Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

While it was a great diversion from the other frustrations in my life, I have to admit that I behaved rather badly in this matter of dealing with content scrapers. After reading “What to Do When Someone Steals Your Content,” by Lorelle on WordPress.com, I’m ashamed of myself.

I read most of the article before I realized that I simply don’t have time do those things right now. (And it will take several readings and some note-taking to get all the action steps lined out.) Until I get settled in Phoenix, go through all the information and do everything in a professional manner – which is what I have thus far failed miserably at – I am going to have to accept that I can only do the bare minimum to deal with the content thieves right now and simply endure my indignation and wounded pride.

That’s just the way it is. I can sally forth in defense of intellectual property rights in a month or two, and do so in an a more honorable manner, instead of being such a barbarian about it. Mea culpa. Sometimes I still act like there’s a fire on the other side of the door and I’ve got a halligan in my hands.

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The guitar playing deconstruction process continues…

I’ve spent a couple of hours each of the last three days on boiling down scales to their simplest elements. There’s probably some scholarly soul somewhere who has written a brilliant thesis on this and reduced the following meanderings into a few pithy sentences, but keep in mind that I’m a dumb old firefighter and that I am as interested in the process here as much as I am the results. Use my ideas and explorations to go off in your own direction…

Scale Processes
After going over linear major scales (up and down a single string) and thinking in terms of whole step and half step relationships, I went a step further. I started placing the major scale tetrachords on the fretboard, and crossing from string to string. I would start at a random note, then build a major scale from the ground up, trying every possible path from the root, using every fingering I could think of. In other words if I took an A at the fifth fret of the sixth string, I’d work my way through starting with each successive left hand finger – 1, 2, 3, 4 – and figure out all the shifts and crossings I could from each. This worked both up and down the neck and across. (A comment from Miguel de Maria on my “Guitar Scale Meltdown” post pointed out that Dante Rosati has already done this. The link will take you to the diagrams.)

That wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, as my basic fretboard knowledge is pretty good. My goal is not to learn the fingerboard; my process would be different if that were the case. I want to understand scale layout on the guitar for improvisation and to use scales more efficiently for technical development.

Mr. Spock Looks at Scales
What was bedeviling me was that I felt like there should be more logic and pattern to what I was doing. I thought about the harp. There isn’t an easier instrument for scales than the harp. Set your pedals, then pick your tonic and the six adjacent strings. Cs are red, Fs are blue. Pedal up, flat; middle, natural; down, sharp. Not much to it.

How about the keyboard? That gets a bit more interesting. Once you leave the key of C, you have to know how to progress through the black keys. It’s still very easy to see, though, and each tetrachord leads either ahead through the circle of fifths or back through the circle of fourths. Hmmmm. That got me thinking.

Violin. Tuning. On the violin, since it is tuned in fifths, I can use exactly the same finger pattern from string to string. Start on the G – open, 1, 2, 3 and open, 1, 2, 3 – and you’ve got G major. Start on the D, you’ve got D major, etc. It is extremely easy to transpose in that way, as well. I thought about it some more. I looked at my guitar in it’s stand. “Why aren’t you tuned in fifths?”

Guitar Logic
Silly guitar. Perfect fourths from the low E to the G, then that anomalous major third, then another perfect fourth. What logic was there in that? It does reduce the stretches and shifts that would be necessary, given the size difference between the guitar and the violin, but why not perfect fourths all the way across, a nice, logical symmetry that would make this oh so much simpler? Each pattern would be the same, only moved down one whole step as you went across the fret board string by string. It would be an easy, predictable sweep across and down the neck with straightforward left hand shifts.

Standardized Tuning
I thought back to music history class from decades ago. Lutes had lots of different tunings, and were often retuned for a particular song. Besides, the lute isn’t even really a true ancestor to the guitar. Classical guitarists just repurposed the literature for respectability!

