Archive for the ‘How to:…’ Category

Recording an Album: #2 – Using a Click Track

Posted by Brian on 19th October 2014 in Guitar, How to:..., Journal, Recording

Well, I’ve started…

The first track that I am going to record is Richard Gilewitz’s “Echoing Wilderness”. I’ll be playing the abridged version, similar to the one that Leo Kottke recorded, rather than the much longer original.

I’ve decided that I will use a “click track” to record this tune. A “click track” is basically a metronome that plays while you record. There are many reasons to use a click track, most of which are outlined in this excellent article: Why Smart Songwriters Use Click Tracks

Some people hate click tracks, some love them. I think that they are a great tool but not universally required. (For now…)

I timed out “Echoing Wilderness” at about three and a half minutes, so I created a three and a half minute click track [Generate>Click Track] at 72 beats per minute (bpm), which I figured to be about the right tempo.

It wasn’t.

At 72 beats per minute, the song is longer than three and a half minutes. I was still playing the outro when the click track stopped. “Perfect!” I thought, since a wanted to slow down at the end anyways. What I didn’t realize was that when the click track stopped, the recording stopped, so I didn’t actually record the last bit of the tune.

Start again…

This time, I created a 4:30 long click track at 76 bpm and then “silenced” the last minute [select the last minute of the track, Generate>Silence] to allow for slowing down in the outro.

I wasn’t able to get a clean recording with my remaining time and 76 bpm is possibly still a bit slow, but I did get a guitar track that I could play with a bit to see how I could manipulate the recording with Audacity. I played around with adding reverb and experimented with other techniques for “fattening up” the sound.

More to come…

———————————————-

Here is Richard Gilewitz playing Leo Kottke’s version of his song:

(If you care, it’s played in Open D: DADF#AD)

… and now that I’ve watched the above video again, 76 bpm might be a lot slow…

Or not…

It’s interesting how much a tune can change over the years from the time you learn it, if you never refer back to the original.

Recording an Album: Intro

Posted by Brian on 15th October 2014 in General Music, Guitar, How to:..., Journal, Recording

People tell me that the word “album” is out-dated.

My dictionary says an album is, among other things, “a collection of recordings issued as a single item on CD, record, or another medium.”

So its the word I’m going to use.

Anyways…

I’ve decided to record an album. Not one that you are ever likely to be able to buy, but one that I will record simply for the experience of it. I’ve decided that it will be a collection of instrumental guitar tunes that were inspired by nature. It will be a short album – perhaps, half a dozen songs, written by some of my favourite guitarists/composers.

I have a Blue Yeti USB microphone, given to me a couple of Christmases ago, and a cheap refurbished laptop that I recently purchased. I’ve loaded Audacity (free, open-source recording software) onto my computer and I’m ready to go!

I expect that this experience will teach me a lot – and you may be able to learn from my failures!

So follow along…

 

Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part III: Rhythm & Tempo

Posted by Brian on 28th June 2012 in General Music, How to:..., Musicianship, Practice

Early in May, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. I am now working on getting some of the insights from that workshop written down and posted. In this, the third of four installments, I am going to talk about working on Rhythm and Tempo without your guitar.

Rhythm

A while ago I wrote about attending a guitar workshop led by David Ross MacDonald at the Eaglewood Folk Festival. In that workshop he talked about how he used a sort of two step to embed various rhythms (i.e eighths, triplets, sixteenths, etc.) into his brain. You can also tap out rhythms in time with your metronome, or even use your left hand to tap out a steady beat while tapping out more complex rhythms with the right (or vice versa, if that’s how you’re wired).

Tempo

One of the biggest challenges for many musicians is starting at the right tempo. As it turns out, our brains have a remarkable capacity for reproducing the tempo of well known songs. For example, according to Daniel Levitin, in his book, “This Is Your Brain On Music”, we can use the following songs to find the following tempos:

“Hotel California”, by The Eagles – 75 beats per minute
“Back in Black”, by AC/DC – 96 bpm
“Walk This Way” by Aerosmith – 112 bpm
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson – 116 bpm

This is a technique that I have found to be very helpful.

Hopefully, you can use some of these ideas to improve your musicianship without building callouses.

Stay tuned for Part IV: Listening and Ear Training

Part I: Why?

Part II: Visualizing

Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part II: Visualizing

Posted by Brian on 29th May 2012 in General Music, How to:..., Musicianship, Performing, Practice

Earlier this month, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. I am now working on getting some of the insights from that workshop written down and posted. Two weeks ago, I talked about why we might want to practice without our guitar. This week I am going to talk about visualization techniques.

