Last night, I emerged victorious from the tremolo 101 lesson in Rocksmith.

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Wohoo! But, realistically, my ears know what rocksmith doesn’t: I may have hit all the notes, but at least half of them sounded like shit. 😀  I still don’t have the speed and control to make tremolo sound great a good amount of the time, but, I’ve apparently developed enough to actually hit all the notes in the lesson consistently, which I couldn’t say a week or two ago, so this still counts as a victory.

I’m not doing quite so well on the Legato lesson. I’m trapped somewhere around 70%.  It’s a brain game: the notes are piled up on top of each other, so my eyes are not transferring the data to my brain, and my brain to my hands, quickly enough to make it all happen.  At a slower pace I can do it, so I think I really need to spend a good deal of time in the riff repeater with the thing slowed way down just so I can see the notes at a pace that I can translate and memorize quickly enough to play, and as I memorize those notes, it’ll be easier to execute them at the speed required to complete the lesson.   I’ve noticed I’m also fumbling when the first string is an open string.  There’s no real reason for that other than some kind of mental block, where when I see the open string, I’m not anticipating what follows as easily as when I see just notes.  I have a similar problem with chords, really. When I see them on the screen, there’s too much data yet for my brain to process at the pace required.  I spend a good second or two thinking ‘what is that?’ and by the time my brain moves past that and onto ‘how do I move my fingers to make that happen?’ It’s already too late and I’ve missed the thing I was supposed to do.   Again, I think it’s just a matter of exposure. The more I see those note and chord combinations, the less of a brain lag I’m going to experience with them.

Now that I have a few chords under my belt, I’ve been looking up tabs, and that has opened a whole new can of worms, as I realize that while Rocksmith is great for a beginner because it provides some guidance, there are things it doesn’t really warn you about.

As a beginner, I focus so much on what my fretting hand is doing, that I’ve vastly ignored my strumming hand – not completely, but enough that I now realize I have to switch perspective to get both hands working at the same pace.  I realized as I looked up tabs with the chords I know that I can strum those chords. I can even strum some of them accurately and consistently (though transitions are still slow).  What I can’t do is make those chords, in that order, sound like the song I’m supposed to be playing.

Thank goodness for Google.  Without the internet I would be insanely frustrated with all the blind fumbling, but it is the nature of the www. that if I have a question, an answer can be found in relatively short order. Awesome.  So, that led me to articles about strumming patterns. Videos on Youtube, which are now living in my “guitar lessons” folder in my bookmarks bar to revisit and strum along to.  So I spent a few days focusing on the ‘rock strum’.  I still can’t execute it flawlessly, but the act spending a little time focusing on the strumming hand is, I hope, eventually going to help me tie everything together.

The internet also led me to this awesome article on strumming from Guitar Noize: http://www.guitarnoise.com/lessons/strumming-for-beginners/

I love that the guy writing it started late – at 35, because I’m a late starter too at 34, and I’ve been finding in my reading that the late bloomers have a habit of writing things in such a wonderfully accessible way that seems to evade some of the guitarists who came out of the womb holding a six string.  It’s so natural to a pro that it seems really easy for them to not really remember the minutiae of being a beginner, where someone who starts later in life has a wonderfully methodical way of attacking the subject. At least, that’s been my experience with the internet thus far. Actually, I didn’t read the intro last night when I was reading the article. Going back to it now, I noticed, and thought ‘ah, no wonder this is so accessible!’

I love how he starts the article by simply breaking down rhythm into its most basic components to prove ‘yes, you have rhythm. I guarantee it.’  That positive reinforcement is such a big win for someone struggling with a frustrating inability to replicate songs.  It’s proof that ‘yes, you have rhythm, you just haven’t got the decoder ring yet to identify a specific rhythm.’ Awesome. I have rhythm. Sweet!

And then it moves on to the metronome and some different strumming patterns and practice exercises.  Now, I admit I didn’t go through all of them yet. I only did the 4/4 measure. Why? Because damn it, it was like 3 am and while my hands were happy to keep going, my eyes were doing a great imitation of a spoiled toddler: ‘why are you making us reeeeaadddd? Do you KNOW what time it is?’   So I forced them to get through the 4/4 measure exercises, and decided to go back to the latter half of the article at another time.

And, I only had very few problems with keeping beat to the metronome.  The rock strum is still hanging me up a bit, but as the article advises to turn the metronome up to 140, then down to 50, I found my problem area was not being too slow (what I thought), but actually the opposite. I’m rushing through it.  So when I thought I was behind by a note, I was actually ahead by two.  It was MUCH easier for me to work at 140 on the metronome than it was to work at 50.  That doesn’t solve the problem, but it does identify the problem, which is the first step.  Like a little kid who’s doing badly on their homework because they’re rushing through it, I’m strumming faster than the metronome because my hand knows it can move faster. My brain knows it, too, so my hand and brain conspire together against me! It’s proof I need to open that metronome app more often to train myself to hear not just the strumming pattern, but the TIMING of the strumming pattern.  Apparently, guitar is going to teach me how to slow down.

