Friday, January 25, 2008

Metronome Slow-Play Combined with Forte Practice

Blogging will continue to be infrequent, as I am going through my annual metronome slow-play routine, only this time I've combined it with forte practicing. And seriously, I can't think of any more boring thing to blog about than my practice regimen. Adding the forte playing is a cool development, however, so I thought I'd share that.

To review, the metronome slow-play routine is playing a piece along with a metronome down to half the speed you started at in order to solidify and work out the nitty gritty details of the finger choreography. Let's say I have a piece in 2/4 time, and I usually perform it at 120 beats-per-minute. The steps go like this:

01] Play the piece with the metronome at 120 BPM.

02] Play it at 110 BPM

03] Play it at 100 BPM

As you slow down, ten BPM becomes a larger percentage of the total left, so at 100 BPM I begin to decrease in increments of five BPM.

04] Play it at 95 BPM

05] Play it at 90 BPM

06] Play it at 85 BPM

07] Play it at 80 BPM

08] Play it at 75 BPM

09] Play it at 70 BPM

10] Play it at 65 BPM

At this point, the piece is slow enough that, 1) all of the fingering moves have been brought out of the subconscious memory (Wrongly so-called muscle memory: Muscle memory relates to strength training, not guitar practicing) into the conscious memory - this almost totally eliminates "blanking out" of a piece during high-pressure performance situations - and, 2) the finger choreography can now be concentrated upon in a very detailed manner. So, the last two increments go thusly:

11] Play it at 63 BPM

12] Play it at 60 BPM

So, we've played the piece down from 120 BPM to 60 BPM, we've brought the entire piece out of the subconscious memory into the conscious memory, we've worked out in a concentrated manner the details of the finger choreography, and we've been through it twelve times so far. Se why I consider this the very best practice regimen there is? Scales are a total waste of time by comparison.

Now, here's the new part. I've known for a long time that forte playing - or double forte: Just as powerfully as you can possibly attack a piece - is a great way to, 1) increase physical playing strength and, 2) expose weak points in your technical execution: Mistakes stand out like a sore thumb if you play them loud. The problem has been working forte practice into my routine efficiently.

The "light bulb moment" came a couple of weeks ago when I was bogged down in a particularly fiendish piece of a very technical nature, and I got so frustrated I started just hammering the damned thing as hard as I could. It worked! And, by combining the metronome slow-play with metronome-limited forte work, I made it even more effective. Quite a nice breakthrough. So, we got our piece down to 60 BPM:

13] Play the piece forte at 65 BPM

14] Play the piece forte at 80 BPM

15] Play the piece forte at 100 BPM

16] Play the piece forte at 120 BPM

This is really doing wonderful things for my playing. I have gone through about 60% of my repertoire since I started on this after Christmas, and I ought to be done by the end of March, at which time I'll be ready to record v2.0 of the three demos of Heavy Nylon. I'm psyched.


BTW: I've actually gained some weight, but it's all muscle: My waist has gone down two inches to a 35, but my chest and legs are much larger now. I've never combined the high protein diet with the Bowflex training before, but giving your body protein sure does help it pack on the musculature. I've worked up to 30 minutes on the Bowflex in the morning, thirty minutes in the evening, the ice-water deal twice a day, and just tons of my favorite, red meat! BWAHHHaahaahahahahahaaaa!


Last time we saw Marina, she was posing with a falcon. This time, she's selling melons (I'd buy one! LOL!). I enjoy the fantasy-land girls, but this is the kind of chick I usually end up falling for. She kind of reminds me of a cute little hippy girl I loved years ago. Just a nice, natural babe.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lineal Study in G Major

This is the first in a series of studies that are an entirely new class of pieces for me. As you can see from the date, I wrote this back in '05, but I have just now gotten around to memorizing it: That's how far behind I am in learning my own pieces! The idea is to have a series of very angular lines that will, 1) help me to work on single line technique and, 2) allow me to execute harmonic voice leading on the guitar that is not possible in any other way. So, this piece is actually four and five voice harmony turned into a compound line.

I'm not sure how many of these I'm going to write - there is the potential for twenty-four in all of the major and minor keys, of course - but I have as of this point completed only three (Well, there was a fourth, but it didn't make the cut and ended up in the trash).

One of the things I'm doing here is avoiding the use any open strings at all. This way, the piece can be transposed up or down within any range that will fit on the guitar to fill spaces in my set that are in unusual keys, and I won't have to relearn it using another fingering. For the notation, I'm putting them in the key that is easiest to read (i.e. that has the fewest accidentals). Right now this is going into the G Major Suite in my set, but that could well change at some point.