Guitar as we know it is still a fairly young instrument. It wasn’t until the Classical era that the guitar reached its present tuning, and even then changes continued to the standard fretboard length, body size, and internal bracing up until the end of the nineteenth century. Sor, Guiliani and Paganini played with the same standard tuning as you, me, or Andres Segovia. Luis Milan did not.

I really wasn’t in the mood for an exhaustive study of the tunings of the Baroque guitar, however. I was more into imitating Charles Darwin observing Galapagos finches. If I could reason my way back from the adaptation to the reason for it, I could avoid all that nasty digging around in the dusty archives of music pedagogy and pretense.

What If?
Staring at my guitar again, I thought about what fingering diagrams of the scales would look like if I tuned it to E-A-D-G-C-F; I thought about how few guitar players I know use open or alternate tunings and the probable reasons why. (Beyond the fact that it screws up every fingering you’ve already learned, it’s a pain in the neck to keep retuning as the strings try to go back to their old pitches.) Then it hit me. Once again, I was coming at this from the classical tradition. John Dowland’s courtly, virtuosic polyphonic lute compositions were not what the rogues and wenches were dancing to down at the roadside inn in 1602; just as Sor and Guiliani’s masterpieces were not Top 40 hits of 1827.

The rogues and wenches down at the Boar’s Head were probably dancing reels to fiddles and mandolins, while the guitar was just entering puberty in Spain. Mandolin, once you get away from the four or five easiest chords, uses all four left hand fingers across four courses of strings. You couldn’t chord very well on more.

The guitar, however, has lots of open strings in a variety of keys, with fairly easy fingerings – a two finger E minor chord, three finger E major chord. Use those as key centers and branch back to A, D, and G major, and so on. More open strings; more easy fingerings. Duh! Use a capo and you can accompany any singer of a folk song just by knowing a half-dozen chords…

“Classical” Pedigrees
I remembered all the high-falutin’ verbiage I heard over the years about how the guitar was “raised” to the status of a “classical” instrument, the duty for serious players to expand the repertoire and increase the respect for the instrument in the concert halls of the world (Oh, puhleeze! Don’t believe me? Read some of Segovia’s early record jackets…), the prejudices of my teacher and my compatriots about me playing flamenco and folk, the work to get classical guitar programs established and recognized in college music departments, “classical guitar societies,” etc.

Common Folk
All that never phased the hillbillies and highwaymen, gypsies and grunge rockers… You can bang out chords on a guitar and, with a little application, play some pretty mean scale passages, too, whether you’re John Williams or Angel Romero, Al DiMeola, Paco de Lucia, or Eddie Van Halen. And it’s all because of a simple compromise in tuning, an adaptation away from strict regularity or a graphic representation of the scale (like the harp or keyboard) that allows scale, chords, or both, to be played far more easily than if you had a six course mandolin, for instance.

The Red Headed Step Child
I looked at my guitar and laughed. “Well, aren’t you just the red-headed stepchild of the snooty classical world? Even your tuning points to your common, wenchy origins!” I thought about it a bit more. “But, damn, you get the job done!”

The guitar is one of the most popular musical instruments in the world with millions players around the globe, rivalling and even surpassing the traditionally more “respectable” piano and violin. It’s portable and adaptable to just about any style of music; it can scream and wail, or croon a lullaby. And it’s pretty, too. Not bad for a little girl from Andalusia…

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“If you follow the classical pattern, you’re understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow – you are not understanding yourself.” ~ Bruce Lee

I am stripping away everything I thought I knew about playing guitar, using everything I know from every other thing I’ve done in my life, in an effort to pare down to just the essentials. Basics. Fundamentals. The three R’s – Relax, Release, Repeat.

In the midst of this process, I ran across the following quote by Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist.  Lee, in his own way stripped down everything he knew from his years of training in the classic Chinese martial art of Wing Chun, by listening to his own inner knowing and through tireless experiment.

I wish neither to possess nor to be possessed.
I no longer covet paradise.
More important, I no longer fear hell…
The medicine for my suffering
I had within me from the very beginning,
But I did not take it.
My ailment came from within myself,
But I did not observe it.
Until this moment.
Now I see that I will never find the light
Unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel,
Consuming myself.

