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Monday, March 1, 2010


The Basics of Weight Loss Despite the way it feels, losing weight isn't a mysterious process. It's a simple matter of burning more calories than you eat. But, if it were really that simple, none of us would have a weight problem, would we? Weight loss can be such a struggle that we start thinking we have to do something drastic to see results -- diets, pills or those weird fitness gadgets on infomercials that promise instant success. The true secret to weight loss is this: Make small changes each and every day and you'll slowly (but surely) lose those extra pounds. The key is to forget about instant results and settle in for the long run. Rules of Weight Loss To lose one pound of fat, you must burn approximately 3500 calories over and above what you already burn doing daily activities. That sounds like a lot of calories and you certainly wouldn't want to try to burn 3500 calories in one day. However, by taking it step-by-step, you can determine just what you need to do each day to burn or cut out those extra calories. Below is a step by step process for getting started. 1. Calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Your BMR is what your body needs to maintain normal functions like breathing and digestion. This is the minimum number of calories you need to eat each day. Keep in mind that no calculator will be 100% accurate, so you may need to adjust these numbers as you go along. 2. Calculate your activity level. Use a calorie calculator to figure out how many calories you burn while sitting, standing, exercising, lifting weights, etc. throughout the day. It helps to keep a daily activity journal or you could even wear a heart rate monitor that calculates calories burned. 3. Keep track of how many calories you eat. You can use a site like Calorie Count or use a food journal to write down what you eat and drink each day. Be as accurate as possible, measuring when you need to or looking up nutritional information for restaurants, if you eat out. 4. Add it up. Take your BMR number, add your activity calories and then subtract your food calories from that total. If you're eating more than you're burning, (your BMR + activity is 2000 and you're eating 2400 calories) you'll gain weight. If you're burning more than you eat, you'll lose weight. Example: Mary's BMR is 1400 calories and she burns 900 calories in daily activity with regular exercise, walking around and doing household chores. To maintain her weight, she should be eating 2300 calories but, after keeping a food journal, Mary finds that she's eating 2550 calories every day. By eating 250 more calories than her body needs, Mary will gain one pound every 2 weeks. This example shows how easy it is to gain weight without even knowing it. However, it's also easy to lose weight, even if the process itself can be slow. You can start by making small changes in your diet and activity levels and immediately start burning more calories than you're eating. If you can find a way to burn an extra 200 to 500 calories each day with both exercise and diet, you're on the right track. Try these ideas: Instead of... Do this... An afternoon Coke Drink a glass of water. (calories saved: 97) An Egg McMuffin Eat a small whole wheat bagel +1 Tbsp of peanut butter (calories saved: 185) Using your break eat sweets Walk up and down a flight of stairs for 10 minutes (calories burned: 100) Hitting the snooze button Get up 10 minutes early and go for a brisk walk (calories burned: 100) Watching TV after work Do 10 minutes of yoga (calories burned: 50) Total Calories Saved: 532 (based on a 140-pound person) How Much Exercise Do I Need? Exercise is an important weight loss tool, but how much you need varies from person to person. The ACSM's weight loss guidelines suggest at least 250 minutes per week, which comes out to about 50 minutes, 5 days a week. If you're a beginner, start small (3 days a week for 20 to 30 minutes) to give your body time to adapt. Don't forget, things like walking, taking the stairs and household chores can burn more calories as well.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010



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Friday, January 8, 2010

Playing Tips

                                                     The Bass Player's Job

The job of the bass player is generally to provide the anchor between the beat of the drums and the melody of the guitar, vocals and the keyboards. Although the bass can get very melodic and very heavy in the beat, it is usually the glue that binds the whole song together.
Playing With Your Drummer

When you play with a drummer, the first thing you need to do is listen. Listen to how the drummer plays and what the drummer plays when you listen to a CD or the radio. Listen to the bass drum.
The bass drum is the big drum on the bottom of the drum set. This is where you will find the band logo a lot of times. It has a low booming sound or low thud sound. The bass drum will give you the clues to the accents or groove of the song.
Listen for the snare. The snare has a crack or slightly distorted grainy sound to it. The snare is often used to provide the back beat.
Listen for the high hat or the ride cymbals . The high hat and the ride will give you the tempo of the song.
Listen to when he hits the cymbals. The cymbals tell you where the accents and stops are.
The other main drum piece you will here are the toms. The toms are usually used to accent the end of a measure or to introduce a measure. You can frequently follow the toms while playing connecting licks.

A-B Parts

A-B parts are where you play a particular groove for the first half of the movement and then play a second variation of the groove for the second half of the movement and then come back to the A part again and basically just go back and forth between the two different variations within the groove. This helps to, while maintaining the basic groove, create a feel that you are not staying on one lick. This can make the piece feel as if it breaths or is going somewhere rather than staying in one place throughout the groove.

Connecting Licks

Connecting licks are used as a transition piece from one part of the song to another. You may be playing only one note against a chord or chord progression that the guitar player is playing and right before you change to your next note in the progression, you can play a small lick that helps to tie the two parts together. This is very useful in maintaining a simple piece so that you don't clutter the song by being too busy and still creating something that is still interesting and not boring and predictable.

Locking in the Root Note

Locking in on the root is simply playing a straight beat like all quarter notes, half notes or whole notes on the root note of each chord in the song. One of the better examples of this is the band AC/DC. The bass player, Cliff Williams, will add subtleties and not always play a straight beat on the root. Usually he will mute a note or not play a note that makes it sound so cool. Playing a straight beat can sound really cool and keep the song simple.


Pedaling is where you use one note, usually the root but it doesn't have to be, and keep a groove going on that note while you bounce or pedal back and forth between other notes.

Take a Breath

Another feel that works well is to think of how your bass line breaths. Can you hear and feel how it rises and subsides in a rhythmic pattern? Make the song feel alive by making it breath. You can breath hard, soft, quickly, deeply whatever. It even helps for yourself to breath with the bass line.

Playing Within a Chord

Once you know what chord you are playing and therefore know what the "legal" notes are, you can play the notes in that chord. What works well is to play arpeggios of the chord against the guitar player. Use the notes of the chord to transition to the next chord. For instance, if you are playing the root, and the guitarist transitions to the 4th interval, you can walk up by playing the 1st interval then then 2nd then the 3rd intervals and end up on the 4th interval at the same time the guitar player transitions.

Less is More!

You don't have to play as fast as you can or put in as many notes as you possibly can to play something that is interesting. Something interesting can be the way you pedal between two notes. It can be the way you stay on a couple of notes or how you stay on only one note. Ask your self if what you are playing is just too busy or takes away from the rest of the song. A sign of a good bass player is one that can really fill the song without sounding like they are the song.

Sliding Up and Down The Neck

Slides usually have the best sustain when moving up the neck. You can use a slide to make a left hand transition smoother but don't go overboard. Too much of anything, no matter how cool, will become boring quickly. When you slide down the neck, your note will fade. The longer you slide down, the more you will lose the note.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Practicing Techniques Start out slow and work on only one exercise the first week. The next week start by playing a new exercise or a new variation of an old exercise. Then play last weeks exercise. The next week you start with another new exercise and play then play the previous two weeks exercises. If you are comfortable learning two or more new exercises a week go ahead but don't do more than three or four. The whole idea is to focus on an exercise and make it second nature. The rotation allows you to keep working on an exercise. You may find that what works for you is to have a certain exercise for each day of the week but at least do one or two every day that week. After a while you will playing a large range of exercises. Using a Metronome When practicing exercises, it is best to use a metronome. Practicing with a metronome helps to build your internal clock so that when you play without one, you can keep a good lock on the tempo of the song without drifting faster or slower. In some cases this is a desired effect. However, in many cases it only detracts from the song making it sound out of sync with all the musicians. Timing is very important for the drummer and bass player. Guitar players and other instruments can many times get away with it, however, not usually the bass and almost never the drums. The other reason to play with a metronome is when you practice scales, exercises or new licks, it is much more effective to play slower at first and speed up only when you have mastered the lick at the slower speed. Using a metronome forces you to stay slow and not cheat and speed up in the middle of the lick. Your fine motor skills develop faster when you play slow. All you are trying to do is to teach your finger muscles what to do. If you are playing at a slower tempo, it is best to use double time or faster so that you hear a click not only on each beat but the beats in-between as well. This is counted as "one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and" and so forth. When you play the following exercises, play with a metronome and play slowly at first. As you get better at playing it, speed up the metronome just a little bit. Wait until you can play it flawlessly before you try to speed up. The whole thing you are doing with exercises from a mechanical point of view is to train the brain how to move your fingers correctly. Allow your brain to get the information at a slower pace and it will lock it in. Before you know it you will be able to play lightning fast. I. Intervals This exercise will teach you two main things. The sound of each interval and how the different intervals look. Starting on the C note on the third fret of the A string, play a second interval in the key of C Major (CM). The notes you are starting with are "C" and "D". The second interval is the note "D". Move straight up the string playing the second interval of each interval in the key of C Major. Remember, only use the "A" and "D" strings. Repeat this exercise by playing thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves. 2nds 3rds 4ths 5ths 6ths 7ths Octaves II. Climbing Intervals. In this exercise, you will start at the 1st interval and then play the 2nd interval then the 3rd interval. Then play the 2nd interval, then the 3rd interval then the 4th interval. And continue up the neck. It looks like so: 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6, 5-6-7, 6-7-8, 7-8-9, and then back down again, 8-7-6, 7-6-5, 6-5-4, 5-4-3, 4-3-2, 3-2-1 You start by playing three note runs, then you will play four note runs, then five note runs then six note runs and so on. III. Arpeggios Arpeggios are simply playing one at a time, each note in a scale or chord. Up the scale or chord then back down again. IV. Chromatic The first part of this exercise is to play a chromatic scale straight up the neck on one string. Learn to get the transition of the left hand smooth. Try not to make any noise. Repeat this with each string. This variation will teach you how to use the open strings to transition up the neck. This is very useful to make smooth ascending and descending runs. Play a chromatic scale moving up the neck on the E string. Instead of fretting the A note on the E string, play the open A. When you pick the open A, let it ring, and then transition your left hand up the neck to A#. Play the next four notes on the E string and when you get to the D note, use the open D string. While the open D rings, make your left hand transition up the E string to D#. When you get to G, use the open G and continue on the E string at G#. After working on going up and getting that sounding clean, try going down the neck instead of up. You want to watch how long you let the open notes ring. As you start to play the next four notes after your transition, use the middle part of your fingers to mute the open strings. You are trying to make a clean transition between the open string and the first fretted note after the transition. Don't let the open note overlap the fretted notes

