TXBA Speed Workshop Level 6
Even though I went back to Level 1 and redid all my exercises I was able to finish Level 5. It was tough and I had to adjust my practice routine to sit down with a metronome, start slow and build up speed to get the rhythm right and keep it.
The highlight of this week was that I was able to build up speed way quicker than I expected although with higher speeds my rhythm problems became prominent again.
Exercise 29 was especially challenging requiring me to go down to 40bpm and slowly build up speed. At the beginning I had to switch on triplet indicator to get an even rhythm.
Level 6 now turns the dial on high and even the repeating exercises are a nail biter and practice sessions are getting really intense both mentally and physically. In the evening I often have to stop because my fretboard hand is exhausted from all the repetitions.
This course is so much more than just getting speed. I would say that speed it just a side effect of building up muscle memory, finger dexterity, hammer on / pull offs, sliding and a focused practice routine.
Now that I am at the end of the basic track I can say this is a must attend course for any aspiring blues player. If done properly it will lay a rock solid foundation for playing the blues.
Cheers – Andy
P.S.: Since the start of the course I was thinking about the passing criteria of an exercise. For level 6 I set a goal of passing each exercise at the given speed with just the metronome and playing it cold.
TXBA Speed Workshop Level 5
This week I was contemplating to delay this post as I barely passed exercise 24 and it turned out that the increased speed on that exercise gave me some grief, so I had to go back and do the end of the exercise on a way lower speed to get my feeling and the hand movements squared out and only then slowly build up speed.
This week has another curve ball thrown at us in the form of a reverse racking in exercise 26. It is really difficult for me to mute strings with one finger while pressing down with the others to let these strings ring.
When I am done with this review I will go back to level 1 and redo the exercises and only cross an exercise off after I can do them effortlessly and cleanly. Anything less will become a problem further on down the road and with each progressing level that problem is getting bigger.
The success of this workshop depends a lot on our work ethics. I know it is difficult to stay with an exercise until it becomes second nature but the guitar is not an easy instrument and blues is not an easy genre. I have 3 kids playing concert level classical music on the piano and violin with ease and I am here paying my dues by repeating the same lick over and over again.
When I wrote this yesterday I heard this tiny little voice in the back of my head telling me that I shouldn’t talk about work ethics if I cannot follow through myself. So I went back to level 1 and started all over again. To my surprise I was able to push through to level 4. With that I could finally put all my self doubts to rest that I just skimmed through. It is also a testament on the teaching of the course.
Cheers – Andy
TXBA Speed Workshop Week 4
Wow, I thought Week 3 was though with the faster speed and quicker timing but boy Week 4 is even bigger step.
The exercises are not only faster but the final sequence we learn is way longer and moves over the fretboard. The timing of the notes are not even anymore forcing beginners like me out of our comfort zone of equally spaced notes.
This week after some noodling around with the spider drill I realized that if I can relax my finger enough that I can do them at a nearly 50% higher speed. Sometimes I have to do them blind (closing my eyes) to be relaxed enough to get through them.
I have to confess that I am not following Anthony’s instructions very closely and changed my practice routine:
- Do all 16 combinations of the spider drill every day
- Repeat all exercises of the week no matter if I crossed them off or not. If I am confident then I start at the highest speed and slow down if I run into problems
- Watch all the instructions. It is interesting for me to see how many different ways a lick can be played
Now that the speed, the amount of notes and the timing changes have increased there are times where my brain cannot handle all the instructions. More and more I find myself in situations where I lost my train of thoughts, my brain wants to throw in the towel but my fingers just finish the job like on auto-pilot. Finally muscle memory starts to kick in giving me a breather so that I can enjoy making music.
By the way Anthony released all 6 parts of the Speed Workshop for the locals (online members) but I will still try to keep the weekly reviews of each level until the end of Week 6 if I can handle that schedule.
Cheers – Andy Schaefer Sr.
Update: just a day later I was able to play all but the full sequence and exercise 1 at full speed. Seems like that practicing the guitar for 3 1/2 years was not in vain.
TXBA Speed Workshop Week 3
Initially I wanted to write this post as an update to my previous post but too much
happened since then to cramp it in there.
Now that week 3 is out for TXBA locals the course has become demanding. Although I hit a
personal snag in week 2. As an older player I need to pay attention when my hands
say that I practiced enough. As I learned the hard way it is not as easy to spot
as it is in sports. While practicing hammer on and pull off (HO/PO) I slowly started to feel an ache in my ring finger which did not go away overnight. It took me nearly
a week for my hand to heal with a few days where I could only practice things that
did not involve HO/POs.
But like magic today I could perform HO/POs naturally and they sound quite good.
