The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
Ok, so, I "think" yesterday's lesson was a BIG step forward or at least it opened the door that will be. Bless him he's so patient and I'm soooo .. complicated? Promised you a doodle too so there'a a fun illustration of my point at the end!
What's my point? Two things 1) this damned perspective thing, I'm so so close to resolution. However I'm beginning to think that rather than them fixing this for me I'm going to need to find the solution and work it into our routine. I sank like a stone after yesterday's lesson and bless him it was actually a genuinely GREAT lesson, I loved it & it helped tonnes... but I'll save that for another day & 2) soloing!!!! Bet you saw that coming & it's the focus of today's post.
I'm going to be honest I don't know what he wants from me when I solo, I really don't. Well I do and I don't, I "know" what he wants but I just can't seem to compute how to get from point A - being what I'm currently doing, to point B - the cool soloing he wants. I know what I'm doing wrong but I don't understand the reason behind why it's wrong and how to fix it, the steps required to take the motions I'm making and change them into the ones that will be right. I have the same problem with Tom's soloing and that's why my frustration has gone epic. When my frustration goes up my confidence goes down and ... well we know what.
However ... yesterday for the very first time I feel like we took a really really big step forward. And it's all to do with the numbers! Actually, its to do with a lot more than that but it does centre around the numbers - of what? The chord, the scale, the story! In my head I hear a tale when I play, I hear emotion and it's only getting more prominent the more I write and the more I play. That's where Zak & I differ and I think he struggles to understand, I struggle to move away from it & at the same time I really struggle to incorporate it into what he wants which I'm struggling to understand - it's a mess!! When I solo I follow my head "up or down" to where the sound is that I'm "hearing", it makes for nice melody (or at least I think it will when I can really play) but crap soloing.
BUT......! In today's lesson we looked at how to play over a chord, we've done that before but this time we looked at what to start on and why, how to decide on a final end point for the run. What the numbers mean within that and how to make it more interesting to get from start to finish. We looked at using the scale to accomplish it and how to use going up or down in 3rds to add interest and adding rhythm to that to make it sound funky and how just a tiny change can really alter the dynamics. The important words in bold, remember it's not enough to tell me WHAT to do, I get it but I can't apply it. You have to tell me WHY, HOW etc, feed me the science of it THEN I can begin to understand and THEN I can begin to apply and experiment. Connect the dots back to the one I'm on so I can move forward.
So now we're speaking my language. Right there several lightbulbs went on and a few dots were joined, there were a few things we've been over and over suddenly coming together and for the first time making sense. I've talked numbers before in this blog, I've talked rhythm & I've talked about to death about melody (and will continue to do so as it's important!). Can you see how things can be difficult for me, I literally have to understand the detailed mechanics to do the simplest of things. But can you also see how when I understand the in's and out's it opens up far more opportunity long term? It's a harder path with more options at the end... I think!
Where do I go from here? Into intense study mode. No more free passes, I need to learn those scales, I need to learn those chords, I need to know the numbers instinctively, I need to understand the flavour and purpose of each note within a scale. I need to get comfortable with rhythm & I need to know where I am at all times. I need to think about how to get from point A to B without thinking and all while knowing where A & B are within my story if that's how I'm going to insist on playing (well not insist but I can't help where my heart leads!).
It's a lot, it's a LOT. But I always knew this was coming and I actually feel much better about it than I thought I would, it makes more sense now. If I want to play anything like Jimmie Vaughan or David Gilmour I need to crack this completely in order to be able to move on to worrying about skills. I don't know if this is the final angle I'll need to approach this particular problem from. I don't know how long it will take to bring me around and I don't know if there will be one of my *ding* moments when we get there. But let's hope so!
And that's just one thing on one instrument haha - I must be CRAZY doing this right? Good thing I'm hopelessly passionate about it.
