Cranking up the volume doesn’t make me play better, but it does mean I’m having more fun playing badly.

I took a few days off of practice. Okay 2 days, not too bad. It wasn’t really a conscious plan, but Friday night was hectic, and I thought I might be coming down with roomie’s cold for a bit there, so just wanted to chill, drink lots of water, have some soup, and do nothing more than I absolutely had to (this was apparently enough, I’m totally fine in spite of being surrounded by sickies). Saturday I spent half the day sewing my costume for next month’s festival, so by the time I sat to relax that’s really all I wanted to do. I thought about pulling out one of my instruments to fiddle with, but in the end I just needed to veg a bit, try to get my head on straight.

I need a new plan of attack for this guitar thing. I’m still having a hard time motivating, since I’m so atrociously bad at chords. I’m also not trying to blame the guitar, but on some level I’m trying to blame the guitar. I’m not comfortable with it. Part of that is that I genuinely want a lighter guitar, but part of it is also me trying to divert my dissatisfaction at my own progress onto something external that I can blame. It’s not the guitar’s fault that I suck at chords; I just have this little voice in my head wishing it was that easy and looking for something to blame. I DO want a different guitar (I actually have my eye on one, but it’s not a high priority under the circumstances), but I also know that a different guitar is not going to be a magic bullet that fixes everything.

I’ve reached a point that I need to spend some solid non-Rocksmith time with the guitar. The only way to move forward, I think, is to sit down, and slow down. Sitting down will take the pressure off of my shoulder from trying to play a guitar that’s just plain too heavy to be practical for me right now. (I’m kind of a shrimp – apparently more of one than I thought, since when I was buying my bass strings at Sam Ash, the guy assumed I was playing a short scale. I’m not.) Maybe I need to add a decent strength training regimen to my exercise schedule (something I’ve been meaning to do, but damn, that stuff is mind-numbingly boring…), I think a stronger core, back, and shoulders will only be to my advantage in the long run. As for the slowing down bit of the equation, it’s become really apparent that until I work my way through this chord forming problem, I can not keep pace with Rocksmith. Trying is hindering progress, not helping, so all I’m able to do is repeat ‘easy’ progressions, which are predominantly single notes and some double stops, the very occasional chord. This is not helping me progress because it’s not working me on the things I need to work on – just the ones I can already mostly manage.

I have finally gotten a proper little practice amp for the guitar, thanks to a sale on…you guessed it, Musician’s Friend. Funny thing is, I wasn’t even going to check that email advertisement, but something made me click on it, and in my scrolling I found a little 10W Rogue practice amp for $19.99. Okay, full retail on it is only around $35-40, but that’s still a good deal. It had good reviews and 4.5 stars, so I decided to snag it. I haven’t wanted to work much with my fender mini-amp because its battery powered, and I don’t want to keep spending money on 9V batteries for the thing. The adapter for a wall plug is screwy, so battery is my only option for it. My hope is that the new amp will encourage me through this rough spot.

I only got to fiddle with it for about 15-20 minutes last night, but so far, I’m really happy with it. For a $20 practice amp, it’s kind of a pint-sized badass. The sound quality blows the mini-amp out of the water (and it was cheaper! The fender mini cost me $25!). It can get some decent volume, I think. I have not experimented much yet due to being short on time, but I was playing it on around a volume of 2 or 3 and it had plenty of punch. Most importantly, it made the guitar I’ve been so unhappy with produce a really nice sound (when I was actually able to play something properly. Lol). It doesn’t solve my issues with the weight, or getting comfortable playing with it, or my inability to form power chords without bending my wrist really dramatically, or my general chord problems, but liking the way it sounds is a good start in learning to love it again.

Not to shabby for twenty bucks!

I’m still really torn about replacing the guitar. On the one hand, it’s not going to magically fix my problems. On the other hand, if I have a guitar that I’m more comfortable holding, I won’t have the same level of resistance to picking it up. But, will that be lasting? It will be more comfortable to hold, yes, but I’m still going to have the same problems with technique, so as time goes on, I could very well end up exactly where I am now, dragging my heels, gradually having a harder and harder time motivating myself to pick it up. The guitar I have my eye on may only be in the $200-250 range, but that’s still a lot of money to spend on something that isn’t guaranteed to make my guitar life any better.

In any case, it’s not a decision I’m going to be making tomorrow. A practice amp for the bass is the next item on my guitar to-do list (ordered this morning! I sold stuff to fund it, and found a reasonable price thanks to stalking ebay for them. Lol.) The bass, unlike the guitar, IS comfortable to hold, DOES feel good in my hands. I’m still having a lot of Rocksmith fun and making regular progress. (I’ve surpassed 90% on the Legato lesson, unlike the guitar, where I’m trapped at 75%).

Actually, I’m up to about 92% now.

I was having a blast last night, playing Everlong by the Foo Fighters.

And, I reached 96% completion in the first 4 plays. 100% is around the corner, there’s just this one part that keeps hanging me up. There are some relatively fast switches between the E and A string that I’m a bit slow and clumsy for just yet – but not by much. Once the eyes to brain to hand communication translates that part faster, I’ll get through it, but it’s going to take more than 4 play throughs.

I have noticed though, that in Drop D tuning, I’m getting buzzing on the E string. I might be plucking the strings a bit too hard, so that’s something I have to investigate.

The D’Addario strings do sound better now that they’ve broken in a bit. I did grab a few discounted sets of strings off ebay though, for when it’s time to switch out, so I can try something different. I grabbed some ernie ball slinkys and dean marksley nickelsteel strings – I think both in ML, but kind of forget, and don’t feel like going to look right now (laziness, at its finest). It’ll be a long while before I try either, but I feel better having backup strings on hand.

I haven’t really read much of the theory book yet. I need to really do that reading when fully conscious, not a handful of paragraphs at a time with my cell phone flashlight when I’m about to lose consciousness. Lol. Reading before bed is a delicate balance. The last thing you read before bed has all night to knock around in your subconscious and really sink in, but you have to be awake enough to absorb it in the first place. On the other hand, too awake, and you don’t fall asleep anyway, which would be a little self-defeating.

I’m thinking about the palm muting lesson on the bass a bit. I am definitely a bigger fan of fingerstyle than picking. There’s a place for both, sure, but switching in the middle of practice to grab a pick is such a nuisance. Palm muting is possible fingerstyle by tilting the hand, but then switching back after the muted section takes too long. I’ve got to spend some time experimenting with different things there. I ordered a few felt picks for the bass and ukulele to try out, but I don’t think I really care for the feel of them. I don’t know, I’ve barely touched them, which I’m thinking implies a certain degree of aversion.

I’ve also noticed, thanks to my Rocksmith time, that there are some bass lines that I can ‘feel’ better than others. I have no idea how else to describe that. Sometimes I’m following the notes on the screen, other times I’m following the beat of the notes. It makes me wonder what percentage of memorizing songs is the repetitive process of memorizing note progressions, and what percentage is just getting a feel for the flow of the song and being able to summon up the right note at the right time because you just have a sort of impression of where the song is going. I get an impression that ‘learning songs’ is a combination of those two things – that you memorize notes half by the dedication and hard work and repetition, and half by developing a sort of musical intuition. Only time will tell if that deduction is right, or if I’m way off base, but it’s a sort of impression I have at the moment, so I’m throwing it out into the universe, for better or worse.

Until Next Time, intuiting my next bit of hard work.

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