If my reckoning is right, it’s not 3 sessions I have to record, it’s 5 this time, so let’s try to be concise about them.
Last Saturday was my favourite session: legato, not so much because it’s the foundation of fast playing (I don’t think it is necessarily) but because it seems to be one of those things which come a little more easily. Not that I can reproduce that when jamming but as always I keep the faith that one day it will start to pay off. This time round I pushed myself a little, the exercise was quite straightforward and by the time I reached the final round at 120bpm, it still felt too slow for me to play so I kept pushing it in sections of 12 to see how fast I could play the exercise. I made it to 180bpm and decided to stop because of time, not because it was getting harder. I might have been able to reach 200 if it wasn’t for the fact that I don’t want to undo the things I try to train myself to do by breaking meaningless records when I’m not in my top shape to play accurately. But who knows, maybe next week.
On Sunday I didn’t practice for personal reasons so this got pushed to the following day. That rhythm exercise was reasonably easy and satisfactory to play but I found something interesting. As the exercise basically consisted of 4 ascending arpeggios to play while letting the strings ring at all times, my picking hand started to anchor itself to the scratch plate to make it easier to pick the arpeggios. Now I know it’s a standard way to play but despite having tried to play this way before, it always felt awkward. This time though, it was the most logical thing to do and made the picking easier and more relaxed, and thus easier to accelerate. This will probably only work in this circumstance but it was interesting nonetheless.
On to week 8 and there’s not so much to report on this week’s exercises so far. Playing with Guitar Pro does make it easier to reach the final 120bpm mark so I can really focus on tidying things like making sure extra strings don’t ring, adding some emphasis here and there for flourishing and so on. It makes the exercise more interesting and personal in some way. Finding ease in playing at certain speed over and over again is also very meditative in some way, you can focus on really being into the music, the repetition really reinforcing the concentration.
On today’s bend exercise I would say that although it helps to have supporting fingers to properly do a bend, once you reach certain speeds it just becomes too many fingers to move at once and so you can use the exercise to strengthen individual fingers so they can easily perform the bend without requiring support, a bit like having extra wheels when learning to cycle 🙂
As I was saying in my previous post, my daily routines now involve plotting the exercise in Guitar Pro and playing along my virtual friend (how sad that it has to come to this eh?). The rhythm was the same new one as yesterday and apparently you’re meant to play it in a “triplet feel 8th” manner, which is really hard to explain into words, I guess the simplest way would be have 2 8th notes play as if they were the first and last note in a triplet… I think that’s right. Anyway, as it was a bend exercise and yesterday’s exercise was also relatively bend heavy, my fingertips are now in “building armour – work in progress” mode.
The satisfaction from today really was the fact that at first it was a little tricky to catch on but once I had it under my fingers, it was reasonably easy to jump from one speed to the other. I had to force myself to stop on the very last tempo because it was getting a little messy and I don’t want to force myself to play if there’s a block. It’s best to take it back one step where it’s comfortable and try again on a faster tempo later.
Also following last week’s lesson I got a new backing track, very much in the style of Mark Knopfler and it feels strangely nice to play along. It’s a similar kind of oddness to the one which feels much like La Grange, though I’ve never been either a ZZ Top or Dire Straits fan, I can really dig some of their tunes and the groove that comes with it. Part of it is the comfortable zone they sit in where it’s neither too slow nor too fast, in many respects, metal / shred does feel very scary still but I’m sure that’ll change soon enough. Perhaps I should experiment with more Hendrix-like rhythms too 🙂
Once again I come to report 3 consecutive days of practice as each of them individually aren’t worth a post of their own. I guess practice tends to be like that, when you get keen on something new you found new perspective and things to ponder over but after a while it becomes a routine like everything else.
On Sunday the rhythm exercise was a little different from previous weeks as it involved adding flourishes to the chord progression. Well that wasn’t too bad until, again, I reached a certain tempo. You see, this chord progression though simple in nature G-D-C-G does involve a transition between C and G which has no pivot finger. And believe me transitioning chords at high speeds without anything to hold on to is difficult, regardless of how stupidly common those chords may be.
Yesterday the alternate picking exercise was similar to the one from the previous week, except it involved groups 16th notes instead of triplets. So of course that means more notes to the beat and as they all have to be picked, you find your limits pretty quickly. In my case I managed until 96bpm but beyond that my hands just weren’t responding. And that’s an interesting thing because although at this limit speed, things can get shaky depending on how focused you are, once you cross the line it’s like pulling the block too many in a game of Jenga, everything falls apart, quite literally.
