More fun with Barre Chords, and How People Hear Sound.

I’ve been watching video lessons again.  I know it’s probably going to be a while before I’ve got this one down. I really can’t practice barre chords very long before I’m feeling every muscle in my hand, wrist, and forearm. I don’t know if that’s normal, but I suspect probably.

When I last talked about barre chords, I mentioned I’m working on them on the ukulele before I even glance at them on the guitar, but I’m not sure if I was clear on why.

1. The uke is a smaller instrument with less strings. The neck profile is smaller, the fret length is shorter, there’s less to barre, and it requires less flexibility. At least, that’s been my experience. Of course, this could very well be moot on one of the larger ukes, like a tenor or baritone, where the fret are larger, but it’s absolutely true on my little soprano.

2. Nylon strings. My hellcat is a steel string acoustic, where as an ukulele uses a nylon string. It’s a lot easier on your fingers, so while toughening up this new area of my hand, it probably is going to be a lot easier.

One part of the equation that I think might actually be harder on the ukulele has to do with muscle though. This is all hypothetical; it’s me thinking things through. I may come back to it later and say it didn’t really hold any water. But, having said that, I think you probably get more strength and support from your thumb on a guitar. On a guitar, since the neck profile is larger, depending on your level of flexibility, you sort of have the ability to use more of your thumb to support the barre finger if necessary.  The thumb is the strongest finger on the hand (excuse the argument for now on whether or not it “counts” as a finger.).  In karate, this is one of the first things you learn about locks (well, to be fair, I should say aikido, not karate. The karate school I went to as a kid also had aikido specialists, a wing chun specialist, and a few other things, so things got a little blurry around the edges sometimes, anyway…!) – if you control a person’s thumb, you control their entire arm; if you control their arm, you effectively have control of their entire body. Now, that’s an oversimplification, but this blog is about music, not martial arts. Still, relevant to the point, because your thumb has a really important job in relation to the rest of your hand, and on the guitar, you have enough room on the neck to have a flexible thumb position, that may, theoretically, work to your advantage with barre chords.

On the ukulele, the neck is much smaller, so there aren’t as many places to go, and since there aren’t as many places in the hand to go, so the set of muscles that can be used to support that barre may very well be more limited. Also it’s worth remembering, a lot of uke players (myself included), don’t use a strap, so your fretting hand is sometimes doing double duty by partially supporting the instrument. Mind, it’s only a little bit – the forearm of the strumming hand is also doing part of the job. But, it is something a guitarist doesn’t really have to consider in the same way. A guitar neck might sometimes need a bit of support, but it’s not as if you’ll drop your guitar if the hand comes away from the neck, either.  In any case, it means that with the ukulele there is always a balance to be struck between holding the uke and fretting the notes.  Of course, you can get around that by using a strap, but I don’t want to use one, and I don’t want to make holes in my kala, so there.

In any case, I watched a video today that pointed out that for a barre chord, you should use the bony part of your finger (the side), not the fleshy part. In my last talk of barre chords, I had noticed that the I had one string that I had a hard time getting to sound because it was sitting under the joint of my knuckle and therefore had more room. My answer, at the time, was to move the finger up just a hair so that knuckle joint wasn’t directly on any of the strings, but if I’m supposed to be using the side of my finger, that might actually be moot.  I experimented with this a bit on the uke a bit ago, and it’s not easy. It’s not a miracle fix. I still have trouble getting all the strings to sound – my problem is generally whichever string is at the bottom part of the barre. So, if I’m barring all the strings, that would be the first string. If I’m looking at the Ukulele handbook, in the lesson introducing barre chords:


On D7, I’m having trouble getting a clear tone out of the 2nd string. When I do get all of the strings to sound…there’s no way that can be right, because it sounds out of tune. I may, possibly, be bending the strings a bit, or pressing too hard, but I am definitely doing something that is pulling those strings out of tune, because I have managed to make all the strings on this chord sound a few times, but so far I haven’t managed to make them sound good.

I’ll keep working at it a little at a time. Not much else I can do about it, really.

An update on my Yousician Rant.  After I posted that, somehow, Yousician came across it, and if you look at that blog post, you’ll see they jumped in and tried to troubleshoot. lol.  Someone is going to have to explain to me at some point how the people I write about keep finding my tiny little blog!  It’s so odd.

Anyway, I do know a pittance about IT and programming – not enough to do it myself mostly, but enough that when I say things like ‘this is a sound recognition problem’, it is very seldom that I’m wrong.

One good thing that came out of the encounter was that I did learn there is a way to toggle the screen size. There are three different screen resolutions to choose from, so it’s not wholly flexible, but I found one that looks roughly the same as the windowed mode of Rocksmith, so now the descriptions are legible. I don’t have to squint and tilt my head to read the details about a lesson I’m about to start.

