definitions, inspirations:

dB: decibel, a widely used measure of sound pressure levels

Ps. 98: make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; make a LOUD noise

AC/DC: let there be rock!

January 16, 2011

CIGRG, Ch 6: System of a Down, and Up, and Down, and ...

Chapter 6 is all about rhythm, from reading rhythmic notation, to basic strumming techniques, to practicing various rhythms including triplets and "swing eighths."

I've seen many requests on the Guitar Noise forum for help with strumming patterns for a particular song, so this chapter should be right up the alley for many people.

There's also an introduction to alternate picking, similar to up-and-down strumming but applied to single note playing. I'm willing to bet this technique will prove essential in later chapters, especially as we get into soloing. Here's something I did to make the alt-picking exercise more fun: first I dialed in a heavy metal setting on my Digitech RP1000, then I got out my metronome. Using palm muting at the bridge (look ahead a few chapters if you're not familiar with this technique), I started at a slow speed and did the exercise. Then I increased the speed by 5 bpms and did it again. And again. I got pretty fast before I totally muffed it, but it felt like a really good exercise for my fingers!

The chapter's final play-along track is a bluesy rock shuffle that incorporates many of the things we've learned not only in this chapter but in previous ones as well. Double stops, swing eighths, alt-picking, bends, and vibrato all come together in one rather short but very useful lesson. I'm going to spend some more time with this one before moving on, as I still struggle with accurate bending. In the meantime, here's the song that I'm reminded of when working on this lesson:

January 15, 2011

CIGRG, Ch 5: Power Tools!

Got a bit behind during the holiday season, as we had a bunch of new songs to learn for church.  We ended the Christmas Eve service with a country-rock version of Go Tell It On the Mountain for which I got to use the technique discussed in this chapter of CIGRG (search for the version by the band Little Big Town, though ours had more emphasis on the rock side of things!)

Hey kids, here's something you might like:  I copied the CIGRG cd into my iTunes and then onto my iPod, so I've got portable reference tracks wherever I go.  I can grab my guitar and the book and start studying almost anywhere, no cd player required!  I do recommend listening to each track as you browse through the chapters, then going back and reading the chapters in more depth.  I find it helpful to have the sonic examples readily available.

Chapter 5 takes us back to the basics:  chords and, in particular, "power chords."  There's a helpful discussion on playing technique ("Eliminating the Tunks") as you learn some basic open major and minor chord shapes.  If you've played guitar for a while, this will be review for you.

Where chords start to rock is when you strip 'em down to the basics of the root and the 5th interval, called "5" or "Fifth" chords, or more commonly, Power Chords.  As Hodge writes in the helpful notes to the side of the main text, "From old metal bands like Black Sabbath to punk rockers like the Ramones, from AC/DC to Nirvana, you find power chords wherever you turn."

What's so special about power chords?  Well, they're easier to play fast for one thing, but I've read the main reason they are so common in rock music is they don't sound muddy when you start adding distortion, while full chords often do.  

The main play-along example "Power Point" incorporates power chords and octaves, so the "tunks" come back into the discussion.  This is basic but essential stuff, so spend some time until you can play it smoothly.

Here's a great example of a song you can play entirely with power chords:

November 28, 2010

CIGRG, Ch 4: She Got the Mercedes Bends

Over a month between posts - what a slacker! Well heck, life gets in the way, and I've got a dozen or so excuses, but whatever. Back to the rock!

Chapter 4 of the CIG Rock Guitar book is more technique-oriented than the previous chapters. It is basically devoted to two of the more commonly used techniques that can really spice up your playing: vibrato and string bending.

But while these are common, they aren't necessarily easy for a rock 'n roll newbie! I enjoyed the vibrato section, with its surf-style backing track. The bends were much tougher for me, especially the unison bends. Think of Jimmy Page's wild bending at the tail end of Stairway to Heaven as an example of unison bending.

I've mentioned before one of the big advantages of using this book is access to the author via the Guitar Noise web forum. I sent a note to David Hodge about my string bending difficulties, and he replied with some very helpful ideas. The key to bending, he says, is that it's all about the ear and not about "strength," which is where just about everyone puts their efforts. So I spent a lot of time listening to the bends, then playing the unbent notes I was trying to achieve, and going back and forth until I got it right. Well, as right as I could, lol.

Couple other things I noticed that I need to work on:

First, during bending my fingernails kept scraping or catching on the nearby strings. I clipped them extra short and that seemed to help.

Second, also during bending, if two nearby strings touched (say, for instance, if I bent the B string, I'd also push the G right into the D string), those strings would make extra unwanted noise, or they'd catch on each other and really make a mess of sound. Not sure what the right way is to avoid this, but I found that I could dampen those other strings with my right (picking) hand, without interfering with the main string I was bending.

Time for a Solo ... But Not So Low They Can't Hear It

By coincidence, I got to put both techniques to use a couple weeks ago while playing in the church band. We were doing a new arrangement of an old hymn (Mighty Fortress), and at one point during rehearsal our band leader turned to me and said, "then you'll add a solo over the next eight measures." WHAT?! I looked again at the lead sheet, and sure enough, in tiny letters above the section were the words "elec. gtr. solo."

I didn't know how the solo was supposed to be played, having never heard this arrangement of the tune before. We don't get tabs, and even sheet music is rare - usually it's the vocal melody line with guitar chords written over the top.

So I reached into my bass player bag of tricks and figured "root on the one" would be a safe place to start. Then I thought a little vibrato and a couple of bends would help flesh it out, along with some distortion and delay.

