Inspiration: Jimi Hendrix – Red House

In honor of Jimi Hendrix’s seventy-sixth birthday. Born on this day in 1942. 

A lot of people start playing guitar because they heard Jimi Hendrix (or some other artist). I started listening to Jimi Hendrix after I started playing guitar. Regardless, of the impetus for my guitar playing or listening to Jimi Hendrix, I love to hear and watch him play — his more bluesy tunes, in particular.

I’m fortunate that I live just south of Seattle. As such, I make annual pilgrimages to Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton, Washington to visit Jimi’s memorial. When I started visiting his grave site some twenty years ago, all that lie in the ground was a simple headstone with his name, dates of birth and death, and a Stratocaster guitar upon it. Some years later, a memorial was built in his honor. Below are pictures from a couple of visits: one with my son (pictured) and another with my wife (not pictured).

Hendrix Memorial
Memorial to Jimi Hendrix – Greenwood Memorial Park, Renton, Washington
Hendrix Headstone
Original headstone that once lay in the ground, now a part of memorial
Hendrix and family
Hendrix and family
Son visits Hendrix Memorial
My son on a visit to Hendrix Memorial, about six years ago

Update on Playing
I’ve been playing a lot since I last posted my hours (November 13, I believe). I’ve easily put in 30-hours, especially with the Thanksgiving holiday break that just passed. I’ve been much more intentional in my practice. I’m working a lot of mechanical exercises that are helping with my fluidity, while continuing to get plenty of time with repertoire. I’ve also been playing in front of and around people a lot (something new for me). I’m getting quite comfortable playing for/around other people. I’m very happy with my progress right now.

11/14 – 11/27 Time: 30 hours

Total Time: 54 hours

Time Remaining: 9,946 hours

Make it a  phenomenal day!

Warm-ups: Getting Started

(Note: I’ve provided links to a vendor in this blog post. I have no affiliation with the vendor and this website is not monetized. I’m simply sharing the links as a means in which to share with readers the resources I use)

Below are some images of warm-up exercises I’ve been doing. These warm-ups are probably nothing new, but I recall that I started acquainting my fingers with the movement up and down the strings and neck with these exercises. I still use them to warm my fingers up and to work on proper fingering techniques.

I created these warm-up exercises in Guitar Pro 7. There may be simpler ways to tackle creation of these exercises, but I like using the tool(s).  I just got started with Guitar Pro 7 today. It’s lots of fun and fairly easy to use, as long as you have some understanding of music and tablature.

In this installment of Warm-ups, I’ve included several basic finger warm-up exercises. Start them slowly (50 bpm – 80 bpm, depending on your experience or the rhythms your working with). How many beats per minute you increase with each iteration is up to you. Depending on the source you read, some people recommend increasing each iteration by 3 bpm while others will suggest 8 bpm. Honestly, I think the increments suggested by many folks are arbitrary.

I actually increase my tempo by 10 bpm with each iteration (if I’m working with quarter note or eighth note rhythms) until my technique gets sloppy, then I dial it back 5 bpm in an effort to achieve perfect technique at the greatest speed possible. If the exercises I’m doing include triplets or sixteenth notes, I’ll increase my tempo by 5 bpm until my technique gets sloppy and then dial it back 2-3 bpm in an effort to achieve perfect technique.

1234 Warm-up
This first warm-up is straight forward. Place the tip of the index finger (1) on the first fret of the low-E string (the thickest string). This will be followed, slowly and in succession, by the middle finger (2), ring finger (3), and the pinky finger (4). Repeat this process next on the fifth (A) string, fourth (D) string, third (G) string, second (B) string, and first (high-E) string. Keep the fingers of your fret hand close to the fret board and make minimal movement from fret-to-fret and from string-to-string. I’ve included PDF and mp3 audio files for each of the warm-up examples below. You’ll find them below each graphic.

