Archive for the ‘Skills’ Category
Mr. Fastfinger releases a debut album, explodes modes in the face, blogs, and gives us a sweet song to learnFriday, November 27th, 2009
I recently Stumbled Upon a very righteous set of websites created by a Finland-man who has created an awesome little character named Mr. Fastfinger. I started out my tour of his sites by downloading the free single “Wax On Wax Off” from his new album, and I was completely blown away. Not only is the song redonk, but he gives us the full tab (complete with solos transcribed, chords, and modal notation!) and the backing track to go with it! I honestly can’t think of a funner way to learn the guitar. I’ve been practicing the song for a few days, but the sweep picking is still busting my chops. This guy is fast.
After checking out the free song, I suggest moving on further into www.guitarshredshow.com to check out Mr. Fastfinger’s modal journey (on a magic carpet no less) through Tilulitu Land, the desert island he lives on. Mika Tyyska, the creator/alter ego of Mr. FF, has created this really fun game to help us learn the modes. I ended up playing the game for like an hour, and completely forgot to get my guitar out and try the example licks. Almost counterproductive in a way ………… but it sure was fun.
I didn’t realize it at first, but Mika and I seem to share a love of Japan – and Mr. Fastfinger can speak Japanese!
If you can’t speak Japanese, go ahead and click here for the English version of the game.
After getting your chops shredded by Mr. Fastfinger’s shred show, move along to his blog where you can find news about the man/cartoon himself and most importantly – guitar lessons with descriptive commentary and real audio examples. Sometimes he even posts examples from his own album!
Go here for Mr. FF’s blog.
Last but not least is his debut album ~~~ — <<< “The Way of the Exploding Guitar” >>> — ~~~ which instantly conjures up images of Steve Vai and other experimental/progressive guitar artists. You can easily tell Mika has his own personal style though, and isn’t afraid to play the slow and melodic (even though his name is Mr. Fastfinger). With a combination of creative licks, speedy solos, modal experimentation, and some very ingenious guitar sounds, his album is a success in my books and definitely worth checking out.
Mika hints of another instructional series coming out, and maybe another album soon. So until next time, keep shredding Mr. Fastfinger – I’m eagerly awaiting your next project!
What is your favorite song? I’m sure by now you’ve listened to it a thousand hundred times. You know every word by heart, every chord change like the back of your hand, and every drum beat and transition is etched into your brain with razor-like precision. It may have even influenced a decision that you had to make in your life, expressed the exact feelings you were having when you first heard it, or (like many songs for me) helps pick you back up when you feel down. I want to talk about how you can become a student of the music that’s had a positive impact on your life, and use said knowledge to write your own awesome material. Your own personal, self-taught music appreciation class if you will.
So what is “listening intentionally” and why should we do it in the first place? Isn’t it just good enough to listen to music for its quintessential awesomeness? Well, yeah it is, but we’re not normal. We want more. Listening intentionally means that you’re looking beyond what most people see, trying to understand the meaning behind the song, and the reason that you like it so much. If you love a song, wouldn’t it make sense to write another song just like that one? Okay, not exactly like it since that’s illegal, completely unoriginal, and just plain bourgeois. But you can use the knowledge you gained from that song (and hopefully many others) to write something at the same awesomeness level, or awesomer.
Becoming a virtuoso musician entails doing some things that other people might find strange. It means pushing the limits (that is, your own), and continually learning new things. Most people don’t listen to the same song for a week straight, or practice that same song for hours on end. Most people don’t ever set up their own personalized The Playlist, or build a prioritized list of songs they want to learn. Not everyone sits down with a timer and practices vibrato for an hour. Intentional listening is just another one of those “outside of the box” things you can do to really hone your skills and improve your ears.
Step L: Listen
Okay, enough soapboxing, lets see what it looks like to “Listen Intentionally”. Let’s start out with your most favorite song (ever!), and listen to it for the next week straight. A whole week. Nothing else. No cheating either. You are now a disciplined individual. You can do it. Music from coffee shops, department stores, and elevators is acceptable since you can’t control them, but anything that’s under your power should repeat that song relentlessly. Now some people might be thinking “If I listen to this song for a whole week, I’m going to hate it!” To a certain extent this might be true, you probably won’t want to listen to it for a few months afterward; but honestly, if you can’t listen to a single song for a whole week straight, then maybe it’s not that great of a song in the first place. Am I right, or am I right? And, if this song really was forged in the fires or Mordor, I can assure you that you’ll be drawn back to it before too long. My precioussssssss!!!