The Electric Bass


The electric bass was invented by none other than Leo Fender, the same guy that invented the Stratocaster, in the early 1950's. It was developed to be able to compete with more and more amplification for guitars and other instruments. The traditional acoustic bass was not loud enough to be heard above the other instruments.

Using many of the techniques and electronics from building electric guitars, he built the electric bass. The bass Leo built is what all electric basses from then on are based upon. Things like having four strings, 34" between the bridge and nut, the types of pickups, and even the bridge design are standards still in use today.

The more popular basses out there are the Fender Precision and Jazz, Gibson, Alembic, Rickenbacker, Spector, and Carvin just to name but a few. They come in many shapes, sizes, sounds, control knobs, number of strings, electronics and pickups.

Your choice of a bass is going to depend on three main things; sound, feel and budget. And the formula usually works like this, if the budget goes up, the sound and feel go up. If the budget goes down, the sound and feel goes down. Just be realistic and if you are just getting started, there is no reason to invest in an expensive bass.

Selecting a Bass

Hipshot Bass Xtender

I would suggest starting with a fretted four string bass and working your way up to the five and six string basses and even fretless basses. Fretless basses are difficult to learn to play.

If you go with the five or six strings, they have the low "B" string and they will require a real good amplifier and speakers with a good low end response. That "B" string is very low and many amplifiers can't handle it without distorting or just not producing a good volume.

If you need to get lower than "E" try tuning down to "C" or "D". Check out a "Hipshot Bass Xtender ". It is a device that attaches to your "E" string tuning head and allows you to tune down and back up at the flick of a lever.

The electronics on the bass include the pickups, volume controls, tone controls, bass boost or cut, switches and so forth. There are two basic types of electronics on basses. Active electronics or passive electronices.
Passive Electronics
Passive electronics refers to the type of circuitry used to produce a signal from the strings through the pickups and to the output jack. Most basses made before about the early to mid '70s had passive electroncs. Most low-cost basses today use passive electronics.

The way the signal is created is when the strings vibrate above the magnetic field of the pickups, they distrupt that magnetic field. As the strings vibrate at a certain frequency (note), the magnetic field of the pickups start to change at the same frequency of the strings.

This is in essence the "signal" that is then sent to your tone and volume controls and finnaly to your output jack. Passive electronics don't use batteries and they don't amplify the signal. The tone controls don't boost as well, they only cut.

For instance, the treble knob will not increase the treble but allows the full treble at one end and some amount of reduction in treble at the other end of the turn of the knob.

With passive electronics, you don't get as much versatility at the bass in controlling your sound. Typically, you set your bass to one setting and leave it there. The range of tones isn't very large.

You don't get as good of a signal when running it direct into the mixing board for recording and such. You will typically need at least a pre-amp to run direct into a mixing-board or recorder.
Active Electronics
Active electronics require a battery inside the bass to power the electronics. This can be a drag because you usually have to take an access cover off or the pick guard off to get at it. Usually they are activated when you plug the cord into the bass. So, if you leave your cord plugged in overnight, you will probably find that you have a dead battery the next day. Real drag! You can usually tell when the battery is low or dead when your bass distorts easy, you are not getting a loud signal from the bass, or you get no signal at all.

The good news is that under normal usage, the battery will usually last a couple of months at least. Active electronics are very popular now because they give such a hot, higher voltage, output signal and provide a greater range of sounds right at the bass.

This is good for both recording and playing live. It is much easier to process a good clean sound and color it. Playing live, you get more flexibility in your sound with less engineering of your amp and the PA sound.
The pickups are what picks up the vibration of the string and converts that motion into electronic pulses that get amplified. The pickups are electro-magnets that generate a magnetic field.

The strings run through these magnet fields and because the strings are metalic, when they vibrate or move, they disturbe the electro-magnetic field of the pickup. This disturbance creates pulses in electricity and that can be amplified. After all, music is just vibrations.

The pickups are made up of several magnetic posts wrapped by a copper wire. The posts are the metalic round things on top of the pickup.

What you are looking for with the pickups is a good clean sound. Does the sound distort? Use all the switches and make sure they do what they are supposed to do. Listen for scratchy switches and knobs. Often times the switches will select between multiple pickups and make a single output from combinations of those pickups.
Single Coil Pickups
A single coil pickup is a set of magnets with a single wrapping of copper wire around the magnet. Single coil pickups have a good high end response. The price you pay is that single coil pickups tend to hum. If you don't have a good amp the noise can drive you crazy.

Make sure that the bass is shielded. This will help keep the noise down. Shielding the bass simply means lining with copper strips or plates and or using a special coating on the inside cavities of the bass where the pickups and electronics are. If you hear a radio station from your amp, which does happen, it usually means your bass is not shielded very well.
Double Coil and Stacked Pickups
A double coil or stacked pickup is two sets of magnets with each wrapped with their own set of copper wire. Double coil pickups are generally more quite than a single coil pickup.

The noise you experience with single coil picks cancels themselves out on double coil and stacked pickups. Double coil pickups have three packagings or form factors. Double row of poles, two separate offset pieces ( one for two strings, one for the other two strings) or single stacked (looks like a single coil but it's not).

The Neck

The Neck is one of the most important parts of your bass. It has the most effect as to how your bass will play and to a great degree how well it will sound and how long the notes will sustain. They come with different types of wood and finishes for the fretboard. The popular surfaces are rose wood, ebony and finished maple.

The neck is usually made of three or more laminated pieces of wood running the length of the neck. The more layers you have the stronger the neck is.

The Frets

The frets are the metal bars that run across the neck. They are counted from the head stock to the body starting with the first fret next to the nut and the 22nd or 24th frets at the body of the bass.

The neck has almost everything to do with how the bass plays. What you should look for in so far as how the bass plays, is you should try to play each note at every fret on each string to make sure there are no dead spots or areas that buzz. Make sure that you are using good solid fingering.

In other words, make sure you press firmly but not too hard. If you press too lightly, it will buzz or the sound will be very weak. Look at the frets to see if they are worn. Look for grooves or low spots on the top of the frets. Uneven or worn frets will cause a lot of buzzing when fretting the strings.

If the frets look worn, they can be fixed either by replacement or by filing them down to the lowest common height. Fret work can be expensive especially if you have a binding around your neck or have a finished maple neck. But they can be fixed, so if you really want to buy that bass with the worn frets, just figure the cost of the fret job into the price of the bass.
The Nut
The nut separates the fingerboard from the head stock. It is what the strings run across before they reach the tuning heads. Look at the nut. No not the drummer! If it is plastic, you will need to replace it.

Brass nuts are good for a bright open string sound, harmonics and longer sustain, however, they don't have much effect after that, meaning that nut has very little affect on fretted notes.

A bone nut will give you a thicker sound, however, as with the brass nut, it only matters on open strings. Brass nuts tend to wear out faster than bone nuts.

To see if the nut has worn, look at how close the string comes to touching the fretboard at the bass of the nut. If it is almost touching, your action is probably real low and you have a lot of buzzing when you fret notes. Even the open strings may buzz.

