Guitar – Progress

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I am pleased to report that I’m still practicing every day. I was in a bit of a quandary as to how to re-learn things – what lessons to take, who to follow, which books to read, or which lessons are best. There’s so much out there that it’s hard to know which information gives me the most accurate or helpful content.

Frankly, some of the material isn’t all that great. In reading several books or articles, I’ve discovered that it’s pretty dry material. Some of the online videos or how-to’s don’t take beginners into account. They move too quickly and don’t break things down so that I can follow them. My hubby suggested I watch favorite guitarists of his like Pat Metheny. That doesn’t help me. For one, I don’t want to play that jazzy/bluesy style, and for another, he plays fast, complicated licks. That’s great, but it’s discouraging because I can’t follow or match that.

I’ve had the most fun with Play Along Music. The lessons are not as basic as I’d like them to be, but I’ve already played bits and pieces of Satisfaction, Another Brick in the Wall, and Smoke on the Water. It’s fun to be able to sort-of duplicate those riffs, but it’s not the basic tutorial that I really wanted.

I kind-of know how to read music. I know what the strings on the guitar are (EBGDAE), and I know what the notes are on a piece of sheet music (FACE for the spaces and EGBDF for the lines). I don’t know what the notes are that go above and below the lines and spaces, and I don’t know where most of the notes are on the fretboard of the guitar. If someone told me to play a certain note, I could play it if it was an open string, but otherwise, no, not at this point.

I realized quickly that my cheap little guitar ($86 for the guitar and amp) isn’t enough. I picked it up mainly to see if I could do it, and I know now that I can. My fingers can make the notes and the chords, and I can make reasonable sounds come out of the beginner guitar. I have discovered that electric guitar is much easier to play than acoustic. The strings are thinner and easier to press and make notes. In fact, I have to un-learn what I originally learned. I learned to press hard to make the notes. Pressing hard on an electric guitar makes the notes sound ‘tinny’. There’s no vibration on the string. A guitar playing buddy of my hubby’s told me to use the lightest touch possible to still make the note. That has helped.

I began shopping around for a better guitar, knowing something nicer will inspire me. I really wanted a Gibson. I’ve played a Gibson, and I know how nice they are, but they are also really expensive. So instead I began looking at Epiphone Guitars. Epiphone is a subsidiary company to Gibson now. They used to be a rival. Epiphone is basically the cheaper version of Gibson. Both companies are based in Nashville.

While on the Epiphone trail, I found a recommendation to GuitarTricks.com. It’s both a website and an app. I think I finally found my lessons and tutorial! It starts at an extremely basic level. The first beginner lessons go through the parts and pieces of the guitar (both acoustic and electric), how to hold it standing or sitting, how to tune it, and how to play it. I haven’t even gotten into making any sounds on the guitar yet, and I’ve already picked up useful information. I was sitting all wrong. Sitting properly makes playing easier, and the guitar sounds better. What a revelation. As a nearly lifelong typist, you would think that would have occurred to me, but sadly it didn’t.

Also while on the Epiphone trail, I found my replacement guitar. My order has been placed, and they are processing it. If all goes as planned, it should come in within a week, and I should be able to pick it up at the local Guitar Center. My new friend is gorgeous.

I can’t wait to meet this guitar. It has mother of pearl inlays on the neck, and it’s a black guitar (black on the back) with a silver burst of custom paint on the front. They say it’s prettier in person than in photos. I also picked up a small Fender amp since the little amp I have doesn’t even sound like it’s working.

Here’s a video of my new friend being played by someone who knows how to use it. It won’t sound this good when I play it, but I can dream.

Image courtesy of epiphone.com

Video courtesy of guitarcenter.com

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

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Perhaps it’s not so much teaching this old dog some new tricks as much as it is refreshing memories of old ones. I was maybe 11 when I originally took guitar lessons. I remember it being hard. It was hard on the fingers of my left hand. You use the non-dominant hand to press the strings against the frets to make the chords. It’s tough on tender fingertips. I remember it being frustrating because I was playing an acoustic guitar, and even at that young of an age, I wanted to rock out and play electric guitar! Acoustic wasn’t cool, man.

When you start out, you learn chords. At least that’s the way a music teacher teaches. My cousin and I took lessons from an older woman who also taught our older brothers, both my cousin’s brother and mine. Mrs. Nicloy taught guitar and piano. I want to say I took lessons for a couple of years, but it might have been just for one. I don’t recall now. I remember we would sit in this lady’s house, and she would pick out the notes of the melody on her guitar, and we’d play the chords. She’d teach one of us first and then the other one’s lesson would follow. We eventually graduated to playing songs, but they were hard, too.

I remember playing in a recital, and I don’t recall being nervous. I remember painstakingly picking out notes of a song. I can’t remember now if this song was the one I learned or if it was the one that my cousin learned, but one of us played “Lemon Tree”. Trini Lopez had a hit with that song in 1965, and trust me, our acoustic version of it sounded nothing like his hit. It was notes slowly picked out by a kid on guitar. At the time, we were frustrated with our music teacher’s choice of songs. I’m sure “Lemon Tree” was cool to Mrs. Nicloy, but it was no “Smoke on the Water”. I should have stuck with guitar, but I didn’t. I wanted to play electric. Acoustic was boring, it was hard, and my mother let me give it up.

