Multi-tasking and heavy-handedness

I am a chronic multitasker. You might have noticed. 🙂 I’ve been this way as long as I can remember; I just need a lot of mental activity, or I get bored really, really easily. So, I think the ability to keep several balls in the air simultaneously is something I take for granted.  At the same time, small details, organization, household chores – the drudgery of life – are things I don’t particularly excel at.  I live in a perpetual state of organized chaos.

It’s Sunday, and today’s agenda involves painting, ukulele, bass, guitar, and, if I can motivate myself (a pretty big IF) some household chores. I will be bouncing back and forth between the first four all day.  …and of course, in the middle of all that, writing this blog post.

And, I tell you this to give my most recently discovered newbie problem some context. I am just not used to doing things in a linear format. Some people like recipes. Some people look in the spice cabinet and go ‘well, what’s the worst that can happen?’ Nothing wrong with either, really, but that when you give someone who works from recipes a bunch of ingredients and say ‘just cook’ they might have trouble conceptualizing. How much should I use? In what amounts? Which ingredients should I add first? What, precisely, am I cooking? And, the exact same thing is true in the opposite direction. If you hand me a recipe, I will get excited. I will say ‘oh, this looks awesome! I’m going to try it.’ And, I will mean to. I will have every intention of doing just that, exactly as written. But, I guarantee that by the time it hits the table, at least three ingredients will have been either swapped, removed, or proportions of the spices will have all been changed to suit whatever sort of food mood I’m in that day.  And, that’s only if I don’t lose the recipe first. If you tell me not to stray from the path, to measure everything out carefully, I can do it, but there’s an unreasonable amount of concentration involved, and once I’m done I’m going to want a nap more than I want dinner.

So, when I hit one of those moments in the learning curve when I realize that I have to stop and do things in a linear order, it’s a little frustrating.  This happened to me while working on the Simple Plan song last night. I can not sing to this strum pattern. I can strum it. I can sing it. I can not do these things simultaneously. Since I can sing along with the strumming for the Flaming Lips song, I think it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that that will follow through regardless of the tune, but that’s just not realistic. Being able to sing to one strum pattern does not, by default, mean you can sing to all strum patterns. It only means you can sing to that one specific strum pattern.  And, it means that until you get the next strum pattern down to the point you no longer have to count it out in your head, you are NOT going to be able to sing to it.

What that means for me is that there is literally no way for me to multitask my way through the Simple Plan song. I have to take my time. I have to just practice the strumming over and over and over again until I’m no longer thinking ‘down’ on the down strokes and ‘up’ on the up strokes. Only once I get to that point will I be able to stand any chance at all of singing along with the tune. And, it means I also have to acknowledge that when it comes to the next strum pattern that I’m not familiar with it’s going to be right back to square one again. It’s a logical, sensible process. It makes sense. It’s just like cooking from a recipe. It’s just also a little tedious, so I don’t think I’m going to be able to learn my second song as quickly as I learned the first one.

When I got bored of that last night, I moved onto the Ukulele Handbook.  What’s funny about this is that it started talking about exactly what I noticed in yesterday’s post. That certain chords “go” together. I now know these are called Chord Families, and have in my arsenal the C Chord family. Last night’s reading added Em and Dm to my ukulele repertoire. I do need to practice them, and more practice on G7, to memorize them and be able to switch between them easily, but I wasn’t going to get started on that at 3 in the morning. I learned that they’re a family because all the chords chords use notes from the same scale – the C Major Scale.

Now, the Ukulele Handbook handles the introduction of scales and notation in such a perfect sort of way. First, it teaches you two chords, and puts together a song to practice (and suggests other songs with the same chords). Then, it adds a third chord. So, in theory, you have an arsenal with which you can play several songs before it even says the word scale. And it only starts mentioning them in relation to chord families. It lets you notice that all of these chords work well together, that there are certain ones that don’t feel like the end of a song and kind of call for you to hit another chord to finish it, and only THEN, after you’ve noticed these things, does it explain that that is because they are all part of the same scale.  This has to be the most brilliant approach I’ve seen in any lessons for any instrument I’ve touched so far. It’s an A to B to C approach, but one that is arranged in a way that it lets you make your own observations, and only THEN explains why you’re noticing the things you’re noticing. It gives you the context first, then the technical jargon.  AND the technical jargon actually leads into the next lesson, because it uses the scale to then lead into melody, and playing individual notes, and in the span of 1 page you’re playing a part of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Now, that may be a boring thing to play, BUT it’s a really clever way of building the knowledge base. The Ukulele Handbook doesn’t top load data. Instead, it presents it when it’s the most applicable and when you’re likely to get the most out of it.  I wasn’t too overly excited about it when I picked it up, but the more I read through it, the more I realize it’s really a pretty great little book.

Onward to guitar land. I learned earlier in the week how to use a blow dryer to remove a pickguard. Why, you ask, was I worried about this? Well, since I rebuilt the POS guitar, I had one. A pretty one. I didn’t end up putting it on the POS since it was still not playable when I was done, so I had this pretty folksy pickguard that I paid money for just sitting on a shelf. I decided to swap it for the generic black pickguard on my acoustic. Maybe if it’s prettier I’ll feel more inclined to pull it out?  In any case, I learned how to do this because I didn’t want to waste the guard I bought, really. It was pragmatic, and I learned a new thing. Cool.

I’ve also realized, or possibly re-realized, that I think part of my issue with my guitar sounding like a bear being tickled when I try to play it is that I fret the strings too hard. I strum the strings to hard, too. Actually, I’m just plain not gentle enough when I play. At all. Not even close. So I get a lot of horrible sounds and everything is pretty much a disaster. This doesn’t really come up on the bass because bass strings require more pressure, but on the guitar it seems each string has it’s own unique pressure needs. It’s apparently my newbie default to just press them all equally hard, which makes everything sound like crap.

Adding to that, my strumming hand isn’t particularly gentle on guitar either. It’s like I’m trying to muscle my way through it. So, on the guitar end of things, I apparently need to learn to treat the guitar more like petting a kitten than wrestling a tiger. Until I can smooth that problem out, I’m probably not going to be able to really progress much on the guitar front.

That said, I think I’m going to buy some heavier gauge strings. I hate the lighter gauges, and I see that the guy from Sam Ash sold me extra lights, which I know I can’t stand on my electric. I’m going to hunt down some inexpensive medium or medium-lights and see if that feels better.

Until Next Time, I’m good at acknowledging the problems. Fixing them is a bit more trial and error.

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