I’ve had a hard time consolidating my thoughts into bloggable format this week. That happens sometimes. There are weeks where you’re so focused on one thing – one lesson, one problem – that you’re blind to everything else; that makes for easy blogging, especially if you’re like me and treat your blog like a diary which you don’t go back and reread or edit. But, there are also weeks where you’re conceptualizing – where there’s a lot going through your mind that doesn’t seem immediately connected, but where you’re sort of pulling ideas together. That blogging isn’t so easy, because there’s no definitive starting point. There’s no single moment that created all the other moments, because your brain is connecting the dots between things that came before. Making new dots. Turning the page to whatever comes next.
I’ve had a lot of really productive conversations through the blog recently – which is awesome, but something I really never anticipated. When I started grrl+guitar, when I decided to pay for a domain for it, it was because I thought forcing myself to write things down, and paying an annual fee to do so, would be an added incentive to follow through while I’m in this process of reorganizing and reprioritizing my life. I wasn’t thinking about followers, or that people were going to be reading this. I mean, I don’t know anything, so what can I possibly have to say that will be of interest to anyone but me? But, I do have a tiny, friendly little readership that seemed to just appear out of nowhere. Lol. And that’s awesome, and the tips and conversations that come out of that are really insightful, even in those moments where it’s clear that there’s a different approach, a different learning style.
There have been some things I’ve been touching on, and casually reading into that I haven’t really discussed here, either because they haven’t proven productive (yet), or because I haven’t reached a point where I feel I can discuss them in any coherent manner. Case in point: Music Theory. I have been touching on music theory articles here and there as I go. I have inevitably been stopping halfway through them when things get too complex for me to really get anything out of at my current level. I’ve also wasted chunks of my life reading music theory that is so simplistic and so obvious that I feel like someone wasted a good chunk of time even writing them down, and my time for thinking I might get something of value out of reading them.
If, for example, you want to waste 2 large paragraphs writing about rhythm, I think you should really include some information beyond the scope of what a dictionary can say in one sentence. When you don’t, you’ve just wasted my time and yours. This is a very rudimentary concept that the average American grade-schooler learns in the course of their vocab lessons. So when I waste 10 minutes reading an article about the components of music, and get nothing but information the average 3rd grader knows, that’s 10 minutes I could have spent doing something productive, and I really don’t feel very inclined to waste a blog post on it. (which I’m doing now anyway, just to establish that there are things going on in this process behind the scenes that just aren’t seeing the light of day here, because Zzzzzzz….. lol) And, to the contrary, I really don’t need to know about thirty-second notes when they’re just not going to come up in my lessons for quite some time.
Studying Music Theory above a level that I can practically (if clumsily) apply it is just a fast-track to wasted time. So when I look for music theory, I’m looking for information that will back up or enhance what I am currently working on. Anything else is the musical equivalent of 10th grade history: the only thing I remember is that my teacher sounded like Ben Stein and had an incredibly reflective bald head , and neither of those things is going to do me any good on Jeopardy. My somewhat sarcastic point is that it’s forgettable information.
Reading slightly above my level is productive; reading significantly above my level is junk data that I’m not going to get anything out of now, and not going to remember when the time comes that I can understand it. There’s a balance to be struck here, so while I’ll blog about information I find useful and can follow, I’m not going to waste time blogging about the moments when I feel like I might as well be reading Chinese.
And, I’m going to admit right now that I like interactive data. I like puzzles. I find sleuthing things out is often more conducive to lasting education than just reading it, because information I’ve puzzled out is information I’ve worked for, which leaves an imprint. So, I sometimes do things the ‘hard way’. Occasionally, the hard way is the better way for me to learn. And, I’m saying that so that it doesn’t sound completely crazy when I say I printed out bass, guitar, and ukulele fretboards and taped them to my desk at both work and home, or that I wasted an hour color coding the ones at home to look for a pattern.
