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January 30, 2009

Rockschool And Pointy Fingers

Rockschool again last night. Went okay. Had to perform two of the songs we're learning for the exam as best as we could, mistakes allowed and/or encouraged!

My performance of "X-Blues III" was 90% okay right up until the main part of the song, where it goes into a call and response pattern based on the A major and A minor blues scales. For some reason I simply couldn't get to the strings quick enough to play the major 'call' riff cleanly.

The riff goes like this:

e --------------------------------
B --------------------------------
G --------2-------4b6---2h4---2---
D ---/4-------4-----------0---0---
A --------------------------------
E --------------------------------

On paper it doesn't look too tricky. However, when trying to play it cleanly at speed, switching between the D and G-strings was causing me no end of problems.

Teach tried it a couple of times the way I had played it, all with 1st and 3rd fingers. He mused for a moment then pulled out yet another Eureka/D'Oh solution (he's good with those)... Use the 2nd, pointy finger on the D and the middle finger on the G. That way you can play the 3rd note immediately followed by the bend and you don't have to take time to jump strings. Bingo. Sorted! I'm sure I've been doing the exact same thing on other blues-type licks that I've not been able to nail. Looks like I have some de-programming to do! Sometimes it's the simple solutions that you simply don't see. In this instance I've always played that pentatonic box using 1st and 3rd fingers. It never even occurred to me that I should throw away the rules and play it the easy way!

"All Funked Up" was also going really well... until it went horribly, irretrievably wrong! Since the weather turned cold I've been loathe to take Red out on the bike and subject him to such extremes of temperature. So, I've been using my old LP copy at school. So far it's stood up pretty well. It's even been staying in tune, which is a minor miracle. I imagine that in the two years since I played it last the machine heads have seized slightly!

Anyway, so there I was, laying down a funky groove, when there was this weird 'ping' and a tiny tightening sensation under my fretting hand. I figured I'd broken a string... no... all still there. I played on. Everything seemed fine until I got to a run where you fret the two highest strings across the 2nd then 4th, 5th and 7th frets. All of a sudden it sounded like the worst out-of-tune mess ever. What the hell?!?! I persevered for a bit then had to drop out. Something was clearly wrong.

It actually took me a minute or so to locate the problem. The high E-string had actually pulled off the fingerboard and become lodged under the 5th fret! No wonder the damn thing wasn't in tune anymore!!!! Pretty much, the frets have started to lift a bit and the binding on the neck never really was all there. Oh well. I'll try tapping the frets gently back into place, but it may require a complete re-fretting.

After our recitals we ran through some ear-training exercises. Bloody difficult. The idea is that you listen to a 4 bar melody line, then you have to repeat it on your guitar. Okay, so it's limited to a few scales, but even so, musical recall is no easy task. Usually you half remember the first phrase but then when you try and think back to the second you draw a blank.

At this stage the class put their heads together to try and decide which exam route to take. You have a choice of either performing 5 pieces or you can do 3 pieces then be tortured with tests such as the musical recall one, above. To get the most out of the course, it's probably better to take the tests... but perhaps the performance exam would be easier to pass...?

Dunno. The lower graders immediately chose to learn 5 songs. The upper graders reluctantly decided that it'd be smart to have some knowledge-based stuff in there. Guitarists are lazy... we don't want to have to actually work at this!

After much debate we elected to spend one hour of each lesson from now on focusing on the performance pieces and then to spend the other half of the lesson delving into musicianship skills. Next week is improvisation. That should be interesting. I can noodle pretty well when it's just me, backed up by the Allmans, Derek Trucks or one the the Kings... B.B... Albert and so on, but I definitely need to figure out how to make sure things don't falling apart in the context of a live band.

I'm not sure which exam path I want to take. I'm not even really concerned about taking/passing the exam! I'm just there to become a better guitarist... I guess that means I should be taking the tests...?

Last but not least, I'm looking forward to actually using my new Blackstar amp over the weekend... assuming I get the chance! There may be a review on the way... maybe pictures... maybe audio samples! We shall see...


Istvanski said...

Go for the Jazz degree exam!

Furtheron said...

Tis all in the fingering...

I've been known to refinger pieces - esp classical ones so they work for me

Bad news on the old guitar that sounds a touch tricky to fix.

Kenski said...


Jazz... don't you just hit the wrong note then wail on it? Actually, I'm a jazz-a-fan, though I have no clue how to play through the changes with that stuff. Eek!


It seems daft, doesn't it, but I get so used to fingering certain scale patterns in certain ways that it blinds me to obvious changes to make things simple!