The Funny Things That Happen

Last night went pretty well on all fronts. In spite of limited hours in the day, I was able to spend a little time with all three instruments – if not as much as I wanted with the bass and ukulele. Even so, after my fumbling recently it was a pretty good practice session all said.

I started with the guitar and Yousician, and I actually survived the lesson I was struggling with (barely. I think I was probably one note from face-planting with it again, but I unlocked the next lesson, which means things did go better.) My time with Yousician, strangely enough, is making me reanalyze my thumb position (again), as I find in order to survive the lead path, my thumb needs to venture further down in the back of the neck, which I don’t see in many of the lessons on youtube, but I do see in images of classical guitarists. I’m finding that classical position is the only way to get my fingers to move in the way required to keep up with the busier parts of the lead path in this program, which makes me think the lessons may have been intentionally written to force you to find the classical hand positioning early on. I’m not entirely comfortable in it, and have not had time to analyze what my wrist is doing in that position and if everything there is kosher.

Trying to keep up with the notes has really prevented any deep analysis of weird wrist bends, and the short practice sessions mean they wouldn’t be causing any discomfort if they were happening, but if I can replicate the hand position without yousician forcing me into it, I should be able to get a good look at it. What I have noticed is that it allows me to fret the strings on a much straighter angle (good), but that it keeps the palm of my hand QUITE far from the guitar neck (probably less good, or at the very least, something that is bound to produce mixed results). Still, working with the acoustic is probably good for analyzing and ironing out hand positioning, due to the thicker neck, and something that I can then tweak when I get back to the electric. I do sometimes feel like my acoustic is set to swallow me whole, but I guess at 5’4 with a small frame, that’s normal. I don’t feel like it’s impeding my ability to play or anything. I feel like my inability to play impedes my ability to play, but not the guitar size in relation to my size.

In any case, I discovered last night that, in Yousician, if you do horribly enough, often enough, it will ask you if you want to work on the song in Practice Mode. YES! Goodness, yes! Yousician, why did you not mention you had such a feature earlier?!! In practice mode, you have the ability to slow down the track and speed it up as needed, and the practice loops until you end it. So, I found myself clumsily drilling ‘Oh, Susanna’ for most of my guitar time. When I went back to crack the lesson…well, I got through it, so yay – but I won’t delude you into thinking it sounded very much like ‘oh, susanna’ when I played it. Even so, I hit most of the notes, which couldn’t have been further from the truth when I started the practice session, so I’m calling this one a success.

Next up was bass. I knew at this point in the night that I had a limited amount of time and two more instruments to cover, so I went straight to the Harmonics lesson. On limited time, I decided to tackle a lesson that I could make some progress with in 15 minutes, and Harmonics seemed to be the right one for that. The night before I’d gone from 0-50% completion, so I wanted to see how far I could get with it in night two. I’m up to about 98%, so it’s just a matter of focus to complete that one. I’m still missing a note or two, but it’s not as if I’m missing the same one every time, so it’s not as much a matter of technique keeping me from completing that lesson as it is about just memorizing the progression, staying focused and getting the timing down. All the notes I miss are just barely misses, stupid fumbles, and being just a hair off the fret, so it’s just a matter of time.

I like to finish my bass time with a song, so I topped off the evening with another run through of Green Day’s ‘X-Kid’. I’m in pretty much the same place there as with the harmonics lesson –trapped at 99% because I miss one or two notes. No big deal. I’ll get it eventually, and I got 98% accuracy on the one run through, so it may not be forward progress, but my ability to play that song is remaining pretty stable. It was 9:45 at this point in the evening, and I have to haul out of bed at 6 am, so time to call it quits on bass due to time constraints if I wanted to work with the ukulele at all. I would have liked to give the bass more time, but living close to an hour from work means I have to chop up what little bits of time I can for my various interests, and 15 minutes per instrument is better than skipping one entirely if that’s all I can squeeze in on a given night.

So, I started ukulele by running through the Flaming Lips song a few times. I think I can safely say I’ve “learned” that song now. I still screw up a bit here and there, but I know the pacing. I know the progression (though I admit I don’t think I ever play the closing instrumental the same way twice. I don’t care. I kind of like it being a little improvisational there.), and it’s just a matter of repetition until I can summon up all the lyrics without a cheat sheet.