So today when I was out thinking things through I decided to take a different approach to the daily practice and try to combine it with learning how to better use Guitar Pro by entering the lick in Guitar Pro and playing over it this way as opposed to over the provided drum loop which only lasts so long. Of course, today’s exercise was also over a new rhythm, which was interesting since it meant I had to figure out how to map that drum loop in GP6 as well. It took me a wee while to work it out, no thanks to the fact that I know virtually nothing about drums, what parts are called and so on, other than if you hit them hard, they make a lot of noise 🙂 I got there in the end and was able to set out to practice with Guitar Pro at my own pace, which was great. Essentially it meant, not being stuck to a 90 seconds routine where you constantly try to work out how to play the lick over the drum loop. With the guitar playing with the RSE, it’s almost like you’ve got another player playing alongside never making a mistake. You can take a break, pick it up again when you’re ready, it’s brilliant 😀 The best part is, I managed to pace myself to play up to the final 160bpm loop, which I’m quite happy with, though as it involved a few bends, by fingertips don’t quite agree. If I keep going like that I’ll have scales on my fingers … pun intended 😛
It seems to become easier to group several days of practice into one post than trying to write one for each. Especially when some patterns start to emerge from one day to the next. For instance, Sunday being too tired, I postponed the daily routine to the next day so Monday I did 2 sets of exercises and whether this was caused by the slightly lengthier practice, I’m not sure but I seem to have found a break point in some exercises when practicing at more than a certain speed. It’s certainly the case for straight chord changes in 16th notes at 120bpm. That was so fast I’m even questioning if anyone even play chords in that kind of rhythm that fast. I can’t even figure out the best way to grip the pick without it flying off somewhere.
With alternate picking this week, the problem I was having was getting my head round doing triplets slowly. This was interesting in that doing them slowly (i.e 40 bpm) was difficult because I tried to do 1__23 instead of 1_2_3 and fitting the regular pattern within 2 beats was surprisingly challenging, not to mention frustrating. But then, arriving at certain speeds it made it rather hard to keep up and 120bpm was certainly quite hard. I keep telling myself that with time, I’ll figure out how to relax into playing faster and there’s no point trying to force through obvious limits as it’s more likely to do harm than good.
Yesterday I also found the exercise to reach a limit at 120bpm. It was basically octave shaped alternate picking across the E shape of A minor pentatonic and was quite easy until it felt like it was going out of control and my mind wasn’t able to keep up with my fingers, it’s quite hard to explain. It wasn’t an utter disaster but I was surprised by the difference 12 bpm makes.
Paradoxically, today’s bend exercise was supposed to have a “tricky” picking pattern… Well I didn’t have any real trouble with it and pretty much sailed through the exercise, so that just confirms where strengths and weaknesses really lie, and it’s good in a way that I can start to identify which bits I ought to work on more often, and which I don’t have so much problem with.
Finally today I went back to Guitar Pro for some work on Mighty Turtle Head and I’m definitely pleased I invested in the software. One great thing you can do is isolate a piece you want to work on and loop it at the speed you want, and well I did just that and you can get things under your fingers pretty quickly when they loop nice and clearly. I think when I have time I’ll have to return to previous tunes and after fixing the tab, getting some serious work done on some of the weaker areas of the piece.
I wasn’t sure I’d get much chance to pick up the guitar today but as it turned out, not only was I able to get my daily routine done (legato, far easier than sweeps), I was also spoilt for choice working on some songs.
I was kindly sent a good batch of Guitar Pro files having recently acquired it to better my learning of songs. There’s more to pick from than I’ll ever need (in fact some of them will probably have to be weeded out, not being too keen on some of the French stuff) but I took the chance to hunt down the file for The Mighty Turtle Head and spent some time going over it with my tab sheet and make small corrections. Luckily it was overall pretty well transcribed, and now it’s mostly a matter of working out the best audio settings for each instrument. Since the original was for Guitar Pro 3, there’s room for improvement sound-wise. If anyone has sources for Guitar Pro 6 sound banks, repositories, libraries or any way to make instruments sound more like people like Satch that would be helpful.
But that wasn’t the only song I checked of course, one I pulled out again, that I think I already had, though possibly in PowerTab format was Iron Maiden’s Afraid To Shoot Strangers* which is quite possibly my favourite tune of theirs, and thus has been on my mind to learn for some time. I did give it a go some time ago but never really followed through much, this could be my chance to really increase the amount of songs I know reasonably quickly. You know, sneak in an AC/DC here, a Motorhead there and before you know it, I’ll know more than the handful of Metallica and Megadeth riffs I could vaguely pull out not even 3 years ago. Having said that, I’m also intending to figure out if I can learn one or two of the easier Marty Friedman songs, though maybe I should hunt a good transcription first, the version of Jewel I just heard almost made my ears pop…
* I know, seeing what day it is, Hallowed Be Thy Name might have been more appropriate, what can I say? I don’t do greeting cards holidays 😛