Saturday, September 17, 2011

Guitar Gear

I have pretty much all the guitar stuff I need for now. That's not to say I don't want more of course, but for my abilities I have a good set of gear.

First, of course, are my guitars. I have a black cutaway Art & Lutherie acoustic, and a faded cherry Epiphone Custom SG electric. Two guitars is probably overkill for me, but it's nice having an acoustic and an electric for the different sounds and styles of playing. I actually want to get another electric guitar as well, a stratocaster type, but that's getting greedy. Maybe later when I get better.

For amps I have Peavey Vypyr modeling amp and a Vox AC4TV tube amp. The Vypyr is capable of a ton of different sounds and is really fun to experiment with. I have the 30 watt version which goes way louder than I need it to. I never turn the volume more than about 1 or 2, and it goes to 13.

I just bought the Vox AC4TV because I wanted a low-wattage tube amp to play with, and I found a used one at a price I couldn't turn down. It has a great sound to it, and really lets the sound of my guitar shine through. 

I also use an iPad. I watch a lot of videos and learn from tabs, and found my laptop was pretty clunky and inconvenient to use while playing guitar. My Android phone worked really well for this, but the screen is pretty small for my old eyes to see tabs properly with, and even videos were sometimes difficult to make out.

My first instinct was to go with an Android tablet like the Asus Transformer, but in looking at the music apps available for the iPad I had to go with the Apple product. There are way more music related apps available on iPad that simply have no equivalent on Android, like Garageband or Ampkit. Maybe this will change in the future, but I have to go for what works for me now.

I'm really happy with the iPad for videos and tabs, and use the Ampkit link to connect my guitar to it. Garageband is amazing, and Ampkit is great as well.

Now the problem is to learn to play better, and no equipment in the world is going to replace practice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why It's Okay To Be Terrible

I just tweeted that I was learning "Mr. Jones" on the guitar by the Counting Crows. My sister was (is?) a big Counting Crows fan and said she wanted to hear me play it. My predictable response was that I was terrible and she would have to wait a long time to hear it.

It probably gets old hearing from me that I'm terrible. People probably think I'm fishing for compliments, or... well, they probably think I'm fishing for compliments.

Fact is, I've been playing guitar for about 7 months and only practice about half an hour each day. I'm slowly getting better, and am enjoying what I do. The girlfriend enjoys hearing me play, and I like learning a new skill.

There are lots of people who have been playing for years, with very basic skills, no sense of rhythm, and very little hope of improving. You could safely call those people terrible (unless they are much larger than you) without being contradicted.

If you put me beside one of those people you would be hard pressed to decide who is better. Yet, rather than call me terrible, you would probably say, "You're not bad for how long you've been playing," or, "I can hear how you've improved." The music is being judged on potential, not on it's present condition. Also, I'm probably much larger than you, although I would hope that this wouldn't colour your judgement.

That's actually fair, but irrelevant to what my skills are at this very moment. I'm okay with that, though. Look through Youtube videos and there are thousands of unskilled people showing off what they can do. Most of them are terrible, but some will get better, and some will get excellent. And they are all having fun with what they are doing at the moment.

You can't get good without being terrible at first, so you either have to be all right with being terrible for a while and work at getting better, or be in denial and think you're already great. Either way, as long as you're enjoying what you're doing, it's okay to be bad.

Guitar Lessons

Just reading through some of my posts on my sparsely updated blog. I noted I had started playing guitar, but didn't mention that I had started taking lessons. I was enjoying playing on my own, but started losing focus and didn't really know what to work on next. My technique also needed work, I found my chords and chord changes were sloppy, and I felt it was time to get some professional help. With the guitar I mean.

Started taking lessons last October at a nearby music store, although I took December off. I will probably take time off lessons from time to time and work on my own.

Really happy with my instructor. He has a university degree in music and plays professionally in venues around the province. He tailors lessons to what we think needs the most work. I wrote "we" because what I'm interested in is always considered.

I was a little unhappy with the experience starting in November. Because he's a professional musician he can't always make it to a lesson because he'll be out of town, or playing somewhere. I understood this, but was told there would be a substitute instructor for my lessons. Twice in November he had to cancel lessons, but the store wouldn't provide a substitute instructor because they were shorthanded or busy.

Although I was extremely pleased with the quality of instruction I felt he wasn't getting the backup he needed from the store. In December I actually made an appointment with another studio for instruction, but was stood up. Didn't make me too happy.

After thinking about it I decided that I could put up with the occasional canceled lesson. He's flexible when I have to change or cancel sessions, and the quality of instruction is very high.

Android Apps for Guitar

When I got my phone I didn't even think about using it for helping with my guitar playing, but it's actually pretty useful. It's convenient and small enough to plop on my music stand without getting in the way of other books or sheet music.

The apps that I use are either standard apps included with Android, or available in the Marketplace. They are all free, although some have paid versions as well.

The most basic tool I use is Music, the default music player for Android. The biggest problem with it though is it doesn't have an A-B repeat mode that allows you to repeat just one section of a song. There is a free app called Squeaker that does A-B repeat. Now the only thing I'd like is the ability to slow down the music.

From the sounds of it, Slow Down Music Trainer would be perfect, although it is not free. Unfortunately as of right now it is only for the iPhone, although the developer claims to be making an Android version. I'm looking forward to it.

Youtube is another great source for learning. There are videos to teach guitar techniques and songs, tips, music videos, and backing tracks. Lots of crap on there of course, but with a little digging you can find some valuable information.

Guitar Backing Tracks searches Youtube for backing tracks based on root note, scales, and style of music. Great for jamming along with.

I use Tabular for searching, downloading and using tabs, but it sorely needs an autoscroll. Also, reading tabs on a small phone screen is a little tough on my aging eyes. This is where I actually see a use for a tablet device, bigger than a phone but not as bulky as a laptop.

Ultimate Guitar Tabs may end up replacing Tabular for me. It integrates with Ultimate Guitar, has autoscroll, and a lot of other really good features. It's not free, but I might end up giving up $2.99 of my carefully hoarded cash for this app because of it's usefulness.

Robotic Guitarist includes a chord finder, metronome, and tuner. I usually use my Korg metronome/tuner at home, but it's nice to have something with me at all times in case I don't have it with me.

If I want something more advanced than the basic metronome included with Robotic Guitarist I use Mobile Metronome. You can tap your tempo, specify the time signature and beat subdivision (quarter notes, triplets, etc.), and even change the sound. More cow bell!

There are one or two other apps I use, but these are the main ones. Now that I'm using my phone for help with my playing I'm looking at tablet devices. I'm still waiting for a reasonably priced tablet that still has the features I need.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back to Lessons

Didn't take any guitar lessons for December, went back last week and just finished this week's lesson.

I lost a lot of focus over December. I still played, but started to try to learn about 4 different songs at once. Didn't learn any of them, of course. I need to focus a little better and do one thing at a time.

I've started recording the sessions with my phone, and it's really helped with my practicing. I found I was forgetting tips my instructor told me, wasn't getting the rhythm of the pieces right, etc. I think it's really helped me improve, and my instructor agrees.

Started learning the solo to The Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits last week. I'm getting it, all the parts are in place now, I just need to practice more to smooth it out and get up to speed. I originally thought my instructor was nuts thinking I was going to play Mark Knopfler, but it's not nearly as bad as I thought. Of course, I don't play it nearly as well as Knopfler either.

So I'm going to continue to practice Sultans of Swing, but now I'm learning the rhythm to Proud Mary by CCR. Or Ike and Tina. Or whoever. Next week he's planning on teaching me the lead.