Step R: Research
When you start listening to your song, hop on the internet and do a few searches for the artist and song. A good place to start is the artist’s official website, since they’ll have the most accurate lyrics and bio about the band. If you don’t have the lyrics memorized yet, do it. See if you can find the history of the band, and if possible, see if you can find some commentary about the song itself. If the song is a popular one, you might be able to find some really specific facts about it. When was it written? Did the artist write the song him/herself, or is it a cover? Ideally you want to find an interview or article where the artist talks specifically about the context and meaning behind the song. This will give you better insight, and will ultimately lead to a higher appreciation of the song.
Step ILIBP: Intensively Listen Intentionally – Big Picture
After researching the song, begin the intensively listening intentional process. Here are a few “big picture” things you want to pay attention to while listening:
- How many instruments are there, and what are they?
- What are the levels of the instruments? Which are louder than the others? Do any of them have a piercing quality, cutting through the other parts?
- Which parts are rhythm, giving structure to the song, and which parts are melody?
- Who is holding down the beat? The drums usually do a good job of this, but that might not be the case in some songs. I love Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment, and sometimes you can’t even tell what the heck Mike Portnoy (the drummer) is doing.
- Pay special attention to who is NOT playing. Silence is golden. A well placed rest in a song will introduce contrast in a piece, accenting and building complexity in the places that DO have sound.
- Which parts are complex, and which are simple? Some of my favorite songs are just a singer playing solo with his guitar, but at the same time I’ll love a song that utilizes a full orchestra.
- What is creating tension? When and what is releasing it? Where is the climax?
- Pay special attention to the opening and closing. Does the song start high or low energy? Does it end with the same theme it starts with?
Step LSMV: The Live Show and Music Videos
Another dimension of music is the live show. Since there isn’t an option for specialized recording equipment, backup vocals, full orchestras, or multiple takes, the live performance might feel “empty” when compared with the recording. Groups with a higher budget will be able to include some of the other extraneous elements included in the recording, but not everyone has that luxury. Although the sound quality might not be as good for live shows, another vital element comes into play: visuals. Search on YouTube or the band’s website for live shows, and take note of the differences in sound, and the kind of stage presence they exude. Watch the movies several times, taking note of each band member’s actions. Notice if and when the members feed off each other. Do they make eye contact often? Do they talk to each other between songs? Do they act like one amalgamated entity or are they engrossed in their own little world?
If you feel strange watching somebody like that, just accept the fact that you’re a creepy stalker, and famous people deal with creepers everyday. You know they love it.
Music videos are yet another avenue that bands present themselves. Unlike live shows, they have the opportunity to present refined visual and audio in the same package. This is one of best ways for a band to present their image to the world, since it allows them to do it in a medium where they can cut out the errors. Again, take notice of what’s being presented.
Step PP: Practice Profusely
If you haven’t started learning how to play the song, this is the time to do it. For each instrument you know how to play, look up tabs, find the score, or figure out the parts yourself. If it’s especially difficult, find the official score online or in a store and buy it. I find that music videos are especially helpful when trying to figure out guitar parts because sometimes you just need to know the position on the neck before you can figure it out. I’m writing another article on how to figure songs out, so I won’t go into great detail on this here, but the key point here is to examine the chord progression and understand the structure behind it. This is key. If you only have time to do one of these “steps”, do this one. The chord progression defines the mood of the piece, and gives the driving force behind the song. The most interesting and memorable melodies are built upon good chord progressions.
Step ILISP: Intensively Listening Intentionally – Small Picture
If you haven’t noticed yet, the order of these steps don’t really mean anything. You don’t even have to do all of them, I’m not an LI dictator, but I’m just trying to fill your head with some ideas that could be helpful.
So moving on, you’ll now want to use those beautiful ears of yours to listen to each instrument specifically. This can be deceptively easy since you’re listening to a finished product. By now I’m sure you know what the raw sound “should” or “would” sound like with no tailoring. Everybody knows what a real life, unrecorded, un”effected” acoustic guitar or grand piano sounds like. So what you want to do is try to figure out the changes that were made, and follow the sound through the cables from beginning to end. This can be extremely difficult for the inexperienced, and (if the artist is using some special kind of pedal or effector) it may be impossible. But after you play your instrument for a while, and make a few experimentation trips to the local guitar store, you start to discover the kinds of sounds and effects that are typically used.
Do this listening exercise for each instrument, and look at what effects are being used. Who is putting out a raw, undoctored sound? Who is running their signal through a hundred million effector pedals? Listen with open ears and an open mind. The artist had an end result in mind, and used whatever s/he needed to get there.
