I have been meaning to write a post for a few days now about all the happenings, but my head has been swimming, and I haven’t quite been sure where to start.

Open Mic Observations

Wednesday, I did my first open mic. I won’t go into too much detail, since I am NOWHERE near being able to play an instrument at one of these things, and went to go do poetry, BUT it is relevant to this blog because there was literally not a single mediocre or bad musician in the place. As someone who is only just learning her first songs on ukulele, trying to decide what song to make her first song to learn on bass outside of Rocksmith, and mostly making offensive noises that sound like a bear being tickled on guitar, it was superbly humbling – like THIS is the level you have to be at to even play at a coffee shop on open mic night and avoid making a fool of yourself. YIKES.

I have a long way to go. Of course, I know that, but the reminder was the last thing I needed when I was sitting there in my corner trying to gauge wtf poems would be best for a room in which there is nothing but musicians. (Fucking hell. Not a SINGLE other poet? Really? I know it’s an art form that’s been having death-like convulsions for at least the past twenty years, but talk about awkward! I’ve done poetry-specific readings and mics before, but facing down a room of musicians with nothing but paper in hand was nothing if not awkward. I felt like a sideshow up there.) But, I digress…

I’m sure most of you have figured out by now that my brain is always on, looking for new data, so of course I used the time to make observations.

Observation #1: 

When they say “open mic” what they really mean is “a bunch of people who play guitar watching a bunch of other people who play guitar, and once in a while a poet or comic shows up, and we’re nice to them even though we think they’re bizarre creatures who we don’t fully understand, because we’re cool like that”.

Observation #2: 

Because of this everybody and their mother, and their cousins, and all of their uncles and aunts, play guitar, I have absolutely no way of gauging polite applause from actual, genuine enjoyment. If I was a comic, it would be easy; there would be laughing. Everything else? Who fucking knows…

Observation #3: 

I think I saw more fingerstyle players in one night than I have seen in my entire 34 years.  I remember one guy playing with a pick. One. Wth?

Now, I’m a bumbling moron with a pick, so of course it’s got me wondering about comparing the two…though, realistically, I know until the bear in my guitar stops wailing every time I pick the darn thing up, this sort of information is probably way beyond anything I should be fussing about right now.

So, after seeing so much stuff up close, my head is swimming and I feel a little bit overwhelmed. It’s not the same as going to a concert. At a concert you go in knowing ‘these people are professionals’, so it’s easier to not get quite so blown away. But, at an open mic, you kind of get this idea that there will be some really good acts, and some that you’ll laugh about for years to come. The fact there were no bad acts set the bar too high on Wednesday, and I have no other mixed open mics with which to even gauge what’s standard. It hurts my over-used brain.

Recently, in Ukulele Land…

…things have been going fairly well, all said. I’ve been fiddling a bit with the Amanda Palmer song, which is structurally not complicated, has nothing but easy chords I already know, but presents a few unique challenges that I’m not sure I’m ready for quite yet.  The way the lyrics interact with the chords, the placement of pauses, it’s going to take some pretty careful breaking down that, for the time being, I don’t quite have the mental energy for.  So, I’ve mostly been running through the chord progressions on the first half of the song. They aren’t complicated, but for some reason my memory is just not latching onto them.  I think it’s likely for the above reason. The Flaming Lips song has a very simple rhythm that’s super easy to pick out and roll with. Everything stops and starts exactly where you would expect.  Since the Amanda Palmer song isn’t quite so formulaic, it’s proving a bit tougher to memorize, even though the progressions are technically really easy.

Sooo…in light of my previous post on the subject of me learning things, I’ve been running through ultimate guitar and all of the ukulele tab sites, trying to figure out what to learn next.

Observation #1:

Some of the music I listen to is more obscure than I realized.

For example, why does Mike Errico not exist AT ALL on any tab site, anywhere? He has CDs. Bands I thought I would never find tabs for are turning out to be surprisingly available, and yet, there is not a single tab or chord sheet anywhere for this song:

…which I actually would really like to learn. It’s a great song. But, apparently, that’s going to be a WAAAAYYY down the road lesson, because until a) my ears are trained to pick out specific chords and b) I know enough chords to even start identifying them …there is no way I am going to be able to figure this one out.

ALTHOUGH, the handy thing about youtube having only the live version of this song (seriously, I heard this song on the damn radio in the late 90s. How is it this obscure?!) is that I can see he has a capo on the 3rd fret, which means in the parallel universe when I can identify the chords used, I’ll probably only have to move it up 2 for the ukulele, instead of 5. Yay for less counting!   And, maybe once I learn more chords, I’ll be able to pick most of them out by watching the shape of his hands in the video. All hope is not lost! But, I’m definitely playing the long game on this one. I’m not going to be able to piece it together until there is way more information on my head.  Looks like I’m going to HAVE TO learn guitar properly if I want to figure out how to play the songs I want to play on the ukulele.

…I never CAN do things the easy way. 🙂

I’m also surprised there aren’t more ukulele tabs for Chris Cornell’s ‘Euphoria Morning’ album, because the vast majority of it would translate really well.