You will need to replace or shim the the nut in this case. If the space is too high, your action will be difficult to adjust to a low setting and you will need to file down the string grooves.
The Bridge
The bridge is what anchors the strings to the body of the bass. Some basses will also have the tuning heads at this end as well. When you look at the bridge, make sure that each string has its own saddle so they can be individually adjusted for height and string length. This is important for setting the intonation and the action of the bass.
The Trusrod
The trusrod is a metal rod that is inside your neck and runs from one end of the neck to the other. The trusrod is used to adjust the amount of bow the neck has. There is usually a place to adjust the trusrod located at the headstock of the neck or at the point where the fretboard ends and the body of the bass begins.

To adjust the trusrod, tighten it to decrease the bow. In other words, when you tighten the trusrod, the middle of the neck will move closer towards the strings. So, if the neck is extreemly bowed, the action is too high, or you just changed to lighter guage strings, you will want to tighten the trusrod.

When you losen the trusrod, you will create more of a bow in the neck. Do this if your action is too low or you are changing to a heavier guage of strings.
The Action
Check the action of the bass. The action refers to the distance between the strings and the frets. A lower action makes it easier to press the string down to the fret. This also allows you to play faster because it requires less movement to finger the notes. With low action it is much more critical that the frets are not worn or you will get a lot of buzzing.

A higher action will make it harder to fret notes, however you won't tend to have as much buzzing. What I usually do to check the action is to finger the first fret with your left hand and then finger the last fret with your little finger on your right hand and then the first finger to reach as far up the neck towards the nut as you can.

Usually this is the 12th fret. Use that finger to tap on the string. It should only be just off the fret and when you tap it, the string should buzz very lightly. If the string is way off the neck, your action is very high and usually not desirable. If the string is against the fret, your action is too low and will probably cause a lot of buzzing.

If you play real hard using a pick, you will probably want higher action to reduce the buzzing. If you play much softer, you can get away with real low action. The buzzing, by the way is caused by the string vibrating and touching other frets on the neck. Again, all of this is really personal preference.

Another thing to check is the trueness of the neck. Contrary to what many people think, your neck should not be perfectly straight. It will have a slight bow to it. What you are looking for is to see if it is flat from the first string to the fourth string across the fret board.

Hold the bass so that the head stock is away from you. Face a light source and then look down the neck. Try to line up the frets so that they line up with no shadows or dips. It should look like a railroad track. If the neck has waves or has more than one bow to it or the bow is extreme, you probably wont want to purchase this bass.

The only exception is the depth of the bow. This can usually be fixed by adjusting the truss rod. The truss rod is a metal rod that runs up and down the neck to provide additional strength.

Neck Attachments
There are three ways you can connect the neck to the body; neck through the body, bolt on, or glue on.

Neck Through the Body

A neck through the body means that the neck piece runs from the head stock to the bottom of the bass and the body of the bass is actually the two sides of the body and they are glued onto the neck. This type of bass gives the best sustain and usually the best action and ability to reach the upper frets by the body.

Because there is no bulky junction where the neck meets the body, unlike bolt on and glue on necks, it is easier to play the upper frets. Because of the strength of this type of neck and lack of a neck/body junction they easily accomodate a full two octave (24 frets) fretboard length. Most two octave necks will be neck through the body rather than glue ons necks.

Popular neckthrough the body basses are the Rickenbacker 4001 and 4003, Alembic, and Spector. Neck through the body basses are usually more expensive but worth the extra price. A Steinberger bass is simply a neck through the body bass without the body glued on.

Bolt on Neck
A bolt on neck is what Fender as well as most other low end basses use. This is not to say Fender is a low end bass. It is just very inexpensive for the manufacturer to build this type of bass as compared to a neck through the body or a glue on neck.

The disadvantage to this type of bass is that you don't get as much sustain because of the junction where the neck is bolted to the body. This junction can also make it more difficult to fret the notes towards the body of the bass.

One advantage of the bolt on neck is you can replace the neck if you don't like it and you have more control in regards to adjusting the action.

Glue on Neck

A glue on neck, which Gibson basses use, is kind of a cross between bolt on and glue on and gives you most of the advantages of both of the other types of neck attachments. Like the neck through the body, glue on necks are impossible to replace and can get to a point where short of major work, you are not going to get good and low action on the neck.

Neck Laminates
Another important factor is the number of laminates of the neck. Usually the neck will be made up of three or more pieces of wood glued together. This adds additional strength to the neck. Avoid necks that do not have laminates as they will eventually go out of alignment and are very difficult to fix.

Wood Type
One last factor to the bass is the actual wood it is made from. I won't get into that because there are many nuances each wood gives and is beyond the scope of this document. If you know a good luthier, try to corner them for a few minutes to get their thought on the various woods. Woods most widely used are mahogany, poplar, alder, and maple.

Selecting Strings
There are three basic types of strings. Round wound, Flat wound and Ground wound. All of these come in sets of various gauges.

String Guages
Strings come in several thicknesses. Not only from one string to the next but also for each individual string. The name for this measurement and signification of thickness is guage. The guages used in a particular set of strings is usually defined by the individual string manufacturer.

Sets are usually found in Extra Lite, Lite, Medium, and Heavy. The lighter guage strings are usually easiest to play and bend but may not give as good of a bottom end as the heavier guages. Be careful about what guage you put on your bass. The heavier guages will put more tension on the neck and create more of a bow.

If you are switching from lite to heavy, you will need to adjust the trusrod in your neck. Medium guage strings are a good start unless the manufacturer of your bass specifically indicates you must use a certain guage.

Round Wound Strings

Round wound strings have a center core round piece of wire and it is wrapped with another round wire for the length of the string. These types of strings give you a bright fat sound with lots of sustain.

These types of strings are the most abusive on your fret board, especially if you like to bend your strings or do vibratos. However, if the sound is what you like, then the price is new frets every few years or so.

Flat Wound Strings

The flat wound strings have a round center core wrapped by a flat wire for the length of the string. This type of string is very common in the jazz world and will give you more of a mushy, midrange sound and not much sustain.

Ground Wound Strings

The ground wound strings are basically round wound strings that have had the outer part of the wrap string ground down so that it is flat. As you might suspect this will give you the in between sounds of the round and flat wound strings.

Care and Maintenance
The things you will probably have to do to maintain your bass is replace the battery if you have active electronics, change the strings and keep it clean. How often you change the strings will depend on how bright you want your sound, the quality of the strings, how clean you keep your hands, and the humidity where you live.

As a string gets older and diritier or if the strings are of a low quality, they will lose their brightness sooner and you may have to replace your strings once a month to maintain a bright "live" sound. New strings are critical if you are playing tap. Older strings won't sustain as long as newer, high quality strings.

If you are using flat wound strings, they will last much longer as far as the consistancy of their sound. They will sound pretty much the same when you first put them on as they do when they get older. Round wound strings will sound very different from the first day to when they are a month or two old.

Keeping your hands clean and living in a dry climate will prolong the life of your strings. Some people have tried boiling thier strings after they are old and are able to get a second life out of them. You can try this and it does help to remove any dirt build up. Dirty strings will also wear the frets down faster.

Look at the string and notice how it vibrates. If it vibrates in a round pattern, the string is probably okay. If you notice that it doesn't have an even vibration pattern, or kind of has a wobble to it, the string is old or of poor quality.
Keeping the Fretboard Clean
Keeping the fret board clean will go a long way to keeping the strings clean and prolonging the life of the strings. On finished surfaces, such as are common on Rickenbacker and Fender basses, you can use special cleaners like Tres Amigos, or Martin Guitar Polish, or you can just use your regular furnature polish.

Pay special attention to the sides of the frets where the frets meet the fretboard. Don't let dirt build up there. Clean your frets with Brasso or some other non-abraisive metal cleaner. Again, keeping your frets clean will prolong the life of not only your strings but the frets as well.

On basses with an unfinished fretboard, you can use 000 guage steel wool or a special posish to clean it. Be sure to rub back and forth, up and down the neck which is with the grain of the wood. Don't rub across the grain as this will damage the wood and as well as the look.

It's harder to get the areas where the frets meet the fretboard so use a cotton swab to clean these areas. These types of fretboards are more difficult to keep clean, however, if they provide the sound and feel you like, then that's the price you have to pay.
Keep Your Body Beautiful
Keeping the rest of the bass clean only helps to retain the value and beauty of the bass. If the rest of the bass is clean, you are less likely to get the neck dirty. If you sweat a lot, be sure to wipe down the metalic parts such as the pickups and the bridge, etc. Your sweat will rust and corrode these parts very quickly.
When Frets Aren't Flat
After several years you may have to plane or level the frets. You will find that you play certain areas of the neck more frequently than others and those areas will begin to wear faster than the other areas. You will see grooves or dips in the frets. This will cause buzzing when you try to play.

If you have room, and the grooves are not too deep, you can file the frets down so that they are all level. If the frets are too far gone or you have already planed them down a few times, you will need to replace them. Most likely you will need to take it to a guitar repair shop to have this type of work done. The nut and the saddles on the bridge will also wear down over time and need to be replaced or regrooved.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

the basics of bass guitar.

in this lesson we will be talking about the bass guitar and what it takes to play the bass guitar.

