Don’t Be Afraid Of the Work

Hello!

Thanks for visiting this page!

This post has been moved to my other site  Guit-A-Grip.com.

You can read it here.

Thanks again!

-Scott

 

 

Some Observations On Inertia And A Cool Online App For Getting Things Done

A routine can be a powerful thing in productivity.  It helps instil a sense of inertia and, as I’ve talked about in posts like this, or  this one , keeping the ball rolling is usually a lot easier than initially getting it to roll.  The counter-intuitive reality behind doing things is that:

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Activity leads to other activity.  It creates its own inertia.

Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.

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The counter-intuitive part of this is when you’re sitting on a sofa and think, “I’m really tired.  I  just have to rest for a second and mentally gear myself up for this”.  Inertia is working at keeping you sitting on the couch.  If there’s a TV on or an internet connection – it’s working double time.

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The reality is that just getting up and doing the thing actually takes less energy that expending the energy debating with yourself about whether or not you have the tools or the energy to do something.

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The caveat is that this assumes we’re talking about moderate activity.  If you’ve just run a marathon, I’m not advocating staying on your feet if you need to rest.  I’m talking about procrastination versus physical exhaustion.

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Procrastination is an energy suck

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Completing projects is invigorating.  It’s that energy that comes from getting something done and thinking, “All right – what’s next?” It takes way more mental energy to keep putting something off than to just deal with it.

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Here are some tips that may be helpful:

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  • Have goals.  If you don’t know what you’re trying to do – you’re not likely to figure out the how.
  • If you have something you’re procrastinating – try to tackle small parts of if consistently.  You’re going to get more mileage out of small daily improvements than trying to cram something into a marathon session.
  • Monitor progress.  This goes along with goal setting but it’s important to check back and see how you’re progressing.
  • Be accountable but pragmatic.  Either to yourself or other people, to get things done, it’s important to be held to your goals.  Along with monitoring progress, being pragmatic (rather than judgemental) about your progress will help as well.  If things aren’t progressing they way you’d like – beating yourself up isn’t going to help the process.  By monitoring things you can see what works and what doesn’t work and adjust as necessary.

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I Done This

Neither a typo or an obscure pop reference, I want to thank my friend Daren Burns for bringing this to my attention.  I done this.com is a cool free online productivity tool that combines some of the tips that I’ve mentioned above,  Here’s a quote from the web page:

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“iDoneThis is an email-based productivity log. This evening, you’ll receive your first email from us asking, “What’d you get done today?” Just respond to our email and we record what you wrote into your calendar. Use your progress from yesterday to motivate you today.”

By helping to monitor progress and helping keep consistency and accountability, this could be something to help get the ball rolling for you. If you have something you’ve been putting off doing (like practicing) try it for a week and see what happens.

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for reading.

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On “It is what it is”

I had a moment to catch up on some things this weekend, and returned a call from a friend of mine at CalArts.  We had a very nice conversation catching up and discussing Higher Education funding, trends, pedagogy and the like and she was kind enough to tell me this:

“You know, in a conversation we had once – you gave me some advice and told me that, ‘it is what it is’.  I thought about that a lot – and about how you’ve brought it up a number of times in our conversations – and it’s something I find myself coming back to as a mantra when I’m facing something difficult.”

She had asked me about where that mindset came from, and I’m sure it’s rooted in growing up in a working class small town in upstate New York.  Compared to many people around me I had it relatively easy.  My parents both worked hard – my dad taught middle school and my mom worked in a factory – and they owned the house we lived in. (A note: Despite a lot of nonsense talk generated in the media earlier in the year, as people living on an educator’s salary, we did not live high on the hog.  We burned wood for fuel (that we cut stacked and dried on our own), did all our own repairs and (for a while) raised animals for food. The two-story house I grew up in with a garage and a 2 story workshop on a 1/2 acre of land sold for well under 40k if that tells you anything about the economics of the region.)

Other people I knew had it really hard.  Farmers (and often their children) who worked from dawn to dusk with spouses working additional odd jobs just to make ends meet.   We had “valley runners” – a term of no endearment reserved for families who would relocate multiple times a year to stay one step ahead of the law.  I’d always see the kids in my classes; they’d show up for a couple of months and then be gone to the next county.  When I’d see them months, or years later, they had always changed for the worse.  They picked up a number of skills they needed to survive when you’re always on the run  (typically manipulation, but sometimes cons or petty theft), that were depressing enough for an adult to have to rely on to get by – much less a child.

Mainly though, I knew a lot of good people who worked hard and were often presented with really difficult situations.  And the response to those situations was to work through it.  I can’t count the number of times that I heard variations of, “No use crying about it – let’s get to work.”

