Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter #5

Okay, mixing it up a little this week, let's start out with trail breaker John Harwood:
Unfortunately not a lot of play again this week (I am diligently working to turn your guitar updates into the most boring things ever) what with that 3DS that I was always planning on getting. Managed to get another 3 hours of guitar practice (while apparently logging 10.5 hours into Pilotwings 3DS alone) bringing me up to 33.75 hours to date. Have been focusing on bass and while that's mostly just ducking learning chords, it's really helping to get my hand position down, particularly with the magical fingering hints that RB3 gives in game. That's crucial on bass and really helps me to figure out where to position my hand and has led to some very fun moments where I have moved from one hand position to the other very naturally while mostly focusing on my fingers.

Incidentally, that's the one place where Plastitar skillz carry over to a real guitar: Finger dexterity. While I'm still convinced that the guitar was designed by alien beings with 132 digits on at least one of their appendages, once you start to navigate the Bermuda Fretboard with any degree of success, the finger movements you learned from the past start to pay off. Moving around = bad. Alternating which fingers are down once you have your hand on a given chord/shape = no sweat. Several times that has really clicked and it's very satisfying to see the old skills merging with the new.

This week's discovery is my new man-crush, John Deacon of Queen fame. I first became aware that bass is what I've been really liking in songs all these years while playing The Beatles: Rock Band. Had no idea some of that was bass, and Paul McCartney does such a wonderful job of using the bass as a melody instrument (not that I don't enjoy strumming away to "Runaway" and such), and something in that really speaks to me. Anyway, John Deacon strikes me as being very much McCartney-like in his runs, timing, and melody. For whatever reason, I'd apparently either never played any of the Queen songs as bass or doing so with a real guitar is night and day differnt, but I had one of my top 10 all-time Rock Band/Guitar Hero play moments this week when I spent 90 minutes playing through all of the Rock Band Queen songs on Bass/Hard. Was only hitting 80-90% on them, so playing a little over my head, but they were just fantastic! Like ear-to-ear-grin fantastic. Unlike Billy Joel's bass player, who does similar stuff, but is for whatever reason a brick wall of difficulty for me, John Deacon's bass lines just "make sense" if you will and several times I found myself moving to the right note (or near enough) before I'd realized that's what the chart was showing. So I think my new short-term goal is going to be to find the few songs I can do really well (I Want It All, possibly Under Pressure) and go after them on expert and slow it down and practice practice practice it until I can do one.

This is sort of my first breakthrough like I did in Guitar Hero when I could finally play well on hard. The richness and enjoyment of hard and expert play just can't compare to easy and medium. While those are great fun, I always find myself craving "more" out of the experience and finding the sweet spot between difficulty and complexity in a song is just an awesome experience. Except this time around, the thought that if I learn a song well enough to play on expert, that I could actually do so without the game using my amp...Wow!

Next this week, Expedition Guide David Gloier. I asked David to write a bit about what he did when he first started playing guitar (in the Dark Ages, before Pro mode and everything):
I'm guessing everyone who picked up the Squier controller and has been playing on Pro mode had a much more productive first month of playing than I did.

When I finally got a real guitar in my hands, I had no idea where to begin. I got the guitar home, sat down with it, and decided I should start by tuning it. Even though I was confident I could screw it up, I got it tuned and realized I knew absolutely nothing about playing a guitar. With that understanding, I put the guitar in its case and went about my business.

The next day I got on the internet and google "online guitar lessons". That only resulted in 8 million hits. Most of my "practice" time for day 2 was consumed by searching the internet for lessons that seemed useful. I found a few and fiddled around with some chords and some right-hand exercises.

Soon, I got the idea that the strings that came on my guitar were probably old from sitting in a warehouse somewhere, likely resulting in the hideous noises that the guitar makes whenever I pick it up. (Apparently, this is common among guitarists. Every forum is full of guys that think their tone is a result of something, anything, other than their playing.) Now at this point, I knew exactly one chord, but I had to constantly look it up because I forgot it if I wasn't actively playing it. In spite of my limited knowledge, I decided to run to THE big box guitar store for new strings. I got to the store and never felt so lost and out of place in my life. After staring at a wall of guitar strings, confused, for 15 minutes, I grabbed some, paid, and left. I obviously had no idea what I was looking for and the employees can be a bit condescending, because, as we all should know, every successful musician isn't truly a success until he works behind the string counter. I made it a point of learning as much as I could about my guitar before ever going back into a music store.

I soon got in touch with a buddy of mine who had been playing for forty years after realizing I had no idea how to string a guitar and that it would be nice to watch someone do it before diving in. I dragged my guitar and amp around to his place. He showed me how to restring the guitar and then the rest of the evening was spent drinking beer, discussing technical details of the guitar and amp, and listening to him play. I was keenly aware at this point that it took him forty years to get to his level of ability and I started wondering what I'd gotten myself into. Before the evening was over, he taught me a sequence of chords, plugged my guitar into a 100-watt Marshall head, attached a 4x12 speaker cabinet and had me play that sequence. HOLY S***!

"You just played your first song."

Yes, I did. And badly, at that. But it sure brought a smile to my face and I went home excited.

That was about as good as it got the first month.

Learning on my own, with no real instructor or set routine, I was floating pretty aimlessly. I had lots of information at my fingertips, but had no way of organizing it all into any sort of useful structure. I really wasn't learning to play in any real sense of the word. I could figure out a few little licks that I liked from songs, but that was about it. I wanted to learn to play, but I couldn't get out of the gates properly. I needed structure. I think this is the advantage Pro Mode gives to someone just starting out. It can help keep you focused with its system of goals and being able to learn some semblance of songs early on will help keep people interested. I didn't have that and practicing chords, chord changes, scales and picking exercises without some sort of payoff in the form of songs isn't very rewarding.

I found more reward in the first month learning what made my guitar and amp work and how to take care of them. I spent many hours researching and reading through forums, learning everything but how to play. I quickly became able to converse with people who played without sounding like an idiot and that made me much more comfortable with everything and built a nice foundation for me to move forward.

I wish the Squier controller had been around when I started. I would have advanced much more quickly in my ability to play if it had been, but I'm glad I didn't wait around for four years for it to be released. I'd be four years behind.

Lastly, it's my turn:
Total playing time (through Tuesday): 13:00 (2:00 last week)

I had a tough week, with unwanted life events jacking with my schedule, and I figured out one other thing: if I wait to play until after 8:00 p.m., I'm probably not going to play. I have to do it earlier.

I finished the basic tutorials, but I'm still not able to automatically select a string/fret row without making mistakes in the interior strings. I tend to be one string low. I'm not sure how to correct that, although I'm suspecting continuing to practice will do it eventually.

It's interesting to play songs on Pro Bass, because even on Easy, it tends to be more a more repetitive note chart. I'm not saying that's a bad thing--it's actually quite good, because it drives home some specific patterns that are good to know, but it's definitely a different feel.

I'm going through a period now where I'm a little discouraged with my lack of faster progress, but I'm just not playing enough. I need to be doing 3 hours a week minimum, not 2 like I did this week.

I also decided this week to avoid the Justin guitar lessons. It's not that they're not good--they're fantastic, really--but I'd like to be a test case for someone who tries to learn how to play guitar almost entirely through the game. I may change my mind, but for right now, I'm sticking with Rock Band as my teacher.

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