1234 Warm-up PNG
1234 Warm-up PDF: Click Here          1234 Warm-up Audio (50 bpm): Click Here

1234 Mix-up Warm-up
This next warm-up is for those of you who are a little more adventurous. It’s not terribly difficult. In fact, after several times through, I have no doubt you’ll find the rhythm quickly. Really pay attention to the fingerings that are indicated on each fret of each string in the diagram below. Also, listen carefully to the sounds of each note played. Make sure to go slow at first.

The pattern is 1234 (low-E string), 2341 (A string), 3412 (D string), 4123 (G string), 1234 (B string), 2341 (high-E string). When you get to the high-E string, slide your fingers up the neck a fret and begin with the 3412 pattern on frets 4, 5, 2, and 3 successively. Your fingers will now climb down the neck to the B string fretting the 4123 pattern on frets 4, 2, 3, and 4 successively.

Try your best to relax. Relaxation is difficult to achieve when you’re first learning any exercise or technique because the hands aren’t capable of moving independently of the brain yet. What’s more, each of us wants to achieve some sense of perfection when we play. This desire for perfection leads to tense movement. We don’t breathe, we move rather robotically, we make mistakes as a result. Enjoy the process and give yourself the freedom to breathe. Also, give yourself the freedom to make mistakes; mistakes are opportunities.

1234MixUpWarmUp
1234 Mix-up PDF: Click Here          1234 Mix-up Audio: Click Here

That’s it for tonight. I hope people find these resources helpful. I know other people out there are doing similar things much better than this. All of these documents and files are just my means of sharing my journey and giving to others who desire to travel a similar journey.

I did get lots of practice in the past several days. Additionally, I’ve worked hard to solidify a weekly routine based on the varieties of resources I have at my disposal. I’m excited to put it to work.

There’ll be more posts related to my progress, general ramblings about my journey, and resources that document my journey.

Make it a phenomenal day!

 

 

Days 16, 17, 18, 19 – Lack of Discipline Equals Little Progress

I wouldn’t say I made little progress the past four days. I didn’t, however, make the kind of progress I was expecting to make. Lots of distractions and no plan of attack took me all over the place. I did play, really I did. A lot! But I didn’t get out of my time what I put into it. Or did I?

I don’t mean to imply that I got 10-hours worth of progress out of my 10-hours of playing. I didn’t. I, perhaps, had a net gain of 1 – 2 hours of progress out of my 10-hours worth of playing. Quantity does not equal quantity and lack of discipline equals little progress.

I decided these past four days (I had an extended weekend due to Veteran’s Day and caring for my wife) to inundate myself with a myriad of distractions, all of which will pay dividends at some point, some sooner than later.

The distractions (in no particular order):

  • Getting my Blues Junior amp situated (I haven’t played on this in a long, long time)
  • Playing around with my Line 6 POD X3 Live effects board (I haven’t played with this in a long, long time and never figured out how to use it)
  • Setting up my Boss RC-3 Looping Station (I haven’t played with this much at all and certainly not for a long time)
  • Figuring out how to best record video until I get adequate audio input devices
  • Introducing new songs/progressions
  • Playing with each of my five guitars (mostly resulted in noodling rather than practice – I did land on my Martin OMC-15E)
  • Trying a variety of new picks to find one I like (I much prefer fingerpicking to strumming, but need to diversify my approach)
  • Tried to teach myself how to use a thumb pick (useful at some point, no doubt, but slow and clunky right now)

There you go, eight distractions in 10-hours results in my net gain of 2-hours progress. I don’t know if that’s a mathematically sound equation, but that’s how I feel. Being a teacher, I should know better than anyone that seat time doesn’t equal learning. Intentional use of time (as well as several other controllable factors) equals learning over time. All of these will pay dividends, as stated above, but need to be strategically built into my practice schedule.

What did come out of this is some quality time with my wife as she sat by my side while I played.

So, what have I learned these past few weeks?

