Saturday, July 2, 2016

What do you expect?

What do you expect?

You've been playing a musical instrument for six months now and you don't sound like your musical hero who inspired you to start playing music.  What's the deal?

You, like many before you have suddenly discovered learning to play a musical instrument is harder than you thought it would be.  It's not just those wishing to play music who make this discovery.  How many people have watched Tiger Woods swing a club into a ball which then lands on the green and rolls back to the hole, and think "I can do that." They go out and buy the same clubs Tiger uses, read all the golf magazines, push the golf tee into the grass, stand behind the ball and approach it just like they have seen the pros do, take a couple of practice swings and a deep breath and knock the ball into the ground twenty feet in front of them, or fifty yards to the right into the window of a homeowner who regrets being talked into the "beautiful view" of the first tee. 

How easy did Bob Ross make it look to paint a fluffy cloud and a happy little tree, when your attempts (while watching him do it and explain how easy it was) turned out looking "very similar to the one that elephant painted" which you rightfully don’t take as a complement?

The point being, learning any specialized skill is hard.  The more specialized, the harder it is.  The more proficient your hero is, the easier they make it look.  You are currently at the point where a decision has to be made.  Am I going to stick with it now that I realize how difficult it really is?  This is the point where many of the less devoted answer no.  This is where all those used musical instruments find their way onto Craigslist, Ebay and Reverb, or just tucked into the closet behind the golf shoes and paint easel.  Fender’s CEO released a staggering stat: “The attrition rate among first-time players amazes me," he says. "90% abandon the instrument after 12 months."  

Just think of that.  90% had enough interest to buy an instrument only to give up entirely twelve months later.  They were sold on the idea that all you had to do was buy a guitar and amp, and you would be headlining festivals in no time, that if you were able to get a top score on Guitar Hero, the real thing would be a snap.  They spent the first week slinging the guitar precariously over one shoulder while practicing their "power stance" in the mirror, the next week split between cranking the distortion knob and bending the strings as far as they would go.  The third week they tried to learn the first power chord, that's when things started to get hard and the realization hit that this was going to take work. 

Not to discourage you even further but, no matter how long you've been playing or how good you get, it is always going to take work not only to get better, but to maintain what you've learned.  It does get a little easier though.  And as you improve your skills while others around you trade in their guitar for the next easier adventure, you start to feel a sense of accomplishment when all the notes in the bar chord sound clear, or that solo you've played over and over is almost up to full speed.  People start to complement you on how far you've come.  You see new players struggling with the same things you did, and remember how hard that used to be. You start to feel really good about sticking with this whole music thing.  This is a lot of fun. You're invited to bring your guitar to the next bonfire, and you’re confident they don't mean for you to throw it in.  Then you meet a ten year old kid who's only been playing eight months doing things you'll never be able to do.

The thing to remember is that that doesn't change any of those things above.  There will always be someone better than you.  That doesn't take away from how much you have accomplished or how much enjoyment you get with that accomplishment.  I've also found that it's right about that time when you feel you've hit a plateau and aren’t getting any better that you suddenly have a breakthrough.  Your dedication is tested before you're rewarded with more success... Then bam! How did I do that? That sounded really cool... “Hey honey, listen to this...” “Yes dear I've heard it.”  “No, I was playing it like this... But I just came up with this on my own...” “Very good dear...”
“It is good isn't it?”

Now you can justify buying that new guitar you've been looking at.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When to change your G-String..?

Answer: at the same time as your E, A, D, B strings. 

But really when should you change your strings?

If you’re somewhat new to playing a stringed instrument, this can be a tough one to figure out.  There is no absolute answer to this question, as there are different preferences in tone, and different contributing factors to to how long strings last.  In general though, it seems like most people should be changing their strings more often than they are.

Why do strings need changed other than when they break?  Your standard guitar, mandolin, banjo, etc., strings are made of a steel core wire, with a few of the strings wrapped with a bronze wire.  Check out this cool video from GHS strings to see the process: 

All that metal starts to rust and tarnish (yes, you have a rusty g-string that could break at any moment) whether you’re playing your instrument or just letting it sit in its case or on a stand (I don't recommend leaving it in the case or on a stand.)  Humidity, sweat, oils and dirt from your fingers all accelerate that process.  Dirt and oil and even some skin (gross) from those sweet slides you’ve been doing start to fill in the space between the bronze wrapping on your lower strings.  These all contribute to the lifeless, dull sound that slowly takes over your instrument.  You get to the point where you have to play harder to get the same volume, and still don’t have the tone.  You’ll notice your fingers getting sore sooner partly from pushing harder on metal wires that have been stretched to their limits and are refusing to flex anymore (also making it difficult to stay in tune), and partly from the microscopic rust and string wear that tears at your calluses (breaking loose skin cells mentioned above.)  This all happens gradually while you’re focused on playing the right notes, so most people don’t even notice it (note: focusing on playing the right notes while not noticing things is also bad for relationships. *future blog*)

A new set of strings will have a much brighter tone, more flex, and be easier to keep in tune.  But like I said about preference in tone, some people love the sound of new fresh strings.  They ring clear in tone, with a quick attack.  Other hate new strings, and can’t wait until a new set is broken in and sounding dull.  We have a live recording of Tony Rice playing with J.D. Crowe back in the 70’s.  He breaks a string and changes it on stage, then asks if anyone has some lipstick he can wipe on the new string to dull it.  That’s the tone Tony prefers, which is why his signature Martin Strings set is a Monel wound string.  Monel winding is much less bright than Bronze. 

One way you  can tell if you could use a string change is to just look over your strings, especially the bronze ones.  Do you see a big variance in the color along the string, past the nut, or bridge?  In general if you’re playing every day, than you should be changing strings once a month.  When we’re on tour, we change strings every show.  It’s party due to the elements, humid outdoor events with more sweating kill strings fast, but it also helps prevent us from breaking a string on stage. 

If you don’t practice as much as you would like, maybe a couple days a week, then you could extend that to 2 months.  Much past that and your strings are probably starting to make your already difficult job of playing an instrument, even harder.  

While you’re changing those strings, try something new.  There are many different brands and types of strings that can help your instrument sound better.  I play GHS Silk and Bronze strings,  which have a thin string of silk wrapped just under the bronze, (oooh, a silk g-string) dulling out a bit of the brightness, and giving my mandolin a woody  tone.  If you’ve already got a deep sounding instrument, bright bronze might help liven it up.  There are also coated strings, which can last 3 times longer that non-coated.  The coating prevents the rust, and dirt from getting to the metal, but having a coating on the string starts it out a little duller than non-coated.  Each person and each instrument will be different. 

Next, when is it time to buy new socks?

Jeremy Chapman
The Chapmans
The Acoustic Shoppe