Here’s an unofficial, and incomprehensive list of common effects you might try listening for. A lot of these effects are mostly used for electric guitar, but you know how some people are. They like to get … creative. Search the web for samples of these effects if you aren’t familiar with them.
- Octavers and Pitch Shifters
Don’t stop at just one song. Great quality and high quantity input begets great output. I would know, I spent a year learning a second language.
Step NGUNS: Never Give Up, Never Surrender
One song for a whole week. Straight! You can do it!
One would think that playing a note on the piano or guitar or violin will give off that note, and only that note, right? Well, thankfully/unfortunately it’s slightly more complex than that. Something called “harmonics” comes into play, and since there are several terms associated with them (including various guitar techniques using the same name) it’s easy to get confused. This article will explain what harmonics are first from a scientific standpoint, and then how to achieve those sacred, squealing “harmonic” techniques on the guitar.
Naturally Occurring Harmonics
Harmonics from a musically scientific standpoint are extra frequencies or overtones that occur naturally when playing an instrument. For example, when you play an A on the piano (440Hz), other notes will resonate besides that A. You’ll get the E (659.26Hz), the octave above A (880Hz), and (depending on the instrument) a whole boat load of other frequencies that are NOT A. These frequencies occur naturally because of instrument shape and material, what the strings are made of, string tension, the finish on the instrument, the method and position of strumming or bowing or plucking, and any other random pieces of stuff you decide to attach to your instrument. As you can see, there are a lot of factors that affect the harmonics coming from an instrument. These things all add up to build the “sound” of an instrument that we’ve come to know and love. This is also the reason a guitar doesn’t sound like a violin, or a cello like a piano. Each instrument has its own unique flavor because of the combination of these overtones.
So naturally, when you go to buy an instrument, this is what you’re looking for. You’re listening closely to the sounds coming from your fingers playing the instrument, and evaluating the overtones that the instrument is able to resonate. Usually an instrument that doesn’t emit these extra harmonics well is one that we call “dull” or “dead” sounding. Nobody wants to buy this kind of instrument (putting aside random artistic experiments). On the other hand, an instrument that has a “rich” or “full” sound is one that gives off the overtones nicely. This is the sign of good craftsmanship, and the reason people pay thousands for a good instrument.
That’s it for science. From now on I’m gonna talk from a guitarist’s perspective, but many of these things can be applied to other stringed instruments as well. Banjos, ukuleles, and mandolins are obvious, but you can technically do these tricks with anything that has a string (and I encourage such experimentation). These are all names of guitar techniques, to be used sparingly, kind of like icing on a cake. But don’t worry one bit if you decide to make a cake solely out of frosting. I’m sure somebody will eat it.
When I was a new guitarist, I was really confused about natural harmonics. Maybe I’m just slow (which I am), but I read an online lesson and didn’t get the technique at all. If you’re in the same boat as I was, never fear. It’s not too hard. Also, don’t confuse the jargon “natural” harmonics with “naturally occurring” harmonics. Naturally occurring harmonics come about naturally when you play an instrument, but playing “natural” harmonics is a technique.
Photo by: Mjchael
To play a “natural” harmonic, (as an example) simply place your finger on the 12th fret of any string, which is the exact middle of the string, and pluck. DO NOT press the string down to the fretboard, and make sure your finger is exactly over the 12th fret. Try moving your fretting hand around a little if you can’t find the so called “hotspot”. Playing the harmonic at the 12th fret sounds like the note at the 12th fret, but it isn’t. It gives a note that is “pure” sounding, more like a music box than a guitar. This means that there are fewer overtones, or extra naturally occurring harmonics, in the note. A trained ear can hear the difference between a harmonic note and a regular note without even watching the performer. Even the untrained ear can hear the difference I guess, but they probably wouldn’t know what the heck it was. We can use this to our advantage because it sounds awesome. Throwing in some harmonics into riffs and solos can really add the “spice” or “virtuoso” sound that you might be looking for. More often than not, mastery of harmonics is the difference between
“Like, OMG! That guy is like, a pretty good guitarist and stuff, ya know?”
“I WANNA HAVE YOUR BABIES!”
Now these harmonics can be played at several locations on the guitar, and will sound out different notes for each one. You’ll find them on the 12th, 7th, 5th, 4th frets, and then sometimes on the 3rd fret. The harmonics actually go to infinity (that is, WAY below the 3rd fret), but they are so quiet or hard to play that it’s not even worth trying. And by that, I mean it’s worth trying; try to find out just how high you can get your guitar to play. The picture above demonstrates the vibration of the string when you play a harmonic. You can see the “nodes” where the string doesn’t vibrate, and this is the exact position you want to mute the string, right on those nodes. Thanks to science the string will naturally vibrate just like you see in the picture, and gives us that “pure” tone harmonic.
