Strings and things

Well, it’s Friday, which means I’ve survived another week of fumbling and poor scheduling. I didn’t get to practice as much this week as I would have liked because I got pulled into a small graphic design project that I didn’t really want to do but was sort of obligated to make happen, and as quickly as possible. That swallowed up a good few hours of guitar time, spread across the bulk of the week. What that means is that I had to make the best possible use of what time I did have, which some nights was only 20 minutes.

It makes me sad when I can only play around on my guitar/bass/ukulele for a measley 20 minutes, but better than zero minutes! Since time was short and patience (thanks to aforementioned project) was a little thin, I decided not to touch the electric guitar this week. Instead, I focused on the bass and some time with the acoustic.

I’ve mentioned before that progress with the bass is going much MUCH more smoothly than the guitar, so even when I only have 20 minutes I feel like I can make some decent progress. In theory. In actual practice, Thursday night I spent a good ten minutes of my practice time trying to figure out how to turn off Master Mode.

I do understand the function of master mode, and I do know eventually I’m going to have to start working without a net. But, I also think it’s unreasonable of Rocksmith to think I’ve memorized a song I’ve only played four or five times, just because I’m hitting nearly all the notes on the screen. ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ is an easy song, with lots and lots of standing around doing nothing, okay? Just because I can follow visual cues doesn’t mean I’ve learned the song in a miraculously short period of time. It’s not ingrained in my bones just yet. Lol.

Having turned off master mode, I managed to reach 100% completion on my first song. Yay! I know that’s very different than having LEARNED my first song, but it’s still progress, and it’s still something I couldn’t say a few days ago. Ergo, it totally counts!

There is a second reason I decided to lay off the electric guitar for a bit, that is more practical than ‘can’t make much progress in short periods of time’. The real reason I’ve left the electric alone calls back to my previous post, where I was talking about my chord forming issues, and showed you some pictures of my G chord. I decided it was far more important at this stage to get those chord forms corrected, and forcing my hand to keep speed with a program was going to be counterproductive. So every day I’ve been spending a few minutes with the acoustic just slowly forming the chords I know and switching between them, letting them ring out one string at a time to make sure I’m not muting anything I’m not supposed to be, making sure I’m moving from the hand rather than the elbow and shoulder. I think it will be a bit before I train myself to make this the new normal, but I think it’s important to train in some muscle memory, so when it’s time to speed up, I’ll be speeding up with proper form, rather than falling back on bad habits.

I’ve definitely learned a bit from this:

1. In my newbie paranoia about muting the high E with my palm, I’ve been holding my palm far away from the neck. This shortens the practical length my fingers can stretch, and makes it necessary to use my elbow, wrist and shoulder, to make up for a job my fingers are supposed to be doing. By letting my palm rest on the back of the neck more, my fingers have more space with which to move, and my arm no longer needs to compensate.

The human body is that adaptable. If you tell it, ‘You need to do X without doing Y,’ it will find a way, and it will remember that way (whether or not that way is good for it).

2. I’ve been making my arm do work meant for my fingers. My fingers have callused (mostly – my pointer and middle fingers have been resisting callusing nearly as wel as my ring and pinky fingers), but there hasn’t been much sensitivity at all. Now that my fingers are doing the work rather than my arm, I have felt a bit of tenderness while playing. Not a lot, but more than I’d ever noticed before. I’m considering that a good thing – it means my fingers are working to press the strings. Not my wrist. Not my elbow.

So, it may be a little while before I move back to the electric guitar with any serious plan of attack. I’ll be sticking to practicing on the acoustic for a while, until those chord forms feel more natural. Once they do, I think it’s going to make everything easier to deal with, especially if in the process helps teach me how to minimize how far off the fretboard I’m letting my fingers fly, and gets me to loosen up a little. I know I’m still fighting an upward battle against tension. When I’m relaxed, everything goes pretty well, but it’s a shot in the dark when that’s going to be. I feel like I need to take up meditation again to teach myself to relax through this guitar stuff, but it would totally cut into my practice time. I’ll get the hang of it, though. I think it’s probably just the nature of a beginner to think too hard, and all that hard thinking makes your muscles just as hard as your head.