I chose to interact with the note progressions subconsciously. I chose to look at them, see what I could see on my own, let my eyes find patterns rather than just spending five minutes reading an article that might, or might not, sink in in a meaningful way.
What did I learn from doing this this week?
- The Musical Alphabet progresses from A to G, alternating between natural notes and sharp notes. (I already knew the symbol for sharp was #, though I have no idea where I procured this information, or when. I learned the term ‘natural notes’ because it took me a bit of clicking to find a guitar fretboard I liked that didn’t contain ONLY the natural notes.)
- There is no E# or B# on any of these instruments, so skip it in the progression. (I picked that up when comparing the string name to the first fret. It was super easy to remember at first – D to D#, A to A#, G to G#…E to F. What? But it only took a really cursory glance to see why.)
- The Alphabet progresses in order. Every time. Starting with the letter of the open string. That makes the idea of memorizing the notes a lot less overwhelming, because, for example, if you know that the open G string is a G note, then you know that A would be the 2nd fret, and won’t repeat again until the 14th fret, because there are 12 notes in the sequence. If you know (and you do, if you can count) that D is the 6th note in the sequence, then if A is the 2nd fret, then D is the 7th fret, etc. You can kind of just keep deducing from there. B is two frets up from A. E is three frets down the neck from G.
So, rather than memorizing the position of each note on each string, all you really need to memorize is the position of the notes in relation to one another. Now, that’s still a lot to memorize when you multiply it by 4 or 6 strings, but it’s a lot less to memorize than a single note on a single string x number of frets x number of strings.
Now, I could have learned there were 12 notes, that there was no E# or B# and that the progression begins from the open string in about 2 minutes of reading. In fact, I later stumbled across that very subject, and it proved not helpful because I’d already learned that much on my own – but that’s a moot point. What isn’t a moot point is that by reading an article and learning that way, I would be learning the pattern of the notes through the progression, and that pattern might be something I wouldn’t have noticed right away. What I actually did was learn the progression of notes through observing the pattern of notes, and I can’t help but feel that I’ve gotten a lot more out of it, more quickly, by looking at it all as a broad concept first, and then reducing it down to the minutiae.
Does that mean I’ve memorized all of this? No, don’t talk nonsense. But, I’ve found a path to a very solid start. If I start with the placement of A, D, and G on each string within the first 12 frets, I’ll have eliminated huge amounts of empty space. By learning A, D, and G, I’ll automatically learn A#, D# and G#, which sit right beside them, which then only leaves 3 fret wide spans in between, which are much more manageable chunks of space to work with. This is how what at first appears to be randomness and chaos transforms itself into a methodology. Sometimes I take the scenic route, but by doing so, I learn the roads.
Now, I just have to pick which instrument to start with, which is probably going to be the bass. The bass has 5 strings in common with the guitar (since the guitar has 2 E strings), and 3 with the ukulele, so I’ll have the guitar and ukulele mostly learned just by doing the bass first, with only the B string on guitar and the C string on the uke left. It’s still going to be an involved process, and one I don’t actually have a directly applicable use for (yet), but I have a solid plan of attack, which I don’t think I would have at this point if I’d approached the subject in any other way.
Sticking to the subject of the fretboard (somewhat loosely), I decided to finally take the Rocksmith stickers off of my guitar.
As helpful as they are in the short term, I think it’s also very easy to use them as a crutch. It’s going to handicap me in the long run if I leave them, so while I now have to deal with a little extra fumbling as I get used to counting dots, like I do on the bass, in the long run, that’s how I’m going to be working, so that’s how I need to be working on the short term as well. It’s really important, I think, to get really accustomed to quickly finding the right fret without stickers so large that even a blind man could read them to help me cheat. I’ve been acclimating to it on all the other instruments, so there’s no reason my electric guitar should need a cheat sheet. I get a little screwed up high on the neck (okay, more than a little), and sometimes fumble between the 4th and 8th frets, but when I was a kid, my parents didn’t believe in bumper bowling ; I just got a lot of gutter balls. Same rules apply. Working with a handicap just means I’ll start to rely on that handicap if I have it long enough, so I’m taking it away from myself.