For those of you who resonate with this sentiment, and have never read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, it might be worth a moment of your time.  One point Aurelius’ (and other Stoics like Epictetus) bring up repeatedly is the value of seeing things for what they are.  That often means removing the emotional issues associated with the matters at hand and trying to deal with them objectively. (Albert Ellis made an entire career out of this method of inquiry with his REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) approach).

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Getting emotional about certain things (particularly difficult things) only adds to their difficultly.

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In my world view, some things are simply facts andviewing those things as such makes it easier to see them for what they are.

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For example:

2+2=4.

How do you feel about that? (or do you feel anything?)

It’s difficult to get emotionally invested in it because it’s merely a fact.

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Now here’s the idea applied: where a student might hear, “You’re going to have to put a lot of time in to getting those sweep arpeggios down the way you want.” I hear “2+2=4”.  There’s no emotional involvement  and so there’s less to get tripped up on.

There are a million reasons to procrastinate, and generally only one or two to get something done.  If you’re facing something really daunting there’s a several part process I can share to help make it manageable.

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Getting it done

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  1. Know why you need to do what you’re doing. As Viktor Frankl once said, “He who has a why can bear almost any how”.
  2. Deal with problems individually.  Many problems are multi-tiered so break them down into individual components to make them easier to manage.
  3. See the problem for what it is.  Gain a scope of what it is you are trying to do and prioritize what has to happen to complete it.  (For example: If you’re trying to get better at sight-reading – you’re going to have to work on it a lot over a longer period of time.  If you’re trying to get two bars of a solo down – it will probably be a much shorter over-all time investment).
  4. Have milestones and a deadline.  Know what you’re going to complete by when.
  5. Prioritize and address what you can.  Don’t get hung up on big steps here, this stage is all about the specifics of each step (i.e. the grunt work).
  6. Reassess and return.  As milestones are reached verify your progress and start again.

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I remember reading a David Lee Roth interview where he was talking about how having a drive was the only thing that was going to get you through endless vocal practicing in your bedroom.

There’s nothing glamorous in the work that goes into doing anything well, but it’s necessary to acquire the skills needed to do those things.

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In other words, it is what it is.

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Thanks for reading.

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“When You Come To A Fork In The Road Take It”

A number of the motivational posts I’ve posted  here center around a few key concepts:

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  • Having a clear vision of what you want to do (goals)
  • Aligning perception with reality (having an honest assessment of what needs to happen to reach those goals)
  • Daily work on those goals
  • Limiting distractions, and obstacles in the way

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The reason I come back to these posts to the extent that I do (and why I address it with myself as much as I can), is because it’s incredibly important to make the most of your time and enjoy it because time is all you’ve got.  All the talent, skill, strength, brains or money in the world won’t stop you from dying eventually.  Since all those things (talent, skill, strength, brains and money ) are acquired over time, in the end all you have is your time and how you’ve used it.

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Life is short and the only thing of value.  Don’t waste it away.

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We live in the most technologically advanced era the world the world has ever seen, but despite (and/or because of) that technology we also live increasingly isolated existences.   As a society, we often equate texting with talking and surfing the web to connecting with someone (or something).

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All we’re really doing is staring at a TV with an infinite number of channels and typing.

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There’s only limited interaction and a one way transmission of data.   It’s  addicting, comfortable and seductive and brings about the complacency and relaxation everyone looks for at one time or another.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t relax, but I am saying that being sedentary in anything you do carries it’s own inertia (physical and psychological).  The more you turn off your brain, the more likely you are to turn off your brain – even when you don’t want to.

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My father’s grandfather worked coal for the railroad every day of his teenage and adult life.  It was long hours of backbreaking labor and by all accounts, he was an incredibly powerful man.  When he retired, he decided that he was going to retire from everything.  He sat in his favorite chair and went from someone who was active and engaged to someone with very minimal physical exertion and no real goals for the future other than not working.  He died a couple of years later. I can’t prove that they’re related, by in my mind they are.  By my dad’s account, he basically just decided to stopped living.

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“When You Come To A Fork In The Road  – Take It”

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And this brings me back to meaningful living and navigating the overwhelming number of options available to us.   Indecision is a natural byproduct of being overwhelmed.  While I’m all for making an informed decision before taking action, if you spend too much time informing yourself, you won’t have any inertia to carry out what you initially wanted to do. The unexamined life may not be worth living – but the over-examined isn’t either.

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In any battle with indecision, at a certain point you have to punt.  If you get overwhelmed with options, pick one and run with it until you have to switch to another.  If you have a good grasp of what it is that you want to do, you’ll make changes in direction as you require to get back on track.

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It’s less important what thing you do first as long as you do something.

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Thanks for reading.