I still need to work on making them even in terms of loudness and consistency
but it feels good to have conquered a technique I avoided for so long.
A few tips that helped me:
- If a finger gets sore stop and let it rest
- Play HO / PO alone with just your guitar and metronome
- For me HO are not about speed or force but rather about hitting the string
square in the middle or close to the end (towards the bridge) of your fret
- Doing a PO I just pull my finger towards my hand. Pull faster helps more that
trying to scrap the string
- If you have difficulties then practice them slow and deliberately and independent
from each other. For the PO just pick the string first
- Sometimes it helps to lift your index finger to get more reach but you
must be able to place the index finger back onto the fretboard when you do the PO
- Do not practice along the exercise tracks or the benchmark videos as it can
mask problems as well as achievements.
This week Anthony has a new and quite demand exercise in store that involves fast
HO/POs (16th notes) and an exercise where he puts two licks right after one another
without any rest. He has some tips regarding HO/PO but at the end everyone has
to figure that out on their own. This felt like learning to ride a bike. You try
and try and try and suddenly it works and you cannot understand why it took you so long.
If you are confused with the speed notation in the course then you are not alone
but the explanation is quite simple. In the first 2 weeks he used a single beat
for each note (8th) in his licks and so you end up at 150bpm. In week three he
switches to one beat per triplet and each note (8th) becomes a note in a 8th triplet.
This means that the BPM is 1/3 of what you had before because there are 3 notes
(triplet) in one beat. It also means that now one has to pay attention on the
timing within a triplet to keep them even (if required).
Week 2 and 3 were / are challenging but the things I accomplished in just 3 weeks
compared to the past months are off the charts. Some of it is just consolidating what I learned
in the past but some of it is just due to a practice regiment that is
consistent and based on exercises that are slowly increasing in difficulty and speed.
If you want to tackle any of the TXBA SRV solo matrix courses and you just
feel overwhelmed this is a great way to lay the foundation. Focusing on the
riff at hand is so much more fun when you are not bogged down by technique,
skills or speed issues.
TXBA Speed Workshop
A few days ago I was surprised to see that I had only started to play the guitar 3 1/2 years ago. Considering that I started nearly on ground zero I came a long way for a person my age. Still listening to guitar players like Steve Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa I feel inadequate to say the least. Trying to play along is like running with concrete boots and my playing has either little variation in speed or I cannot apply licks I’ve learned.
Anthony Stauffer from Texas Blues Alley is currently rolling our a Speed Workshop for the Locals (his online subscribers). The day he released it I obtain the material and started to work on it. The lick as well as the spider drills I was already familiar with but what was new was the step by step approach which starts you on a beginner level and improves your speed, dexterity and endurance. After a week in I can say I started to improve quite a lot. Some of that is due to consolidating / refining my technique but some is because I took the time every day to practice the drills and the exercises.
This course by itself is worth the membership and can help an aspiring beginner or intermediate blues guitar player to increase his/her speed but it requires hard work with a ton of repetition. The course comes with all the check lists for tracking, the instructions for both the drill and the exercises, animated tabs and the benchmark videos which are videos of every exercise at each milestone speed to check if and when you reach a given exercise milestone.
The only thing I am really struggling with are the hammer on and pull offs which are used quite a lot. I think the course should got a little bit deeper into the technique and the proper execution as this is pretty crucial. It is especially challenging for players with smaller hands like me.
This course has my two thumbs up and I wished it would have been there two years ago. The first week of the course is now the start of my daily practice routine and it will stay there for weeks to come. It already improved my playing and I am now comfortable to deal with TXBA’s Texas Flood Intermediate level course.
Cheers – Andy Schaefer
iPad Pro and Learning to Play the Guitar
Since I left school I wanted to learn playing the Guitar but for various reasons it never clicked. After Rocksmith I had issues progressing but eventually my new iPad Pro became the way to go. Read more
Rocksmith 2014: Bass and Shortcomings
Two weeks ago I finally could pick up my shinny red Ibanez Bass and started to play on Rocksmith with it. Having played the Guitar for over half a year rally paid off and many of the songs I could play quit well from the get go. I went through many of the lessons and played all the song at least once. With one or two exception I mastered all of the songs over 50% and that all within 7 days. So far so good. Now if that sounds too good to be true then you are right. Unfortunately for the Bass RS has a big shortcoming. It does not mark a note played too many as mistake and so if you pick the strings fast enough then you will hit all the right notes if they are on the same string. This is not very helpful to learn rhythm patterns.
Afterwards I went back to the Guitar which suddenly felt small and short. Here I finally have to conquer chords which I for most part tried to avoid because my hand tenses up and my hand and arm start to hurt. Now applying less pressure is easier said then done and after a while I am back to my old habits. With that in mind I started to play the parts with chords slower so that I can focus on the pressure and try to apply as little as possible. Especially on chord changes to barre chords I tend to apply way too much pressure to avoid half-pressed or mute strings. Guess practice makes perfect and for me it means even more practice.