~ Bruce Lee

For years, I tried to possess the secret of fine playing, pursuing some idea that the answer was outside myself, in teachers, exercises, practice, performance. For many years more, I gave up the pursuit.  When I returned to playing seriously, I started to repeat the same old errors.

In the last few days, I have been discovering something wonderful. I haven’t been doing anything on my lesson materials, none of the pieces, or even working on compás. But in my staying away from the specifics, and dwelling on the fundamentals, I’ve finally understood the spirit of the last few lessons.

“Duende,” “aire,” the soul, the angel of the music – those things cannot be grasped. They arise like a phoenix out of the ashes, as one consumes one’s own preconceived notions, burns away the fears, the worries, and the doubts, and ignites the inner passion that lies at the heart of creativity.

Like so much else on this blog over the past nine months, one thing turns around and mirrors and symbolizes another. My old post on “It’s Not the Flames That Kill You” takes on new meaning.  One more pass through the fire…

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Guitar Scale Meltdown

After two weeks of hardly practicing at all, I decided I’d better get to the bottom of what was going on. Certainly, there have been a lot of competing demands on my time and I don’t have any pending gigs at the moment. But, I know the kind of sustained effort it takes to get good at music and what I’ve been doing lately was not going to cut it.

I had the little chat with myself, the tough love talk with moi that I figured I needed to hear. Yes, I’d been letting a lot of things interfere with my motivation – chief among them trying to play perfectly and then getting thoroughly discouraged at my lack of progress. OK. I’d also let myself get caught up in distraction and trying to do too many things at once.

The remedy I figured was to renew my practice commitment, accept progress instead of perfection, and get with the focused program again. I know from past experience that the fastest and best way to improve is to combine technical exercises along with all the repertoire work. Good enough. I sat down to spend ten minutes on scales.

An hour later, I’d rememorized all of the Segovia edition major and minor diatonic scales that I used to play 25 years ago and was heading into a second hour of technique practice when I realized what I was doing. Uh oh. Can we say, “obsessive,” boys and girls? I’d just fallen back into the way I’d learned to practice years ago.

What the hell? I know better than this. Argh!

Why play scales? Lots of reasons, but a full hour of them makes no sense. I thought back. I used to play nearly an hour of scales every single day, another hour of arpeggios, plus various other technique exercises, then I’d start on my repertoire… Six hours of practice a day. I got good, very good, but I ended up injured and burned out.

I sat there and listened to my body. My left forearm was tired, my neck and shoulders were tense. Sure, I’d won back some fraction of the skill I’d lost, but to what end? My left hand technique is actually still pretty good. I need a little stretching and strengthening, but not all that much, really. The slop in my string crossings and the lack of coordination between the hands was creating a little bit of noise on the strings, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a few sessions of chromatic scales over the course of a few weeks. What was I trying to prove, and to whom?

I looked more deeply. I realized that on some level I was trying to make up for years of feeling like I’d let the music, and myself, down. I’d wasted a gift. And I was trying to get it back through brute force, in the same way that I had lost it.

Wise up, Ari. I thought of all the music lessons I’ve taken over the years and what I’d learned, not just from guitar, but harp and violin, Arnis and Tai Chi, biofeedback and esoteric disciplines. I thought of all the trainings as an EMT and a firefighter that I’d participated in, and all the lessons and trainings that I developed and conducted. Work hard, certainly, but work smart, too.

I read the inside cover of the scale book, where the Great One himself – Segovia – recommends that the student play not one, but two hours, of scales every day. Sadist. Did he really play two hours of scales every day? I doubt it. I’m sure not going to.

I pulled every guitar book off the shelf that had anything about scales in it and started looking for patterns. I had a hunch that I could come up with something far better that would take a fraction of the time. I looked through Richard Iznaola’s technical manual and saw just variations on the same theme. Carl Flesch’s violin method, ditto. Several other more recent works on guitar pedagogy just rehash Segovia’s work, if not his extreme stance on practice. Been there, done that.