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Circumnavigating The Wall You Just Hit

It’s easy to get so caught up in the how, or the technical process of what you’re doing, that you forget the why

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Every once in a while someone will send me a You Tube clip of some wunderkind playing a million notes and I often think, “Wow it’s impressive to spend so much time getting that down.   I wonder how they’re going to use that when they’re playing Brown Eyed Girl at the local bar?”  The answer, of course, is that they’re not going to play that or maybe even any song.  The point of the video generally isn’t to develop something interesting in a larger musical context (like a song) but instead to promote their efforts by performing something technically difficult to get people impressed.

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I don’t fault players for this, they’re simply trying to make a connection and that’s the point of music in general.  Sometimes that means playing a million notes and sometimes that happens in the silences of the music you’re playing.   It’s an easy path to go down because making a connection is really hard. In addition to a lot of work, it requires experience, sincerity and no small amount of guts to leave yourself exposed.  In contrast, sitting down with a metronome and getting a lick up to a quick tempo is substantially easier and the result is quantifiable.  Even if people aren’t impressed, you’ll know that you got it up to speed and take some comfort in advancing your technical ability.

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But the flash of something fast will fade quickly, and what’s left is the content of what’s being said and the sincerity behind it.
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I like video game licks in certain contexts, but they’re probably not going to work on a ballad very well (even if it is a fusion track 😉 ).  If you’re saying a lot of words without much meaning it’s not going to have a lot of impact.

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I’ve had gigs where everything involving making a connection turns off on the stage and while it’s not a defining moment in human history, for someone who’s being used to being connected to music it’s a pretty awful feeling.  I’d even argue that this was the case for 90% of the gigs I’ve played in LA.  There can be any number of reasons for this.  There might be technical issues that completely pull you out of your mindset.  The audience might not be there to make a connection.  Things may not be jelling with the band.  But most importantly,  it may be your disconnect, and it’s the most important, because it’s the only performance factor that you really have control over.

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Those of you familiar with the Aesop’s fable regarding the fox and the lion will probably remember the final adage, “Familiarity Breeds Contempt “.  You can put so much time into the same thing on guitar that it loses all musical meaning.  The bad news is it’s probably not going to gain additional meaning on the bandstand.  In all likelihood you’re going to disconnect from it further.

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The more you work with specific things the easier it is to auto pilot your way through them, and the less likely you’ll be able to connect with it.  Taking that a step further, it’s going to be hard to connect to audiences if you’re disconnected from your own playing.   It’s more common than you might think, and a lot of musicians go through small (or large) periods where they “weren’t feeling it”.  They hit a wall.

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By it’s nature, any wall is usually made of pretty hard material so meeting it head on and trying going through it is not the best approach.  I can tell you from personal experience that taking the approach of saying, “suck it up” isn’t going to get your groove back.  Playing through it is exactly what you probably shouldn’t be doing because it’s just going to distance you further from the actual music when you play.  It’s like when a relationship is on the rocks and you’re convinced that spending more time together will make it better when the time you spend now is stinted and awkward.  The better approach in both cases is to step back and get some perspective…to go over the wall if you will…

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One man’s recommendation for dealing with the wall

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If you’re facing this right now, here are some strategies that may help.

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  • Acknowledge that you’ve hit a wall.  You can’t fix something you don’t recognize as a problem.
  • Once you acknowledge that you’ve hit a wall, realize that while it might be big and imposing, it’s still only a wall.
  • If the wall you’ve hit is from playing in general, take a break from playing for a couple of days.  Spend that time trying to connect with friends or family.  What you do isn’t really as important as the fact that you’re engaged and connected while you do it.
  • Learn some new songs.  Learn things that are very non guitaristic like vocal melodies or horn lines.  Take those ideas and write something new with them.
  • Go back and listen to music that inspired you.  Try to find out what it was that inspired you about the music.  Don’t over think or over analyze it, just try to connect with it.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.  Listen to music from other cultures.  Read a book by an unfamiliar (but recommended author).  Play with different musicians.  Take a short trip somewhere you’ve never been with a friend and see some new surroundings.  When I was in Phoenix, I checked out the Musical Instrument Museum and had my head turned around in a dozen different directions both by the instruments and the multimedia presentations of field recordings.  I left that place with a lot of new musical ideas buzzing around my head.
  • Practice playing in front of other people.  Learn a new song and play it at an open mic.  Make notes of when you’re connecting and when other people are connecting and make mental notes of how they’re doing it.
  • When you come back to practicing, take a measured breath before you begin playing.  Mark the fact that you’re about to start something to get into the zone.
  • Try being mindful of what you’re practicing.  Set limits on time and only practice one thing as long as you can be engaged in practicing it.
  • When you play a solo – try only playing what you can sing.

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There are a lot of other things you can try, but the real goal here is to get re-engaged and bring that to your playing.  As corny as it may sound, playing is an expression of who you are and where you’ve been.  If you don’t have anything to say in your playing, it may be time to live a little more so you’ll have a story to tell next time you sit down…For me, it was about realizing what was wrong, taking ownership of that and moving past it to get back to making music instead of just sound again.