-are harmonics played while fretting the guitar. The three following techniques are “artificial” harmonics, but not “artificial” in the same way as “artificial” sweeteners. No risk of getting cancer.
Pinch Harmonics (Pig Squeals!)
Mastery of pinch harmonics is the true sign of a virtuoso guitarist. The use of natural harmonics can get ditsy girls to fall in love with you, but the mastery of pinch harmonics is a step above that. You can get ditsy major label presidents to turn their heads. Pinch harmonics offer us one of the most expressive techniques the guitar has, but it takes (literally) pinpoint accuracy of the plucking hand to execute.
So what are pinch harmonics? To understand them, you must first understand natural harmonics. What we’re going to try to do is get a natural harmonic, but with the strum hand instead of the fretting hand. This is somewhat hard because we have to simultaneously pluck the string and mute it at the same time. To do this you’re going to have to hold your pick a special way. You want hold your pick in a normal fashion, but move your thumb grip closer to the tip. The goal is to have the first digit of the tip of your thumb almost even with the tip of the pick.
To start out, I would definitely start doing this with an electric guitar using a ton of distortion. The electric guitar and distortion amplifies the high overtones better than an acoustic. It can be done on an acoustic, but it requires another level of experimenting/skill. The first time you do this technique it will be like trying to punch granite. I’m serious; it’s REALLY hard to do. Just keep fiddling around and you’ll figure it out.
Choose a note in the middle of the guitar and fret it normally (maybe the 12th fret on the G string is good), for me it seems the easiest place for pinch harmonics. Now, almost simultaneously, you’re going to do two things: (1) pluck the string with your pick at a harmonic (preferably an octave higher than the note you want to play), and (2) instantly after that, brush the flesh of your thumb across the string to evoke the natural harmonic. Just after that, you’re going to have to (3) move your hand away so that the string can vibrate freely.
Like I said, if you can’t get it, just keep messing around until you hear the right sound. If you have problems you might try gripping the pick differently, as the flesh of your thumb has to hit the string in just the right way. It has to hit the string to evoke the harmonic, but it can’t mute the string completely. Another thing you might try is moving your picking hand up and down the string. You must hit the string in a place where there is a natural harmonic or it won’t work. This is the main reason pinch harmonics are so difficult, because you have to place your picking hand in just the right place, the “sweet spot” as it were, to get that awesome squealing sound. The sweet spot changes when your fretting hand moves up and down the neck too, so you have to learn to pick like a surgeon.
By now I’m sure you’ve seen/heard/done regular finger tapping, as made famous by Eddie Van Halen. While experimenting with finger tapping, he discovered that he could cause those ringingly beautiful harmonics from tapping on the fretboard with his right hand. As an example, grab your guitar and tap on the 12th, 7th, or 5th fret quickly, and precisely on the metal fret (i.e. not behind), and you should get a harmonic. The energy used to “tap” the guitar is what causes the string to vibrate, simultaneously muting the string to get a harmonic. It will be exactly the same as if you played a natural harmonic, but you get the special effect of a “click” or “tap” at the beginning of every note. As with other harmonics, you might have to do some fine tune adjusting to get the harmonic to ring, but once you figure it out it’s not too hard.
One of the great things about tap harmonics is the fact that you can coordinate your right and left hands (playing essentially the same notes but 12 frets apart) and play quick, intricate solo or lead parts. The effect you’ll have can be pretty mind blowing. Especially since it’s rarely done and has a very distinct style if you can pull it off well. Man I love the guitar. It’s just so dang versatile isn’t it?
As you can see, there are many ways to evoke harmonic flourishes. Those presented here are the main ones, but there are many others as well. I actually found some I’ve never heard of before while I was doing research for this article, and want to tell you about them. Maybe I can do another article later titled “Harmonics: The Lesser”, and it can involve large Norse Gods from Sweden playing nothing but harmonics at 200 bpm using their big toes. Hey, that sounds pretty sweet.
Anyway, if you’re really interested just do a search for “guitar harmonics” and you’ll probably find an article better than this one somewhere, and cheaper than my free site. As in, they’ll pay you money to read it. If you ever find one of those sites, tell me.
Oh, I wanted to leave you with a link too. This one has all of the harmonic techniques I just talked about, and more. Yeah!
Our habits define us. Not only do they define us now, but also give us a relatively good predictor of our future selves. If we can intentionally define our habits, we’ll have a much better chance of success. With only a few changes around the house, and maybe some slight life changes, I think you can dramatically improve your playing skills. A quick example of how our habits define us, and then we’ll get into practical implementation.