RS has another shortcoming because it does not give good hints on why chords, bends or slides are not good. For example in Billy Idol’s White Wedding there are two chords played back and forth and I failed to play them right. Eventually I figured out that one chords has to be kept short (lifting my fingers are playing it) and to play the other chord slightly faster. Later there are two chords that are easy to be done because there is enough time to prepare aka breaks in between but most of the time it does not take it. Even though this is frustrating at the end I have to feel good which also applies when RS thinks I was perfect but I know I was
Rocksmith 2014: Six Weeks In
Slowly but surely I get the hang of Rocksmith 2014 (RS) making it easier to work around issues but also get good enough so that I can play parts of a song play at full speed and difficulty and even managed to play a song (The Kinks: You got a Hold on Me) at Master level where the notes are not displayed but still there are a few cues where I am within a song.
That said I did not play any lessons for the past 3 weeks because with issues by the guitar detector. Currently I am away for six days – still took my accoustic guitar with me to keep up with playing and to further strengthen my fingers. Even though my fingers are still not fast and precise enough for many difficult cord changes like to a Bm or doing the full F chord I am slowly getting better and sometimes I am surprised that some chords work without looking.
After working many hours in the Session Mode where one can jam alongside a virtal band I am now back learning songs. Before the brake I was working on Queen’s We are the Champions which was simple but for the full complexity it suddenly becomes very diffiult. Many additional notes requiring quick finger changes on the left as well as right hand side are tricky and making it very difficult to keep up especially when I play the entire song.
For most parts RS works well and is fun to use but some parts of the playing a song is not very user friendly and can limit the fun or sometimes be just frustrating. I do understand that detecting what notes especially when played in a chord or special techniques like a pull off is hard to do but at least the program should mitigate this. I would suggest the following enhancements to Riff Repeater but also to the Lessons and Song Atack:
- Add a fly-over over the song so that the player can move forward and backward on its own pace and inspect difficult parts and seqences
- Add further information about the previous mistakes made into the fly-over to see if the note was played late, early, to low or high, wrong string, wrong chord etc. Make the mistakes visually more visible as well.
- Use the additional buttons on a Joystick like the XBox to provide shortcuts into the Riff Repeater (increase / descrease speed and difficulty, toggle level-up and auto-continue). Preferably let the player select the button layout.
- Provide interactive tutorials on the various aspects of the game. For a multimedia game the old-style textbook tutorial are out-dated and hard to understand.
- Remember previous settings in the Riff Repeater so that I don’t have to set them every time when I go back to learning that song.
I am looking forward to go back playing with RS again and hope that some of the things will be improved over time. As soon as I am progressed enough to be able to play the songs I like I will go ahead and buy additional songs or even packages. For example there is an Albert King song that peeked my interest. I also want to play around with the Rythm Guitar mode as soon as I am done with my 60 days challange (I think I am around 40 days).
Cheers – Andy
Rocksmith 2014: 3 Weeks Review
When I first saw Rocksmith 2014 (RS) I was intrigued but also feared that this is more hype and that it would not deliver. Now after 3 Weeks I can say that it was worth its money and that for the most part it delivers. There are a few things that do not work well and some of them can be very frustrating but at the end of the day I don’t care what a computer program says about my progress but what I feel I did accomplish and I feel I accomplished a lot.
Before RS I could barely play some chord, played 5th fret pentatonic scale and some 12-bar blues. I had lessons for roughly a year about 20 years back and tried to learn playing the guitar with some books but it never could keep myself disciplined enough to play everyday for a given period.
Since I started with RS 3 weeks ago I played everyday at least 1 hour or more on various things learning songs, techniques, jamming, composing a guitar sound, scales etc. Slowly but surely I can move my hand blind on the fret board and pick the correct string a the correct time. Sure I make a ton of mistakes and I am still have a hard time to trust my feeling to know where my hands are meaning I will look down more times than I should. Compared to when I started I am much more fluent, confident and use less force in my hand playing the guitar.
Currently I am working on the old Police song “Every Breath you Take” and playing it at 100% difficulty and 70% speed is my limit. My left hand tiers out way too fast and I am tick off by a problem way too easy but I start to be able to recover from it.
RS has the ability to reduce the difficulty by reducing the number of notes or the difficulty of the chords but sometimes that is can be a burden in the long run because the flow of the fingers can be easily disrupted by additional nodes, chords, bends, slides etc. That said it helps to get the feeling of accomplishment and for the overall rhythm of the song.