I neeeeeed sleep, I don't need a lot, I'm not greedy but I need SOME. That however is not going to stop me I will just have to practice in a dazed state looking like the walking dead. Today is ... can you guess, I'm sure you know by now?? Yep lesson day which means no sleep again tonight but as always I don't care.
I want to talk about ideas. I get frustrated a lot, have you figured that out by now! It's not surprising, what probably is a bit surprising is that despite me hitting a wall every five seconds and getting incredibly stressed I keep on pushing forward harder and harder. That's me, perfectly nuts in every regard and solidly predictable until I'm not then I'll throw a REAL curve ball - keeps it fresh!
So ideas, the thing that probably causes me the most stress is having a head full of things I want to do that my hands and feet won't oblige with. I get frustrated that I can hear things I want to play in my head, I hear other people play things I want to play, I have ideas I can't work out and it's infuriating. And I know that it's just a matter of time and hard work and it will come, that rewards need to be earned but I want it NOW!
But in truth the thing is I do have ideas, a million a minute (not literally but I do have a lot), many are variations on others, some are not that good but they come thick and fast. Sometimes just hearing a chord progression or a couple of notes will send my brain off thinking of the possibilities, then I'll accidentally introduce a different note or chord and there is a whole bunch of new directions I could go. That's probably my number one love and why I want to write so badly, I want to tell my 'stories' as I call them although I'm not sure anyone else knows what I'm on about!
Playing other peoples music is wonderful, it's a gift and a joy and an honour but writing music, telling your tales to people, sharing your emotions that's something else. That's special. I didn't mean to end up on this path at all and while I am so grateful and believe everyone would benefit from this I'm also surrounded by several other family members learning instruments and I understand that this just doesn't appeal to everyone. Some people just want to chill and relax and play something familiar. That's cool too! It's not as cool but it's still cool.
It's not hard to have ideas, at least I don't think it is. It's often the case when you can do something you assume everyone else can. Technically I find the guitar a nightmare to master and I don't think most people appreciate that when they see me play. But ideas don't need to come in epiphany moments although they can. Ideas can be teased, nurtured and pulled out from random noodles. What you need to do is recognise the bits that are connecting and then build on that, trust your head to lead you through the melody. Let your fingers do the work and use your ear then take it slow and the idea will form. In this regard I would absolutely recommend listing to as much music as you can, I think it's vital for a musician because it's where ideas come from. The more you listen to, genres not just bands, the more ideas you can have, the more you can borrow, the more you can mix things, the less predicable you will be, the more fun you'll have and the list goes on. If you want to play then fill your head with endless possibilities you can tap in to. Then learn what they're doing so you know the 'science' behind the sound and when you suddenly find yourself in recognisable territory while noodling you can pull it out and build on it. The fun part comes when you start mixing, I'm a long way from that but looking forward to it!
That's my advice on that anyway. It's one of those things as I continue to learn I'll update but for now this is what helps me and I hope it will help you to. Always make time to noodle, the more often you do it the more used you'll get to pulling ideas out.
My problem is turning those ideas into full songs, I'm ebbing closer but there is still a long way to go till I can just turn on the tap so to speak.
I talk a lot about the struggles but you'd expect that it's a lot I've taken on but I don't want to seem like a sour puss because I'm not. Yes I do find it hard, and ok yes a lot of that is because a) I've taken on a lot and b) I push myself ridiculously hard but I also find a lot of joy in the tiniest move forwards although I don't show it enough.
I think at the moment I'm experiencing a growth spurt and I'm confident in saying I do think it's down to the decision to revisit the guitar with Tom and soloing with both teachers. My confidence still has a long way to go but it's ebbing bit by bit which is what we all wanted and hoped for. I think though the key to this bigger than normal step forward is understanding rhythm a bit more and applying it. The key to that is my being more open and giving things a try even though they're outside my comfort zone and my teachers understanding me better and applying that to their brilliant teaching.
