Then again, I haven’t ridden a bike in 15 years, so I’d hardly call myself an authority on the subject.

You may have noticed, but I’ve been talking a lot about the ukulele lately. It’s stupidly fun, and the adorable little thing just brings a sense of charm and joy to the room every time I take it out.  And, I love my kala uke. LOVE. It just plain feels nice to hold. And, I’m making something with it that actually sounds like music! It’s pretty addicting.

And, because it’s addicting, I admit I’ve been neglecting my other instruments. Just a little. I have been fiddling with the bass, mostly running through scales and boring stuff like that that’s not really worth posting about, but I haven’t spent much time in Rocksmith, which means I haven’t spent a heck of a lot of time trying to keep pace with a beat, and that – it turns out, has been a huge mistake. Not the rocksmith in and of itself, but the not doing much work trying to keep tempo with an external source, because tonight, when I finally had some solid time to devote to it, it took me a good 15-20 minutes of idiotic fumbling just to re-remember the length of the frets when I don’t have time to look, to not fall behind or rush ahead…the first quarter hour with the bass tonight was kind of a disaster.

And, I’m still having issues with mutes, so decided, after one run through of each of the muting lessons, that tonight was not the night to aggravate myself. I was doing poorly in general, so piling on something I’m doing poorly at wouldn’t be good motivation. Instead, I cracked into the harmonics lesson, which I had tapped into on guitar, but not on bass, so I didn’t bother watching the lesson and went straight to the practice track. Once I got to 50%, I decided I’d reached a safe place to stop, before aggravating myself unnecessarily. Better to spend the first day back on timed exercises doing things that are light to moderate difficulty, wait until I’ve got my sea legs before I start tackling those harder lessons again.  And, that was the right choice. I thought I’d finish off the bass for the night in Score Attack, and was running through ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’. I knew the hard version of this song got a bit busy, and I won’t say I did an amazing job, but I got through it with a bronze, which is better than I’d anticipated.

AND, that was the very first moment in Rocksmith that I have unlocked a new song. Yay! So, you know I had to test drive it before I called it a night.

I did also spend some time earlier working on the Flaming Lips song with the ukulele, and it’s coming along nicely. I don’t pretend it sounds just like the original (for various reasons including the ones mentioned in the previous post on the subject), but I think it’s recognizable, which I think is as much as you can anticipate out of a newbie who decided to play alt-rock on an instrument not exactly known for the genre. (I don’t care. It’s more fun this way. 🙂 )

I know I haven’t talked much about guitar lately. It’s been low priority because the bass and uke are so much more fun (and easier. Did I mention easier?)  It’s not that I’m not working with the guitar – I am making sure to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to it.

And this is where I introduce the program I’ve been experimenting with: Yousician. I don’t know how I stumbled across this. I’m pretty sure facebook advertised it at me until the clickbait overwhelmed me. It is a subscription service, but you do also get a bit of time (with advertisements) each day as a free user, so I’ve been investigating that program a little.  The format is similar to Rocksmith, but there are also differences. The same basic concept comes into play – these are great programs for people who don’t do well with the standard methodology. They’re designed to engage multiple senses simultaneously, which just works better for some people.

Rocksmith is designed to be easy to follow visually. It is also designed so you can pick and choose what to work on. This is great, because it means if you’re stuck on a lesson, you can move onto the next one and come back to it, which saves you a lot of getting frustrated because you sometimes just need to look at something else for a little while. Or, if you’re so inclined to drill the same lesson for days or weeks on end, you can do that, too. You play along with actual songs, and it sets the strings up in the way that they are set up on the guitar, so when you are looking at the strings on screen, the low E is on top.

Now, that’s the opposite of how music notation is written, so while it’s great for a beginner, as I try to learn to read tab and music, it’s also making me a little dyslexic.

