Sound Waves & Spray Paint

Music. Writing. Art. And whatever the hell else I want to talk about, damn it.

More thoughts on the F Chord, and Barre Chords in General

Well guys, it’s 3 AM as I write this post. Yes. 3 AM. The time of night when any sane person is unconscious, but I’m shaking off barre chord practice because that’s just apparently how I roll on a Saturday night. The house is quiet, Roomie’s asleep, and I’m not far behind, but as long as I don’t use a pick, I can keep things quiet enough to not disturb anyone.

Earlier tonight I threw out a sort of unproductive, frazzled post, because at 9:30 it didn’t really seem like I was going to get anything particularly productive done, but in the end, I do seem to have made some progress, so I wanted to write up my thoughts now, before I go to sleep and forget them.

So, here’s a list of dumbass things I did that I now realize were problems.

1. Getting my shoulder in on the act: I’ve had this habit of dropping my shoulder as if that miraculously would make the rest of my hand work better. I knew I was doing it, but only really ‘after the fact’. I had to really pay attention to start to break this habit. My shoulder isn’t fretting strings, so the idea that I have to move it into a different position for my fingers to work properly is just silly.

2. Trying to use strength: This is a bad habit I’ve had all along, really. I have this terrible habit of subconsciously thinking ‘press harder’ is the answer to bad technique. It’s not, obviously, but when notes don’t ring clearly, my hand tries to apply more force before my brain catches up. It’s absolutely no help that tutorials all say that barre chords, and chords in general require “strength”, creating a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Barre chords don’t require “strength”; no chords do. What they require is muscle control and accuracy. Learning how to use the small muscles in your hand with precision has fuck all to do with how strong those muscles are.

3. Forming the barre too far from the fret. This is the one it took me the longest to notice. It requires infinitely less work to hold a clean barre when the barre finger is almost on top of the metal fret. Every millimeter behind it makes it harder to get the notes to sound clearly, and easier to tense up/try to pinch the fret/apply too much force to compensate/etc. I’ve had it in my head that a 4 finger chord with a barre, like F, was going to test the limits of my ability to stretch my not-very flexible fingers, but that has been in part because I was under this false idea that my finger needs to be completely behind the fret, that the front or side of my finger need to be utterly flat there, and that’s just not so. It’s actually a remarkably small strip of skin that’s forming the barre, so if my finger looks like it’s overlapping the fret, well, it’s not, and that’s right about where I want it to be to get a nice, clean sound.

What it really comes down to, I think, is that we beginners tend to make things way more complicated than they need to be. I am still running into some issues with my pinky knuckle locking/flattening, and muting the string below it, and I have to train some muscle memory into my hand. Tomorrow (er…today…) I’ll do a bit of practice with just forming the chord, taking my fingers off, forming it again, to train a bit of muscle memory into it, and probaby by next week I’ll start practicing switching in and out of it with some other chord.

Ultimately, what it looks like from where I sit tonight, is that barre chords are hard to learn because the process forces you to break the bad habits you didn’t notice when you were working just with open chords, and those bad habits you’ve formed – whatever they may be – get in the way of learning barre chords until you can identify and overcome them, but from where I sit tonight, I think I’d probably say “barre chords aren’t hard to play, they’re only hard to learn to play.” And, I think, hopefully, from this point, now that I’m able to play a clean F chord 9 times out of 10, progress should be steady, rather than the stops and starts I’ve had up to this point.

Just some thoughts.

I still owe you guys a post on the Steampunk World’s Fair, and probably several nature photo posts. I’ve got another new song in the works. I still haven’t finished the intro to guitar course. I was planning to get some of those things done this weekend. I don’t rule out the possibility of doing SOMETHING tomorrow, but it’s already 9:30 pm here, so Saturday has apparently been a bust. I didn’t even go to this month’s open mic.  None of my household chores are done.

I’ve been slacking quite a lot. Today I’ve spent most of the day alternating between working on my F chord, playing Assassins Creed II (yes, I know, way behind the times. I wait until games are cheap, okay?), and reading a bazillion articles about Chris Cornell. My head still isn’t quite willing to wrap itself around the fact we now live in a world where there will be no new Chris Cornell songs. Before I had a digital music library, I listened to Euphoria Morning so many times that I killed the CD. I had to buy it again. Then, the second copy got slightly murdered, too, so my digital copy still has one or two tracks that are a little fucked up. I need to replace those tracks, I really do. It’s still one of my favorite albums of all time, and every time I get 3/4 of the way through ‘Flutter Girl‘ and then start hearing the scratchy noises, I sulk about it, then my irreparably bad attention span kicks in and I forget about it by the time I get home until the next time I listen to the track.