I've added a vid of me playing yesterday, it's a longer version of yesterdays Instagram post and while there is a lot of room for more work 'hopefully' you'll notice a big improvement from when I first started with double stops (none used in this particular version although I am adding them in regularly now). I think a few of the lessons I've had lately have finally hit home. Here my very first solo vid (still upside down!) from when I started this blog too - big improvement on that and that was just over 3 months ago.
What's Helped Specifically?
Double stops, taking away the option to endlessly noodle meant I had to focus on timing and also really focus on the scale and intervals.
Working on rhythms and starting on different beats (still working on this big time!). This helped me think in terms of singing lines rather than just melody melody melody endless melody. Both of them have been on about this for a long time and I think playing over Toms style of strumming actually was the thing that helped because I can't do my melodic smooth playing over it, as soon as he got me playing in a more short, sharp funky way it (I'd say clicked but we're not there yet) made more sense.
Call & response. Once I'd made progress on the other two then Zak's lesson on call and response suddenly popped into my mind and I found myself moving more between the higher notes and lower in a kind of 'singing to each other' kind of way.
Strumming finger style. My hand has finally begun to relax and it's making a big difference to my strumming but I've also been working on a more funky plucking style too with slaps and added notes and moving within the chord which is coming on and helps. That's me doing the rhythm 'strumming' - it's not as good as Tom but wayyyyyy better than my normal backing rhythms!
Vibrato - finally I'm using it although I still feel uncomfortable doing it in front of my teachers it is coming more naturally. Not always but it's a step forwards. Technically there is a LOT to work on but I want to get comfortable using it all the time before I start worrying about that.
I've noticed all this has started to creep in to my piano playing too instead of just writing melody on this latest song or focusing on rhythm like I tend to do when piano comes into my other songs this time I'm thinking about both. So there you go proof all this hard work and headbanging does make a difference - it's just a matter of time. And more than that I think it's important to realise that looking at things in a different way can often be the catalyst. It's often not enough sometimes just to keep trying, you also need to try to discover a new method or way of looking at the problem to finally understand. Hopefully there is more to this spurt but if not then I'll start working on getting towards the next one. :)
One of the best ways I've found to learn is to get stuck in and mess around. I often do this, I experiment totally free on all the instruments just to discover new ideas, try out techniques I can't yet do without the stress of needing to get them right. I will often be far more adventurous and it gives me ideas - it's fun too!!
Most importantly though it prepares me a little for when the technique crops up in lessons. Sometimes it will be something I've seen my teachers do that I then secretly go away and play with, sometimes I'm creatively trying to recreate some sound I heard in a song.
On many many occasions the things I'm messing with have then cropped up in lessons and I've been in a much more comfortable place (well than I would have been!) to try it. Sometimes I confess I've been playing with it sometimes I don't (sorry guys!) - depends how bad I still am haha! But my point is that not only does it get me thinking creatively it also helps with my actual learning and it's fun too.
At the moment I'm practicing letting my fingers run rampant over the piano and seeing what comes out and trying to play more rhythmically, I'm being more experimental in my playing. On the drums I'm working out new beat rhythms and trying not to play so straight, I'm being very playful and experimenting with fill rhythms by mixing up my rudiments too, mostly it all sounds bad but it should I'm creatively noodling! On bass I'm playing around with funky rhythms and with syncopation and trying to mix repetition and faster little runs. On guitar I'm trying to experiment with rhythmic and percussive strumming (if my teachers could see what I've been up to they would smile but I'm NOT doing that in a video any time soon) and trying to move my fingers around when I'm on simple chords. I'm experimenting with fingerpicking patterns too.
So you can see I''ve been messing a LOT with rhythm and yes given my posts recently and teacher feedback it may look like I'm not making ANY progress but in actuality I really have. I was just catastrophically bad now I'm just really bad (haha!), of course my teachers don't know how much effort I've actually been putting in so it's not their fault I feel like a total dope in lessons but I know from experience at some point I will start to make progress and it will move on from there much much quicker because of my practice - timing & soloing both did in the end.