Friday, November 13, 2009


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Summer is breathing down our necks here in Chicago. Quite literally. At this time of year people are usually quite preoccupied with plans – where they’re going for vacation, what they’ll do once exams are over, how they’ll find a job, apartment, cold beer, whatever. Which concert(s) will I attend? Which of my friends am I still on good enough terms with to be invited over for their parties?
No matter what your questions or plans, whether you’re going into summer or not in your particular corner of the earth, it’s a pretty good bet that guitar practice is not one of your top priorities. And I’m not trying to hit you up with a guilt trip, okay?
Okay, well, not that big of a guilt trip.
Truth be told, I would not even have brought this subject up if it hadn’t been for all the times it’s been mentioned in the email I’ve gotten since mid-March. I find that practice is an individual matter, different things work for different guitarists. And any of you who have read Jimmy Hudson’s column, Getting The Most Out Of Your Practice, already have some great ideas that hopefully (pun intended) you have put into practice.
Practice and Play
Everyone has his or her own idea as to what constitutes “practice.” But if there’s one thing on which we can all agree it’s that there is a difference between “practice” and “play.” Jimmy puts it very well in his column:
There is a big difference between practicing and playing. Practicing is learning new material and refining stuff you have already learned. Playing is doing what you always do because it sounds good and you do want to be able to impress yourself.
But, like all things, this really isn’t a black-and-white issue. If the reason we practice is to get better, then the way we practice should be designed with this in mind. And if the reason we’re striving to get better is to be able to play (whether solo or with others), then we have to know how to “play,” don’t we? Let’s take a look at why and how we practice and see what we can do.
For the new guitarist, life can be a case of sensory overload. There’s so much to learn and so many different aspects of music and the guitar to explore that you just don’t know what to do first. Chords, theory, rhythm, fretboard, reading music – the possibilities are staggering.
This is why it’s a good idea to have a teacher, if for no other reason than to have a guide who is making the initial decisions for you and laying a foundation on which you can build your developing skills. Of course, different teachers have different philosophies and whether you realize it or not, when you sign on with a teacher you are really getting a philosophy as much as you are getting guitar lessons. When you’re looking for a teacher, try to take the time to talk with him or her first. Find out how closely the teacher’s ideas about playing mirror your own. If it’s possible, also talk with one or two of your prospective tutor’s pupils and get their take on things. When it comes down to it, getting a guitar teacher is a fairly sizable investment and you should research it accordingly.
And remember (as any good teacher will point out to you), your teacher is not the be all and end all of learning. Supplement your lessons with reading and experimenting and fun. I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to have a pupil come into a lesson with questions about something that he or she has gone out of his or her way to learn on his or her own. It may be my job to be a guide on my student’s musical journey but I find it more effective and rewarding for both of us when we both are able to point out various sites of interest along the way.
A Sense Of Purpose
Concerning practicing in and of itself, it’s fairly well known that people are more likely to practice and play music that they enjoy. It’s always more fun to play a song than a scale. Accordingly the first thing a very beginning student should be concerned with is learning chords and getting a few simple songs down pat. You wouldn’t believe how many two, three and four chord songs there are out there. Trust me, there’s got to be at least one that you know and like.
Once you have the basics of a song covered, you can either move on to another song (again just nailing down the bare essentials – chords and structure) or you can work on “refining” the song you’ve already learned. This “refinement” can consist of many things – changing the strumming pattern, adding fills, bass or lead lines, using different chord voicings, even playing it in another key or using a capo. With my students, I try to have a number of songs, at different levels, going on at the same time. This way there can be multiple lessons going on at once. And while this is okay for lessons, it doesn’t necessarily lead to productive practices.
Which is why have a hard time advocating practice policies involving “do this for so long and then do that for the same length of time and then…” Ideally practice time should be flexible. But flexibility requires two things from the guitarist – honesty and discipline. You have to be able to objectively gauge what needs work (and what needs lots of work) and then practice accordingly.
You see, it’s incredibly easy to get frustrated because there is so much to learn and so much you want to do now and seemingly little time in which to accomplish your goals. You have to first accept the fact that some things might have to be put on hold, that Stevie Ray Vaughn solo might have to wait until you learn the scales on which it’s based. The important thing right here and right now is to set a simple goal and direct your practice in that direction.
When it comes to guitar, I am self-taught. But that in and of itself is an incredibly misleading statement. I had had music lessons (trumpet) between the ages of eight and twelve. It was part of the school band program, not private lessons. But this is how I learned to read music and tell rhythms. At twelve I took some private piano lessons which gave me the opportunity to learn the bass clef and to see how a song’s chords and melody worked together. And even though no one taught me formally, I learned what notes made up which chords.
But more important than either of these two things was the fact that I had a constant exposure to all kinds of music. My dad played saxophone in a wedding band and various local productions. I listened to the radio constantly (I didn’t buy my first album until I was sixteen!). I also, as noted, was in the school band. So you can see that there has always been music in my life. But I did more than just listen to it – I could tell you when the chords changed, what time signature it was in, what the song structure was. I could pick out the different instruments, what they were doing, what rhythms were involved.
When I picked up the guitar at seventeen, I had a lot of the “basics” down. So I knew that if I wanted to play with other people as fast as possible there were two things that had to take priority – learning how to play as many chords as I could and learn the chords of as many songs as I could. It didn’t matter to me what songs they were; any song was fair game. Virtually my first three months as a guitarist was devoted to this.
Once I had the chords down and could switch with a modicum of ease and once I had some songs memorized I got started on “refining” what I knew. In some cases this was simply learning a descending bass line or using part of a scale as a fill. My practice now consisted of two levels – learning and refining.
At about the same time I started learning theory in school and I started applying that knowledge to my guitar playing. It also inadvertently led to my understanding song structure a lot better. This added a third level to my practice – the study of why things worked the way they do. One thing that most guitarists don’t like to realize is that there is a lot of “practicing” that he or she can do without even touching a guitar. Most theory is paper and pencil work. You can do that almost anytime you want to. Just because a guitar isn’t in your hands doesn’t mean that it’s not in your head. Give yourself a test – transpose a song on the way home from work or class one day. If you find you can actually do this in your head without a guitar just think of how much faster you’ll be able to do it once you get your hands on it again.
Nowadays, I am incredibly lucky in that I am able to live in such a matter that a guitar is usually always in my line of sight. So even if I come home and sit on my couch in front of the television, I am still much more liable to pick up my classical guitar and attempt an exercise that’s still sitting on the coffee table. That’s why I leave them there! So before I switch on the idiot box I may have to go through several D minor (”the saddest of all keys…”) scales or a piece by Fernando Sor. But again, when I pick up that guitar I have a singular goal in mind. And my “practice” cannot end until I feel I have achieved that goal. So I may give myself five or six different practice sessions of anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes in length on a given night.
I find that a diversity of practice subjects keeps me incredibly involved. For example, if I know I’m going to be playing a show, then I’m much more likely to gear most of my practice time towards pure rehearsals. I’ll do a complete set each night. But during the set I might have an idea of how to improve a song or a transition between songs, so after I’ve done my practice (and after a bit of a break) I will go back and work on that one specific area. Once I’m satisfied that I’ve got that covered, then it’s time for another break and then I’ll work on something totally unrelated to the upcoming show.
So say you’ve just learned a song. Just for laughs, let’s say it’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door. Okay, that was pretty easy. So what are you going to do tonight? Well, for starters you might try some of the fills or leads that we learned last month. You might slap a capo on your guitar (seventh fret) and try playing it in C. If you pick that up quickly, then try some C scale based fills tomorrow night. But after you’ve done that, take it easy and pick up another song from scratch. Then take a break and practice your C major scales so that when you try your fills tomorrow you’ll have a good idea of what you want to do.
And a brief word to you would-be writers – while I agree with A-J about the best writing being spontaneous and heartfelt, I also think that many people don’t become good writers because they don’t know how to sit and write. This takes discipline, too. If you’re serious about writing and haven’t had much experience doing it, then I would highly advise you to “practice” this as well. You don’t have to make a big deal about it but set aside thirty minutes to an hour every now and then to just write. Music, lyrics or both. Chances are very likely that you’re not going to come up with anything stellar but you will developing some discipline that will help you when you need to finish something that inspiration has started.
The Big Picture
I’m sure I’ve told you this before: I hate scales. I really, really do. But I will admit that they are important to know and will ultimately make you a much better guitarist. I will also admit that I am not very proficient in them and this is why I practice them.
Here’ s yet another paradox to throw at you – if there is indeed a trick to good productive practice, it is one’s ability to focus on one single small aspect of one’s playing coupled with the ability to see “the big picture.” As I’ve said, you shouldn’t practice without a purpose. You’ve got to have a plan. And in order to come up with a plan you have to know where you fit in the big picture.
So, for all intents and purposes, let’s come up with a simple practice plan. Let’s use generic guitarist “Johnny” as an example. Johnny has been playing guitar for, oh let’s say a little over a year. He knows the basic open chords (although some still give him trouble), a few barre chords, some riffs (but only if they are direct parts of songs he’s learned) and even though he knows about seventy songs, he’s only comfortable with half of them.
The first thing Johnny has to do is to look honestly at the big picture. What does he want? To be the best guitarist the wold has ever heard. Well, that’s all fine and dandy but perhaps taking the big picture a bit too far. Okay, how ’bout just being better than he is now? Commendable, but again awfully vague. How can he get “better?” Well, he needs to take an honest assessment of his skills at this point in his guitar life as well as examine what goals he realistically would like to accomplish.
Now, if I were Johnny (or his teacher), I would write things out. Take out a sheet of paper and list his goals. And to refine those goals – replace every generalization with a specific do-able task. So, for instance, if my first list of goals looked like this:
learn some leads
learn some more songs
get better at switching chords
learn some barre chords
I might rewrite that into something that is somewhat more measurable, like this:
learn the lead to Something and Let It Be (Beatles)
learn some Counting Crows and Santana songs
get better at switching chords, especially F to G at fast tempos
incorporate some barre chords into three songs I already know
Now, you can go and replace my “specific” examples with things that are more to your own taste, but I think that you get the drift of things. Replace any vague or general goal with something specific. Personally, I’d replace “some” in Goal #2 with a specific number of songs, but for the time being it’s a good start. Now, on a separate piece of paper, I’m going to have Johnny do a brief evaluation. It’ll look something like this:
Good At
rhythm patterns
open chords (except F)
keeping a steady tempo
learning basics of songs
Needs Work
switching chords at fast speeds
memorizing songs
general chord theory
confidence playing with others
Needs Lots of Work
barre chords
lead playing
sight reading
confidence playing in front of an audience
Now this list can be as specific or as vague as Johnny wishes. The important thing is that is has to be honest. With both the goal list and evaluation in hand, we can work on an appropriate timetable. Any effective practice schedule has to take time into account. Look at it logically – I, for instance, have a huge list of “needs work” and “needs lots of work” items. I want to be able to play classical music well. I want to continue to learn at least one new song a week. I want to keep my song repertoire “in shape” for performances. I want to keep my “ad-libbing” skills at their peak so that when I’m playing with others I’m not limited to playing “off the record.” I want to play my bouzouki more like a bouzouki and less like a guitar. And that’s not a fraction of what’s on my list. There is no way I can design a single practice session that will take in all of these needs. It is impossible.
This is why it is smarter to make a practice plan for the course of a week. Depending upon your own needs and abilities, it can even be longer. Again, let’s look at Johnny’s case. Since he wants to learn some new songs and since he is good at learning the basics of a song, he will not have to spend a lot of time with this. However, since he admittedly needs work on memorizing songs, it makes sense to take the learning the new song routine an extra step and this will involve more time and effort. If we were to try to develop a good practice plan for Johnny, incorporating as many of his needs as possible, we might come up with something like this:
learn Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby basics – words and chords
practice C major/A minor scales (both Beatles songs are in C)
play old Eagles song using A minor barre chord instead of open A minor
review Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
play Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby twice with cheat sheet
brief run through of C major scales
learn solo to Something (already tabbed out)
play Only the Good Die Young or another song with lots of F to G changes
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby once with cheat sheet – once without
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby once with cheat sheet – once without
brief run through of C major scale
Something solo
learn Let It Be solo (already tabbed out)
replay both Eagles song from Monday and Billy Joel song from Tuesday
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby no cheat sheet
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby no cheat sheet
learn Put Your Light On (Santana/Everlast) basics – words and chords
C major scales
Something solo
Let It Be solo
work up ad-lib solo in C major using riffs from both Beatles songs
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby no cheat sheet
review Put Your Light On
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby no cheat sheet
review Put Your Light On with cheat sheet
C major scales
Beatles’ solos
refine ad-lib solo
replay both Eagles song from Monday and Billy Joel song from Tuesday
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby no cheat sheet
Put Your Light On once with cheat sheet once without
You can see this lesson plan is not overly taxing and yet it covers a lot of ground. But perhaps the most important thing is that it can be flexible. Suppose Johnny feels that by Wednesday he’s really got Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby down cold. He can then play it only once on Thursday and then work on something new.
And also notice that early on in the week we spend more time in the learning (hence fewer topics). As we progress, there will be more reviewing. More topics but less overall time devoted to each subject. Don’t overtax yourself. And please remember that this particular example is for our fictitious guitarist. Your needs are what should dictate your practice plan. Again, break up topics into smaller pieces that you yourself can deal with. Suppose Johnny wanted to learn the first guitar solo from Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing. It would probably be best for him to learn the whole thing over the course of the week – a couple of measures or phrases each day.
Remember that this is not a competition. It’s simply learning and everyone has to go at his or her own speed. At the end of any given week or month you should take some time and re-evaluate things. Set up some new goals or make plans to devote more time to the stuff in your “needs a lot of work” column.
I can’t tell you that you’re going to love and enjoy every aspect of practicing, though there are some people that do. What you will find is that, when you least expect it, you’ll find it paying off in your playing. I think what drives most people crazy about practicing is that they want results now. But it never works that way. Learning is funny because it almost always seems to happen in spurts. One day we just suddenly realize, “Hey, look at all I know!” The reality, of course, is that all this learning has been a cumulative process. But we rarely perceive it as such