Aside from re-acquainting myself with guitar, I’ve learned that guitar practice is for guitar practice; not trying out amps or picks or guitars. Trying new things is certainly an important part of growth, but I don’t want to sacrifice the benefits of quality, structured time for trial and error. Trial and error should and will have its place, but after I’ve met daily practice goals.

I’ve also learned that I work better when I set goals. My only goal going into this weekend was to practice 2 – 4 hours per day. That’s it. No musical goals. No technical goals. No measurable goals, period!

Moving forward, I’ll structure my time as I had previously structured my time. Monday through Friday, I’ll adhere to a regimen that includes finger mobility, technique, theory, and repertoire. I’ll mix it up to make sure that I’m working a couple of different things in these contexts throughout the week, but not becoming diversified to the point that I’m sacrificing growth at the expense of variety.

Moving forward, barring the occasional unforeseen circumstances, I’ll practice 2-hours per day and spend additional time on Saturdays and Sundays with the further experimentation.

What else have I learned?

  • Slow is best, but I hate slow and am most prone to error when I work slowly (but slow is best)
  • I hate recording video of myself, but it’s been hugely beneficial
    • Beneficial for helping me overcome nerves
    • Beneficial for getting outside myself to see things that I do well and things I need to improve upon
  • I’m dead set on achieving this goal
    • I’m three weeks in and still strongly committed to achieving my retirement dream
  • My retirement goal will only be achieved by setting and working toward smaller, measurable goals

Anyhow…before I get any more redundant, here’s an update on my time thus far (not going to post what I did because it was all over the place).

11/0, 11/11, 11/12, and 11/13 Time: 10 hours

Total Time: 34 hours

Time Remaining: 9,966 hours

Inspiration: Paul McCartney – Blackbird

Blackbird is a song I’ve recently added to my repertoire. I’m still using tab to learn a lot of stuff because I just don’t have the time to learn things by ear. A lot of the tabs out there, for purchase and in the public domain, are all over the place in terms of their takes on this song. The fun in learning to play this song has been to use the tabs as a reference point and the recordings and my understanding of chord shapes and theory to make this the most playable for my hands.

I’m learning to play quite a number of songs right now, most influenced by fingerpicking. While I aim to be diversified in my attack of the strings, I much prefer fingerpicking over a pick. I like that my fingers can be in a variety of places doing a variety of things, as opposed to using a pick. I also like the fatter sound I get out of the strings when I use my fingers. I tend to incorporate Travis picking into my playing, but also use my thumb and index finger to achieve an alternate picking technique when I want to play various licks that require a narrower focus.

On another note, I’m hoping to purchase an audio interface soon so that I can begin to document my progress. I currently spend time recording myself with the awful camera mic that comes with my Logitech webcam. While the camera, itself, does an adequate job of recording quality video, the mic leaves little to be desired.

Despite the fact I’m recording for myself right now, nerves get in the way. My brain becomes a jumbled mess and my fingers don’t work as they should – there’s a disconnect between brain and fingers when camera rolls. Ongoing practice and reflection while playing in this capacity will (hopefully) help me overcome the mental blocks I experience.

Anyway, time to practice. I’ve got several days (including today) that I’ll have to document tonight. By the time I’m done practicing today, I’ll have somewhere between 8-10 hours of practice these past four days.  Yay, me!

Days 14 & 15 – Regression Before Progression (and Stuff)

Got an hour in each of the last two nights. Pretty solid overall, but not great. I don’t know if I had off nights or if I work better when I get an hour warm-up with technical exercises before doing other things. Nonetheless, it felt as though I took a step back. On the other hand, past experience tells me that these bad practices usually mean a gain is soon to come. Gonna look for this to be my reality over the next day or two.

Didn’t get to play today. Well, I got a little bit in before I headed off to school. Noodled around with some finger style blues I’ve been learning. Also worked on creating some melodic runs in the progressions of these finger style blues jams. I love trying to figure out how to make a chord progression more melodic. I often neglect this because I don’t feel I’m very good at it. I should, however, dedicate more time to it so I get better at it. What’s more, the more I play around with it the more I realize I really can do it.

