Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #2

Okay, this is long as hell again, and I decided to stop trying to edit it, because each of us has a different point of view that will be useful for some people. We're still all over the place, stylistically, but I'm not sure that matters, either.

Expedition member: Me.
Total playing time (through Monday): 5:30 (2:30 last week)

I missed two days last week, one due to I'm Too Damned Exhausted To Play Guitar Today disease and one day when we drove to Dallas to see Eli 9.7s first NHL game (mine and Gloria's, too).

I realized early last week that the lessons were starting to far outrun my skill level. I was in chord lessons and still couldn't even reliably pluck single strings while moving my hand around to one of what--132 possible finger positions?

Good grief, those are just the possible non-chord positions. A complicated endeaver, this six-stringed sound-producing thingie.

I remembered John mentioning last week that I absolutely needed to play some songs, but who listens to a man who can get blisters below calluses? This time, though, I took his advice, which turned out to be a good thing, because I really needed more practice just moving around on the guitar and holding a single fret down.

I went into the song list, sorted on Pro Guitar with the two lowest difficulty levels selected, and got a nice list of songs to play that are very manageable on Easy (including three Clash songs--hell, yes). So I've gotten much more practice just moving my hand around, and I'm much more comfortable now. I'm about to the point where I'm ready to go back to the lessons and try to move along a bit.

Again, that's the difference in John's style and mine. I want to have everthing nailed down and in place before I move on, which I know slows me down at times. But I don't like having to go back. I like it when gone means gone.

If you're playing songs, I would highly recommend trying it in No-Fail mode without the Squier being hooked up (just have the MIDI box connected, which will let you select songs, etc.). The reason I'm saying that is because it's really, really easy to get dependent on the visual feedback you're getting from the game in terms of what fret you're pressing. So every second or third day, I force myself to play "blind", so that I get used to sensing the travel between frets instead of just reading numbers off the screen. I think that both improves your technique as well as improving your ability to play the game.

Let's move on to someone who actually knows what the hell they're doing.
Expedition member: David Gloier

Tons of good info this week from our Expedition Guide:
--As for setting the guitar up this may help:
Setting Up Your Electric Guitar
Just reverse the direction it says to turn the truss rod. The adjustment screw on the Squier is the opposite, due to the fact that it turns another gear that turns the actual truss rod, I think. The instruction manual that comes with the guitar tells your which way is which.

--I was rereading John's thoughts and let him know that while he's learning the chords, starting with the open position, and moving forward, turn the strum detection off and just make the chord shapes. The game will track it and give feedback and his (and your) brain can work on connecting the dots. Then bring the strumming back in. When I was first learning, working the fret hand and the strum and the same time could be like patting your head and rubbing your stomach simultaneously. Build up the left hand memory and then bring the right hand in.

Also, when doing chord exercises, it really helped me to call out the chord when I made it on the fret board. It just helps drive it into your brain a bit more.

[Here are a set of thoughts on the Squier controller. David doesn't like it much compared to "dedicated" guitars]:
--after playing guitar for three years, this is by far the most fragile-feeling guitar I've ever played. You can tell all the money is in the technology.
--is not very easy, as the tuners are stiff with almost no fine control. Dialing in with them is frustrating.
--The plastic on the fretboard creaks and cracks where it is connected to the wood neck. That's a bit disconcerting. I'm not about to try a neck bend with this thing. !Crack!
--The neck is deep, a function of a thicker than normal fretboard attached to the neck. You feel it in your hands and wrist. The frets definitely take some getting used to, as well, if you are used to well-dressed frets on another guitar. They aren't very smooth and bends, especially on the higher strings, can be tough due to the little bits that divide the frets between the sensor areas.
--This thing is super light. It's lighter than my Danelectro. I didn't think that would be possible.
--After really working on setting the thing up properly, it still feels a bit loose everywhere. It seemed fine for about a day after I set it up, but it didn't really hold after a day or two of hard playing.
--It still feels like a bit of a toy to someone used to his other guitars.
----Having said all that, though, it's really a lot of fun. After 20+ hours, it's still holding up and it makes my other guitars a pure joy to play.

A couple of useful technical notes:
--Fender/Squier says to only use .9-.42 gauge strings on this things. Anything heavier will void the warranty. I'm guessing any heavier gauge would put too much tension on that neck.
--if you have any problems, it's covered for a year under Fender's warranty and you can take it to any authorized Fender repair shop (and not have to send it in).

I think that's probably the bottom line for most people like David who can play guitar, but also want to play a real guitar with Rock Band--the Squier is certainly limited, but for what it's designed to do, it's pretty damned good.