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Good luck to you and thanks for reading!

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Some Useful Online Practice Tools

While some larger GuitArchitecture posts are in the pipeline, I wanted to post about a few online tools I use frequently when practicing that may be helpful to you as well.

In previous practice posts, I talked about keeping a practice log and using small increments of time (5-10 minutes) in multiple sessions to really focus on ideas.  (You can download a sample log here or here). The tools I mentioned to assist in this are a metronome and a stop watch.

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Seventh String

Not to be confused with the very cool sevenstring.org forum, Seventh string is the company that produces the excellent Transcribe! software.  While Transcribe! isn’t free (nor should it be – it’s an excellent piece of software that will pay for itself many times over) they have a number of useful free apps on their utilities page that may be of interest to you.  The apps all use Java so you’ll need to have that installed if they’re not working – but the great thing about each of these apps is that they can either be run online or downloaded to your computer to run if you’re somewhere without an internet connection.

Getting in tune is the first step to any practice session.  The online tuner on seventh string is functional but I find the tuning fork to be a lot more useful.  In addition to providing tones to tune to, the tuning fork also can act as a drone.  Drones can be a great tool for developing melodic ideas in a harmonic context.

The real prize here though is the metronome.  I love the old school graphic and the click sound isn’t annoying to me.  It also has tap tempo and can move incrementally.

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Stopwatch

Working hand in hand with the metronome for timed training is a stop watch.  I’ve plenty of hardware versions that are fine.  But I really like the  numerous variations on the online-stopwatch site.  The countdown version is perfect for setting 5-10 minute increments (or longer) and rings when it’s done.  There’s a metronome on this site as well – but it doesn’t allow incremental movement.

When practicing mid day – I tend to just open up my log, tune up, set the countdown timer turn on the metronome and work on the first thing on the log list.

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The simpler you make a routine – the easier it is to maintain.

Anyways, nothing Earth shattering here – but I hope it helps!

Thanks for reading!

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If you like this post you may also like:

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PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

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PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

Some Useful Online Practice Tools

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FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON

MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

INSPIRATION VS. INTIMIDATION

What’s wrong with playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for a world speed record?

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I have linked two sample documents for logs below.  You could use word or excel, or any basic word processing or spreadsheet application to generate one of these.  I haven’t seen an online version of these I like – So I’ll stick with these for now.

PRACTICE LOG (PDF)

Weekly Practice Log (Word)

Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 1

In the previous surviving the gig post, I talked about some memorization skills that can help get through gigs that require learning a lot of tunes.  In this series of posts, I want to focus on how to get through gigs that may have unfamiliar chord changes.

In this post, I’m going to be discussing how to interpret chord symbols and then developing some short cuts for how to generate chord voicings on the bandstand as it were.  If you are already familiar with how to read chord voicings – you may want to skim this and just go to part 2.

There will be a lot of detail over these posts for how I’m doing what I’m doing, but once you get the concept under your belt.  It should be something you can do on the fly if need be.

As an example, I’ll be look at part of a chart Rough Hewn touch/stick/Warr guitarist Chris Lavender sent to me, called 232

(232 © Chris Lavender 2011 used with permission)

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First Step – Know what notes the chord symbols are asking for.

It’s not that hard to figure out chords if you know what the symbols mean.  Here are some general shortcuts for chord types beyond triads.  There are only 3 basic categories that we’ll look at: Major, Minor and Dominant:

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Major

(Sometimes designated by “major”, “maj” or a triangle)

Any type of major chord always has a major triad (Root, 3rd and 5th) plus a major 7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C Major chord variation (C Major 7, C Major 9 or C Major 13)  –  the voicing has a C, E, G and B.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any major type chord starts with (1,3, 7) or (C, E, B) in the key of C.


Minor

(Sometimes designated by “minor”, “min”. or “-” )

Any type of minor chord always has a minor triad (Root, b3rd and 5th) plus a b7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C Major chord variation (C minor 7, C minor 9, C minor 11 or C minor 13)  –  the voicing has a C, Eb, G and Bb.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any minor type chord starts with (1,b3, b7) or (C, bE, bB) in the key of C.


Dominant

(Sometimes designated by “dominant”, “dom”. or no designation

i.e. “C7”, “C9” or “C13” refers to a dominant chord unless otherwise stated)

Any type of dominant chord always has a major triad (Root, 3rd and 5th) plus a b7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C dominant chord variation (C 7, C 9, C 11 or C 13)  –  the voicing has a C, E, G and Bb.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any dominant type chord starts with (1,3, b7) or (C, E, Bb) in the key of C.


Beyond this, you just need to add in additional pitches based on what the voicing indicates.

Here’s a chart that relates all of the potential chord tones that you might see to a scale degree for quick reference.