Anyway…had conferences until late this evening so I didn’t get a chance for any prolonged practice tonight. I do, however, have four straight days, starting Saturday, that I should be able to get 2+ hours per day (I’m aiming for 3 – 4 hours each day).

This post is my catharsis for the evening. With that, here’s a run-down of the past couple days.

Agenda for 11/6 and 11/7

  • Warm-ups/Technique
    • 1234, 4321
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • 1234, 2341, 3412, 4123
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up each string starting at high-E
    • 134, 341, 431
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Finger Stretches
      • 12, 13, 14
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) legato up neck
  • Theory
    • Pentatonic Scales
      • Position 1 all twelve roots
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Position 1 – 3 with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Positions 1, 5, 4 (down neck) with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Various blues, rock, and jazz licks derived from pentatonic scales
      • Various scale positions up and down neck
        • 50%, 60%, 75%, 100%
        • practiced until perfected, then 10x each
    • 12-bar blues progressions in keys of A, E, B, D, G
      • Varying strumming patterns
      • 4/4 time at different 80 – 140 bpm
  • Repertoire
    • 12-bar Blues Fingerpicking – Keys of A, E, G

11/6 and 11/7 Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 24 hours

Time Remaining: 9,976 hours

Masterclass: Tommy Emmanuel – Thumbpicking

I got turned on to Tommy Emmanuel several years ago. In what context, I don’t remember. But what I do remember is being drawn to his high-energy virtuosity.  His playing blew me away. As a fan of fingerpicking technique (I much prefer the fingers over a pick), I appreciate what he teaches in this video. As a re-learner of guitar, I’m more keenly appreciative of what he says between 10:00 and 10:45 of the video. What follows is an excerpt of what he says during these forty-five seconds:

“…keep it simple as long as possible, don’t try and rush ahead to more difficult songs just because you think it might be more exciting, you’ve got to give yourself a chance to build up this technique and to understand it — this is all new stuff…”

-Tommy Emmanuel, Thumbpicking Masterclass

While what he says is nothing new to me, for whatever reason at this stage in my life it finally makes sense. I’ve now touched on the value of going slow to go fast several times. In the past, I used to think I was trading-off the frustration of practicing slowly for the frustration of trying to tackle a challenging song. I always erred on the side of tackling the challenging song. I’m not sure, ultimately, that the fruits born from this tree were more ripe and tasteful than the fruits born from the other tree. I’m beginning to experience, however, that the tree rooted in slow, deliberate practice while grounded in technique and theory is already having a profound impact on my playing.

What I love most about this video, and why I’m sharing, is just how elegant Tommy Emmanuel’s instruction is given his virtuosity. I’ve seldom seen such instructional clarity from some who just “gets it”. Whether you’re a fan of fingerpicking, great instruction, Tommy Emmanuel, phenomenal guitar playing or some combination thereof, here’s something for you to enjoy.

Make it a phenomenal day!

Day 13 – The Profundity of It All

Last night was very profound for me in many ways.

Slow is Fast
Slow, structured practice sessions are paying huge dividends.  While I’ve already elucidated upon this, I must reiterate it. I’m more accurate, more fluid, and feel more musical as a result of my slower-paced, structured practice regimen.  As stated in yesterday’s post, I don’t have a reliance on memorizing tab anymore.  I still use it to get the gist of things as I’m learning, but I’m not thinking: 5 – 8 – 8 (Low-E), 5 – 7 – 7 (A-string), and so on.  I’m hearing the sounds, instead. My fingers are drawn to what I hear versus what number I see.  What a liberating experience.  What a profound realization!

The Power of Support
Last night as I sat here in the office playing guitar, my wife sat beside me (as she does on most days and nights I work in the office).  We have an amazing connection. While we’re fully capable of living life apart from one another, we cherish time together. If what it is we’re doing lends itself to being together, we spend time together. While the time together is nice, what it’s truly indicative of is the level of support she gives me to pursue my playing (and other endeavors).