Here's what I eventually came up with:

The bends aren't perfect, and I'm not sure if you can even hear the vibrato in the mix, but hey, it's another step on the path to rock!

October 23, 2010

CIGRG, Ch 3: Rockin' the Double Stops

It took me a while to put this post together, mainly because I was trying to figure out how to embed the sound clip.  Many thanks to my amigo Nuno from the Guitar Noise forum for helping me out!

In Chapter 3 of the CIG Rock Guitar book, you will dive deep into some of the essentials.  You'll learn how to read chord charts and tablature, and a little bit about reading music:  time signatures, quarter and eighth notes, and rests.  One of my least favorite songs of all time, House of the Rising Sun, makes an appearance, and so do the tabbed-out versions of the rock shuffles from Chapter 2.  (You didn't look ahead, did you?)

As I've said before, you really need to read the text to fully appreciate the lesson; unfortunately David Hodge isn't in the room with you to explain things, but his writing is friendly and helpful!

A couple things came to mind while I was working with this chapter.

First, I wish the book came in a spiral binder so that it would lay flat, whether on a table, a floor, or a music stand.  Of course, that's not specific to this book, but to all lesson books.  I've got a few in this format and it really helps. 

Second, I noticed that in the introduction to each track on the CD, Hodge will say "chapter 3, example 10" or something like that.  Unfortunately, the book does not denote the example numbers anywhere.  There is a track number in the book so you know which one to jump to, but these do not match the example numbers.  For instance, track 13 is introduced as "chapter 3, example 21!"   If you're going back-and-forth with the CD tracks, it can get a little bit confusing at times.

And now, the cool part:

Toward the end of the chapter, Hodge gives a terrific introduction to "double stops," an easy-to-learn technique that is very common in rock music, for both lead and rhythm playing.  The "Double Stop Rock" lesson is a blast to play, and sounds killer!  I recommend taking your time here and really nailing this play-along track before moving on to the next chapter.

Here's a recording I made of myself playing this track, using a drum machine for the backing part.  I went from the "line out" of my amp straight to a Tascam recorder, then mixed the guitar and drums together in a free program called Audacity. 

I plan to incorporate double-stops much more often in my own playing! 

October 5, 2010

CIGRG, Ch 2: Let's Boogie

In Chapter Two of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing Rock Guitar, David Hodge covers some of the basic elements of guitar playing, like how to hold a pick, how to tune your axe, and posture.  That doesn't mean how to strike your Rock God pose - it means not letting your playing position get in the way of your playing!  No pictures here - you have to read the text, and it's well worth it.

Then you actually get to start rocking out!  You'll start with a classic old-school rock shuffle or "boogie" rhythm, played two different ways.  Interestingly, you have to read to find out what notes he wants you to play - there's no tablature to cheat with.  Well, okay, I'll give you a secret:  tabs for these play-along lessons are in the next chapter.  But don't look!  No really, don't!  Tabs are just a crutch and you don't need them!

q:  What does TABS mean?  
a:  Timesavers, Although Basically Silly.  
So there!  Don't cheat with tabs, learn the notes!  

Anyway, the rock shuffle you'll learn in this lesson seems very basic, but it's one of the building blocks of rock guitar.  Have a listen to Satch Boogie by Joe Satriani; it's a blistering solo effort, but the underlying rhythm is the basic rock shuffle.

September 30, 2010

CIGRG Ch 1: The Completion Backward Principle

"Let's start at the very beginning - a very good place to start!"

Wrong!  Sorry Julie Andrews, this isn't the Sound of Music - it's rock guitar! 

We're going to jump to the end of the book - the afterword.  Why?  For some words of wisdom from the author!

"This is, hopefully, the start of a lifelong adventure for you," writes David Hodge.  I thought that was a great way to get things rolling, so I'm bringing it up front.

He then encourages the reader to play with other people.  I agree with that wholeheartedly.  I know that my time playing in the band at church has really helped me improve on both bass and guitar.  Not just playing the instruments, but also developing a better understanding of music and song structure, too.

The book ends with the following gem:

"Play well.  Play often."   Doesn't get more succinct than that!  

So there you have it, the end of the book.  Now we can get started.

September 28, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love

Money can't buy love, but it can buy a nice new copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Rock Guitar!

If you decide to purchase it, why not help out the Guitar Noise site by clicking this link to Amazon:
CIG Rock Guitar

Guitar Noise gets a few pennies, and it doesn't cost you any more than buying it directly from Amazon.


Cyber-Space Truckin'

Before we get started, here are a few places around the internet that will be helpful to the emerging rocker:

Guitar Noise where you can find many of David Hodge's guitar online lessons, as well as the talkative and friendly GN Forums.

Free Jam Tracks  is a place where you can find good guitar and bass backing tracks at a great price (free!)   Pull up a chair, crank up a backing track and start jamming!  

Thunder Row is for bass players, home of the fantastic Teach Me Bass Guitar DVD series featuring studio professional Roy Vogt.  Lots of great articles, interviews, and the Thunder Row Forum.  You'll need to be a registered member to get the most out of it.  I hear there's going to be a Teach Me Lead Guitar DVD set sometime next year ...

Now, how about a little music to set the mood?  Come on!

September 22, 2010

An Old Dog

So I've got this copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Rock Guitar by David Hodge, and I'm thinking "yeah, I'm an idiot." 

I already play guitar (and bass) in a church band, but it's mostly strumming and light finger picking, or some ambient electric guitar.  But I want to rock!   Thus, the book and this blog to keep me accountable.  Maybe I'm not quite the beginner for whom the book is intended, but I still consider myself a novice or possibly an "advanced beginner" when it comes to rock guitar.