So, yeah, sufficed to say, I’m not really in the right frame of mind to babble happily at you about the bands I saw at SPWF this year. That post is going to end up being pretty darn belated, because I don’t really want to be like ‘oh yeah, these bands were great, WTH IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD?’ That’s sort of how things have been for me for the past few days, though. I’ll just be going about my life, and then I remember one of my musical heroes just died, and I get shot into ‘reality sucks’ mode for a bit. I thought I’d maybe do something rare for me and try to learn to cover one of his songs to help me process, but no dice – he’s just too damn good (or I’m too bad, or both, you pick. lol).

So naturally, when reality sucks, I work on guitar stuff that’s hard, like barre chords. It’s coming along though, really. My hand tires out quickly, but it’s coming along. My big problem points right now are:

  1. My damn pinky. I’m having a hard time not flattening it out (and therefore muting the strings below it).
  2. the B string. Of all the strings, B is the one I’m having the hardest time to get to ring clear consistently.
  3. My…er…knee. Yes, you read that right, my knee. I seem to have this absolutely horrible habit, when I’m not paying attention, of planting my elbow on my knee to get a better angle. I’m not sure what this is about, but I suspect it has to do with the way I drop my shoulder when I rest my elbow, so I’m trying to be really conscious of NOT doing that. Being able to play barre chords only when my knee is in the equation won’t do me a damn bit of good.

So, for now, I practice a few minutes at a time, starting at the 3rd fret and working my way up to the first. I’m not at a point where I’m attempting to switch in and out of it yet. For now I just want to be able to get a consistently clear chord and get used to how it feels under my fingers. It’s slow progress, but I’m inching my way there.

In other news, I don’t know. I’m still working with the music note app for a few minutes most nights right before bed, but I’m taking my time and not moving on to a new note until I’m pretty confident of what I know so far, so it’s going slowly, but it’s going. I’ve got several proper posts to write, but I’m moping, so just updating you and letting you know I’m still working on things, and will hopefully have something worthwhile to talk about soon.

In the meanwhile, I’ll just leave this here:

New Tune: Wake Up Dreaming

I have some steampunkery to talk to you about from this year’s festival, but I haven’t taken the pics off of my camera yet, so I’ll have to get back to that later (soon…ish), but in the meanwhile, I’ve been roughing up a new tune. Been debating on calling it ‘Wake up Dreaming’ or ‘Masquerade’, but for the moment I’m favoring ‘wake up dreaming’ even though that line only actually appears in the song once.

This is another weird one – though I admit it might be time to admit that I think they’re all weird ones because the writing process is bizarre.  It started off as all these fragments of Alice in Wonderland references, and death, and when it all started coming together I realized it was a song about alcoholism. Go figure.

Wake Up Dreaming

Years are moments in disguise
I’m a broken wheel still spinning
I see the sorrow in your eyes
I know that heartbreak leaves you reeling

But we all wake up
This is all just a masquerade
We dream in colors and tricks of light
The words we wake to speak relate
A tale of time still being chased
through an upside down we can’t quite place<
And we dance
like dancing is everything we have
Through worlds that we don’t quite understand.

So, I don’t know.
maybe it’s true that we all do die alone
And the markers that we leave behind
Aren’t to remember, but to remind
The people that we leave behind
That all things come when it becomes time.

And we all wake up in wonderland
everything you see here is just a masquerade
We break the bones of best laid plans
and lose a little something
for every little thing we gain

We all wake up in wonderland
It doesn’t matter what you might have planned
If it’s a choice between screaming
and waking up dreaming
I don’t think it’s all that hard to understand:
what we have isn’t meant to last
raven feathers take flight on a page
and it’s easy to get stuck in the past
when you’re busy burying choices that you’ve made.

As long as you keep thinking
you can find the answers drinking
you’ll chase the bottom of a bottle
that makes you smaller than you are
and I don’t know what you’re thinking
that’s not a ship you’re sinking
and this wicked weather digs deep
and it leaves scars

But this is all just a masquerade
you can’t unmake the choices that you’ve made
so I’ll bury the bottle with you
we’ll all talk around the issue
and I’ll see you in the looking glass someday.

Photos: Davidson Mill Pond Park

Funny thing about this park: I’ve been here once before, but the way the gates are laid out made me think it was much smaller than it actually is. Parks in Middlesex County are a completely different creature than those in Monmouth County. They have this habit of doing odd things like crossing major roads, or being utilized as Rutgers satellites, or both, so you can look at a gate and think if you pass it you’re going to end up in someone’s yard, but it’s actually still the park. I’m not quite used to that. The parks nearest home all have houses skirting them, but the only one I know of that crosses a road is Holmdel, and that’s more of a “satellite” than the park just happening to have a road running through it. Holmdel and it’s satellite, Ramanessin, are two entirely different beasts.