Now, I have a confession: I didn’t use my guitar to go through those strumming patterns. I used this:

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Yes, I bought a (cheap) UKELELE. I also have a very cheap little six string guitar on the way. I love the portability of the uke.  I never really got the obsession with these things; I mean, it felt almost cliche to be another girl with another ukelele! lol.  But, I also have a bass in process (which the postal service has LOST. And, I am trying very hard not to be furious, since I went through my house and sold things in order to raise funds to buy that bass, which is actually the instrument I wanted to learn when I started with guitar…since I already had a guitar,  and because I fell in love with this particular bass guitar at first sight, and couldn’t get it off my mind.), and the ukelele also has 4 strings, AND it is one of my missions in life to learn to play ‘In My Mind’ by Amanda Palmer.

Really, if/when I can play that song properly, I think I will have reached the pinnacle of all I currently want or expect out of the ukelele, but, I have discovered that this thing is really FUN. I mean, seriously. It wasn’t until I had it in my hands (and yes, I restrung it lefty) that I realized that this is really a fun little thing to play with.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking I’m a little nuts: guitar, ukelele, and I’ve got my sights on bass, too? Shouldn’t I learn one at a time?  So, call me crazy. Whatever. These instruments are all related, and as right now I need to work on strumming, switching strings, and really bare bones things, I can do that on anything with strings. heck – give me a few strings nailed to a piece of plywood and I could do it. It might sound like crap, but it would be just as effective a learning tool as any.

The small instruments, like the ukelele, I think are actually kind of invaluable.  They’re super-portable, and this one is inexpensive.  That means I can bring it anywhere with almost no effort – even places I might not necessarily want to tote a full-sized guitar, and if I lose it or damage it it didn’t cost enough money to cry over.  Now, if I’m carrying it with me to the beach, or the park, or my mother’s house, that increases my potential practice time by quite a lot. And if I’ve brought it with me, I’m more likely to pull it out just because if I don’t, it was almost a waste to bring it.  So there is a crazy Shelby sort of logic to all of this.

I’ve noticed lately, too, that I am spending a LOT of time with guitar or ukelele in hand. Just in the past week with the acoustic and the ukelele having arrived (coincidentally within a day of one another), by virtue of them being so handy, not requiring any plugging in, etc. I’m picking them up a lot more. It’s easy to pick them up. They don’t need anything but themselves to work.  And while I still like the electric, and still play it regularly, I definitely see the appeal of having a practice instrument that doesn’t have chords and knobs or any real ‘set-up’ requirements.

And, I may still not be able to play songs, but I am enjoying just having the instrument in hand.  I feel really out of sorts when a day comes that I don’t get to practice barely at all, and the following day I feel just generally annoyed, because I want nothing more than to play with my guitar(s).  I think this is a really great place to be, mentally, that’s very conducive to learning.  I’ve reached a point where I want to play with my guitars more than I want to watch a movie, or fiddle around on facebook, or play a video game, or write this blog post. I DEFINITELY would rather play guitar than clean my house. 🙂  From a learning perspective, that’s hugely advantageous.  It means my only significant distraction is my cats. I don’t ALWAYS want to play guitar more than I want to hug my pets. lol.  But, we all have our vices, right?

So, right now I’m working on legato and palm mutes and general song learning and guitarcade stuff in Rocksmith.  I’m still having issues with some shoulder pain with the guitar, but I’ve invested in a slightly better strap, so will see if the wider strap resolves the issue. I have discovered I am much more comfortable wearing the guitar lower rather than higher. Not super-low, or anything, but lower than advised. Wearing it higher just makes it hard for me to strum because my arms are too jammed up – it makes my shoulders tense. Wearing it a bit lower gives my longer arms a more comfortable resting position when standing, and while I’m still getting shoulder pain, it’s less consistent. Some days I can hold the guitar for well over an hour. Other days I feel uncomfortable after twenty minutes.  I’m not sure what I’m doing, but the fact that the pain is inconsistent I feel like means it has more to do with poor technique than with the strap length, and I’ll just have to keep experimenting until finding the right position comes naturally.

On the acoustic, I’m focusing primarily on the strumming hand, and spending a bit of time on finger exercises and the chord changes for ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’.  Yeah – still that one, but there aren’t many chords, and the ones that there are are easy to remember! Plus, I still need work on the C chord, so it makes sense to use that song.

On the Ukelele, I’m doing some of the same – strum patterns (It would be really rude to do that on the acoustic at 2 am, because that thing gets loud!), but also ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley, as per this e-lesson by Cynthia Lin:

Until Next Time, have my plate full of awesome and interesting things (and trying not to panic about my missing postal package).

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