I also learned that I can use the Rocksmith cable instead of the internal mic of my laptop. Now, my laptop actually has a pretty decent internal mic. I use it for poetry recordings, so I know it picks up fairly well, and I know how to fiddle with the sound settings on my laptop for the best results. I say that so that I can make it clear that there is no way the sound recognition error I experienced with the Em chord was happening on my end.  One of the things I liked about Yousician was not needing a cable, because when I started using the program I was using it with an acoustic guitar. I’ve since switched over to an acoustic-electric.  A few night’s ago I got to a lesson…I think called “bard’s rock” or something like that. I know the word bard was in it, where suddenly yousician was not recognizing the E5 chord, at all (I think I might have called it the Em chord in my ranting in the previous post. That was a mental block. The chord in question was E5, not Em. The lesson basically goes from some single note into power chords E5, A5, and G5. G5 I’m still a bit shaky with, but E5 and A5 are super easy to play, and the lesson would not recognize E5 even though I knew there was no way I was missing it every time. It went on like this for two days, to the point I didn’t even use all of my free lesson time on the second one because I was so frustrated with the program.

Next day, I take my acoustic-electric and plug it in with the rocksmith cable. Got through that lesson in first try. So, there is definitely a weirdly intermittent sound recognition problem. Yousician has recognized my E5 in earlier lessons, and then suddenly stopped hearing it properly. There has been no change in my sound settings, and my Hellcat is properly set up – no intonation problems. I can plug in and work around it, but someone with an acoustic guitar doesn’t have that option, and will have to decide if it’s worth the aggravation of not knowing when the program is telling you you’re missing things because you actually are missing things, and when it’s telling you you’re missing things when it is completely not the fault of your playing or sound set-up, but something in the program that has just plain gone awry.

Now, I’m back on lessons that I’m not passing because I just suck at them and am not yet at a level where I can complete them, so that’s fine. Yousician time has basically been sucking, but as long as it’s sucking because of ME, and not because of a problem with the program, I won’t be divorcing it entirely just yet.

Also, have had some really productive music conversations with a guitar buddy from Canada in the past few days.  Some really interesting insights.  He told me a bit about different ways to form chords, which I’d actually just recently stumbled across with the G chord being formed differently in a few youtube videos. I’ve already talked about that, so won’t go into detail here.

We talked a bit about different instruments, and he told me that not everyone can hear the difference between different guitars. That struck me, and it’s kind of stuck with me. Really? I mean, if you’re listening casually, you might not hear it, but different guitars can produce very different sounds. If you told me you couldn’t tell the difference between a tele, a strat, and a les paul in terms of sound, I would probably look at you like you’d spontaneously grown an extra head.  I mean, teles are really twangy. Les Pauls have that deep, meaty sound. A strat sort of…scream and whine(excuse my not knowing terminology or how to describe things. I’m being metaphorical here.).  Mind, I’m not in a place where you can play me a recording and say ‘what guitar is that?’ I won’t be able to tell you, but I would probably be able to make a pretty good guess, at least, if it was closer, sonically, to a strat or a les paul, and work from there.

I just keep thinking, ‘is that really true? That can’t be true, can it? That sounds completely insane. What do you mean people can’t hear that? There’s a reason certain guitar brands are known for certain types of music. There’s a reason teles have become synonymous with country, even though they can do other things.  There’s a reason why people associate schechter with metal, even though it’s not like that’s the only thing those guitars can play.  It blew my mind, and I think it’s going to be running through my head for a bit.

Actually, other conversations I’ve had online are coming back to me now, where a few guys have told me things like “wood only really makes a difference in sound on acoustic. It doesn’t make much difference on a solid body.” And, I took that at face value. What do I know? These guys have way more experience than me, so must be right. But, now I wonder if these two statements are related. If there can really be that significant a difference in the way people hear.

It reminds me, there is a Framing Hanley song that uses what I think is probably harmonics – a sort of bell sound. I forget which song it is.  But, I always remember thinking that ‘stupid bell’ was ‘really, really annoying’ and thinking the song would be so much more enjoyable if it just wasn’t there. Recent conversations have me wondering if maybe not everyone hears that sound the way I do.  I always thought of it as a sort of interference. Every time that little bell-tone went off, it was the equivalent of static on the radio to me. It would pull me out of the flow of the song in a really irritating way, and I love the rest of the song, so it just really irked me.  Now, I wonder if not everyone hears that sound in the same way.

I’ve known most of my life that not everyone sees color the same. My dad is colorblind, so I figured out really young, when dad couldn’t tell the difference between red and pink, that not everyone’s eyes work the same. Not everyone’s eyes registered the same percentage of the color spectrum. I can usually pick up even a slight variation between two shades of a color.  Mom is somewhere in between. So, I realized young that I saw more shades of color than my parents did.  I was a kid, so of course, I figured what I saw was what most people saw, but that some people, like my parents, were sort of “color-crippled” and couldn’t see as many colors. The same was true of smell; we would tease my mothe for having a nose like a dog.  It never occurred to me that the same might be true of sound (In retrospect, it should have.). I know, of course, that some people hear really well and others don’t hear well at all. But, it never occurred to me that people might hear differently, that we might exist in relation to the sound spectrum in a way very similarly to how we exist in relation to the color spectrum; to varying degrees.  My mind is blown.

Until Next Time, lots to work on, lots to think about.

Your Comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s