Michelle, my wife, and I are are each at our second go at marriage.  I’m glad we found each other, as is she. We were meant to have found one another, we most certainly were. We share a love and support of one another that was void from each of our first marriages.

My aim is not to turn this into a sappy love story (though I’m not ashamed to call it that), but to expound on the joy I find in playing as a result of the support she gives me to pursue my retirement dreams of playing guitar professionally. You see, this hadn’t always been my norm — neither the support or the joy.

I started playing guitar well before I met my first wife. I played day and night stealing licks from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, and Buddy Guy, among others. I had gotten quite good, actually. It was very common for people to hear me playing and ask me who I was listening to. It was always fun to share that it was me who they heard playing.

This period of life, however, was short-lived.

While I won my ex-wife over (in part) with a serenade of a song on my acoustic guitar, her interest in my guitar playing endeavors was short-lived. She saw my guitar playing as a waste of time. She grew tired of me listening to the same songs over and over again in an effort to learn their riffs and licks. She saw my guitar playing as interfering with getting work done around the house, though it never interfered with any of the work I did (time management, interestingly, is something I take great pride in — it’s how I’m capable of achieving the many varieties of things I do). She complained about the noise, despite the fact I often played through headphones plugged into one of my practice amps behind the closed doors of the office that she wasn’t sitting in.

That was a lot of “shes”!

While there’s certainly more I can elaborate on in the context of my ex-wife’s lack of support of my playing, my aim is not to publicly bash her. My aim is merely to present the argument that pursuing one’s passion is challenging when those with whom you share a life don’t support your pursuit of said passion. As a result, my playing became sporadic at best. I completely lost the passion to play and developed the belief that I’d never be able to do anything with it. I started slowly selling off gear. I started preparing myself to move on from playing guitar ever again.

Last night as I was laying in bed reading, I rolled over toward Michelle and said, “Thank you.” She asked, “What for?”  I told her that I was thankful for her support and appreciation of me playing guitar.  Furthermore, I was appreciative of her support of me working to become a professional musician. She responded by saying, “That’s what we do for each other…we support one another.”

When Michelle and I met nearly three and a half years ago, we made a commitment to one another that we’d put each other and our collective relationship first so that we could be the best we could be for our families and friends. This notion was foreign to both of us in the contexts of our previous marriages. This commitment is paying huge dividends for a strong, united relationship in the context of our marriage, our relationships with our children, with family and friends, and in professional lives as educators. This commitment is paying huge dividends in the context of me pursuing my dream of becoming a professional guitar player.

I’ve found a passion for playing guitar again that I haven’t had since I first played some thirty years ago. I could argue that my impending (though still off in the distance) retirement has provided ample pressure to get my act together. While there’s certainly merit to be made for this argument, the freedom and flexibility I’m allowed to be me — to do me — in the context of my relationship with Michelle is more likely the root cause of this inspiration. I’m now allowed to pick up my guitar at any time, day or night and simply play when the inspiration strikes. I’m not condemned or belittled for it, but encouraged.

I never realized the degree(s) to which I could find inspiration and productivity in the context of being allowed to be me. It’s taken a lot of reflection and adaptation these past three and a half years, getting used to being “me” again, but it’s reflection and adaptation that is leading to better outcomes and better experiences.

It’s been a beautiful experience to play guitar again. It’s been beautiful experience to find me again.

What a profound realization!