‘Can’t Change Me’, for example (hey, it’s another capo on the 3rd fret! Weird coincidence…) …why does an ukulele version of this song not already exist?

Mind you, this one I can transpose myself, since there is a guitar tab (literally, one, maybe two. ON ALL OF THE INTERNET.), but for the moment it’s also on the back burner.  There are too many chords I don’t know for me to try to tackle it just yet.  And I admit to being intimidated by chords with symbols and numbers and backslashes, and random strings of letters…it might as well be written in Sanskrit for all the sense I can make out of it (for now).  BUT, once I can read guitar-krit properly, I will totally try tackling this one:

So, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my ipod and post it notes, scribbling down anything that I might want to learn. Then I take those notes to the internet, look up tab, and then my brain explodes and I put the post its away and start over.  It took me a week to find a song that it looks like is probably about at the level I need to be working at right now, so I have officially started working on Simple Plan’s “My Alien”

…which actually has ukulele tabs! (WTF? This song has ukulele tabs, but a song like ‘Can’t Change Me’ can barely be found at all?’ My brain…it hurts…)  Thus making my life easier. and I know all the chords in it, though I have barely played Am at all (it’s super easy though, one finger. Guess which one I use. 🙂 ), so it’s still a good song to work on.  The strumming pattern for acoustic is simple in theory, but going to take practice just to get myself up to speed with minimal eff ups, so that’s mostly where I’m at at the moment – just working on the chord progression and the strum pattern. I’m not even really trying to play through it yet.

I do admit I cheated on this one after the Flaming Lips brain-bender: I looked up an acoustic version to listen through for the strum pattern, rather than working from the original. On the up side, it took me all of 20 seconds to figure out the strum pattern from the acoustic version. (YES! PROGRESS!)

As for the Cigar Box Guitar…

Given my current overload of learning, I’m not going to officially start tackling that just yet, but I’ve been gathering things. I bought strings in both of the most common tunings (Open G and Open D), and neither of these is what this thing was originally strung with. I honestly think the guy just strung it with the top 3 strings off an electric guitar and called it a day.  For now, I have it strung in Open D, but I don’t think that’s going to be my long haul tuning. The strings are so thin I feel like if I breathe on them funny their going to snap in half.  That’s probably just bass brain looking at them though. Bass strings just feel better. These puny, skinny strings are uncomfortable, and so darn…treble-y.  Of course, that’s probably what most people want for what the CBG is built to do, but it displeases me. So, there. Open G should be an improvement, but it’s become pretty clear that it was originally set up in Open E tuning, and I’ve  got a feeling that’s what I’m going to be happiest with in the long run.

Other CBG adventures involved finding slides small enough for my tiny ass fingers. The smallest one I could find easily was estimated for a 6.5-7 ring size. Since my ring finger is slightly less than a size 6 ring, this did not bode well, but after some hunting I found a few smaller ones (bookmarked for later…) It turns out the size small Dunlop slide works out for my ring finger alright, in spite of that finger being about a 5.75 ring size. Pinky is going to be a slide problem, but I found a few 16mm(ish) slides. Rocky Mountain Slides makes the Monarch and Columbine ceramic slides specifically for women. Paloma makes ceramic slides down to 16 mm. And the winner for slides for tiny fingers is the Voodoo Slide Company, for making a few 16 mm glass slides, and one medium thickness slide in 15 mm – this is the smallest slide I’ve found anywhere.

I have yet to find a metal slide small enough, but there is a theory about copper pipe from the plumbing section of the hardware store that requires further investigation (and stands to be the cheapest, most durable, option, if it works.

What I find funny about asking around if anyone knows of a slide for very small fingers, is that most men can’t quite process how small ‘very small’ is. Beer bottles have been suggested. “I have small fingers, too.” Really? Do your fingers fit in children’s rings? Because if they don’t, that will not be small enough.  Granted, there are plenty of super petite women much smaller than me, who I’m sure have much bigger first world problems than I do, but I have trouble finding rings that will not fall off my ring finger. So, I knew slides were going to be an issue.

That said, seeing as I really have enough on my plate, this probably isn’t something I should be worrying about much right now.

As far as the bass…

Limited time has me mostly using it with Rocksmith, running through songs. That’s going well for the most part, but I do need to get my butt back to the lessons. Hopefully, this weekend I’ll be able to spend some solid time at that.

It’s also time, I think, to start tackling the bass in similar ways to the ukulele – trying to legitimately learn actual basslines to songs I like. Trying to learn things and REMEMBER them.  This is a different tactic than Rocksmith, because I’m just following along in Rocksmith. I don’t have to memorize anything unless I decide to torment myself with master mode (which, I don’t, at least not just yet). Still, there is something to be said for having a distinct goal in mind that wasn’t fed into your head by a computer program, so I’m thinking about what bass parts I want to learn first.  I’m considering ‘One Headlight’ by the Wallflowers

…because someone posted it within the past few weeks, and it sounds pretty straight forward. Good a place as any to get rolling, really.

Until Next Time, trying to be more decisive and organized than comes naturally. 🙂

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