We often hear athletes talk about using visualizing techniques to help them on their road to success. One thing that came up during the workshop was the legendary story of the golfer who kept himself sane as  a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam by imagining playing a round of golf at his home course each day. When he finally did get home, the story goes, he had only lost a couple of strokes off his game. While the veracity of this story may be in doubt, the benefits of visualization techniques are not.

One way that we can use visualization is to play “air guitar”. We can imagine playing new chord shapes or playing a familiar chord progression – maybe playing that chord progression on another part of the neck. We can imagine playing scales – working through the major, and various minor and modal scales, hearing them in our mind as we “play” them.

We can also pick up some sheet music (standard notation or tablature) and visualize playing it. If you are using standard notation, figure out the best place to play each note, and, where applicable, figure out which chord voicings will work most effectively.

Another way we can use visualization techniques is to use our computer or mobile devices. There are websites and “apps” that help you to learn your fretboard. Here is one from MusicTheory.net: http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/fretboard/yy998y

A final area where we can use visualization is in performance. Years ago I heard Olympic Gold Medalist, Mark Tewksbury tell a story about sneaking into the, then unfinished, pool in Barcelona and imagining the crowds and walking across the deck to the starting blocks and hearing the starters pistol and how it helped him to perform on the actual day of competition. As musicians, we can do the same by imagining an audience, imagining taking our place on the stage and nailing those first few notes. We can also use this type of visualization with our instrument in hand too – when we are working on performance pieces, we should be imagining our audience and even practicing our verbal bits between songs.

Stay tuned for Part III: Rhythm and Tempo

 

 

Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part I: Why?

A week and a half ago, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting some of the techniques that were discussed for practicing without having an instrument in hand.

First, however, I thought it might be helpful to discuss why one might want to practice without a guitar.

For me, the most obvious situation where one might want to practice without a guitar is when there isn’t a guitar available. When you’re on the bus, or at your kids’ soccer practice, or waiting at the doctor’s office, you may want to wile away the time by practicing without your guitar.

You may also want to practice without your guitar to build non-guitar-specific skills. You can work on rhythm or ear training very easily without having your instrument in hand.

Another reason you may want to practice without your guitar is to avoid (or recover from) injury. Repetitive stress injuries are common with the guitar and we can reduce our playing hours by finding ways to practice without actually playing.

So now that you know why you might want to practice without your guitar, stay tuned to learn how to practice without your guitar…

May 29, 2012:  Part II: Visualizing

June 28, 2012: Part III: Rhythm and Tempo

How to: Build a Set List: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty's BlogI recently read a great blog post from Adam Rafferty which describes his process for building a set list. He also talks about the importance of melody and some of the pitfalls to avoid when composing new tunes or adding repertoire. You can read the post here.

Adam Rafferty is a solo fingerstyle guitarist from New York City. He was featured in September’s Video-of-the-Month.

How to: Open Mic

Posted by Brian on 25th October 2011 in How to:..., Performing, Practice

One of the biggest and most important steps when learning to play music, is performance. Somehow, when people are listening to us play, everything changes. Songs that we can play perfectly and effortlessly in an empty room, become much more difficult when someone, especially someone unfamiliar, is listening.

Of course the first step is to play in front of family and/or friends. Just say, “Hey, I need to practice playing to an audience. Can you listen to this and tell me what you think?” And if you have friends or family who play music, do them a favour and ask them to play for you.

The next step, is to find an unfamiliar audience. And the best place to do that is at an “open mic” (also commonly called an “open stage”).

Now don’t be scared… they’re not a bad as you think.

People who go to open mics don’t go to be critics. They go to encourage. Most are participants, and the ones that aren’t are usually trying to work up the courage to participate. And yes, your first performance may well be a “train wreck”. But it won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…

Here’s how to prepare for your first open mic.

Check it out.

Find out as much as you can before you go. Are you allowed a certain number of songs, or a certain amount of time? Is it a “themed” open mic (i.e. bluegrass, celtic, etc.) or is it truly “open”. If it makes you more comfortable, go and check it out once before you perform, but take your instrument, just in case. If someone asks you to play, its okay to say, “I’d like to listen a bit first.” But if they ask again later, don’t say no.

Prepare.

Decide which songs you’re going to play and practice, practice, practice. If you want to perform standing up, practice standing up. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice blindfolded. Videotape yourself. Watch the video. And practice some more.

Perform

Play your best song first. It’s not a concert. You don’t need to save the best for last. Playing your best song will maximize your comfort level.