But, up in the vicinity of the office, the Parks system is entirely different and these sort of stops and starts are common. Thompson Park in Monroe Twp. has so many entrances it took me ages to even figure out how to get to ANY of the trail heads, of which there are several. Davidson Mill Park, it turns out, is a bit like that. When you pull into the park, what you see is a big empty field and a pond, then an open gate that says ‘drive slowly, pedestrian traffic’ and just looking that way, it honestly looks like someone’s farm at a glance. The first time I was there, I was killing just a tiny chunk of time, so I didn’t wander beyond that point, which made me think there were no trails in which to wander.

But, I have the internet, and with the internet comes an important navigation tool: printable park maps. I learned long ago that you can’t count on the parks system to have maps at the park. They might. They refill them periodically. But, people take them and they run out. It happens. So, I decided to check. And, sure enough, Davidson Mill Pond Park DOES have trails. I just had to park and find the damn things, so I made it my mission on Wednesday evening to do just that. I had to pop by my dad’s house that evening for dog duty (let her out and feed her), and I happen to have to pass that park on the way home from his place, so the opportunity was there and I took it. It was a misty, damp day. The sky was gray. The ground was damp after two straight days of serious rain, but I have sneakers in the car and a camera, gosh darn it. So, I read my map and learned the park stretches in two different directions – one leads along the side of the pond and around near a Rutgers Nature Center of some sort that they’ve labeled the “Earth Center”, the other (which I have not ventured toward yet), crosses Davidson Mill Road and wanders in the direction of Farrington Lake. If I map this, I find there are several other parks labeled that I’ve never heard of before, like “Bicentennial Park”, and “Tamarack Hollow Preserve”, and “Ireland Brook Conservation Area” – which are all in the fairly immediate vicinity and worthy of some research on their own (I may usually end up at Holmdel Park because it’s convenient for me, but variety is the spice of life, as they say) – I will have to put them on my ‘to investigate’ list.

In the meanwhile, here are a few of the shots of my severely overcast evening at Davidson Mill Pond Park (more on the instagram, as usual). I took the short trail that runs along the side of the pond and looped around back toward the Earth Center as my first exploration, but there are still several trails to explore here.



Thoughts on Scales, Barre Cords, and whatever else in between.

I have a lot of thoughts. This post might end up being a little bit all over the place. I’ll try to keep things coherent, but since thoughts and ideas don’t tend to happen in a sequential way without beating them into submission, all bets are off.

I was going to put of writing about the Intro to Guitar course again until I finished, it, but I changed my mind, because I don’t want to forget what I’m thinking about now in favor of what I’m going to be thinking about later.

When last we left on this subject, I was bitching about how learning scales from a video is ridiculous, and – in spite of my love for interactive lessons – said ‘just learn your scales from a damn book’. In case you haven’t been following along to date, I’ll reiterate here that I fall into the kinesthetic/tactile learner camp, so when I tell you to learn something from a book, well, that’s saying a lot.

While I haven’t changed my mind on the subject, watching through the scale lessons wasn’t entirely useless. Do I have any scales memorized? No. Not hardly. No amount of pausing is going to make the videos the most effective way to learn and memorize scales. BUT, I do know that a chromatic scale is all the notes in order and starts and ends on the same note. And, I know that if you assign the first number of your scale as #1, then you can number the rest of the notes in order, and discern from that what the 3rd and 5th etc are.

At a glance, that doesn’t seem like immediately useful information. From a pragmatic point of view, you can say ‘okay, and, so what?’

Well, here’s the thing, the guy who teaches the Intro to Guitar course isn’t great about explaining why he does things in the order he does them in, but each lesson has this magical way of applying the one before it. So, when I moved onto the next block of lessons which starts by explaining basic open chords – and tells you that a major chord is the first third and fifth, and a minor chord is just a major chord with a “flatted” third (move the 3rd back a half step – effectively 1 fret), then it becomes clear pretty quickly that if you know a moveable chromatic scale, you therefore can figure out what the third and fifth of any note is, and effectively are able to build open chords without a chord diagram. Now, that’s handy.

In short: scales are the building blocks we use to create chords and licks. And if you don’t know any scales but are still building chords and licks, you’re still using the scales to do it – you just don’t know it.

So, okay, I still don’t know any scales, but I do know why they matter, and I consider that a good step in the right direction. Knowing why you’re learning something always makes it easier to focus on. All of the instructions and videos I’ve read/seen before this never really explained this in an accessible way, so props to this particular course for building the lessons in a way that makes my brain connect the dots.

That doesn’t mean all of the lesson building is flawless. After one ten minute overview on notation, a few videos later one of the quizzes was in all notation, as if I could possibly have memorized it from that! I was forced to blindly make bad guesses until only the correct answers were left so I could move on to the next lesson block. I may have a terrible memory, but I refuse to believe ANYONE can learn to read music THAT quickly.