Have you noticed how some fat people have a habit of going to Wendy’s or McDonalds on a regular basis? They go and order more than one sandwich, biggie size the combo meal, and get ice cream on the side. Why? Because they have constructed a daily habit where physical and mental cues in their lives which lead them to the front doors of the restaurant. Every day it’s the same thing: they receive a mental cue from their bodies (“I’m hungry”), which in turn requires a response to satiate that need.
“Hey, let’s go to Micky D’s!” they say with flabtastic enthusiasm.
And they end up getting fatter, and fatter, and fatter, and wonder why the hack they can’t lose all that weight. Really all they gotta do is stop going to fast food all the time and eat a decent meal at home.
So we as musicians need to somehow conquer this kind of habit, turn it around, and use it to our advantage. We all have goals in our lives, and if you are a musician, these probably include practice/writing/performance goals right? So we need to start building habits in our lives that will (almost) automatically accomplish our goals. We have got to create triggers in our lives that will, in a similar fashion to fat people going to Wendys, make us better musicians through developing our habits.
Assuming you aren’t where you want to be, you’ll need to make some changes in lifestyle. Some will need bigger changes than others, but almost everyone requires some kind of change. I think it’s best to do all of these changes as quickly and dramatically as possible, as one thrust of energy. In WWII, without the initial charge on the beach of Normandy in 1944, the war might indeed have never been won. They needed an huge push in order to establish a beach-head, which required thousands of hours of planning, deception, and preparation in order to pull it off. The allied forces could not have kept up that kind of sustained force for the whole war; it would have simply been impossible. But the thrust gave them the momentum and the mindset that propelled them toward victory. Create your own Normandy beach-head.
So here are some things that you can do to Musicize your practice area. (Yeah I made it up. I haven’t decided how to pronounce it yet though. Muze-er-syze, Myoo-zeh-kaize, Myuu-zih-size? Ideas anyone?)
- One of the most important things to do is to put all of you instruments out where you can see them. Many people have more than one, so you want to spread them out around your house. Doing this will probably result in one “accidental” practice almost every day. I read an interview with Eddie Van Halen a long time ago, and I remember him mentioning he had set up a guitar and drum machine for his toilet. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
- Put the songs you’ve written on your “The Playlist“. You should obviously be recording your work somewhere so you don’t forget it, so why not put that onto your mp3 player and listen to your own music.
- Listen to music all the time. I used to find it hard to study or do work while music was playing, but I really wanted to change that, so I found a solution: play your music at a very low volume while working. Just loud enough to hear the beat, but quiet enough that you can’t exactly hear the lyrics. It made my long college study sessions not so stressful.
- Change your friends. Do you still hang out with friends that don’t believe in you? Do you still feel you have to pay homage to people that are always bringing you down? Find some people who are going the same direction as you so you’ll be reminded constantly about music. But don’t be a jerk in the process.
- Buy more music documentaries for your movie collection. These are a great way to get inspired and learn some things about the music industry.
- Put up posters on your walls of your favorite artists. I went to my friend’s apartment yesterday, and realized how stylish music posters can be. I wish I could show you a photo or something of their place, but it was almost like one of those apartments you see in suave magazines. It made me want to pick up a guitar and write something.
- Set up your own mini recording studio. The idea is to always have this place ready. You never want to lose a good melody or riff simply because you forgot it. If you haven’t realized it yet, your mind isn’t that great at remembering stuff for a long time. Take a few minutes to put your idea into the computer and you’ll thank yourself later. I’m hoping to write an in depth article about creating a mini recording studio pretty soon, I’ll try to remember to post a link when I do.
- You want to be able to listen to your music just about anywhere, so buy an mp3 player and the necessary accessories. And don’t skimp on this one either. Do your research, save up some cash money, and go buy a nice iPod or a good mp3 player. Use it in the car too, because you don’t want to be at the whims of the radio hosts, and commercials can be a serious waste of your time.
- Change the food you eat: beans, beans, the musical fruit…
There are of course a bunch of other things you can do, but the idea is that you are pursuing the habits that will help you improve your playing.
Disclaimer: This is not to say that you’ll become amazing without trying! Nothing can take the place of intentional and purposeful daily practice and writing.
Apology: I do not mean to offend obese people who have no control over their weight. I mean no offense to you, and I do my best not to judge people based on outward appearance. If you are overweight but DO have a degree of control over your weight, I’m trying to offend you a little. Not in a demeaning way, but it is my hope that you face the reality of your situation and take steps to improve your health. Remember, your habits define you!