Putting the chart to use:

The first chord in the 232 chart is a C major 9 #11.  As a reminder – any extended C major chord will have C, E, G, B in the full voicing.  Since it’s a C major 9, a 9th – which in the chart above is a D – will have to be added.    The #11 means an F# will get added to the voicing as well.  This brings the full voicing to (C, E, G, B, D, and F#).

Again, the only time you would probably play a full voicing is for a solo guitar or perhaps a duet performance.  In the next post, I’ll discuss how to extract what you need to get through the chart.

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Second Step – Know some chords

When I went to Berklee, I was advised that I should learn at least 2 chord voicings for any chords that could be put on a chart in front of me.  These stock voicings are typically low E or A string rooted (as it helps with visualization) and are the default voicings that you would use if you were sight-reading a chart.  These typically include triads, Major /Minor / Dominant chord 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords.

While this is, generally, useful advice, I should state for the record that while I did the initial memorization required for school proficiencies – I quickly forgot the majority of voicings I wasn’t using all the time. Learning every inversion of every possible 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chord on multiple string sets will take YEARS.  For some people, it’s the best method, but it never worked that well for me.

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Once I understood how chords worked, I never bothered to memorize many specific voicings above a 9th chord because I found some shortcuts to get the sounds I needed.


Note:

This is not to say that you should be lazy.If you follow through on the suggestions that I have – you should plan on learning triads and 7th chords at a very deep level (i.e. you should have the goal of being able to play any triad or 7th chord in any inversion in any position).

(more on how to do that in a future post)


I hope this helps!  In the next post – I’ll simplify the 232 chart with some harmonic shortcuts.

While digesting this – I’d recommend you take some time to work on your chord inversions.  If you’re unfamiliar with them you may want to check out the D major inversions I’ve posted below, and adapt this process to minor triads (just flat the third – F# and make it F in the examples below), and 7th chords (major, dominant and minor).

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(The following is adapted from another post (Recycling Chords Part II: Triad Transformation).

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Thanks for reading!!

 

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Note:  D major is used in the following examples instead of C major because the original post dealt with transforming triads.  Each note of a 1st position D major chord can be lowered to another note on the fingerboard, without using open strings.  In other words, each chord is a moveable voicing on the fingerboard. The following should be adapted to C major and other keys as necessary.

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The first step to adapting voicings is to make sure you can visualize triads both horizontally and vertically across the fingerboard.

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Horizontal (i.e. positional) Visualization

Here’s a series of  D major chord inversions in the 2nd position.

Helpful Tip

As you play through these voicings pay particular attention to which chord tone each finger is on (i.e. for the first D Major chord voicing – the first finger is on the 5th of the chord (A), the third finger is on the root (D) and the second finger is on the 3rd (F#). More on this later.

Here are the D major inversions in the 5th position

and in the 10th position.

Vertical Visualization

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Note:

the important thing with both the horizontal and vertical voicings is knowing where each chord tone is located in the voicing.

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One way to practice this is to play through the chords and stop at random points and ask, “where is the root?” “where is the 3rd?”  “where is the 5th ?”  This has to be full internalized to be able to realize the goal of instant chord tone identification.


Warming Up: Finger Exercises, The 3 T’s And The Necessity Of Mistakes

Pedagogical Errors Were Made

One of the first lessons that guitar students are taught is the 1 note per fret 1-2-3-4 chromatic alternate picking exercise.  While this is typically presented  as an initial exercise to gain coordination – it has a very limited long run value.  As a static exercise, it  should be discarded from your regimen immediately because

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you play what you practice

If you want to play semi-chromatic ideas at high speeds moving in 4ths – this is a great exercise to use.  But it’s a boring sound, a boring exercise and doesn’t translate well into everyday performance.

“But Scott”, you might posit, “it’s just  a warm up exercise.  It isn’t something to play at a gig.”  Then it’s a further waste of time as

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everything you play should be something that translates to live performance

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The Physicality Of Practicing or How To Lose A Gig

Here is a gig nightmare story that illustrates the point of proper technique versus strength.  Since the embarrassment here is all mine, all of the names will be on the record for my moment of shame.  Years ago when I was working at Sandy’s Music, one of my co-workers “Skinny Mike” Feudale wanted to see if I could play a gig with his rockabilly/psychobilly band – The Speed Devils. Mike is a great songwriter and the songs on the Speed Devil’s cd were really strong and lot of fun to play.  The Speed Devils had a gig come up in NY and needed a lead guitarist to sub in.  If it worked out – it could be a regular gig – but there were some rules.

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1.  I had to look the part – fortunately the drummer Judd had a vintage bowling shirt I could squeeze into

2.  I had to play a vintage amplifier.  Fortunately I had just gotten my vintage Gibson amp back from Tom at AzTech electronics (truly an amazing amp guy) – which sounded and looked great.