Now, Yousician, by contrast, follows a step A to B to C approach. You have to unlock one lesson to move on to the next one. With Rocksmith, you choose either lead or rhythm path. You can switch that choice at any time, but with Yousician they exist on a grid side by side, so you can flip back and forth between them and work on them with roughly equal pacing. And, Yousician sets the strings up the way you would see them on tab. After working with Rocksmith, this is killing me in Yousician.  I have to stop, try and remember which string I’m looking at and which string that equates to on the guitar.  I’m fumbling. A lot. The chords I’m doing fine with, because all the ones I’ve hit on so far I already learned, but when it comes to the lead path, playing individual notes, switching between the strings is a complete disaster. I’m going up when I should go down, down when I should go up. Sometimes, I’m not going at all because I’m staring at the screen trying to figure out where I’m even supposed to be, with the notes racing ahead before I can quite process where my finger is supposed to go.  So, Yousician is going to be a problem for me until I’m used to reading “upside down”, which I’m not. I have to stop and think about which side is “up” every time I look at tab, or a chord diagram.   And, it’s drawing to my attention how desperately I need some good exercises to just get my fingers used to running back and forth between the different strings. The string skipping saloon in rocksmith is a great option for that, but since the lines are switched with the low notes on top (more sensible for guitar, but non-standard) it’s actually just going to hinder things.  I think it may be time to find a song that is notes rather than chords on the guitar, that spans all six strings, just get my fingers used to moving up and down and side to side.  I was doing alright with that in Rocksmith, when I was prioritizing the guitar, but my problems with the electric guitar have hindered that, and having not done those exercises in a while, I find my fumbling even worse. I’m not going to be able to get any solid Rocksmith time in to run through the guitarcade and retrain my fingers until I replace the electric, which, budget being what it is, is not going to happen any time in the immediate future, so I’ve been working with the acoustic instead.

That’s another difference between Rocksmith and Yousician – rocksmith utilizes a USB to guitar cable, so is designed for an instrument you can plug in. Yousician utilizes your computer’s microphone, so you can use any guitar. I don’t think one is better or worse, but the approaches each have their strengths.

Rocksmith is a program with a lot of variation to keep you playing and prevent you from getting bored. Yousician baby steps you through it. Your first chords are O and X, which sounded perplexing until I found out that meant all strings open and all strings muted. From there you learn what it calls “mini” chords, where you’re only using one finger here or there. Then it moves up to your easier chords, Em, Am, then E, then C, then G.  Each step of the way it brings you first through the new chord and O chord, and then through variations that include the chords you’ve already learned.  So Yousician spends more time reinforcing old information.  Rocksmith doesn’t have a set program for learning chords. You either learn them through guitarcade games, or you look them up in the chordbook and learn them through fumbling your way through songs.  So Rocksmith is more versatile, Yousician has a more stable sense of curriculum.  Rocksmith is a one time fee for the program, plus whatever add ons you feel you want in your collection, or if your cable happens to be a dud a month out of the box and you need a new one(yes, this totally happened to me), that will cost you a pretty penny. Yousician is a monthly fee of $9.99 if you want unlimited play (otherwise you get something around 15-20 minutes of active time, which amounts to roughly half an hour when you include clicking through menus and watching videos (which do not always work, btw).  Now, I personally don’t think I’d feel inclined to pay 9.99/month for a program whose videos only work 80% of the time, but for free, I can google how to form that chord and go about my day. Both make good supplements to other avenues of study, but I think one will probably appeal more to a different type of student. Yousician is more structured. Rocksmith is more versatile.  I’m not married to either program, but if I had to pick one over the other, it would be Rocksmith – more bang for your buck, more stable overall, better looking. But, Rocksmith is also a very ‘you get out of it what you put into it’ kind of program, and that’s not going to be the best way to learn for everyone, because it’s very easy to avoid the things you’re not good at, and so never get better at them. And both programs I feel are more supplementary; they are not going to teach you guitar without external resources filling in the blanks. Then again, if you want to learn guitar, chances are you’re looking things up anyway.

In any case, they’re helpful, but not enough that I can say ‘I can play guitar now’. I can’t. I’m atrociously bad at it. I gain constant insights at what I’m doing wrong. Fixing the problems is more complicated than finding them, though, and with only limited time, I have backseated it a bit, and am going to continue to for the time being.  The basic problems in form are correcting themselves little by little as I practice the bass and ukulele, so I think it’s mostly a matter of consistent, if limited, practice, and patience.  I can’t keep pace with Rocksmith on guitar anyway, so while it’s a really good tool for me with bass, it’s just not working for me for guitar, and until I can switch strings at faster than a snail’s pace, it’s not going to, so I’m back to the drawing board on the guitar front once again.

Until Next Time, working through it. Some days are better than others.

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