Though it's still a ways from being performable for me, I can already see that this is going to benefit my technique in many ways, as it has me doing totally new things that no other pieces I've ever written or learned have done. Best of all, it's fun to play and sounds really cool.

The other two introduce some strategic rhythmic elements and are even more unusual (and cool), but they are also a lot more difficult to play, so I'm going to wait until I have this one in my set comfortably before I tackle them. Next on my to-learn list is the Satie Gymnopedie No. 1, which is a lovely little trifle, and quite easy to play.


What an unusual creature. So unusual, that all it would take would be a nose prosthetic to turn her into a Trek Universe Exotic Alien Babe. LOL!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rolling Your Own... Vacuum Tubes?!

This is a positively amazing video. In fact, it's the most mesmerizing video I've ever seen since the beginning of the YouTube era, and it's not even on YouTube. It's not directly related to music or guitar, but tangentially so: The guy, Claude Paillard, is a French amateur radio operator who actually makes his own triode vacuum tubes!

Since I use tube amplifiers in my two high-end rigs, I found this absolutely fascinating. Of course, guitar amps use more complex pentode tubes, so any guitarist who wanted to take being a tone freak to the ultimate destination and make his own tubes would be looking at much more complex designs, not to mention the learning curve - and equipment - involved. Then, the demands of a guitar amp for sound quality are far higher than with radio gear, so his tubes might not even cut the mustard for guitar amp use, but the process and his craftsmanship are genuinely astonishing. The video is seventeen minutes long (!) but the time goes by very quickly when you watch this guy work. It's very much like watching a magician.

Does anybody know what the music is? It's solo piano and sounds like George Gershwin to me - or at least Gershwinesque and from that era - but I really don't know much of the music of that age and am at a loss. It is quite fitting, though.


In the previous post I noted the amazing bi-fold symmetry of "the girl with the goddess face," so this time I thought I'd take a look at some (very) appealing asymmetry. When I got this idea, I knew exactly the model I was looking for, but finding the right photo took a lot of surfing babe sites (This blogging is hard work I tell you!).

From the eyes up, she's symmetrical, but from the cheek bones down very asymmetrical. I really dig the crooked smile - I can't explain why - and she's actually, um, more "body-beautiful" than the girl with the goddess face (She has a bod to beat the band, and there's almost no asymmetry detectable there). So, if I had to chose between the two - hey, I can dream - it would probably come down to personality. Since they are both eastern European girls and don't speak English, I'm not sure how I'd work that out... but I'd be willing to give it a try. LOL!

Monday, January 07, 2008

David Byrne Looks Into the Future of the Music Business

Unlike David Brooks, who was so out of his element and in over his head on music that I called him an Ultra-Moron, I have always thought that David Byrne was one of the smartest guys on the contemporary music scene, and I am, of course, a huge Talhing Heads fan. It's almost a crime that these guys share the same first name and initials.

In my Fisking of Brooks, I mentioned that technology has freed contemporary musicians from the monopoly and tyranny of the major labels and commercial radio - and how this development is a very, very good thing for musicians and music fans alike - so it's nice to see that Byrne and I are basically on the same wavelength about the subject. Byrne has put a lot more thought into the subject than I have though, and his article, "Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists - and Megastars" that he wrote for WIRED is positively brilliant.

I'm not quite geekazoidal enough to be a regular reader of WIRED, so I'm a little late to this party, but Byrnes 6 Distribution Models versus artist control are essentials every musician should be aware of.

As you can see, the closer to the right side of the scale you get, the greater control the artist has - and the higher the percentage of profit the artist makes - but as you move left, the companies take more and more control. The old fashioned Standard Deal is what everybody was after in my younger years - the "Recording Contract" - but this basically puts the record company in the driver's seat... and pretty much screws the artist much of the time.

What today's climate and technology allows - with every Tom, Dick, and Harry having a version of Pro Tools on even laptops now - is for the artist to move farther to the right on this scale, and therefore maintain more control and receive a higher percentage of the profits.

Me being a niche-free solo artist, I'm currently all the way at the right end of the scale. Basically, I record everything direct - no microphones - into my Mac using Pro Tools 7 LE and an M-Box, scrub the heads and tails of the tracks, set the timing between tracks, burn a master CD, submit that, my artwork and liner notes to a CD manufacturer, and receive my finished product. Finished CD's cost me just over $1.00 each (!), I can sell them at my gigs cheap, and I get most of the profit. Of course, I don't sell a gazillion CD's, but that's not the point: I don't need no steenking record company to do my thing, and I have 100% control. Twenty years ago, this would have been impossible, and it gets easier and less expensive every year now.

Of course, I'm just three years along in getting back into the game after several years of doing other things, so I wouldn't mind moving to a manufacturing and distribution deal at some point - and, I can see that happening within the next two years - but I'd never want to go any further to the left than a profit sharing deal, and that only in the case that I am touring regularly, and the figures make it look worthwhile.