Agenda for November 5, 2018

  • Warm-Ups/Technique
    • 1234, 4321
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • 1234, 2341, 3412, 4123
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up each string starting at high-E
    • 134, 341, 431
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Finger Stretches
      • 12, 13, 14
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) legato up neck
  • Theory
    • Pentatonic Scales
      • Position 1 all twelve roots
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Position 1 – 3 with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Positions 1, 5, 4 (down neck) with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Various blues, rock, and jazz licks derived from pentatonic scales
      • Various scale positions up and down neck
        • 50%, 60%, 75%, 100%
        • practiced until perfected, then 10x each
    • 12-bar blues progressions in keys of A, E, B, D, G
      • Varying strumming patterns
      • 4/4 time at different 80 – 140 bpm
  • Repertoire
    • Everybody Hurts – REM
    • Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
    • Take It Easy – Eagles
    • Silent Lucidity – Queensryche
    • Tin Man – America
    • Horse With No Name – America
    • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
    • 12-bar Blues Fingerpicking – Keys of A, E, G

Today’s Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 22 hours

Time Remaining: 9,978 hours

 

Days 9, 10, 11, 12 – Slowing Down to Go Fast

A long time ago, when I started playing, an instructor told me, “Use the metronome. Go slow! Start at 60 BPM and play 8th notes until you play them with clarity. Then jump 5 BPM per iteration until you can play at 200 BPM with no mistakes.” He told me this would take time. I tried this for about 3 days until I could no longer bear playing slowly. I didn’t feel like I was making progress and I felt like I played with more mistakes than I did when I played by feel. Furthermore, I found myself always tense.Guitar playing wasn’t fun, it was painful.

I felt like a failure despite the fact I could otherwise play the guitar decently. My instructor had convinced me that unless I’d learn to take my time, play with accuracy, and through this slow pace learn the neck (rather than memorize tablature), I’d be a solid guitar player.  Because I could play Silent Lucidity, Stairway to Heaven, Tears in Heaven and several other songs decently, I felt I was a solid guitar player already.  I, however, despite my best efforts, remained stuck.  I refused to do the things most instructors, books, and guitar players would tell you to do — study the guitar!

I didn’t know what study the guitar meant.

As far as I new, it meant slow down.  Slowing down is key to a lot of things, but I’ve come to learn that studying the guitar boils down to getting technique under my fingers and theory in my head so that I can get my hands to do what I want, when I want, and where I want.  I must admit that studying guitar, despite its espoused value, was not something I did well. I spent most of my time learning songs and noodling. There’s some value to this, yes, but because I wasn’t doing right things, I lacked the chops that would otherwise allow me to play the way I envisioned myself playing.

Progress these past two weeks has been better than expected. I’ve been committed to picking up the guitar every day.  With the exception of one day in the past two weeks, I’ve had guitar in hand every day — most days for an hour or more. What’s been crazy is the passion I’ve had for playing. In the past, I could easily walk by my guitar in favor of something else, with the understanding that I’d come back to it later.  Later seldom happened, however.

Not only am I picking up the guitar every day and spending time with it, I’ve become increasingly structured in my practice regimen. Every day I spend time working on technique, theory, and repertoire.  I work on them in this order.  I limit the material I play through each phase of practice so that I can work on it slowly and intently.  I’m very methodical about playing perfectly.  I aim to both pick and fret every note precisely; no buzzes, no missed notes, no muted strings.

This degree of attention has allowed me to become more relaxed.  As a result, I’m playing faster and more fluidly than I’ve ever played — in just two weeks. Because I’m paying close attention to learning the fretboard and the theory that underlies it, my fingers go where my mind and ears tell them to go.  This has never previously been my reality.  I’d always relied on the memorization of tabs over long hours of practice. Now, when my mind hears something, my fingers know how to follow.  I don’t have a seamless ability to do this yet, but the mere fact that I can hear things in my head and put them to work on the fretboard is a major accomplishment.

I can’t express to you how much I wish I had listened to my instructor(s) years ago. To dwell on this, however, would be fruitless and could, in the long run, be self-defeating. I’m simply enjoying the fact that I feel like I understand what I’m doing.  I feel like I know how to shape the path toward becoming a competent, performance-worthy guitar player.

10/30, 10/31, 11/1, 11/2, 11/3, and 11/4 Time: 8 hours

Total Time: 20 hours

Time Remaining: 9,980 hours