There you go! One thing to put more of into your practice, I'm no expert player (obviously) but I'm pretty confident in holding this up as a solid piece of advice because it's how I've learnt most things that I've done from web design to magazine production.
A bit of a lecture today but an important one I think. One of the excuses I've heard many people make for not doing something is that they'll never be as good as the guy next to them. They don't have natural talent or they don't learn as fast etc.
In my life I'm surrounded by people who can do what I can't. My eldest is such a naturally talented artist, she can just do it, painting, drawing etc it's amazing to watch. My second eldest is a natural musician, again she just gets it. She has a fantastic ear and a memory I would die for (not literally of course) and she can just learn from any video with sickening ease. My eldest son is a wiz with technology I can't keep up with him at all. My middle son has a confidence and personality that could take him anywhere he wants to go, he has no fear of anything and he's an awesome little drummer too! My youngest is still little but is already showing at least as much artistic and musical talent as his sisters and my husband is respected by just about everyone without even trying. He's successful and just has a personality people take a shine to.
Then there is me..! I'm not without abilities far from it, I'm an all rounder type I can do a bit of this and a bit of that but if I want to be good at anything I have to work - HARD. My art is not bad but I've had to work very very hard to push up my skill level, my music as you know is coming on slowly but again the hours I need to put in to get anywhere near where my daughter & son can naturally are crazy. Then you have my persona... less said there the better! I'm odd - we'll leave it at that!! The biggest compliment I've ever had is that I work hard - which is a bit like the classic self putdown "I'm so ugly" and someone replying "but you have a nice personality" erm... yep that helps haha!!
My point is NOT woe is me, in fact it's the opposite. I can sit here and say I don't have the naturally endearing personality my husband, son & teachers have. I can whinge about not having natural talent like my daughters and my sons, I could give up and I'd have what appears to be a valid excuse. But I won't, if you want something you have to forget what everyone else can do, stop looking around because what anyone else can or cannot do is totally irrelevant. It's time to swallow your pride, bury the pain (yes it hurts a LOT when I see how easy things come to others) and concentrate on what you have to do to get what you want. It really is both that hard and that simple. It's a lesson I try to remind myself of constantly. Use people as inspiration not competition to fire you on to achieve the wonderful things they can do and imagine the sense of pride when you do.. then GO FOR IT!
The brutal truth is that if I really WANT to play I'll just have to dig deeper, practice longer and harder. And in the meantime I'm doing all I can to help those I care about be all they can be and if it's more than I could ever be then I'm so so proud of them. I actually love seeing others succeed and it's a really wonderful feeling if I can help them do it.
It's important to remember that if you really want something, don't give up trying EVER. And if you live with people or have friends who can just 'do it' then trust me I feel your pain!!
Todays little tidbit of "advice" is about how I've begun to use recording as a learning tool and how it's helping me.
First off I'm no recording expert - duh - so all I can do on that front is tell you what I have but that doesn't mean I think it's ideal, I can tell you that it works. There is a lot more to add to this list (hopefully soon a mike and a few other things but for now this is a very very basic starter). Maybe over time I'll learn more from others or experience but for now this will do.
So the equipment I use:
Focusrite Scarlett 6.0 (I recommend getting one with more than 2 inputs if you're recording multiple instruments but you don't have to, it just makes life a LOT easier.)
Surface Pro Tablet (not needed but I find it easier to bring from place to place than my PC and I can run Staff Pad which is a very cool music composition tool.)
Studio One DAW (Many other will do the job, this one was recommended by my teacher and is very intuitive).
In my music room I have all the instruments connected up and ready to play so I can bounce from one to another which I tend to do all day. It's easier to practice if things are just ready to be picked up on a whim and with recording this is even more true.