So, to make things a little less hard on my head, tomorrow, I’m planning on some light guitar-related shopping.

First stop: new strings for my bass. I’m playing on the ones the guitar came with, but I think they sound a little blah – just kind of flat and dead. I’m honestly not sure what I’m looking at in bass strings, if the same brands that I’ve taken a liking to with my guitar will be the brands to stick to on bass, so I guess I’ll just wing it.

I know on the electric, I’m mostly using D’Addario strings. The guy at Keyport Music suggested the super-lights the first time I went in, and the last time I bought regular lights. I kind of feel like they’re good all-rounders, so seem the most practical choice of what I can easily get locally. I’ve also tried Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys, which I hated the first few times I played them – they sounded horrible, but after a bit of play, the sound quality became really different – deeper, somehow. I reallly like the worn in Ernie Balls now, but it’s not worth it to buy them if every time I change them they’re going to take a week or so before I think they sound good.

So, I have no idea what direction to go in with the bass. My Ibanez is really lightweight, which I think probably plays an important role in my choice, but I’m really not educated enough to know what that part is, or what the best choice is going to be. I also have no idea what strings it even has on it out of the factory. I’ll just have to see what they have in the store and fly blind on it.

I’ll also be picking up another set of strings for my acoustic. It doesn’t need them yet, but it will, and when it does I want to have a backup set on hand. That one’s easier – I know the acoustic is sporting martin strings, and I like them, so while I’m sure there are more than one kind, at least it narrows things down.

Second Stop: Barnes & Noble – to shop for my first (sort of) guitar/bass/general theory-type book thing. Can that get any more vague? lol. I kind of know what I’m looking for, and am just going to have to trust I’ll know it when I see it, and that I’ll know it quickly (I won’t be shopping alone.). I’ve got a ton of stuff bookmarked as maybes on Amazon (including books recc’d to me in previous posts), but it’s really going to depend a lot on what’s in stock when I go. I really feel like a music book is something I want to flip through before I commit to. Having downloaded a few free ebooks/pamphlets on the subject, and having deleted almost all of them after reading only one or two pages, I’ve learned really quickly that there’s a certain ‘attitude compatibility’ required here. A lot of these authors have just rubbed me the wrong way on a personality level, so I couldn’t imagine reading an entire book, whether the information is good or not. And, others have been right up my alley. I have a secret love for the Guitar for Dummies book, even though I’ve only barely tapped into it, because of a playful writing style, a good sense of humor, and a way of handling the information that is easily accessible. The first two might not be important to everyone, but I’m a book junkie first (majored in Literature, which means I might not have any big money skills, but critical thinking is one thing I’ve got down cold), and they mean the difference between me absorbing information, and glossing over it thinking ‘this ass is just wasting my time, and his grammar sucks.’ Shitty grammar is hugely distracting for a book geek; you’re just going to have to trust me on that one.

Music books, like music teachers, it seems, really have to connect. You have to find one written by someone who thinks and interacts with the world in a similar way to the way you think and interact with the world.

So, what I’ll be looking for is a really straight-forward, accessible, well-written book that’s geared towards beginners, and if I’m lucky, the author will also have a good sense of humor. It definitely has to cover some beginner to intermediate music theory; that obviously becomes important on the bass way sooner than the guitar. But, even more than that, the simple things: reading music, a general learning way to familiarize myself with terminology. Beyond that, well, we’ll see what strikes me. I can look up articles online about whatever has me puzzled at the time, and that’s helpful, but I think at my current level what I really need is some step by step, where I can get a sense of item B building on the foundation of item A. I don’t imagine myself amassing a huge collection of music books, but it’s definitely time to find something that can bridge the gap between what my hands know, and what my head understands.