Not too long ago, my boss bought herself an acoustic electric guitar, and she began to teach herself to play using an app of some sort. I thought that sounded like fun, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘why not me?’.  When my boss gave me an Amazon gift card for administrative professional’s day, I knew what I wanted to get.

I bought myself a beginner’s electric guitar set. It didn’t cost me anything with the gift card, and I thought it was good enough to start with and see if I could do it again.

The first thing I noticed is that the electric guitar is much lighter than the acoustic, even though the acoustic I had at the time was a cheap mostly pressboard model my parents had purchased. I did play my brother’s vintage Gibson for a while. That was a guitar that was handed down through the family, and it was a beautiful, old antique that I wish I still had today. After I married, my mother ran into financial issues (and decided not to tell anyone), and she sold the Gibson without telling me for $800. I wish I had known. I would’ve helped her out financially, of course, and I would’ve liked to have had that Gibson today. I would’ve kept it, even if I hadn’t played it. I would never have sold it.

I noticed also that an electric guitar is confusing. It does play, of course, without the amplifier, but you need the amplifier to give it volume. I won’t pretend I know what the switches, whammy bar, knobs and pickups are for or what they all do, but I’m going to learn. And when I get better at it, I just might buy a better guitar. For now this one is good enough to use to refresh memories and learn.

My guitar, unfortunately, didn’t come with instructions. You would think that a beginner’s kit would have an instructional booklet of some sort that would explain what each feature of the guitar and amplifier did. I had to figure out what to plug in where. I thought at first it wasn’t working until I realized (duh) that I needed to turn the volume knob on the guitar up.

I downloaded a guitar, bass and ukulele tuning app on my iPhone, and that works great. It made tuning the guitar fun. The app listens as you pluck the string, turning the peg and when you reach the correct note, it gives you a green checkmark.

Don’t laugh, but since I’m going to go see Alice Cooper in September, I had recently purchased a t-shirt from one of his guitarist’s website. When that shirt arrived (from Sweden), it came with a postcard advertising a website and a month’s worth of free lessons from said guitarist. I went online and watched and took the first few lessons. It was fun!

Maybe it’s because I’ve done this before, but it wasn’t particularly hard to get started. He teaches at a pretty basic level, and that’s good. I need to start slowly and remember how to do all of this. Maybe it’s because I think it’s a hoot to learn from one of my favorite musicians, I don’t know. Anything that will keep me going back and keep me practicing is a good thing.

I don’t think I’ll be starting a band anytime soon, but if I could play a few riffs or a few recognizable songs, sore fingers would make it all worth it. I’ll let you know how I make out.

A Month of Goodbyes

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April was a month of goodbyes at my house. Everyone already knows I lost my twenty-some year old tree. The yard just doesn’t look the same without it. It’s depressing out front. Strangely enough my next door neighbor (the nice one on the other side) told me how great the yard looks without the tree.  Why don’t people like trees? I don’t get it. I thought people were all buzzed about the environment these days. Aren’t trees part of that? Everyone I live near hates trees. They hate the leaves, and they hate the birds and the squirrels that trees attract. Maybe I’m just unfortunate enough to live in a neighborhood of old farts who worry more about their perfect grass than they do about the wildlife.

My tree really had changed for the worst. I looked back through photos, and just five years ago it had a trunk, and it had a defined space that it stuck to. Sometime over those five years, it split down the middle and the trunks were more or less laying on the ground, one side reaching for the street and the other side banging up against my house and destroying my gutters in the process. So my tree had to go. It still hurts that it is gone. It still hurts to see the pile of wood shavings. I’ve smoothed most of it out and spread much of it around in the gardens as mulch. That’s the best I can do. If the neighbors don’t like how it looks, I suggest they look the other way. I’m done with caring.

A week ago there was another sad goodbye. I started out in 2007 with a one year old 2006 maroon Ford Fusion. The Ford Fusion was new to the world at that time. It was sharp and it was different. No one else had that design. It was innovative and it was fun. I drove it for six years and put 40,000 miles on it. When hubby’s SUV died, we liked the Fusion so much we bought my current car, a 2012 Fusion. The 2006 went to my husband, and he put another 60,000 miles on it.

It still had life in it, but it was starting to nickel and dime us. It had at least a couple of thousand dollars worth of repairs coming up. The air conditioning quit years ago, the door latch was broken (you had to roll the window down and open the door from the outside to get out of the driver’s seat), the transmission was going, and the front end was making noises. So with 132,000 miles on it, we traded it in last weekend. I cried. Yes, I cry over cars (and over trees). It was like saying goodbye to an old friend, and I still didn’t have my 2012 Fusion back from the repair shop yet. I felt bereft.

Hubby had always wanted a small pickup truck. He mentioned a Ford Ranger, in particular. I went online, looking, just for the heck of it. I found a 2010 Ranger with only 38,000 miles on it. We believe some older man had it and used it to tow a small camper in the summer, and that’s all he used it for. It’s pristine, and it drives like a brand new car. It has less miles on it that my 2012 Fusion does.

So on Saturday, a new Ford appeared in our driveway.

Then on Monday, a repaired and beautiful Ford came back home, too.

We are a two Ford family again. I miss the old guy, my 2006, but my hubby loves his “new” truck. My car looks like she’s new again. I was so excited to get her back.

Things are looking up around here, and April with its sad goodbyes is just a memory now.