Ways to use recording to learn
The first is to learn whatever song etc you've been given. The best way is for your teacher to record them playing it as a guide. You then record yourself and compare the two recordings, look for volume, note length, timing visually then listen for dynamics. It's very very useful especially if you combine it with video footage so you can see what they are doing at any point that is confusing you
Use it to show progress
Keep your recordings in an organised folder and name them sensibly. At times we all go back and relearn old songs, or perhaps you have some you never forgot. Record again and see the progress you've made, it's a great diary of your progress and it can help boost your confidence. We all deserve that now and again, learning anything is hard work!
Learning to transcribe is one of the hardest things I'm doing right now, I find it very hard to hear a note then as soon as they add a slur I'm in big trouble. I've found that by adding the track/song to the daw program (easy if you own the song, harder if not but there are naughty ways to get it on there) then loop the section you're trying to learn, you can slow it down, adjust the volume & the best bit you can record yourself when you think you have it see if it matches up, play the two simultaneously and look for anything inconsistent.
To improve timing
Pretty much in the same way as learning & transcribing load a song, play over the top and try to match the timing as perfectly as you can. It will throw up any sections you're struggling with so you can practice them specifically. The best bit is you can analyse the timing and see exactly where the beat is and where the note falls in relation to it, which subbeat is it on.
To analyse songs
Using the loop function in the DAW allows you to listen to a song over and over to understand the structure of it in pieces and listen to the intricacies so you can learn to mimic them. This could be single instrument pieces where you want to understand the dynamics a bit better or a band where you want to know where they've added in a little more flavour or texture into the mix.
It's been a godsend to me in two ways here, the first is that I can now log my ideas down and they don't dissappear into the abyss of my phone memos. I'm FAR more likely to continue working and developing the concept if it's recrorded "I'll just lay down some really crappy drums and see where that leads the idea, then ok but what about some block piano chords, ah ok I'm getting a vibe now...!". You get the idea! The second is that I may have an idea but I can't play it - yet - so I can either spend days/weeks learning how to play it to see if it will work OR I can just fake it. Lay it down in layers adding in bits in seperate tracks, then later if it works I can go learn it and re-record. Ideas don't have to be perfect from the start, I think that's one of the most important things I've learnt is how to take a sniff of any idea and follow the trail, sometimes leaving it and coming back later. You're more likely to come back to it if you have a recording to inspire you. On Studio One you can also use layers so you have multiple versions of the same track and you can choose bits from one and bits from another to create one good attempt.
To demonstrate your progress
Different to above this isn't for you it's for your teacher. If like me you spend every week going I can do it better but I'm nervous, I can hit that note on time just not now, I've been getting it right every time until now...! Well then recording - especially mulitple recordings on different layers shows them what you can - and can't - do. It's not a replacement for trying to play it but it's a good way to show your true progress and knowing you have that backup plan will help you play with more confidence anyway.
It can be frustrating. As soon as I click record on anything I suddenly become 50% less able to play it for some reason (so I guess in that sense it's good for practicing as it will help overcome "performance anxiety" at least a little). But I don't want to be wasting my time recording and re recording over and over so I use the loop function there to give me a couple of run throughs before the real deal then I click stop and see what's what. I now don't use Sibelius to write up my scores as often which means when I forget them they're gone unless in the future I transcribe every part and I will most likely not be doing that. My songs are not good so it doesn't really matter but I think it's a little sad because it feels more special if, even in theory, it's in the wold for someone else to learn.
So these are the few things I've found so far. I'll add more as I find them of course in new posts but I've only been recording for a couple of months now so it's all still very new to me. As I add more equipment it will open up new benefits and opportunities I'm sure. It's an investment but there are cheaper alternatives to what I have. Most people can just use their existing PC, add a very cheap interface but I would recommend going with a DAW that offers things like layers because of how much it will help you. If you're invested in yourself as a musician then this will help you progress much faster - obviously as always in my opinion but it certainly has helped me a lot.