I’ve had a few tiny (I mean seriously bordering on insignificant) guitar victories this week anyway, so it’s time.
Small Victory #1: I might have finally conquered the guitar strap issue.
I played the guitar for an extended time for the first time without needing a shoulder break. Okay, that extended time was only maybe around 40 minutes, and my shoulder was still happy to be free once I took the guitar off, but I didn’t particularly notice it UNTIL I took the guitar off, which is new. I’ve readjusted the strap again, as short as the leather strap goes this time, but tilted the guitar on a sharper angle so the headstock is significantly closer to my shoulder than it was before. I decided to experiment with the angle more, focusing on the position of my wrist, and giving it a more vertical angle did help the shoulder problem. Or maybe it’s a coincidence. Further experimentation will be the judge.
Small Victory #2: I got my strumming hand moving independently of my fretting hand for the first time.
I haven’t actually been actively attempting this, because switching between chords is such a problem of slowness and seemed more important, but in my fiddling with the acoustic, I decided to try making my fretting hand keep up with my strumming hand for the first time. Well, my fretting hand is still just as clumsy as ever when it comes to chords (the C Chord is going to be my undoing, apparently…still), BUT, I learned I am fully capable of strumming an even beat, regardless of what nonsense Righty is up to, that the two hands can, and in fact DO, move independently of one another, and that I can compartmentalize that in my head to both strum and form chords simultaneously. Will I be able to do that every time? I don’t know, but it’s something I never did before, so it counts as progress.
Small Victory #3: I conquered the tremolo lesson, which I thought was much too fast for me to achieve.
As usual, though, progress with the bass is much faster than progress with the guitar.
After my previous post about my sleep deprived practice and how I hurt my thumb, I was pointed in the direction of the floating thumb technique (special thanks to vishalicious). Can I just say: life altering! I was anchoring my thumb on the pickup because, well, the internet told me to. Rocksmith told me to, as well. If Rocksmith and the Internet are in agreement, it has to be gospel, right?
Funny thing about the internet: it’s got a whole bunch of different opinions on almost every subject, and while anchoring may be right and sound advice, it’s clearly the wrong advice for me. Taking my thumb off the pickup and letting it float gave me my arm back. It relieved tension I didn’t know I had, freed up a whole range of motion that I didn’t realize I was suffering without. And, when you put that all together, it made me faster. And, I’m not even doing this 100% properly as it is in the video I watched, but even with my newbie clumsiness, things are way, way smoother than they were when I was anchoring my thumb.
The slides lesson I was stuck at 38% on for a week (which I thought was primarily because I was learning the length of the frets) I surpassed 98% on…in 20 minutes. (I’ve since reached 100% completion on it). The two-finger plucking lesson that I thought I was just too slow for yet? I’m just shy of 99% completion there. (I keep missing two notes, and rarely the same two, so that’s just a matter of time). Even the Legato lesson – my current nemesis- has made a jump from 30% to over 50% since the switch in a very short time.
It makes me wonder what the thumb of my fretting hand is up to, and if it might be a culprit in my chord issues. Since the neck of the guitar is curved, it’s very easy to latch your thumb around it and leave it there. Am I doing that? I don’t know, but it’s definitely something I’m going to investigate further, because if floating my thumb on Lefty so completely altered my world, then Righty might also have some bad habits worth breaking.
I think bad thumb habits affect the guitar way more than the ukulele, since the neck of the uke is super tiny. I’m not fiddling much with the uke, once or twice a week, really, and still the same song, but the transition to the G chord is getting smoother. Not perfect, but noticeably improving where my progress on the C chord on guitar seems to be standing still. There definitely has to be something to that, and I’m going to figure out what it is.
Until next time, Sherlocking my way through this guitar business, one new discovery at a time.