See how much better this is for musicians than the old draconian studio/radio virtual monopoly? Today, any musician or band can start small all by themselves and move as little or as far to the left as they wish, or as makes sense for them. Also, fans of niche markets or small time musicians have many more choices, and they are more easily obtainable.

You should read the whole thing, of course, because Byrne's penetrating insights ought to be a real eye opener for any aspiring musician. His stories of being royally screwed in "the good old days" are also chock full of lessons in WTF to avoid. Oh, and listen to the interview audio clips too.

Great stuff!

I have decided that, to me, this is the most beautiful girl in the history of... well, just about everything. Being an esthetic perfectionist, when I come across anything - be it music, art, literature, or a girl's face - that strikes me as sublimely beautiful, I try to analyze it to see why I find it so compelling.

Lot's of guys describe themselves as leg men, butt men, or breast men - and I can certainly appreciate a hot bod with great, er... assets - but I have always been in love with female faces. When I was a very little kid I can remember leafing through mom's Sears and J.C. Penny catalogs just enraptured by the faces of all the pretty models. Whenever mom would ask why I was looking at wonen's clothing (Or underwear!), I'd just say I wasn't, that I was looking for the toys. LOL!

Anyway, I find hers to be the most supernaturally pluperfect face I've ever come across.

This is the best picture I could find with her hair away from her face, and it allowed me to take some measurements and analyze the proportions. First of all, if you draw a line from her chin to the peak of her hair, it goes almost dead center through the middle of her lips, and the tip of her nose: She exhibits almost perfect symmetry along the vertical axis.

Then, if you draw a straight line through the pupils of her eyes, it is at an almost perfect 90 degree angle with the vertical axis, so she also has a stupefying degree of symmetry along the horizontal axis, but there's much more. That horizontal line also goes to virtually the same point of each ear. Further, each eye is the same distance from the vertical axis, as it is from each ear. The pupils of her eyes are also the same distance from the vertical axis as they are from the sides of her head. This is nothing short of amazing: This girl's face has almost perfect symmetry in every direction.

She's in bright sunlight, so you can tell she's trying not to squint and is being only partially successful, but if her eyes were wide open, the combined surface area of them would match the surface area of her lips almost perfectly as well. The width of each eye (Again, if they were fully opened) also matches the width of her nose!

Finally, if you draw two angled lines - one from the bottom of each ear to the bottom of her nose, and the other from the top of each ear to the bridge of her nose, they are nearly parallel, so her ears are almost exactly the same height as her nose is (I kinda had to guess about her left ear - the one on the viewer's right - of course).

I've always rolled my eyes whenever some guy has called any girl a goddess, but in this case she is so far beyond just perfect, that I think she's a goddess.

Oh, and ladies, you can have fun with this as well. If I were you, I'd probably start with someone like Dolph Lundgren.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Shedding Holiday Poundage

This is certainly the last subject you'd expect to encounter on what is supposed to be a music blog, but - believe it, or not - I often boast that I can lose weight faster than anyone else on the planet. Unfortunately, I learned how to lose weight fast because I can also gain weight faster than anyone else alive. When I was in grade school, in fact, my nickname was "fatso" for a time (Kids are cruel. LOL!).

I don't recommend that anyone else apply these techniques, and YMMV, of course, but these things I have done before, and they all work fantastically well for me. When I do them together, I can lose over a pound a day easily.

1] Ice Water

I don't know why you don't hear more about this, because for an office worker, there is simply nothing better. Above is a one liter beer mug I got at Fiesta Texas in San Antonio a few years back, and it's perfect for this. The idea is stupid simple: You put a lot of circa 32 degree water into your body, and your body responds by burning a bunch of calories to warm that cold water up to 98.6 degrees. What could be easier than that?

The way I do it is to fill the mug up with ice cubes until they are slightly above the rim - as you see in the photo above - give it a couple of minutes to chill the water (I go and grab my daily vitamin and mineral supplements at this point), and then drink it as fast as possible. You'll be limited to three to five gulps because the back of your throat will get painfully cold. I just stand by the kitchen sink until I've downed the entire mug full.

Then refill the mug, take your vitamins and repeat until you've melted all the ice (I stop when there is only an inch or two of ice left in the mug). Somewhere around the third mug full of water you'll start to feel cold and you'll shiver. Congratulations, your body is now burning calories at a phenomenal rate.

There are other advantages as well. If you are carrying around any significant amount of body fat, and like many people you are borderline dehydrated, your body could be carrying 3 to 5 pounds of excess fluid per hundred pounds of body weight - fluid your body would like to flush out. That's why I start with this: I can lose 5 to 10 pounds in a week doing nothing other than this.