So, now I’m on to barre chords. It’s odd to me that barre chords are listed before power chords. Usually I see lessons go the opposite way: open chords → power chords → barre chords. So, hopefully it will be revealed why the barre chords came first here, but either way, barre chords still suck.

Actually, I have some pretty contradictory thoughts about barre chords.

My first thought was that I don’t really see why the hell the guy is teaching us several different barre shapes when, until I can consistently perform a clean barre, the chord part of the equation is moot. So, I spent some time trying to do just that last night – just forming a clean barre. In spite of all the tips and tricks in the video (pull, don’t pinch), this ended up being harder than I felt it should be. I could get a clean sound out of everything but the middle two notes. D and G were muted. If I managed to shift my hand enough to get them to sound, either the high E ended up muted, or the tension in my arm was epic and I could only do it once. My wrist ended up at this horrid almost-right angle that was, to say the least uncomfortable. But, on reflection, that’s familiar – it’s not entirely unlike the issues I had when I was first learning the G chord waaayyy back when. I kept bending my wrist in this insane position as if my wrist could make up for the reach my fingers lacked(news flash: it can’t. Stop trying to do that.).

So, I took stock. Problem 1: too much tension (this is a chronic issue for me when learning new things. In spite of what my brain has to say, my hands still try to muscle their way through things.). Problem 2: Angle. I’m convinced the issue here has more to do with the angle of my hand approaching the strings than it does with finger strength. We talk about ‘finger strength’ a lot in guitar lessons, but in my experience so far, I tend to use too much rather than not enough and I don’t think this is an exception (see problem 1 – tension is a dead give away that I’m trying too hard).

And, here’s where my thoughts contradict themselves. I spent a few minutes trying to get that clean barre tonight, and I realized that, technically, you don’t necessarily need a completely clean barre. You need a clean barre on the notes you’re not fretting with other fingers. Since a barre chord has a barre AND fingers fretting notes the barre therefore technically doesn’t have to be effective on all the notes – just on the notes that you don’t have other fingers already taking care of. And, I don’t know if that’s a productive way of thinking or not, really, but, I am of two minds on the subject at the moment, after all.

In any case, I still have about a week and a half worth of videos in the course, so I will probably have other thoughts, but for now the progress is the usual: my brain understands more than my hands do, and my limited attention span keeps handicapping me, but the momentum is sort of meandering forward.

App: Read Music Notes HN202

Well, I ended up down another Google Play store rabbit hole. Funny thing is, I can’t even remember now what started it, but I found something kind of neat. As it turns out, the internet is full of learn to read music apps. This speaks to my innate desire to poke at things, so I tried a few and settled on ‘read music notes HN202’. 

It’s not all that much to look at, really, but functionally, I like it.

You can select how many notes to work on at a time. The newest note is highlighted in color, and you go until you get 30 correct answers, then it says “You Win!” even though it’s a bit like playing bumper bowling-losing is next to impossible.

I also dig that as you hit each correct note, the note plays, so you’re getting some double duty in on ear training, too. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still going to be a good long while before I can read music, but this is a good start, and if I do it just a few minutes a day, I should at least be able to memorize which note is which line, with that interaction level I need to avoid spacing out.

In other music news, I still haven’t finished that intro to guitar course, but I’m on week 6 of 7, so progress is being made. I’ll talk about that more once I’ve watched through the rest of it.

Photos: Holmdel Park

This batch is from…I think Monday. Still stuck to the area near the pond at this point. I’ve been having some aches in my hip and knee, so wanted to do the same walk that irritated them last time in new sneakers and see if my athletic sneakers are older than I think they are. Sadly, not the case, and my hip still whined as me a bit, so it’s back to the drawing board for hypotheses of why it’s been bugging me. Ah well. 

I did the paved loop in reverse direction compared to the usual, which ended up showing me some cool angles and shadows I’ve never seen quite that way before.

Photos: Plainsboro Preserve

This batch is from the Plainsboro Preserve on Friday evening. I’m always saddened by the fact the Preserve closes at 6pm rather than dusk. It means that I can never get nearly as far as I’d like after work and there isn’t enough time to really explore.

I keep telling myself ‘ someday’,  but also admit the idea of a weekend day trip that brings me so near work is unappealing enough that it has so far thwarted my grand plans. 

Photos: Holmdel Park

Looks like my last photo post was Ramanessin, so I owe you guys a few nature posts.  We’re still fighting with rain and mud here, alternating between unseasonably warm days and gray, damp ones, which limits my options a bit if I want to keep my sneakers in tact, so I’ve mostly been sticking near paved areas for now, only chancing shorter wooded paths, like the Beech Glen loop where these shots were taken. 

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