Small Steps, and a busy, musical month

I know, I haven’t been a very good blogger this week. I haven’t had much to say, and I’m probably close to two weeks behind on even reading blogs. What can I say? Well, I got sucked into another art project. I harbored no illusions that it was going to land in my lap, but that doesn’t change how time consuming it is. As I type, I have both photoshop and rocksmith open. I’ve spent the day switching between those, and my ukulele.

There’s not a heck of a lot to discuss this week, owing mostly to the fact that my practice sessions have been sacrificed in favor of drawing company logos – which is far more time consuming than you might think once you add in all the spit and polish. As a result, the things I want to do with my very limited “free” time end up not getting done, and both practice and fitness have been lax all week.

The end is, hopefully, in sight, and with some luck, I should be able to get back to wasting my life on music properly soon. As it is, most nights I’ve just had to pick one and say ‘this is all I’m going to be able to work with tonight. There’s no time for anything more.’ A lot of nights, that’s been a 15 minute practice, but 15 minutes is better than zero, I suppose.

When things are going badly, it seems the best thing I can do for myself is grab the bass, and the Ramones:


I went from about 30% completion to 98% in about 5 minutes. Really simple, fun bass line here. I’m trapped at around 99% right now, like on so many others, because of one random note I keep missing. Though, to be fair, it does tend to be in the same little piece of the song every time, so that’s just something I have to iron out. Even so, I attacked this when my motivation was low, and I just knew I wasn’t going to really be able to sink my teeth into anything too complicated, so seeing my percentage go up on an easy song is much better on nights like those than watching myself bomb lessons that I know, most nights, I don’t have too much trouble with.

Speaking of lessons:


I reached 100% completion on the harmonics lesson for bass this week as well. I haven’t yet on the guitar front, but this has far more to do with me still fumbling around like an idiot trying to switch strings on guitar than with the lesson being overly complex. I just can’t get where I need to get as fast as I need to get there a good percentage of the time, and I haven’t yet felt motivated to really sit with it.

With that in mind, I’ve been spending most of my guitar time in the Guitarcade. Every day, I’ve been starting in the string skipping saloon, since I am still having trouble with that on guitar. I suspect this has as much to do with the proximity of the strings as it has to do with their being six of them. It just requires a finer level of motor control than my four string instruments that I clearly have not developed yet.

I’ve also been spending time with Castle Chordead – which is a minigame for learning and practicing chords. I’ve unlocked the 2nd progression tonight, and with that realized something fairly interesting. The first progression is all power chords (my nemesis, as well we know by now). The game basically starts you off with moveable power chords. F5, G5, C5, E5, A5, then on the third and final level of the first progression, D5.

In the 2nd progression, it starts out by teaching you Em. Then Am, and adding those to the chords you learned in the first progression. The pathways and places you go, the storyline, are the same. The game acknowledges this by saying things like “this is looking really familiar” and other quirky little remarks. As a result of only adding two chords I already know, I’m working through the 2nd progression much more quickly than the first, since I’m finally starting to get the hang of power chords. It does seem like a strange choice though. Maybe that’s just because power chords have been harder for me, so  it seems like it shouldn’t be where you start. Em and Am, alternatively, are very easy chords, so it’s an interesting tactic to not introduce them first. I am sure there is a logic here, and it may be that, really, once you can manage the stretch required for a power chord consistently, something like Em should be no problem at all. Or, it could just be that it’s called ROCKsmith, and power chords are really at the foundation of rock music. I don’t pretend to know what the creators were thinking here, but it’s an interesting choice.

I do find myself pausing the game often at the boss battles. I get to a point where my hand is just screwing up as a matter of it being tired, or it could just be that I’ve become bored with it for the moment and need a break to get my head back on straight. But, I don’t want to start over from the beginning of a level that I’m not having a problem completing when I’m about 5 minutes from the end of it, so I end up just pausing it, doing something else (like writing this blog post) and then getting back to it.

In any case, I think, at this moment, the most important thing for me on guitar is to just keep drilling the basics. There’s really no way for me to move forward until I’m more comfortable just switching strings and chords, so I’m backtracking for the time being to the bare bones. It’s easy with these programs to say ‘well, I got through it, so let’s move forward’, even if you may not technically be ready to do that yet, because ‘getting through’ a lesson is really not the same thing as being comfortable and competent with it.

As far as the ukulele, I’ve still been practicing with it every day, but I’ve been scattered. Mostly I’ve just been running through the same things, and practicing one or two new chords a bit (f7 and Bb were on the agenda today). F7 is a little stretchy, but not too bad. Like G7 and C7, it seems to have a very islandy sound. Maybe all the 7s are like that? I don’t know enough about music theory to explain why that is, but any time I play a chord with a 7 on it, it just has this tonal quality that seems to be sort of tropical, at least on the uke. I don’t know any 7 chords for the guitar. I should learn one or two and see if it has that same sort of tonal flavor.

But, today I decided to look up a new song to start practicing a little. I got it in my head to learn “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. Why? Well, for starters, because it’s a great song. And, also because I suspected it probably wasn’t extremely complicated. Also, I know the lyrics pretty well, since we used to sing it in music class ad nauseum when I was a kid, so if there’s any song out there that I might be able to sing while playing, I suspect ‘Lean on Me’ may very well be the one, since the melody was deeply imprinted on my pre-pubescent brain so firmly that most of the lyrics may, possibly, be etched into my DNA.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to sing and play at the same time, as evidenced by the trouble I have doing that in general, but it did seem like it would, potentially, be a good place to start working on that.

So, it was off to youtube today, where I found this lesson:

…which I will definitely be revisiting over and over again.  I’m not up to speed where I can play along with him. Basically, in the few minutes I spent with it, I just take the first chunk, pause the video and work through it, repeat it. Then try the second chunk.

This is actually also something new and interesting for me. It came up a bit on guitar in Yousician, and I bombed it horribly, but the switching between notes and chords thing is something I haven’t mastered. This is a pretty simple progression, though. You’re basically walking your fingers from one chord to the next one, so it’s a good song to start drilling that, too, just…working with both individual notes and chords within the same song.

Ten Thumbs – who put out the video, has tons of other uke tutorials, too, it looks like, so I’ve subscribed to their channel so I can easily revisit it later for other lessons to work through.

So, things are happening, but there’s not a lot to discuss at the moment, really.

August IS a very musical month for me, though. Next weekend, I will be heading to PA for Musikfest. The following weekend, I’ve made plans to head down to the Stone Pony for Social Distortion (funny thing, that – they hit the summer stage every year, and I miss it every year, but a friend randomly posted asking if anyone wanted to go with her. And I thought, ‘you know, actually, yes.’), and then the final weekend of the month is the New Jersey Ukulele Festival put out by the Folk Project. I know almost nothing about this festival. The website hasn’t even posted the schedule (why. It’s this month, and I need to plan, darn it!). But, what I do know from the write-up is that there are supposedly workshops during the day, and vendors, and a concert at night. As someone learning, even at the high cost of admission ($65 just for Saturday) this is really more than worth it if there are going to be workshops where I may be able to learn things from people who don’t live inside of my computer.). And, maybe I’ll be able to make new friends, who like ukulele and I can geek out with. It’s unlikely, since my Grumpy Cat face tends to scare people a way, but a girl can dream. 🙂

In any case, I think my fingers have taken a long enough break. Back to rocksmith I go!

Until Next Time, planning a very busy musical month as well as I can.

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