There are disadvantages and even hazards to this as well, of course, the most obvious of which is that you have to have a bathroom handy. This probably wouldn't be a good approach for a cross country driving trip. Then there's the shivering thing, of course, but this also leaches out a lot of vitamins and minerals from your body. I take a LOT of supplements for this reason. With the modern high tech multi-vitamins available today, a One-A-Day or Centrum every time you do this ought to be enough.

I once lost forty pounds in three months doing only this ice water technique. I can stand to do it three times a day if I don't have any errands to run, but I usually do it twice. On days when I have a gig in the evening, only once... er... for obvious reasons.

2] Exercise

That's my old Bowflex Power Pro. I have all of the additional attachments: The Lat Tower, The Leg Extension, the Squat Platform, and the extra 100 pound set of Power Rods (410 pounds total, which I can leg press fairly easily). When I'm trying to burn fat away, I only do fifteen minute sessions on this, but I do them after every time I do the ice water routine, so I'm getting thirty to forty-five minutes of exercise every single day. Later, when I want to add some more serious muscle mass, I'll do some epic two hour workouts only three times a week (I did some of those last October, so I'm still fairly bulked up, actually... for me I mean: I tend toward being really skinny in the muscle department). I love this thing. I've had it for almost ten years now.

The winter weather breaks early here in The Alps of Texas, so by the middle of February, I'll get back into my running routine. Three years ago I had a devastating physical injury that severed a part of one of the nerves in my left leg, so I'm just now recovered from that. Yes, the injury was workout related. As a result, my left foot is permanently numb on the bottom, and the nerves that contract most of the muscles that allow one to stand on the balls of the feet don't work any more. As I predicted, my body has slowly re-learned using other means. Last year I actually did a few seven mile runs with no problem (Very, very slowly, though), so with a bit less avoirdupois to carry around, I ought to finally be good to go this year. I used to run 10K and Marathon distances, and I'd love to be able to get back into that.

3] Diet

I saved diet for last, because it is the least effective way to lose weight. The only diet that ever worked for me was the Atkins diet, but I love carbs and I really, really love beer (Beer is mostly responsible for my current predicament, but sitting on my fat ass all day and playing the guitar is also a major factor). So, I came up with a modified Atkins deal.

These are the ingredients: 18 eggs, two jars of Planters Dry Roasted Almonds, two jars of Planters Dry Roasted Cashews, a larger jar of Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts, a family pack of 70% lean ground beef, and a box of Glad storage bags.

The best nuts would be those still in the shell, but I don't have the time or patience for that. Planters Dry Roasted Nuts I love - they feel like carb-heavy snack food to me, but they aren't particularly carb-heavy - and since I do the ice water routine, I don't need to worry about the salt.

What I do is I hard-boil all of the eggs, mix the nuts together and divide them into seven of the Glad bags, and divide the ground beef into seven Glad bags as well. When you get your ol' bod into a high state of metabolism, you need to feed it regularly, and I mean like clockwork. I have two hard boiled eggs at 7:00 AM, half a bag of nuts at noon, a ground beef steak at 5:00PM (I have a small George Foreman grill that's the perfect size for this), and the other half-bag of nuts at 10:00 PM: Four "meals" per day. I never feel hungry, I have tons of energy, and the pounds fall off like magic. Here's what a week's worth of food looks like:

After motivation, the second thing I need to lose weight is organization. Is that organized, or what?

For the past three years, my prime motivation has been to re-build my guitar chops after a four year layoff. No that I'm in a happy place as a guitarist again, it's time to work on stage presence now. The trigger, naturally, has been the new redhead in my life.

This sexy looking babe will finally allow me to play standing up like a rock guitarist ought to, versus sitting down like a classical player does... for the first time in about twenty years! When I was visiting mom over Christmas, I played it standing in front of an amazing wall she has in her dining room that is a huge wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor mirror. I didn't like what I saw. Yes, this guitar makes my ass look fat! LOL!!!

I'm betting I can get back to this by the end of February:

That's Hucbald four years ago. Almost four years ago to the day, in fact, when I first moved from D.C. back to Texas. That would be about 35 pounds ago.

By the end of March, I want to be back to this:

Here we have Hucbald seven years and 45 pounds ago. This is before the leg injury, and I was working on the Bowflex 45 minutes every other day, running four miles every morning, eating and drinking whatever I wanted... and smoking! LOL! I'll try to avoid adding cigarettes back into my routine this time.

Another impossibly beautiful girl. The makeup is again over-produced for my taste, and that's not her natural hair color - er, it would be impolite to ask how I know this - but I'm really digging the eyebrows. I never cared for the radical pluckectomy look.