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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.


Col said...

Hey Ken, this just shows how commited everybody is. They are all wanting to contribute. Just sit back and let it flow. Don't question everything. Want to name the band yourself? Come up with a decent name. Ad thought up Magic Ship and sold it to me 'casue I is a hippy. He knew I'd buy into it straight away. That's what you get in a collective situation. It's healthy. It only becomes a problem when somebody begins to feel left out - and this can happen if you're band is used to working at a pace. But you have a long way to go before that happens. AS Mike Nesmith once wrote: Roll with the flow, wherever it goes, even if it rolls outta here.

Dave Jacoby said...

I saw something on Pribek but thought it was enough direct to you to put it here.

There are ways to help your LP copy and it's sustain problems. First, two words. Tone Pros. Replace the tunomatic stuff with stuff that locks. I've also heard that if you replace the bolts holding that stuff in with ones that bottom out, hit the wood, that really helps with sustain.

Be aware, of course, that I've had an LP in my hands only once in my life.

I'm thinking that I need to force myself to get a lot more structure into my learning, and this rock school stuff might be a great idea, even if I feel I can CLEP out of the first two grades.

I'd warn the guy that everybody can do a take on Watchtower. I know. I collected versions for a while, including one where the chick singer merged it with "Don't Fear The Reaper". And even if he was good enough to take on Jimi's take, it'd be good to stretch out and take a less common song.

Can I say I'm kinda jealous for what you're starting right now?

Furtheron said...

Wow - lot in there...

Firstly once you learn a scale it's simply a scale in a pattern in a place on the neck isn't it?

So I learn C Major in the open position - move up two frets and I'm into D major. Hang on if I know D major in the open position I can note how they are linked together in shape now. Always know where your root note is in any scale so you can move between shapes around the neck. I have a practice (that I rarely do shame on me!) that is a two octave scale that goes up staring on the root on the fifth string but comes down to a root on the sixth and then goes back up and down to finish on the fifth.... Oh I vary the strech or not by varying which string some notes are played on btw...

My system (home grown) is what some call the CAGED system - I just never learnt it like that I figured it out for myself... DOH!

Finally my tuppence worth on hand positioning... hmmm - one of the major points of a guitar is the tone change by moving where you pluck the string so try not to anchor in a set position. Watch Brain may solo - he'll move his hand over the fretboard and use fingers not a pick for a sound .... watch Bohemian Rapsody solo this is very prominant in the video version.

Near the bridge is in classical playing called Pontecello (Ponte is Italian for bridge I believe.) Get a nylon strung guitar and try moving your picking from over the fretboard to by the bridge on the same run - unbelieveable sweep of tone often masked on electric playing by amps, effects etc. but still there to be all about the sond that is uniquely Ken...