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All name brands mentioned in this article have been evaluated by the author. No one has paid him anything to mention these. These brands in no way represent an exhaustive list.
This column is designed for users of the PC environment. Apologies to people using other platforms.
The digital environment, although not the best, does offer some cheap solutions for musicians. Not the best? Then why is everyone converting to digital? What’s this guy talking about?
Digital is a conversion of naturally occurring phenomena into a series of off/on electrical pulses, i.e. 0’s and 1’s. Off or on. Analog is the recording of these phenomena as they occur. Your ears, like your eyes, do not perceives zeros and ones, but natural impulses. Digital, therefore, is an interpretation of what is there as if it were perfect. Have you ever seen perfection?
To illustrate this, watch a digitally remastered version of the original Star Trek series. You’ll quickly notice that the uniforms, although they have always been very colorful, come out looking very unnatural. The reason for this is simple, color comes from light. There are 3 basic colors: red, green and blue. White being the combination of all colors and black being the absence of color. What you see in the real world comes more from reflected light. The light from the sun, a light-bulb, etc, falls on the objects around you. Depending on the density of their surface (paint, ink, etc), some light is absorbed while some is reflected. Colors then become exact opposites. The basic colors change from red to magenta, green to yellow and blue to cyan. White becomes the absence of color (all of the light is reflected back) and black becomes the combination of all colors.
On film or video, the reflected colors become the proper color schemes. When they are digitally remastered, a computer analyzes theses colors and makes an approximation and replaces it with a scheme of emitted light. Therefore, the colors are backwards. Also, the computer uses a color scheme of about 16 million colors. The monitor you’re staring at right now is probably set for 16 million colors. The human eye can only detect 140,000 colors. Need I say more?
Sound works pretty much the same way. The human ear, as we’ve demonstrated before, can only hear 12 half-tones which correspond to the seven notes and five sharps/flats. Although, there are many other sounds that exist out there, the human ear is just not built to hear them. A dog will hear ultra-sounds. They are just normal sounds, but at a level that we can’t hear. It’s as with light: radio waves are actually light. Only the human eye cannot perceive that part of the spectrum.
The reason why so many people are converting to digital is that it’s cheap. Of course, engineers decided back in the 60’s that everything should be digital, therefore, the capabilities of Analog have never been fully investigated.
CD vs LP
You will hear a lot of people say that they prefer the sound of an LP over the sound of a CD. They will explain that they like the scratches and hisses. They don’t. They know that there is something warm about the sound of an LP and attribute it to the scratches and hisses. What they really do prefer is the recording and mixing medium. In pre-CD days, everything was done using analog technology. Today, most recording is done via digital.
So why am I writing an article on building a digital studio if I believe analog to be best? There are ways of fooling the system.
MIDI or Noon
Everyone talks about MIDI. It’s cheap, it doesn’t take much disk space on your computer, it’s simple. I’m French so in my language, MIDI means Noon. That’s too early in the day for me to start recording…
Midi is a way of interpreting notes. A programmed digital keyboard will receive a MIDI signal telling it to play a specific sequence of notes using a specific pre-programmed sound. Say you’d have a digital keyboard that could actually emulate the sound of a guitar (if you’ve ever tried this, you’ll know that no keyboard can copy the sound of a guitar). You’d send it a program telling it to play the chord C four times in a 4/4 measure.
Take a tape recorder and record yourself strumming a C four times. You’ll realize upon listening to it that you never hit it exactly the same way twice. Close, but not perfect. The first time you might slightly touch the open 6th string, the second time hit it hard, the third time not at all and the fourth slightly. Also, if you could precisely measure the times, you might realize that instead of 1-1-1-1 you have 0.9-1.2-1.1-0.8. With MIDI programs, you’ll have a perfect C every time and the times will be exactly 1-1-1-1. Not very natural. So that is why you want to be as analog as you can.
If you’re using keyboards, the same underlying principles apply. If your digital keyboard says “Hammond Organ”, it won’t sound like a Hammond. The Hammond, being an electronic organ depends on the power supply, the resistance in the wires, etc. Power supplies are never perfect, so hitting the same notes twice, you’ll find variations in the sounds. The digital keyboard cannot copy these variations, therefore, the sound will always be identical.
If you want to use keyboards in your recordings, you’re much better off using older electronic keyboards that will have these power supply/cabling defects and produce less than perfect sounds.
As with the guitar, if you go into a guitar shop and try 5 identical guitars of the same brand, same series, made by the same person, they won’t sound exactly alike. The density of the wood, amount of glue, usage of strings, pick-up proximity, etc will give you variances in the sound.
Music is a human art. Humans not being perfect, the music is not supposed to be perfect. It’s the imperfections that allow us to enjoy the music.
So how can you use a digital medium to make a good recording? It depends on the digital format you’re using. The best results will come from using the .WAV format.
Sound waves
Sound travels in waves.
What a tape recorder does is record this wave as is. What the PC WAV format does is the same. The only difference is that instead of the line being rounded, it will be a series of steps so small that the ear cannot perceive the difference.
It’s similar to a bitmap image. If you’ve ever looked closely at a scanned image, you’ll realize that the image is a huge grid. All the little squares are filled with information relative to color. The grid is so small that you cannot make it out from a normal viewing distance.
So the WAV format does not make a perceptible difference in what is being played. However, the big problem with WAV is that it takes a lot more space on your hard drive than MIDI or MP3 or other formats. But it is the format that is truest to reality.
If you have a PC with a sound card, you can immediately start using this format. First though, you must make sure your sound card settings are right. Go into the control panel (Start/Settings/Control Panel) and select “Multimedia”. Your overall volume setting for playback and recording will be there. You may adjust these if you wish. In the “Recording” properties, make sure you select CD Quality. Make sure “Show volume control on the taskbar” is selected.
As far as recording quality goes, CD Quality is the best. Anything below will be quite noticeable, and you won’t like the results. Don’t go above 16-bit, it takes up more space and the human ear can’t decipher the difference. Format should be 44.100 kHz. Same differences as above.
What you need to do then is to plug in your guitar, mike, keyboard, whatever into the “Line In” of your sound card. Then you start Sound Recorder (Start/Programs/Accessories/Multimedia/Sound Recorder). The buttons work like any tape recorder. You must control the input volume of your sound card the same way you do it with the output volume. Double-click the volume control on the taskbar (bottom right of your screen, it should look like a yellow PA speaker). You will now have a window called “Play Control”. Click “Options/Properties”. Select “Adjust volume for recording”. Make sure “Line In” is selected, then hit OK. You will now be presented with a mixer with slide bars to adjust overall and individual volume settings for recording.
You may then record a piece of music of your choice and play it back, save it, etc. With a lot of practice, you can record a second track and mix it in with the first (Edit/Mix with file). With some of the better sound cards, you can open a second copy of Sound Recorder and play the first track while you record the second.
Of course, this is pretty basic. Once you start playing around with this, you’ll want more. At some point you will need to spend money. There’s just no way out of that one. But you don’t have to spend it all at once. That’s the nice part.
First of all, if you have a cheap $20 or so sound card, you will burn it after a while. After you’ve burned two or three of those, you’ll realize you might as well invest in a good sound card. I’ve been using a Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live. Slightly over $80 US. This one won’t burn and you should be quite satisfied with the sound. You need a sound card that is made for musical recordings.
Next up, you’ll want a good software package. The best I’ve found is Sonic Factory’s Sound Forge. An amazing software that’s a full studio. Price is a bit stiff, though, around $500 US. The problem with it is that it’s not a true multi-track. It does not allow you to record several tracks side by side and mix everything together once you’re satisfied with the results. What you do is record the second track separately, then use practice and patience to mix it in at the right spot. But the mixing capabilities are enormous! Once you’ve mixed in a track and saved the file though, you can’t undo it. So you’re better off working on copies of the files. If you end up making a huge mistake (you’ll make a lot of those at first), you can revert back to an earlier version.
This, of course, implies disk space. Stereo CD quality WAVs use about 10 Megs of disk space for every minute of recording. If you don’t have enough, you’ll have to consider a new hard drive. Four Gigs minimum. Anything above that will be fine.
After a while you’ll be tired of always hooking and hooking your cables to the sound card input and readjusting the volume settings every time. Time for a mixer board. I agree with Dan Lasley, go for something used. Try the Pawn Shops, you should be able to get something good for about $100 US. You don’t need something that’s very sophisticated.
Finally, you’ll want to spend a few bucks, around $200 US on a CD burner. That investment, though will pay up for itself pretty quickly. Once you have it, you’ll find all sorts of different uses for it. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.
Once you’ve made all these acquisitions, you’ll have a fully functional home studio. Results will be as good as using tape.
Once again, I’d like to reiterate that the sound should be decided before the sound card. Use analog effects as much as possible. Use the mixer board settings and record “As Is”.