3.  I had to play the Speed Devils guitar.  This was a hollow body that Mike had fixed up and completely vibed out (full flames and dice for volume knobs) with heavy gauge strings and high action to push the volume a little more.

We rehearsed the set once or twice and then went to the gig a couple of days later.

On the way from Boston to NY, I didn’t have time to warm up so I was doing some finger exercises to limber up my hands.  I was experimenting with a lot of grip master type things to strengthen my hands and try to fix my pinky (which was really quiet with hammer ons).  We got to the club and  I found out that there was no mike for my amp.  The only thing going through the PA was the vocals.

This is the point of the story that I should mention that while everything was fine when we had rehearsed at low volumes; my 15 watt amplifier could not compete with the rest of the band in a club setting.  As I was inaudible I started strumming louder, and with the live adrenaline kicking it, I started fretting harder as well.   Between the heavier string gauge, the higher action, the underpowered amp and the over-tensed playing- I blew my hands out by the second tune.

My hands were so shot that chording was difficult and soloing was all but impossible.  I limped through the rest of the performance – but nothing came out the way it was supposed to.  Needless to say, I didn’t get the gig – a sound decision by the band – but I was really angry with myself because I had unknowingly sabotaged myself before I even got there and had I taken a different approach – I would have been able to play the show much better and not let the band (and myself) down.

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The Physicality Of Practicing (slight return)

Playing an instrument is a physical endeavour.  You can push your muscles too hard and hurt yourself badly playing the same things over and over. (Trust me – performance related injuries are not fun).

Having said that, this isn’t weightlifting.  You don’t need muscular hands capable of cracking walnuts to play guitar well – you need hands that can move  fingers quickly and independently –  a fast twitch muscle versus a slow twitch muscle. This leads to a little secret that students generally don’t get exposed to in rock guitar lessons

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hammer on volume comes from the speed the fingers strike the string not the force

In terms of volume, the most problematic finger is typically the pinky.  One habit that I had to fix (and that I continue to see in a number of players) was the improper attack of the fret hand pinky on the strings. (In case you’re wondering about proper form, I’ve reposted some of the information from the Glass Noodles arpeggio post below).

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Here’s a good way to visualize the fret hand finger motion you’re looking for:

Put the palms of your hands on a table.  Now without lifting the palms up, tap your fingertips one at a time on the table starting from the pinky and ending on the index.  You’ll notice that the fingers stay curved and that the large knuckle of each finger is responsible for the tapping.  This motion is what you’re looking for in this process.  Notice that you don’t need to hit the fingertips very hard against the table to get a crisp attack.

The concept of building up your hands like biceps – is just ridiculous.  The goal of guitar performance is to keep your hands relaxed so you don’t blow them out in a gig or on a session.

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How I warm up now

When I warm up now – I play scales and arpeggios, switching between chord voicings of tunes I’m working on and improvising around various patterns at low tempos and paying strict attention to

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The 3 T’s in Performance: Timing, Tone Production and Tension

(remember these – this awareness could save you untold time and pain later!)

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In general –  you just want to make sure that all of your fingers have had a little blood flowing in them before you begin to play for any length of time.  I do this with a timer for 5 minutes (more or less depending on how my hands feel).

External warm up devices are kind of goofy to me.  Have you ever seen a runner go into a gym and max themselves out on a legpress before they went for a long run?  Do you really think that putting mechanized unfocused tension on a finger is going to make it play a musical passage more efficiently?

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The necessity of making mistakes

Along with the forthcoming GuitArchitecture books, I have also put substantial time into  a general book of guitar technique.  In addition to discussing specifics of practice and performance methodology – I also took the 1-2-3-4 exercise and broke it down into every possible positional variation as a way to develop technique.  The book is currently 256 pages.  The majority of which are the 864 individual graphics that had to be created and placed in the text.

Midway through this process I started to question the mistake of basing any technical study on such an exercise – or the concept of musical exercises in general.  (Again the point isn’t to have svelte waistline or huge muscles – the point is to be able to play melodic and harmonic ideas more readily.)

I came to the conclusion that if the 1-2-3-4 example could be approached as a way to develop a systematic approach to generating both melodic ideas and melodic variation it could also benefit readers as a technical study as well.

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Mistakes are teachable moments

It’s easy to see a mistake as something to learn from in a practice room session but harder to see it at a gig. If I walked away from the Speed Devils show and just said, “That gig sucked – so I must suck as a guitarist” I would have missed a great opportunity to see there was something very wrong in what I was doing. The gig taught me in addition to making sure that I had proper preparation and the right tools for the job that tension does not equal volume – and that lesson has been more beneficial to me than any lesson I could pay for.

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I hope this is helpful to you!

Thanks for reading.