The last few weeks I've struggled against myself in many ways and it's been a little bit painful, neccessary but painful! Normally I'm not good at asking for help but when it gets this difficult I will reluctantly turn to those who can help for support. That wasn't an option this time, one of the many difficulties associated with learning this way I guess (there are MANY benefits too) so I forced myself to push on and on and ON. I would NOT recommend this, in fact please don't do it, burnout, exhaustion and even losing the love for what you're doing can result. Mentally and physically it takes an incredible toll & as I tell my kids - do as I say not as I do!!
We've addressed my crazy traits previously that 'compell' me to be like this like it or lump it but I've decided to force myself into a few days of rest, I'll still play a lot of course but the idea is to stop pushing COMPLETELY & have as much fun as possible. I'm starting by picking up my guitar and strumming whatever I want, however I want along to a multitude of songs. I don't care if I sound rubbish, dont care if my technique is bad - I'm going to have FUN!!
Then I'll apply this across all the instruments for the next couple of days at least. Find the love & milk it for a bit. haha I just found the giggle mode on the piano, I don't care how eyerollingly (is that a word? It should be!) sad it is but it just literally made me cry with laughter!! - So easily pleased!
It's high time I find my Bob Marley to compliment my Jimmie Hendrix!!!
This is one of the most important tips I can give you even if I'm not good at taking my own advice. Always, always find balance even if it goes against your nature. And also if you're alone in your battles remember to give yourself credit for being so strong :)
I thought today I would carry on from the previous two posts and lay bare my method see if I can't help you 'a little' with your own. The song wasn't amazing - understatement 😆 but it was a lot better than it had any right to be.
Post 1 - The struggle to understand song structure
Post 2 - The song that I finally recorded
I played everything you heard, it's not that I can't hit a note but what I can't do is play consistantly and accurately enough to step into any studio including my home one without some serious duct tape!
The crucial tip I learnt that got me from 'sob I can't do this' to YES!!! was that I don't 'need' to be perfect. In the end I recorded a simple drum rhythm all the way through, same with guitar melody, strumming & piano block chords including 'strings effect'. Then I hacked away at it, where I had a bit that went very wrong I simply copied a section that was right and pasted that instead, where I felt I needed space I cut it away completely, then I tested it to see where I needed to concentrate on next. I worked out a structure then figured out how to make that structure work bit by bit. When I needed something else or I wanted to try a different angle I added a new track. Then I re-tested it and cut what didn't work or rerecorded. Then listen, rework and repeat.
For example - I cheated with the drum fills (any drummer will have immediately noticed that!), I recorded the basic rhythm first then when I had other elements on top I sat at the drums and only did fills wherever I felt there should be one then I listened back and kept or removed or copied them where it felt appropriate. The result is not pretty or perfect by a long shot but it's the best I've been able to do with the drum section in a song and the point is I can now learn the drums and rerecord if I want to properly - I'm not just taking a step forward in my music but I'm also giving myself the opportunity to learn to play better too.
In other words I only focused on one bit at a time and trusted my ear to tell me what that was. The result is 1) a messy recording, but that's ok, it's one of my first 10 ever so I can live with that, and, 2) a result that's eluded me for months because I had been trying to play things I'm not ready to play.
I can always go back if I want to and learn how to play the drums with the fills, improve on the guitar melodies and solos because I now have a stronger framework to work from.
It was watching my teacher hack one of my songs to pieces in order to make it into something more structured that gave me the idea. So my tip to those new to this is don't worry about getting it all, simplify and layer, give yourself room to add or take away.
Lets hope this is the first of many and while I'm learning to play all my instruments better I'll be building ideas ready to use my new skills on.
Learning Time Log
How long I've been learning as at at the end of Dec 2020.
What's This About?
One fateful day I decided to get guitar lessons. 5 years later I'm learning four instruments and trying to become a musician and songwriter. I've set a five year goal (Aug 2021) to create a very special song for my 25th wedding anniversary and this is a record of my crazy journey, weird thoughts, strange doodles and unapologetic music obsession! Enjoy!