My goal: To design a workable personalized system of guitar technical exercises, starting with scales, that gets excellent results in approximately 30 minutes of practice per day, that will work as well for jazz, flamenco, and world music styles, as it does for classical guitar. It must be much more user friendly than Iznaola’s “Kitharologus, The Path to Virtuousity: A Technical Workout Manual for All Guitarists.” (And I called Segovia a sadist!) I do really like Scott Tennant’s work on “Pumping Nylon: The Classical Guitarist’s Technique Handbook,” and will undoubtedly use a lot from it. It’s quite good (especially in how he breaks up the good old Guiliani “120 Right Hand Studies”) but, while he talks about working with scales, he goes a little light on how to apply the left hand in my opinion.

It’s a tall order, but I had a flash of insight as to how to do it and I’ve already managed to condense Segovia’s scales down to half a dozen basics. I also know how I’m going to structure the overall program. I’ll keep you informed…

To be continued

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It was bound to happen. I’ve finally had a post scraped in toto, no link, no attribution. At least this is the first one I know about, anyway. The only way I knew about this one was through a trackback from an embedded link.

It looks to me like the scam is totally automated. There is a bot scarfing up content and spitting it back out verbatim and it’s doubtful that human eyes ever even filter it. I’m hoping that is the case, so my terse comment will pass through the system undeleted. It is currently listed as “awaiting moderation.” Ha! Fat chance.

At least the other times sites have swiped my stuff, I’ve at least gotten a byline and a link back. (Some have actually had the gall to post my name as a “contributing writer” or say the post was “written for blahblah site.” Bull Puckey.)

It’s maddening and I don’t know what, if anything, can actually be done about it. Have you had this experience? What did you do? Did it work?

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Drupal is now installed on my webhost and I have my test bed set up. I’m also in the process of cleaning off an extra hard drive and installing a server on my laptop – Apache, MySQL, PHP – so that I can do a lot of the development locally. Hopefully, I can make any major mistakes there. Working this way also allows me to spend more time on the computer during the monsoons as I can disconnect from the Internet when there’s a thunderstorm, but continue to work on this latest project for as long as my battery holds up. In fact, I’m composing this post offline as there’s a thunderstorm right now, with lots of lightning and heavy rain.

So far, I’m quite impressed with how logically Drupal is setup and how easy it is to find things. I was able to learn my way around the admin interface very quickly. Whew! It’s fun, but there is also a huge amount to learn. This is good for an aging brain, right? Keep learning new things, challenging one’s self. “This will keep you young, Ari.” At least that’s what I keep telling myself…

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Sometime in the last few hours, my blog views passed 3,ooo and this post is my 100th post. It also marks the end of a week of learning a lot more about blogging and how to be a better blogger. When I started this venture back in November, it was just to try it out and play around with it, a way to write something totally different than the fantasy novel that I was deeply engaged in during November’s NaNoWriMo and beyond.

A lot has happened in the interim. I’ve learned that blogging can be a lot of fun and a lot of work; that it makes demands for consistency if one wants to gain any kind of readership. I didn’t start out with readership in mind, but that has become more important to me in the last few months as I’ve started to be more regular in my postings and to realize that blogging can be more than just a time-consuming past-time.

This blog has changed focus several times and tends to be about whatever topic I’m most interested in, or is most loudly demanding my attention, at the moment. From letting go of firefighting to rediscovering my music, it has undergone several major revisions in just a few months. It is about to undergo the biggest shift yet.

I’m working behind the scenes to split the various topics into separate blogs so that I can target my postings better, in large part to help me focus the various aspects of my life, but also to move it/them to an independent server where I can do more – upload any file types I like, utilize scripting on the site, and more.

As it has been from the beginning, it continues to be highly experimental and part of a winding, intuitive journey that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Thanks for reading, and I hope that you come back and see how things evolve. And, let me know what you think.

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