was great. Besides, anyone with the balls to join a band after less than a year playing is okay in my books.

So, that's the line-up. Song list to follow. Will anything come of this? Too early to tell, but it's a foot on the ladder.

Update: Provisional song list...

Wild Thing - the Troggs
Rock 'n' Roll Star - Oasis
Stay With Me - The Faces
Down Down, Deeper & Down - The Quo
Lola - The Kinks
Hungry Like the Wolf - Duran Duran
I Wanna Be Your Dog - The Stooges
Every Breath You Take - The Police

Sounding better to me already than Metallica stuff. The list is to be perused and whittled down to a handful for us to attempt to murder in a couple of weeks!

October 6, 2008

Tonight's The Kind Of Night...

...when potential band members meet for the first time!

Excited? Yes. Apprehensive? No, not really. I think if this had been six months ago that I'd have been totally unprepared for any of this. Right now I just feel like it's time to move forwards.

What do I expect of tonight? Well, as I've said before, we're talking 4 guitarists and a drummer, with one or two of the axe-grinders (not me!) putting their hands up to play the deep end. We have one vocalist/guitarist, too, which is handy. Judging by emails exchanged to date I'm picturing a a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest for a shining planet...


...that's Battlestar Galactica, isn't it?

Right, let's change 'fleet' to 'bunch' and planet to 'spotlight'! Much better and marginally less spaced-out. Tonight isn't a jam, it's all about meeting up and figuring out who's crazy and who's ker-azy, man! A bit like the first hour of a new series of Big Brother.

It sounds to me like there's the possibility of something there, but only time will tell. I'll let you know how it goes.

My other possibility, a solo drummer in North London is on hold. I've not been able to choose a firm date to meet up with her yet as I've been focusing on the other 'bunch'. Might be able to squeeze something in at the end of this week or maybe next.

October 1, 2008

Rockschool... Places Available!

Okay, so this sucks.

The new WAES (Westminster Adult Education Service) course "Rockschool - Electric Guitar Skills" was supposed to start last week, but it was postponed until tomorrow. I just heard that it's been bumped by another week. Why? Well, it seems that in order for it to be viable from a budget point of view they need 8 students and so far they only have 5 people signed up. I just spoke with Hilary Robinson, the music department Course Team Leader as WAES, and she said that she's working to get a couple more people in so that they can run it. They've printed up some postcards. Have you seen one? Me neither. I figure I'd post something here to see whether I can drum up interest myself.

So, if you read this blog and are interested in getting cheap instruction in a group setting then please, please, please, contact Hilary (Tel: 020 7641 7891) and sign up. If you want more info then feel free to contact me and I'll tell you what I can. I've been on a WAES course before and it was pretty damn good. You can check out their website here.

"This course is designed for people with a little previous experience of playing the electric guitar who would like to develop their skills and prepare for a Rockschool Electric Guitar grade exam in a year of lessons. Rockschool syllabus materials and exam fees are included in the course price."

You basically get weekly 2-hour group sessions, 6-8pm in Pimlico/Victoria for a 28-week academic year at a cost of around £280. Do the maths... that's professional guitar teaching by Alistair Pope (his website is here) at £5 an hour. You also get to play in a small group setting, meet other guitarists, interact, exchange ideas... all good stuff.

Plus, you get to improve in a structured fashion and take an exam at the end. I'm certain they'll give you a certificate which you can frame and hang in your bathroom, too...


Ok, look... FINAL OFFER. If you sign up and the course goes ahead... I'll buy you a frikkin' beer, alright?