After that I cracked out the Amanda Palmer song. I know all the chords in this one, so you would think it would be pretty easy to pick up, but that’s not quite turning out to be the case. It’s not difficult, per se, but I’m having some trouble nailing down the right strum pattern. The funny thing about that is the chords I pulled up for it say it’s d d u d, but when I play that, it sounds nothing even remotely like the song. I think there’s something more going on here, so I’m trying to sleuth that out. I’m hearing a sort of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 beat, and it sounds like there’s something palm mutey going on in the strum pattern. (Maybe this is what is referred to as a chuck?) So, I have to fiddle around and try to replicate that strum before it will be even worth it to memorize the chord progression. So, I spent some time with the video up on youtube, just working on the pacing, trying to replicate the sound of that strum, and finished off the night with just some noodling around. The cool thing about the ukulele for me is that my noodling sounds like music, which isn’t true for guitar at all, and is only sometimes true on bass. But, with a few chords under my belt, I can crack out something that sounds like music on the uke most of the time, so it’s fun to just fiddle with it with no real goal other than to just fool around and put sounds together, and that gives me more chances to fiddle around with different strumming patterns and tempos.

So, as I fiddle around and try to figure out the strumming on ‘In My Mind’, I’m also thinking about what to learn next. I’m making a list, but a lot of them are just a wee bit too complicated just yet, or have too many chords I don’t know. I know a handful of ukulele chords now (G, C, D, F…and I kind of know A (or is it Am?) and G7, if they’ll just stick in my brain), and there are a bunch of songs I can play with just that, but I’d like to plan my learning so that each new song teaches me one chord I don’t know. I don’t want to overwhelm my brain, so I’d like to learn in a cumulative way, where each song adds a new bit of info, or skill, that I haven’t tackled before, and in a way that that learning will be engaging (learning songs I want to play), and build towards songs I don’t know enough to play just yet.

A lot of the songs I want to learn contain, for example, either a Dm or an E chord. I know E chord is a bit tough on ukulele (it’s a 4 finger chord, if I recall), so I’d like to pick a song next that contains only chords I know AND Dm. That means a lot of looking up songs, using Ultimate Guitar to quickly transpose them, and see if they fit the bill. So far, they all contain a few other chords I don’t know, so this weekend, hopefully I’ll be able to dig around the internet and find a song that will fit the bill as the next one to tackle. Hopefully, I’ll have the time, between household chores and the Punk Rock Flea Market. (Yes, I just put those 4 words together in a sentence, and no, I did not make this thing up. There is a punk rock flea market in Asbury Park this weekend, and that is something that sounds weird enough I NEED to see it in person.) I will be dragging a friend along, who does not like punk but kind of wants to see it anyway, claims it may be “anthropologically fascinating” [insert Bones imitation here], and anyone else I can bribe into it by reminding them it’s about 3 feet from the beach. Lol.


Flea market aside, I think this will actually be a really solid way to tackle learning songs on guitar, too, once I’m a bit less clumsy.

Which brings me to another funny thing that happened:

I’ve noticed lately that not only am I making mental lists of songs I’d like to learn, but that each song is qualified by what instrument I would like to learn it for. The Flaming Lips tune I specifically wanted to learn for ukulele. I don’t care if I ever learn it on guitar or bass. Someone recently posted a link to ‘One Headlight’ by the Wallflowers (man, that’s nostalgic!) and I thought: ‘I might like to learn the bass line for that song.’ It’s really bringing my attention to what aspect of the songs I love pulled me in in the first place, which is a really strange sort of mental shift to notice happening. There is a subtle change in the way I listen to music happening, which is a really odd thing to notice.

I’ve also found there is a Ukulele Club in New Jersey that supposedly meets once a month, so I’ve joined them on Facebook, and we shall see if anything comes of that. I have no idea where in NJ they meet, so that will have a huge part in whether or not I can go to any meet-ups, but at the very least it looks like lessons and events are occasionally posted to their FB page, which means I’ll be able to keep up on what ukulele-related stuff is happening in my state. There’s also a ukulele festival here in NJ in August, with workshops, so I’d love to go to that, because I think I would learn a lot, but it seems out of budget for now. Will have to see if I can put aside enough to fund it. It’s pricey, and a bit of a drive, but it probably would be a bargain depending on what the workshops are. I could stand to learn a lot if I can afford to go.

Until Next Time, still trying to divide my time as evenly as possible, and sometimes I succeed.

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