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As a songwriter, always looking to expand your horizons, recording your songs and ideas can be a very useful tool. In Recording a Demo Part 2, next week, we’ll look into building a cheap digital studio. For now, though, I’ll try to show you why you should record your songs.
The guitar’s great, but…
Learn another instrument or three. Although the guitar is probably the most versatile instrument ever invented (on what other instrument can you plan an Am twenty different ways?), it’s useful to learn other instruments. It also helps if you’re in a period of lack of inspiration. You’re picking on the strings and no ideas are coming? Bang the keys of a keyboard! Learning the basics of the keyboard is simple enough. The white keys are setup in a series of 3, then a series of 4. All the series of 3 are C-D-E. All the series of 4 are F-G-A-B. All the black keys are sharps/flats. (Note: the logic of starting at C becomes obvious when you use the scale as it should be used with sounds rather than letters: Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti: Do is C.)
Becoming very good on the keyboard is another matter altogether, but as long as you can play it basically, you’ll be able to use it for writing and recording. If you go out and buy a synthesizer, try and find an old analog one. They sound so much better than digitals. More about that next week.
As for playing the bass, I’ve found that with a good equalizer, you can make your guitar sound like a bass. It may not be ideal, but it works.
To finish a song
Often enough when you have an incomplete song, putting it on tape or computer will help you to complete it. Record what you already have, even if it’s only a minute or so. Add the other instruments and you start getting ideas to complete it.
The reason for this is that you have to start looking at your song from a different angle. If you were writing the music by just strumming it, you may find that you don’t like that anymore. So you have to rethink the main guitar part. Same chords, just played differently. Or you may decide to keep the strumming as is, but to add on to it. Perhaps a second guitar playing a melodic lead, perhaps another guitar picking the chords. Your imagination is the only limit.
Then you have to think in terms of other instruments. Perhaps using the keyboard as the main background instrument. Bass lines will come naturally, once you practice with the instrument a little. As with keyboards, being a great bass player is another thing. But you’re not supposed to be a one-man band. Or at least not a very virtuoso one.
Once you have that partial song recorded and you start listening to it, you’ll find that it starts taking on a life of its own. A life that, quite often, you never suspected. If you want to try an interesting experiment, lend one of your songs that you’ve never arranged to a band, let them play with it for a while, then go and hear them perform it. You’ll most likely be blown away.
I’d like to give you some direction as far as how to arrange your songs, but I don’t think I’d be doing you a favor. There are some basics, but if you head into that direction, you won’t get your own original sound. If you ever want to turn professional, you want to be unique.
If you don’t sound unique, you can only have limited success. If even that. The way record companies think is that once something original happens, they have to copy it to death. When Suzanne Vega started making (very good) albums in the 80’s it surprised the suits in the rec companies that a woman could make money singing. That there were actually talented women out there (I could’ve told them that a long time ago…).
So then they started this wave of women singers. Giving them a harder edge. Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette… Only one the last of those three actually has any talent. Of course, Alanis has enough talent for three. At least.
These women get signed up because the record companies want to sell an image. A raunchy woman. Talent is completely disregarded: They made a star with Celine Dion, didn’t they?
Demystifying the demo
Once you start recording, you may want to look into recording a demo. I have heard of only two demos that were made into albums. One was from the ex-singer of a band called Offenbach (they had some success in Canada and the US in the seventies). When he died of cancer in 1990, he left a demo, piano and voice of his next album. It was given to a producer who had to add an awful lot of instruments and voices to make it into an album. The second case I’ve heard of was Aldo Nova’s first album. Most of that album is the actual demo. However, the demo was recorded with professional musicians in a professional studio.
Nowadays, almost everyone who records an album must record a demo first. David Bowie is a notable exception because in his case it doesn’t matter: The record companies still don’t know what to make of his music…
When the Counting Crows want to record an album, they must first make a demo of it, turn it over to the rec company execs who’ll listen to it and decide to finance it or not. If they don’t like a song, they’ll ask the band to replace it. If they refuse to do so, they’ll have to find themselves a new contract. It’s that simple, the rec companies run the show, not the artists.
Of course, the band won’t spend a lot of money on the demo, they’ll just jam the songs together. Once in the studio, it’ll be the producer’s job to record this in a suitable manner.
Thinking your demo
You want a record company to sign you. As a solo artist and not a band, your recordings must reflect your songwriting style. The people listening to your demo don’t care whether you can sing well or not, they know what can be done to a voice in studio. And they can force you to take singing lessons if it pleases them. They also don’t care whether you’re a good musician. They have long lists of session musicians. There’s too much reverb, the balance is off, the mixing could be improved? You won’t produce your first album. Record companies won’t trust you with that.
What they want to hear are the songs. They want to find out if they can make money off your writing style.
Some people submit demos that are nothing but an acoustic guitar and voice in front of a tape recorder. Others spend thousands of dollars on a recording that will have to be redone anyway if they get signed.
What you should look at is producing something that will be halfway. If you have friends who play other instruments and that you can convince to help you out for free, do so.
What should a demo look like?
Your demo should have three or four songs. No more. Don’t even think of putting another on there, they’ll throw out the demo without even listening to it. As record companies want to make money, you should put your most commercial songs on it, not your best. It’s preferable if the songs do not exceed three to three and a half minutes.
It should be done well enough for them to get the gist of it, but when it’s done too well, it may also give the impression that this is what you want recorded and nothing else. They don’t care for hotheads. If possible (if you own a CD burner or know someone who does), submit your demo on a CD.
If you have to submit it on a tape, use a metal tape rather than the standard quality. All tapes are made of metals, but the “Metal” ones don’t degrade and are much more resistant to temperature variances. Don’t be afraid to spend money on the medium.
As for presentation, you’ve always been told that a nice presentation goes a long way. That is so true. If you present it in a way that is original, it will attract attention. Your demo might end up on the top of the pile to be listened to at the beginning of a session rather than at the end when nobody’s interested anymore. Don’t forget a presentation letter. Tell them who you are and where you come from. Which bands you’ve played with. If you’ve had some media coverage, include the clippings. And make sure to include a few photos. You can just scan them in and print them. It’s cheaper and the result is the same.
Don’t forget to include the lyrics to every song on the demo. This is crucial. They want to gauge you as a writer.
Where to send it
Now that’s a question that comes up a lot. You’ve just recorded a demo that you want a record company to hear. Where should you send it? Hint: Record Companies. Take a CD that was issued in your country and look behind it. Odds are that the address of the record company will be on it. That’s where you have to send it. Send it to record companies in your local market, not in another country. If you can’t find the address, do a search on record companies on the web. When I was looking for addresses in my local market, I found several sites that had complete listings, including contact people.
If you don’t have a contact person’s name, put a label on the envelope clearly indicating the word “Demo”. The person who receives it will know what to do with it. Record companies get these all the time, so they have policies in this matter. As for submitting it in person or by mail, it doesn’t really matter. Odds are you won’t meet the execs anyway. You’ll more than likely just hand it in to the receptionist. However, you are sure it will be in if you go in person.
Having a copy on your website is also a good idea. I’ve heard of one or two sites where you can post your demo and they claim that it will be listened to by rec company execs. DO NOT APPROACH THESE. They get enough demos mailed to them, do you really think they have the time to go on the web and find some more? I don’t know what’s behind these sites, but I don’t want to find out the hard way.
Don’t bother sending your demo to a producer. They don’t listen to demos.
Don’t forget to mail yourself a copy first for copyright protection. A friend who happens to be a Notary told me a few weeks ago that you can bring it over to a notary who’ll seal and stamp it and keep a record as absolute unrefutable proof that you did in fact write those songs. It will cost you a little, but it may be worth it in the long run.
However, times have changed and rec companies aren’t interested in wasting time being sued, so there are very little chances that your material will be stolen.
Independent vs Major
These days, there are two kinds of rec companies, the Independent Label and the Major Label. With Major Labels, they ask only one question when they listen to a demo: Will this sell three million copies? (Around the world.) If their answer is no, they’ll reject the demo.
Independent Labels are another issue altogether. They’re usually started by people who get tired of what the Major Labels put out. They want to hear real music, so they sign real artists. You probably won’t make as much money with an Independent as with a Major, you probably won’t have the same fame, but you’re much more likely to get a better deal.
Always watch out for the sharks
There are some people out there who pass themselves off as Independents but are just in it to rip you off. If you’re not sure, get an agent or talk to a lawyer.
The agent
Getting an agent is also a good idea. He’ll have better contacts and might be able to get you a contract faster than you can by yourself. Again, you need to present the demo and negotiate. Don’t forget, though, that if you’re not satisfied with the agent’s work, it’s hard to break the contract binding you with this person.
Rule of thumb
Submit all copies of your demo at the same time. NEVER accept the first offer. Tell them you’re expecting a call from someone else. If they really want to sign you, they’ll call back with a better offer: It’s all part of the game and they all play it. If you get one phone call, you’re more than likely going to get more calls. Then you start them bidding against one another. If you get the one phone call only and they haven’t called back a week later, call them back. Ask them to repeat the offer. Tell them what you would like, or tell them that you’ve been offered more somewhere else (you don’t have to give them any names). Don’t make any outrageous lies, though, they’ll know it. Don’t sign for the sake of signing.
Never sign for just one album. Look for at least two, but no more than three albums. By investing more in you, they’re more than likely going to back you up a lot more.
Worst case scenario
Even if nobody calls back, they’ll write back. They’ll send you a letter explaining what they liked and disliked about your demo.
Take all that advice into consideration and use it to record your second demo. Don’t even worry if the second demo is turned down, I know of one singer who was signed with his seventh demo. Persistence is the key!