Also in regards to shopping, I have absolutely no idea what to even look for in a practice amp. Well, some vague idea – probably a little combo amp in the 10-20 watt ballpark, but beyond that, I’m pretty clueless. Everything I read about bass amps just makes my head hurt. Hopefully I’ll have a better grasp on that subject soon. I really need to think about buying something to practice with in the house. I have a tiny little mini-amp to use with the guitar, but as far as the bass? Nada. It’s Rocksmith or no amplification for now. That’s something I’m really going to have to put a little aside for and start thinking about, because as helpful as Rocksmith is, it’s not the end all and be all. I need to just noodle around, too, to sort of get a feel for things without worrying about timing, or keeping pace, or playing songs. I need ‘experiment’ time with the bass, and with background noise in the house, that’s not practical without some minimal amplification, so I can hear the notes clearly over things like televisions and washing machines.

If you want to throw out some suggestions, I am all ears. Best bass strings for a low end Ibanez? For a player most interested in all sorts of rock, punk, and blues? The best book you purchased as a beginner, and what you love about it? Good little baby bass amps on a budget that would suit a beginner (or guitar amps, for that matter, the mini amp is fine for practice, but I’d rather have something I can plug in, so I don’t have to keep buying batteries.)?

Until Next time, prepping for some weekend guitar stuff shopping, and taking things slow and steady.

4 thoughts on “Strings and things

  1. Bass Guitar for Dummies is the one I’d recommend for theory. There’s a companion book called Bass Guitar Exercises for Dummies as well, which has a lot of stuff to drill. Both are by Patrick Pfeiffer.

    For reading, The Hal Leonard Bass Method Complete (by Ed Friedland) is great. Its all baby-steps. I’m working through it myself right now.

    I can’t talk much about amps and strings. I don’t follow gear too much. I rarely plug into my amp. I tend to just do everything unplugged, but its probably less noisy here for me than it is for you, except for when the baby’s hanging out with me.


    1. Yeah, it’s not as if my house is hugely noisy, but with the electric I do find working with the mini amp on 1 or 2 gives me a lot more clarity than working unplugged over the ambient noise. Just a tiny bit of amplification is all I need. But I was able to get a mini amp for the guitar for $25, so there was really no gamble there.
      Even on eBay, the cheapest of the cheap used bass amps with a few repairs needed are landing closer to $50-70. If I’m going to be spending a decent amount of cash, I want something that a) I don’t have to fix, and B) is going to last me a while.

      It’s not really me being big on gear, so much as wanting to make the best choices to complement the bass I have. I’ve read a few bassist interviews lately, and more than one mentioned that there are ‘magical’ bass + amp combos, and ones that just don’t sound that great together. It’s made me paranoid about making the wrong choice, even though I know at this phase, most likely anything will sound good. Lol.

      I’ve tried a few different types of strings on the guitar – there can be a real sound difference! But I swap those out fairly frequently, so I can afford to take my chances. Bass strings get changed much less often, so I’m just hoping I hit on one’s I like the first time, because if I don’t, I’m stuck with them for a while. That is also definitely more noticeable amplified.

      I’ll take a look when I go if they have those books. I’m on a budget, so it will be a one book trip, since I also need to buy strings. I have Guitar for Dummies, so that would make sense. I’m not sure what’s best for me right now, with the 3 different instruments – a bass specific book, where it’s becoming relevant faster, or a general theory book, that I can then apply across the board. I’ll just have to see what strikes me. There probably isn’t one answer that’s better than the other, since all 3 instruments are closely related.


  2. Bear in mind – theory is universal. What you learn, theory-wise, on bass will apply to the guitar and uke, although their tuning is different.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, just not sure what approach is going to have the best ‘feel’ for me yet. Lol. I’m not really huge into the idea of theory just yet, but I do know I need to get my feet wet, at least enough to increase my comprehension of online reading. It’s a balance I’m trying to strike – get to a point where articles don’t require extra googling to comprehend…without boring myself stiff in the process. Lol.


Your Comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s