-SC

Recycling Shapes or Modular Arpeggios for Fun and Profit

When improvising, I need to be able to access sounds immediately.  One tool that I use for this is Sonic Visualization (which is really a cornerstone of the GuitArchitetcure concept).  In Sonic Visualization – I associate shapes with sounds so that I can make changes, modify  or develop ideas in real-time.  Here’s one example of this in action and has some cool ramifications for application.

For the audio examples – I’ll be using a Line 6 variax AC 700 strung with D ‘addario .012 phosphor bronze strings – to show that this can be performed on an acoustic guitar.  I used the line 6 as I could record it direct into the laptop in AU lab and not have to use a microphone.

First:  Here’s an example of this approach played at tempo.

Now let’s start slowly and see how to get to that point.

Let’s say we were going to solo over an A5 chord.

Since there are only 2 unique notes (A and E), you could play almost any type of scale or arpeggio over it – but for a moment – let’s look at a minor tonality.

If I was playing straight up metal, I might just play an A minor arpeggio over it.  There’s nothing wrong with this sound – but I want to spice it up a little.

One thing I’ll do as a starting point is to extend the arpeggio. Instead of just playing an a minor triad (A, C and E) – I’m going to add a G and a B to the arpeggio creating an A minor 9 sound.  Here’s the form I’ll be using:


Some quick notes:

Fingering – basically I view this as a positional form so I’m using the 1st finger for notes on the 5th fret, 2nd finger for the E on the 7th fret, 3rd finger for the C on the 8th fret and the 4th finger on the B on the 9th fret.

Hand tension – As your playing through this shape – you want to keep your fretting hand as relaxed as possible.  The more tense your hand is – the more difficult this will be to play.

Picking – you could play this with alternate picking or all hammers – but I’m going to recommend a specific picking pattern for this arpeggio:

Notice that it starts on an upstroke and then uses all down strokes.  This picking pattern will become very useful as this process continues – but if you don’t have a lot of experience sweep (or rake) picking, you’ll need to keep your picking hand relaxed and work on getting the attacks all happening in time.

Timing – you’ll notice that this is a group of 5 (i.e a “Quintuplet” or “Pentuplet”) which means that you are playing 5 notes to the beat.  The  key here is to make sure that you are playing the notes in an even division – (i.e. the same length of time for each note and each space between the notes).

Here’s an audio example of just the arpeggio – first played slowly and then at tempo.

Note: in some browsers (Safari in particular)  the audio doesn’t always load properly in the new window.  If you just refresh the window it usually comes up the second time.

Obviously a metronome will help with consistency – but it you’re having trouble with hearing the division of 5 try the following.

Set up a metronome.

Set the click at a slow enough level that you can play 1 note per click.

Accent the first note and tap your foot to the first note only

Play each note of the arpeggio on a metronome click.

On the repeats – accent the first note and tap your foot to the first note only.  If you can – try to figure out the tempo of the first tones only (a tap tempo feature will help a lot here) and now try playing the arpeggio with only the first accent.  This is annoying to do for long periods of time – but can help a lot for short practicing cycles.

You may want to just start with this one arpeggio and work on synchronizing both hands – that alone could take some time if you’re unfamiliar with this technique.

From a performance perspective – you’re looking for uniformity of attack with regards to both timing and volume.

 

Recycling shapes

Here’s an interesting observation – If we play the same minor 9 shape we just used but this time move it to the 5th of the chord (In this case the pitch E or an E minor 9 arpeggio ), we get the notes E, G, B (which were also in the last arpeggio)but we get 2 added pitches D and F# which here act as the 11 and 13. This creates an over all A minor 13  or A Dorian sound.

Short cut #1 – when playing over a minor or minor 7th chord – you can play minor arpeggios from both the root and the 5th of the chord over it.

 

Short cut #2 – A minor 9 + E minor 9 = A minor 13 or an A Dorian sound.

Let’s look at this in notation and tab:

Notice that by using the same picking pattern –  the upstroke of the B in the first arpeggio leads right into an upstroke on the E of the E minor 9 arpeggio.  The fingering pattern is the same as before.  Once you get the A minor 9 form down – you may need to practice the transition between the A minor 9 and the E minor 9 forms.

Here is an mp3 of the transition played at two tempos.

Finally, we can repeat the same thing on the last A of the A5 chord (although the fingering pattern will have to be adjusted by a fret for the G-B string tuning).

Here’s the top A minor 9  arpeggio played by itself – first slowly  and then faster.

As before, the same picking pattern is utilized to add continuity between the forms.  You could end on the B or pick another pitch the end the form on depending on what chord you’re playing it over.  Here I’ve chosen E.

Here’s the full arpeggio played at tempo.

You say Tomato I say Major

So now that we’ve looked at a minor example let’s use a major example.

If I sharp the C and G notes of the A minor 9 arpeggio –I have an A Major 9 arpeggio – which also works over A5.

Here’s the A major 9  arpeggio played slowly  and then faster.