Don’t bail out. Even if your first tune goes horribly, stay with it. The longer you’re up there, the more comfortable you will get.

Stay until its over. If you can, stick around and listen to other performers. On top of being courteous to the other performers, there is a very good chance that someone will come around and thank you for coming out and encourage you to come back. If this doesn’t happen, its not you – it’s them. Find another open mic. Also, try to complement or encourage at least one other performer.

Evaluate

You will probably be your own worst critic. Don’t wallow! Try to pick just one thing that you will try to do differently next time. Think about what other performers did that you liked, or didn’t like and try to apply those things to your next performance.

Go Back

Finally, no matter how well, or poorly, it went. Try again. If you didn’t like the “vibe” of that open mic, try another one. But make sure that you try again – it will be easier – and it certainly won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…

 

 

Looping 101

Posted by Brian on 7th August 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar, Guitarists, How to:..., Practice

“Loopers” have been one of the more popular guitar effects in recent years. Loopers are not an “effect” so much as a device which can record a segment of music as you play it and then play it in a loop until you decide to stop it. You can select your “in” and “out” points as you play with a foot switch and some loopers will allow you to add multiple layers to your loop.

In this case, a video is worth a thousand words, so here is Sergio Altamura of (surprise, surprise) CandyRat Records using a looper in his tune “Before the Sea”:

Loopers can be used in a number of ways. Obviously, as seen in this video, they can be used as a composition and performance tool. They are also a great practice tool. You can record a chord progression or a riff and then play along with it, or you can record a segment of a tune that you are working on and listen objectively to see how it sounds.

If you think a looper is something that you could have some fun with (I know I do – though I don’t actually own one yet), then take your guitar to your local guitar shop and try one (or more) out.

 

How to: Become an Expert Guitar Player

Posted by Brian on 13th April 2011 in General Music, Guitar, How to:..., Practice

They say that it takes ten thousand hours of working on something to become an “expert”. (I’m not sure who “they” are, but I’ve heard it a number of times and have no reason to doubt that number, so we’ll go with it.) The average full time job occupies roughly two thousand hours a year, so I suppose that this is why most job postings are looking for someone with at least five years experience.

Now, lets consider what it takes to become an expert guitar player. Let’s say the budding young guitarist has half an hour a day set aside for practice, and by “practice” I don’t mean playing a favourite riff repeatedly, I mean working on scales, building repertoire, studying theory, ear training, etc. Lets assume that our budding young guitarist manages to practice five days a week on average – so two and a half hours of practice a week, or, assuming two weeks of vacation each year, 125 hours a year. Only seventy-nine years to go before receiving “expert” status. (For the record, its a rare “budding young guitarist” who even practices this much.)

Let’s say that our future expert decides that, yes, music is something that (s)he wants to get serious about. (S)he decides to practice an hour a day, 6 days a week and joins a band that rehearses for 2 hours every Thursday night. We’re now up to 400 hours a year – and a mere twenty-five years away from “expert” status. But take heart, we can get there five years sooner if we can book a 2-hour gig every weekend…

Clearly, this is going to take some time…

Better get started.

 

 

 

How to: Create Your Own Venue

Posted by Brian on 24th September 2010 in How to:..., Performing

In the local paper this week, there was a letter to the editor lamenting the absence of venues in our community for young musicians to play their music. And I couldn’t help but agree – there is a terrible shortage of venues where young musicians can hone their performance skills. In fact there is a terrible shortage of venues for original music, period.

But this doesn’t mean that you have to hide out in your basement feeling sorry for yourself while you play your music. There is an alternative.

House concerts have become quite a phenomenon in folk music circles – for good reason. Simply put, a house concert is an invitation-only concert in someone’s home. It is a great way to share your music with the people who are most interested in hearing it. And you might even make a few bucks while you’re at it.

If you are a musician, or small band, looking to build an audience for your music, house concerts are an idea to which you should give serious consideration. You can host one yourself, or ask a supportive friend with a decent-sized living room or basement to host one for you. Then start inviting your friends. Make sure you set a cap on the number of invitees; and charging a nominal fee for tickets will ensure that people actually show up. Make sure that you charge enough so that you or the host won’t be out-of-pocket for the event, and if you want to get paid for your services, you need to write that into your ticket prices too. If you can sell 20 tickets for $5 each, you’ve generated $100 in revenue – if you can sell a few CDs and start building an e-mail list, so much the better.

(And make sure that all of the guests know before they leave that you would be delighted to perform at a house concert in their home too!)