Now, notes from Trail Breaker John Harwood:
Week 2: 6hrs, total 23.25hrs
Highlight: Getting chord progression down on "The Hardest Button to Button" hitting 90% goal on Hard.
Lowlight: Having to play "The Hardest Button to Button" a bunch (sorry, Bill) [Ed. note: John knows I love the White Stripes.]
Injury level: Moderate - Wrist pain hasn't fully subsided, but isn't as sharp as it was near the end of the first week. Managed to blister my ring finger under the callous that has started forming. Didn't know you could do that.

Not nearly as much play this week. Not really due to injury limitations as much as life and time limitations, I certainly would have liked to play more and my hands for the most part felt up to it. To be fair, while it was only 6 hours total, it was also only 4 days of play.

I've been trying to find songs that I could play up on hard or expert on both guitar and bass and narrowed it down to a few songs: "Runaway" on bass (like that song a lot), "I Love Rock and Roll" and "The Hardest Button to Button" (ugh) on guitar. And of course I stumbled on the easiest song to play on expert bass...

Tried out "We Will Rock You" and quickly noticed it not only has the same pattern for the entire song, it uses "muted" chords so you just have to deaden the strings, don't need to actually fret a chord. Well alrighty then! Took probably 15 minutes to get the strum pattern down since it did involve changing which 3 strings you were strumming, but once I had it down I had a nearly clean run at 99% and wound up ranked #50. This doesn't necessarily mean much since I frequently wind up ranked, but am probably the 99th of 99 people who have played, etc. Tried again and got 100% and moved up to #42 but missed the overpower sequence and decided to give it one last go. Nailed it and hit #1 ranking!! Granted it was me and 3 other people (and soon will be way more), but still... #1 baby!!

"Runaway" on bass proved to be very difficult to get going on. It doesn't have a lot of changes, but it does move around a fair bit between the 5th & 6th strings on the 1st-5th frets and that's just enough to be challenging and tricky for me at this point. Tried it again on expert and man, I just can't strum 16th notes at all, stumble all over the pick. So settled on hard as the level to work on and kept at it. Can now run 93-95% on it and it's really only a couple of times where it jumps to the 4th string or runs up the neck a bit that are giving me issues. Getting pretty satisfying and feels like I'm really playing the song even if I'm still only playing half the notes.

"I Love Rock and Roll" was fun to get down on medium guitar, but the type of chords and shape of your hand needed for hard guitar proved too much for my wrist pain at this time, so I sucked it up and moved over to "The Hardest Button to Button" to see how it was. First few times medium guitar really floored me on this because there's a 2-string chord followed by picking each string followed by moving to a new chord and repeating. Had to really work at that to get the progression down, but managed to get fairly solid at it. Later on there was an even trickier section of chord changes, but managed to get that down reasonably well. Probably took a solid hour to get to the point where I could 95% that on medium and even then, that's pretty much me memorizing the changes and playing while looking at the guitar. Unfortunately, this has taken me from being a few thousand points away from Bill to a few 10Ks away, so hung the carrot a smidge further away from him. Sorry, Bill.

For yucks, once I started getting medium guitar down on "The Hardest Button To Button", I moved on and tried hard guitar a bit. That was considerably tougher because it jumps right into the 2-string chord followed by individual string picking and then moves on to a nastier 3 fret, 4-string chord at a fairly fast strum pattern later. Spent another 30 minutes breaking that down and working on it, but I'm still awfully spastic when trying to do those changes at speed. There's a section at the end where there's several measures pause between the changes and I can nail that, but the part where it's alternating is pretty tricky. Only hitting around 75-80% on hard guitar at this point, but I can see that will eventually be doable.

The other thing I spent some time with was Justin's 1-minute drill where you see how many changes you can do between two chords in 60 seconds. First time I did this, it was a bit tricky and when I timed it, going between the D/E/A chords (I hate hate hate A because I really have trouble fitting 3 stubby fingers on adjacent strings), I averaged only 29 changes in 60 seconds. That was actually faster than I thought I could do, but showed how tricky it is to do those when you don't really know them that well. Good news is that by the end of the week, I was up to averaging 54 changes in 60 seconds between those 3 chords. I think this is a completely brilliant practice technique and is really good at helping memorize chords and changes and you spend just minutes each day working on it. No single other technique gives me as much satisfaction as this one. I also used this when trying to get down the changes in "The Hardest Button To Button" on hard guitar and this is something I'll go back to again and again when learning a new song.

Site Meter