New Rock Band Squier Gets Release Date

stratocaster_angle_imgAccording to this teaser page at Fender’s website, the new Squier electric guitar for Rock Band is now officially set for release on March 1, 2011 for $279.99.    There’s also a video demonstrating the gameplay.

I was interested to see that the guitar appears to have a standard MIDI port on the side, and will work as a MIDI controller outside the game.

It will be interesting to see how well this works for learning guitar, with the new Rock Band 3 “Pro” guitar mode.  They say:
“Use the Squier by Fender Stratocaster Guitar and Controller in conjunction with Rock Band™ 3’s Trainer Modes to learn scales, chords, skills, drills and more.”

Fun fun fun!

Alternate Picking Hysteria

Alternate picking is an important technique to improve speed and accuracy in playing.  And I’m really inconsistent about it.  Problem is, the usual “finger gym” exercises are just so boring to play!

Muse Hysteria TabSo my suggestion is to find a great song that’s fun to play, figure it out (write it down if you can), and use it as your exercise.  Start slow, then try to get it up to speed. 

Lately, I’m playing Hysteria by Muse.  Excellent song!  The intro bass part is great to play on guitar (see my transcription at right), and of course the guitar solo is a great finger gym exercise too.  Alternate picking throughout.

Justin Sandercoe also has a great online lesson for Hysteria. Check it out.

Slow Down!

When learning a new song, it’s really helpful to be able to play along with the original track, and slow it down while preserving the original pitch.  

Without special processing, if you just slow down audio playback, it’ll get lower in pitch (remember slowing down a spinning record and hearing it get low and slow?).  And if you speed it up, it’ll raise the pitch (chipmunks!)

Guitar Rig TapeDeck

I use the tape deck in Native Instruments Guitar Rig, which is great.  It lets you slow down the audio, independently change the pitch if you want, set loop points, and speed up/slow down the track. 

Being able to control the pitch independently of speed is great for playing songs that are not tuned to standard A440, without having to retune your guitar.  Some examples I like to play are Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So (which is tuned down a half step), and Police Every Breath You Take (which is tuned down about 70 cents). 

Of course Guitar Rig models an entire rack of gear and effects, along with a nice looper, so it’s a pretty amazing tool for playing and learning.

I also found (but haven’t tried) some simpler standalone slow-downer tools like:
Guitar & Drum Trainer
The Amazing Slow Downer For Windows
Free online Shockwave app Slow Notes (which looks promising but didn’t work for me).

Black Dog Challenge

Jimmy Page just rocks in this song!  It’s such a cool riff!  Have a listen:  Black Dog Riff

Black Dog TranscriptionI did a basic transcription while listening to it.  The funny thing about this riff is that it sounds amazing and I thought it would be really hard to play, but it turns out to be basically A minor pentatonic, and it’s pretty easy once you run through it a few times.

You can see in the tab on my transcription that I was experimenting a bit (in parentheses) with alternate fingerings.  Though the fingering in the second measure requires a position change, it just feels less sloppy to me rather than trying to play the high E on the B string (like I have in parentheses). Similarly, in measure 4 and 5, you can play that riff all in the same position without sliding down to the open A power chord, but it feels harder to play.   Also the power chord sounds more, well, powerful in the open position.   You can see if you watch carefully in this video from a 1973 concert that Jimmy plays it with the position changes.  Anyway, it’s interesting and good exercise to learn to play it several different ways, and your fingers or ears may just prefer it one over the other.

There’s a cool cascading rhythmic offset in the second half of the riff.  Interestingly, Jimmy seems to always rush the transition from the second part back to the first.  Makes you wonder if he was doing it on purpose, or just in a rush to get a drink 🙂

Evolution of a Blog

Hey there. This is my first post that isn’t about guitar.

It has been just a few months since my first blog and video post, and there have already been nearly 20,000 views of my guitar videos on youtube.   I never could’ve expected that!

It’s been an interesting evolution for me.  This started out on a whim, recording a quickie review of my new guitar on my crappy webcam and throwing together a video in Windows Movie Maker.  Then, as I started tweaking the electronics in my guitar, it evolved into a video diary of sorts.  Now, I’m recording in high definition on a nice camcorder, with multiple microphones, close-ups, various camera setups, and using Sony Vegas Pro to edit it all together, with countless edits in each video!

Read the rest of this entry

Learning to learn how to play guitar

Oh, how it pains me to say this: I’ve been playing guitar for over 20 years.  But I can’t call myself a guitarist.

I have a pretty solid background in music theory and harmony.  I minored in music at UC Berkeley.  I can find my way around a piano.   Yet somehow, I never learned how to learn how to play guitar!  I never once took a lesson.

For the first five years or so, I learned just enough to be able to play the songs I was writing, and I even played and sang in a band.  I never learned more than the open chords, the E-form bar chord, and the note names on the first string.   Mostly I wrote songs by noodling on the guitar until something sounded good.  It was “art”.

For the next decade or so, I didn’t really learn much more.  Read the rest of this entry