Sometimes, when you realize something in life, it’s obvious in retrospect, so much so that you don’t want to admit to it. You know I’m going to anyway; if I didn’t, I’d be defeating my own purpose in writing this blog.

Actually, I meant to post this almost two weeks ago, but life runs away with us sometimes.

I’ve spent a little time with the bass and guitar in Rocksmith, but there’s really not a lot to discuss there. I felt so run down after so many active weekends in a row, that I really didn’t spend as much time with instruments as I had hoped I would. Especially the guitar; I have been neglecting my guitar. I want to work with it, but I also know that it’s an instrument that I am only going to aggravate myself with if I push past the point of mental clarity. Starting out on practice already past the point of mental clarity, I spent a little time with string skipping in the guitarcade, then in scale warriors, which I am doing abysmally at on the guitar end because I’m still so poor at string skipping on the guitar, really, but it’s not like I’m not making progress- it’s just very slow progress. Then I spent a little time in score attack, and realized, there was just no way I could go further with the guitar that day. I was so tired even the strap against my shoulder was driving me to distraction for absolutely no reason.

Before that, I had started off with the bass, and for the first time in a while wandered into the lessons menu. I knew there was no way I was going to muster the patience for palm mutes, but I thought I might be able to work with the frethand mutes lesson, so I pulled that up. First course of action, watch enough of the video lesson to remember wtf a frethand mute even is. A mute with the fretting hand, clearly, but beyond that, my brain was just not pulling up data, so I reviewed the first half of the video lesson to jog my memory. I went into that lesson at 66% completion though, and knew I hadn’t worked on it much since I couldn’t even remember what it was, so it couldn’t have been one I found particularly aggravating. So, I knocked that up to about 86% completion, then called it quits as I noticed my hands losing accuracy to repetition and the desperate need for a nap. I ran through a few songs in the Learn a Song section, cracked another 20% on one song (went from 30-something to 50-something percent completion), upped my percentage on another song, and ran through Everlong by the Foo Fighters once. Still trapped just shy of 100% on that one, but really, I’m at 99.7% completion, I believe, so I harbored no illusions of cracking that one when I was far from top form anyway. It’s sheer luck that’s going to crack the 100% mark on that song. It’s not complex for the most part, but there’s a part in there that I think is nothing short of a miracle that I keep getting through it.

So, I went back to staring at the TV a bit, but I’m a chronic multi-tasker, so even when dead on my feet, that never lasts long. I decided to pull out the ukulele and start kind of casually working on another song. I ran through ‘Lean on Me’ once to kind of warm up. I’m still fiddling with the outro there – the original is written for multiple voices, so with only one it becomes pretty redundant. I’ve been trying to sort of abbreviate it or embellish it a little to add interest, and I’m still not sure how to iron out parts of it. But really, as long as I keep working with it, I’m at a point where there’s absolutely no reason that I shouldn’t be looking at tackling another song at this stage.

I decided to pull out that Amanda Palmer song I want to learn again. I just know that song is fairly easy, if I can just pay attention to where the switches are, and where there’s no strumming going on at all. I knew it would be a bad day to work through the whole thing since I was tired, but I saw no reason that I couldn’t start to break down the first verse, at least, and practice that ¾ time strum a bit. Whenever my mind turns off, I tend to drop into the calypso/rock/whatever name it’s wearing at the time strum, so I knew I was going to have to spend some ‘brain off’ time just going D-DU D-DU, and working on the chord switches, and I figured sitting in front of the TV, dead tired, that would be a good part of the process to work on when my head just isn’t in the game. I spent a good 20 minutes or so with that, then decided to try to listen for where the chord changes fit with the vocals. For some reason, I was having a hard time on that with this song. They just seemed to not be happening where I expected them, so I spent a good half hour erasing the first half dozen words and chords and trying them over. There are places where the switch is in the middle of a word or phrase, so even though it’s an easy song in terms of chords and strum, these somewhat unconventional switches make it a little harder to figure out by ear, especially since the vocal part tends to drown them out.

This is where we get to my ‘duh’ moment. Since I was struggling, and since I was feeling unmotivated and lazy, I decided to just pull out the chord chart and see if I could get anywhere with it rather than writing out tab.

…and that’s when I noticed that the chords are labeled exactly where the changes happen. Literally, the sheet I’ve had sitting in my folder for weeks (longer?) was already arranged in a way that told me what I was trying to listen for (and in this particular case, failing at). I tried to sing/play my way awkwardly through the first verse.

Well, I’ll be damned. That’s really fucking obvious, isn’t it?

Totally should have noticed that WAY sooner. But, I think it’s normal to not notice really obvious things. As a beginner, there’s so much data, so many complicated things, so many small details, that there’s always going to be something that gets overlooked even if, when you realize it, your very first thought is: ‘I’m an idiot’, quickly followed by, ‘I should have tried that first,’ and ‘Today, I learned…’

So, I basically spent the rest of the day alternating between trying to sing and play the first few bits of the song, (which is understandably easier when you are reading a piece of paper that tells you when to switch rather than when you’re just trying to figure it out by listening and/or making wild guesses), and just practicing the strumming pattern.

This is another one I know the lyrics to pretty well, which seems to be the way I have to work for now. The whole thing seems to be much less painful a process when I can virtually sing the song in my sleep.

I may find later that I’m totally wrong about this, but at the moment it seems like which part of the process I’m auto-piloting depends on what part of the song I’m in. Sometimes, it’s my hands I’m not thinking much about. Other times, it’s the lyrics. I’m guessing there’s a degree to which my auto-pilot alternates to whichever part of the song happens to be easier at the time.

When neither part of the song is ‘easy’ or ‘automatic’, what seems to happen is that my hands slip into the calypso strum, since that’s the one I’ve practiced the most. The autopilot there seems nice at first, since it’s a really widely used strum, but I have to train myself out of it, since it happens to not be the strum used in any of the songs I’m currently learning.

I guess, at the end of the day, for a beginner, the only thing to do that will keep you from getting too frustrated at a lack of progress is to pick songs to learn that you love so much or know so well that losing track of the lyrics is almost impossible. At least, that’s proving to be the case for me.

(for sake of keeping accurate track, this post was written before the uke fest posts, back on 8/24.)

Until Next Time, squeezing out what time I can, and trying not to ADD too badly.

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