guitar columns, soloing and improvisation

Topics: guitar columns, soloing and improvisation
Okay, you’re jamming with some people, having a grand old time and suddenly someone shouts out, “Take a lead!” and you realize that everyone is looking at you! Now that can really put a shock to your system, eh? Oh my God, what key are we in? Which scales will work for this? Panic takes over and you frantically shake your head yes or no (you don’t know which) so maybe you’ll play and maybe you won’t.

That scenario is, of course, fictitious – it could never ever happen, right?

And if I’ve been telling you that a good solo is the result of planning, how do you plan for the spontaneous, spur of the moment solo? Oh, you’re going to hate me, but the answer is that you plan for it.

This is why lead guitarists must practice a lot in order to get fairly good at what they do. You not only need to compile quite a catalogue of riffs, you’ve also got to know how to play them in various keys, modes, tempos and styles. This is also why lead guitarists tend to be proficient in one particular style. It’s rare to find someone who has taken the time and energy to play good, interesting leads in several musical genres. Even our favorite lead guitarists are often one or two-dimensional (whether we’ll admit it or not is another thing). But that’s okay. It’s tough enough being a virtuoso in one given field.

Today we’ll go over how to “plan” for spontaneous leads and use another specific song (and don’t worry, it’s not Knocking On Heaven’s Door this time!) in order to illustrate how to think these things through. I guess we’ll need a disclaimer, too:

These files are the author’s own work and represents his interpretation of the song. It is intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.

I think I’ve already told you that when it comes to lead playing I rank right up there with Roger Daltry (yes, you read that correctly). And the stuff I’m going to go over with you is pretty basic; it’s designed to simply get you over your initial bout of nerves and to get started. It’s supposed to be about having fun and not having anxiety attacks. Remember, it’s not that hard to not embarrass yourself if that’s all you’re worried about. There are a couple of guidelines to remember:

Know your major and (relative) minor keys – this is important in order to determine which scales to use as foundations for your leads.
Know your basic major and minor scales (and learn a few extra ones) – this is how you learn where on the fretboard to play your leads.
Know some basic riffs – and be sure to learn how to play them in any key in which you might happen to find yourself playing.
Stay within your strengths – keep things short and simple. Usually the longer a solo the faster it loses its power and momentum (and often your audience as well).
We’re going to work on the Jefferson Airplane classic Somebody to Love. I’ve chosen this for a couple of reasons, the first being that I think that virtually everyone knows it. The others should become apparent as we move along.

The Simplest Scale
How do you know what key a song is in? If you have the music, then you just check the key signature (the number of sharps or flats (if any) on the staff). You can read about this in Jimmy Hudson’s article Key Changes.