One of my missions was to clear a song on medium difficulty with few mistakes. This is called score attack and it focuses less on the accuracy but rather on the consistency of the playing. What I mean is that it only scores a “strike” when many notes / chords are played wrong in a row and after 3 strikes the player failed the score attack. For example the song Blitzkrieg Pop by the Ramons have many fast power cords but few variations. So even if one missing a chord here or there one will pass.
Looking back I was skeptical about it but I thought I cannot waste more than a few bucks and some hours but now I am hooked onto Rocksmith and there wasn’t a single day in the past where I did not exercise an hour or more and it does show. I could play Blitzkrieg Pop (not a difficult song by any means) in a few tries up to 80% difficulty. Also I remember chords like A5, E5, C5, Am and so on and I have not much difficulty playing scales like the Pentatonic Minor, Aelion etc over the fretboard so that I now can start jamming more freely. And I also completed 110 missions about songs, lessons, jamming, games and setting up a tone.
The only thing that is sometimes frustrating is the sometimes unreliable guitar detector which decides if a note / chord was played correct or not. Sometimes it helps to re-calibrate it or to increase the volum on the guitar but sometimes it does not work right. This is especially frustrating in the lessons because there one is stuck trying to get passed a little exercise.
Finally there are a few things that I would love to be improved. First I would like for RS to tell me more precisely what was played wrong and why and secondly I would like to review the song and my mistakes more easily and quickly like in a fly-over. Also I would like that the Riff Repeater would remember what I did the last time and that I take advantage of the additional buttons on the joystick. For example use buttons to increase / decrease speed, difficulty, switch on and off the acceleration and level-up. This would increase the user experience because when I have the guitar on I want to play and not fumble around with a joystick.
Rocksmith is a great and fun way to learn to play the guitar. More fun that any book will provide and more feedback than any DVD. Even the silly games are useful and can and will improve a player’s skill. The songs are great and with enough energy and stamina anyone can master them. Even for players with less time available than me to exercise can benefit as long as they do it consistently. I only took the lead guitar mode in Rocksmith and so I cannot talk about the rhythm or bass mode but I don’t think these are much different. Still for any players jamming with a band the Session Mode will improve their improvisational skills a lot. There are a ton of different instruments, pre-set Bands to choose from and afterwards one can change the scale, root and much more to get the right session. When I took guitar lessons 20 years back I used a little box that would play a very basic blues band but ran around $200. With RS I have blues, funk, pop, metal, rock etc bands which can play nearly every scale, complexity and speed. The session mode would have been enough to make RS worthwhile but with the songs, games and lessons it is a steal.
Guitar Shop: Still Didn’t get the Memo that Customer Service Counts
When I wrote this piece I mixed up the name of the Store. So it is the Guitar Center Murrieta from which I bought the Amplifier.
Since I bought a Taylor Guitar on my sons’ School Gala silent auction I started to look into buying a good but versatile amplifier because my JamVox is nice but cannot fill the room. On the day after Father’s Day I received a newsletter from the Guitar Shop that their $100 off for purchases over $499 I finally decided to buy a Line 6 Spider IV 150. So I drove down to my closest Guitar Shop despite the warning from the beard to test drive it. After 20 minutes I wanted to buy it but I ran into a lot of troubles afterwards and I am not a happy customer. In the current economy I would have expected a way better customer service. In every company something can go wrong and I am not someone that expects perfect service but I expect that every company puts even more effort into customer service when something goes wrong but not the Guitar Shop.
So that is what happened:
First when I wanted to buy it I was told they did not have it in store even when their website said otherwise. The salesman lame excuse was that they had the display model. So in order to buy it they had to transfer the amp from another store and I left the store about 45 minutes later.
In the store I was told that I would receive the amp within two to three days and that they would call me when it arrives at the store. Two days later no call. When I called to check on the order nobody could give me a good answer but the person on the phone told me that he will call back that day to tell me what is going on. Of course he never called. The next day I called in again and after getting a similar run-around I asked for the manager which promised to call me the same day. He called back the same day telling me that I will either shipped home or to the store and should arrive 7 or 8 days after I bought it.
Finally on Monday I received a big package with the amp in it but just the amp. No electrical plug, no manual, no disks and no registration card. Eventually I had to call Line 6 technical support to figure out what the package content is. The thing that upset me was the fact that I have no idea if this wasn’t a display model or refurbished model even though I looked new.
A few days later I decided to keep the amp and went back to the store to talk to the manager. But he was in a hurry to get out for his lunch break and didn’t bother to listen to my thoughts but rather said that I could have a cable or strings as “compensation”. At that moment I was close to just bring it back and shop somewhere else but I was too tired but I will remember this when I am in the market for my next gear.