Here’s another interesting observation – If we play the same major 9 shape we just used but this time move it to the 5th of the chord (In this case the pitch E or an E major 9 arpeggio ), we get the notes E, G#, B (which were also in the last arpeggio) but we get 2 added pitches D# and F# which here act as the #11 and 13.  This creates an over all A major 13 augmented 11 or an A Lydian sound.

Short cut #1 – when playing over a major or major 7th chord – you can play major arpeggios from both the root and the 5th of the chord over it.

 

Short cut #2 – A major 9 + E major 9 = A major 13 (#11) or A Lydian tonality.


Since I’ve broken this process down a great deal with the A minor 9 process – I’ll just highlight the lick idea here.  You could end on the B or pick another pitch to end on depending on what chord you’re playing it over.

Here’s the full arpeggio played at tempo.

Here’s the A major 9  arpeggio played slowly  and then faster.

Taking it out

As a final idea – let’s apply this concept to extending the overall tonality.

Here’s a transcription of an improvisation working off of this idea – but using a B minor 9 for the third chord of the sequence.

First let’s look at the A5 chord again:

Now – let’s realize that instead of building these structures off of the Root – 5th – root of the chord – that we could use other tones – for example here I’m going to use the Root, the 5th and the 9th:

Here’s a transcription of an improvisation working off of this idea – but using a B minor 9 for the third chord of the sequence.

Here’s the full arpeggio played at tempo.

Here’s the  arpeggio played slowly  and then faster.

C# is obviously not part of an A minor tonality – but by sneaking it into the arpeggio sequence it gently nudges the overall tonality to me in a pleasing way.

The point is to not get too hung up on rules or shortcuts – but instead to have a series of modular sounds and approaches that you can use as the need comes up.

I’ll be posting more about these types of approaches in the weeks and (more likely) months ahead.  Just remember in general to keep your hands loose, your rhythm tight and your attention focused – but if this is your first time to the site I’ve posted a number of things on practicing in general which may be helpful to you.

I’m always looking for feed back on these posts!  If possible – please take a minute to comment or drop me a pm @ guitar.blueprint@gmail.com to let me know if these are useful to you.

Thanks for dropping by!


Where To Get Your Guitar Repaired In LA Or Lessons For The Self Employed Musician

Yesterday, I took some cash from a gear sale and had a Wilkinson tremolo installed on my FNH guitar which was a long overdue modification.

I started by calling Andy Brauer, to see about getting the work done.  The first thing Andy said to me was that the scope of the job (i.e. routing out a cavity on a guitar with a hard tail bridge) wasn’t something that he would be willing to take on, but he said if I called him back in a half an hour he’d get a phone number to me.

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Lesson 1:  Have a clear concept of what work you are willing to do rather than half ass something you don’t want to do. Since this isn’t an option for someone of Andy’s caliber – he made a referral for me so I could get the work done


I called him back a 1/2 hour later and Andy got the number for me. He told me to give Seth Mayer a call (818-427-1543).  I got in touch with Seth and he seemed like a nice and knowledgeable guy and told me to bring it by his workshop that evening.  As Andy had referred Seth (and Andy’s reputation is unimpeachable to me), I went to Seth’s knowing that I was going to get my instrument sorted out.

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Lesson 2:  When you refer people to someone you build good will but you put your name on the line.


I brought it by Seth’s and he explained that the holes from the original bridge might need to be doweled and might not be completely covered up by the new trem.  This was fine with me.   I said he didn’t even have to sweat putting a back back plate on the route  as my main concern was that it was functional instead of being “pristine”.  Seth said he would do what he could to try to accommodate both aspects and that it would be done within a week.

I got a call today (2 days later) that it was done.  Here’s the guitar:

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When I went to go pick it up, I found that Seth had recessed the trem so I could pull up on it like I asked.

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He also threw a back plate on it and did a great job setting it up in general.

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Lesson 3:  When you tell someone you’ll do something – do it.  

But if you can improve upon that it’s to your benefit to do so.


Seth could have hung onto it for a week and done the job and I never would have known.  Instead, he turned it around asap.  He could have tried charging me a rush fee.  (I’ve had plenty of guys try to pull that before.) Instead – he did much more than I asked him to do.

Do you ever wonder why certain stores go out of business?  The ones’s that don’t repair things competently or when they say they are going to?  The one’s that leave you a bad taste in your mouth after you’ve gone there?  Do you ever wonder why certain musicians who flake on sessions don’t get call backs?

Now when anyone asks me where to take a guitar to get repaired in LA – I’ll send them to Seth.  This is the same level of referral that you should work towards as a musician.

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Lesson 4:  This is what it means to be a professional.  In your interactions as a professional musician – your word is your bond.


Seth Mayer Guitar Repair

818-427-1543

smayer@yahoo.com

myspace.com/guitarrepair