If you don’t have the music, you can still pretty much figure out what key something is in. We covered this earlier this year. But don’t forget the easiest way – ask. Sometimes when I’m playing with new people and someone suggests doing a certain song I forget that he or she may have learned the song in a different key than I did. So you can imagine what it sounds like when I start in A major and the other guitarist starts in C.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that we’re going to play a song in the key of G. Well, we already know the make up of the G major scale from our exhaustive (and seemingly endless) study of Knocking On Heaven’s Door. In case you’ve forgotten, here it is again:

Now let’s make an intuitive leap. Since E minor is the relative minor of G major, then this scale should work for songs in E minor as well. And it does – to a point. As long as the chords underneath your solo are also from the key of G major, then this will work. More on this later..

The thing that you should note and remember is that you can shift this scale to fit your needs. It’s simply a matter of replacing the open strings (which we’ll designate as point “0″) with the fret of the relative minor (or actual minor) of the key of the song. Say you’re playing a song in C major. The relative minor of C major is A minor. A is the note on the fifth fret of the E string. So we shift all of our fingering up to the fifth fret (which replaces the open fret as “0″). So you’re a minor/C major scale is as follows:

Suppose, for reasons known only to yourself, you are playing a song in Db minor. Again, you know that Db is the ninth fret on the E string so that is where you’d anchor your scale:

By keeping the notes you need close at hand, you don’t have to go flying all over the fretboard. This gives you one less thing to worry about when you’re soloing. And if you practice your riffs at each fret (using each fret as a new 0), you’ll be able to play in any key.

You don’t need me to tell you that this is not the only scale you’ll find on your fretboard, do you? It is simply the easiest one to learn and as such will get you going a bit quicker. Okay, now that you’ve got a scale, just what are you supposed to do with it?

Compiling A Portfolio
Did you ever notice how sometimes you are able to tell that a certain guitarist is playing even when you’d never heard a particular song before? Often this is due to the fact that many guitarists rarely change their styles. It may be a certain tone or use of effects but usually it’s a certain riff or group of riffs. As I’ve told you, people tend to fall into patterns when they play. And these patterns are simply riffs that they’ve accumulated over the years.

Where do these riffs come from? Well, as Martin Mull once put it, “It’s just licks off of records that I learn.” You can figure things out from songs and artists you really like. Lord knows that there’s zillions of riffs to be had at the various sites linked to Guitar Noise’s Guitar Lesson pages. And there’s always the people with whom you play.

So let’s pick a riff. Here’s a standard blues riff used by so many guitarists that we could devote the rest of our natural lives to listing them:

If you find this hard to play then remember to approach it the way we’ve been trying to approach just about everything from day one – break it up into smaller pieces and take it as slowly as necessary. Start with just the unison bend at the beginning of the riff. Then add the next phrase and finally the last one (including the ending unison bend). Now put it all together. That wasn’t too hard, was it?

And learning it that way will also help you with the next step. Now that you can play this riff, try it out in another key. Then change the tempo around. The object is to play with it. Music is fairly elastic and by speeding this part up or stressing that particular note you can dramatically alter the riff. Don’t believe me? Well, here it is again:

Yes, that’s essentially the same riff. Starting out, anyway. I’ve changed the key and added a few variations to it but it is all based on the initial riff. Sounds more like Mark Knopfler when it’s speeded up, doesn’t it? This riff is pretty close to one of the fills he uses in Sultans Of Swing. Amazing, isn’t it? Amazingly simple, too.

The real objective, though, is not to just know a lot of riffs (in different keys or at different tempos). The ultimate goal is to get so used to what different riffs sound like that you are able to “visualize” your lead in your head. You hear what will work and you play it effortlessly because you know exactly what goes into the lead in your head. This is not something that will happen overnight (or after several hundreds of nights), but with a lot of practice it does happen. And again, the more riffs you familiarize yourself with the more you’ll be able to hear in your head and translate into your playing.

And if you learn nothing else from this today, please take that last paragraph to heart. If you don’t take the time to listen to what you learn and see how it fits (or doesn’t fit) with the various chord progressions you’ll just be endlessly and aimlessly stringing your riffs together with no rhyme or reason. Take the time while you’re playing around with things to hear what the notes are, where they come from and where they can lead to. You can know every single guitar riff ever done, you can come up with some terrific ones on your own, but if you can’t hear how they might piece together in a song it won’t matter in the least.

Being True To Yourself
It’s a lot easier to play leads (or just play in general) when you’re relaxed. And it’s easiest to be relaxed when you’re playing something that you’re comfortable with. This is also why people spend hours practicing their riffs – to get comfortable with them.

As I’ve told you, I’m not a fast person. And I’m comfortable with that. I can bend fairly well and I tend to be more interested in melodies and harmonies so my leads reflect my guitar personality. Your leads will also develop a personality of their own if you concern yourself more with overall sound and less with copying things exactly.

So, onward with Somebody To Love. If you’re not familiar with the song, here’s the basic layout:

Now, on first glance, I would say that this song is in E minor. And technically, it is. But looking at our E minor natural scale, I foresee some problems. How about you?

Right, the A major chord contains a C# as the third and there’s no C# to be found in this scale. In fact, we know that the A major chord is not naturally a part of the G major/E minor scale. So now we have to rethink things a bit. If this scale has two sharps in it (F# and C#) instead of one (F#), it would really be in the key of D. The relative minor of D major is B minor. But I don’t want to play in D or B minor because the songs is firmly and obviously rooted in E minor.

So I think about my scales and I realize (having read my previous column Scales Within Scales as well as Jimmy Hudson’s Modal Thinking) that an E Dorian scale should work. Let’s see:

You see that it’s a small difference but one that makes quite a difference when you play it. The C# in this scale will allow me to play my lead over the alternating Em and A major chords without sounding dreadful. And since the song has no C major (or A minor or F or anything with a C note in it for that matter) chords in it, I don’t have any other worries about sticking with this scale. Let’s plot it out on the fretboard, shall we? And for reasons we’ll touch on in a bit, I’m taking in the three frets below and above our “0″ fret (which here is the twelfth):

Okay, on to the solo itself. I should let you know that up until last weekend (May 20th), I had never played a lead to this song. Oh, I’ve played the song itself more times than I can count but I’d usually pass on taking a lead. So what you’re getting here is something that I threw together in three tries at it. I recorded what I did and this is more or less a cleaned up transcription of the third try. The point of this, after all, was to be spontaneous.

And if you play this you’ll hear that it is a fairly simple lead. It consists of a single verse and chorus. I lead in to the verse with a simple use of the scale below the twelfth fret and go into the first of two motifs that give a bit of cohesion to the solo. It’s nothing even remotely complicated On the verse portion of the solo I just use a quarter note/half note rhythmic pattern whenever I’m on the E minors and exert most of my energy on the A major measures. Those of you who are into such things can note that this (again, like my solo on Knocking On Heaven’s Door in Tricks of the Trade) is almost “anti-vocal,” if you will. In the actual song most of the singing n the verse is done over the E minor while notes are held over the A. That’s just part of my style.

In the first measure of the second line I use a technique that I’ve copped from David Gilmour’s solo at the end of Have A Cigar that I really like and always thought would fit into a song like this. Then in the third measure of the same line I’ve managed to throw in a variation of that blues riff we looked at earlier. Nothing like overkill, right? Before the final E minor of the verse I use the hammer-on/pick-off routine that I used on Knocking On Heaven’s Door but of course it’s now an octave higher than we played it then.

I lead into the chorus portion of the solo with a slight variation of the first scale, again an octave higher than where we started. In this section I get more melodic, not truly copying the actual melody but certainly bringing it to mind. This is my second motif and, like the first, it is more a motif of rhythm than notes. Each place where someone would be singing “somebody to love” I get progressively higher on the scale in order to build a climax into the solo.

On the first E minor measure of the chorus (3rd measure of the 4th line) I use artificial harmonics (designated A.H.) in order to put a bit more punch into the proceedings.

The only “tricky” part of this lead comes at the end of the first measure of the last line. I really wasn’t sure of how to notate this (and MusEdit, while being a fine software, cannot read my mind), so please bear with a bit of an explanation. Basically it’s a two-string bend, but while I bend the G string a whole step I bend the B string only a half step (I told you I’m good at bending). This is not as difficult as you might think, but you really have to be able to hear what you’re doing. These are the actual notes you’re shooting for:

I finish the whole thing off with a slower double string variation of the hammer-on/pick-off similar to the one I used to close off the verse portion of the lead. You may wonder how I developed this habit of soloing in motifs and variations and I’m afraid I can’t really explain it. It probably has something to do with my songwriting – I guess I just carry over the different techniques I use in my writing into my playing.

Again I cannot stress enough that it is practice and the familiarization of scales and riffs that will allow you to come up with the spur of the moment solo. And if you couple this technique with the construction of the solo which we discussed a few columns ago (as well as with the various tricks that we’ve covered (or will cover)) you should be able to not only overcome any jitters you might have of ever taking a lead but also come up with consistently interesting leads on your own. Always remember that the more you absorb, from any source, the more ideas and influences you will have at your disposal. Maybe not everybody can be the greatest lead guitarist, but everyone is capable of shining in one way or another. Play to your strengths, work on the stuff that gives you trouble and, above all, soak in as many outside influences as you can.