Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September Journeys

September begins with a dedication to learning minor pentatonic scales up and down the fretboard.  The use of backing tracks and play-along apps like Jam Tracks makes practice more enjoyable. After a week of practice it's virtually impossible not to see patterns emerge places where it is easier to shift to a higher or lower pattern.  My next steps include learning to quickly identify root note locations and how to play in every key at the same location as well as how to play every key up and down the frets.  I also decided to try to learn the patterns on the keyboard I have set up as well.  I don't know a thing about playing keyboards, but since I know the scale notes on the guitar, it transfers easily to the keyboard.  In fact, it's easier since there is only 1 pattern to learn instead of the 5 patterns I am learning for each minor pentatonic scale on the guitar.

On the weekend of Sept 15-17, I journeyed  to Saratoga Springs, NY for a few musical experiences.  First and foremost, was the Florence + the Machine concert at the Saratoga  Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Florence Welch is a top-notch performer with a beautiful voice. I'm surprised by the number of people who still don't know her material.  She is so fun to watch on stage.  She seems to be in a trippy, hypnotic-like state of being somehow possessed by Stevie Nicks and Adele.  We had wonderful 1st-row balcony seats which provided great site lines, however, those behind us remained seated so we didn't stand until the last couple of songs.  I much prefer to stand during a rock concert!  For some reason the video screen sync was behind the audio.  This made it impossible to watch the large video screens.  We didn't really need the screens from our seats but I'm sure it was annoying to those who did like watching the video screen.

Two other musical side trips in Saratoga included late evening visit to One Caroline Street Bistro. They have local musicians almost every night and this particular Saturday was no exception.  I can't find any calendar listing the artist we enjoyed but she was probably in her 80's, used a walker, and carried an oxygen tank.  As my back was to the stage at first, I was quite surprise to find out who was killing it on piano!

The second side trip was a look at Caffe Lena, the oldest continuously operating coffeehouse in the United States. Opened in 1960, Caffe Lena helped propel the careers of Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and Ani DiFranco.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to see a show here but maybe next time.

Right now, I am exploring the Blue Note Spotify App.  The entire Blue Note catalog is available.  It is similar to the Classical Spotify App in that you can listen according to a timeline, instruments, or mood.  I filtered for electric guitar from 2000's to the present and Dr. John's Duke Elegant (performing the music of Duke Ellington was the first recommendation.  Next up is Brian Blade, who I am not familiar.

In an article reviewing the top live concert apps, I came across bandsintown app for my iPhone (also web-based).  I like the concert cloud feature and the ability to stretch the radius to 100 miles.  You can also automatically listen to artists via a Spotify premium account.

It's not too late to check out the iTunes Music Festival.  Every day in the month of September, iTunes is streaming the live shows from London.  You can watch on any iOS device, including Apple TV.  Apple TV is my preferred viewing method.  I live-streamed the Jack White concert on September 8th.  It was great to see since I had to sell my Jack White concert tickets for Toronto in October.  Still up and coming....Mumford & Sons, Lana Del Ray, Ellie Goulding, Alicia Keys, and Muse.

Finally, some starred music of the last couple weeks include Cat Power's Sun, Wax Poetic's  (Nora Jones' original band) On a Ride, and Bob Dylan's 35th (yes, 35!) studio album, Tempest.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Journey through Garageband as a Non-Musician

If you are like me the look of screen on the left is a bit intimidating.  At the same time, as a non-musician music lover, I am intrigued by capabilities that Garageband provides for non-musicians.

So this week I was determined to connect my daughter's older Yamaha keyboard and my guitar to Garageband.  I wanted to explore the MIDI capabilities and guitar amp capabilities of the program.  Yes, I do "play" guitar but believe me when I say that I consider myself a non-musician.

The first thing I learned was that I needed a MIDI converter USB cable to go from the Yamaha to the iMac.  There are cables like MIDIsport available but discussion groups led me to believe that there were too many issues with this 3rd party cable.  Instead, I purchased a UX-16 cable directly from Yamaha.  I then watched 2-3 YouTube videos on how to use a keyboard with the MIDI features on Garageband.  It was pretty simple but I did have an issue with a clicking sound once I released a key.  I did a complete shut down/restart of the computer and this solved the problem.

After watching a few very short basic instructional videos, I was creating all sorts of MIDI tracks.  It is amazingly simple to create layers of sound that are listenable.  I'm not going to publish any songs any time soon but it was a lot of fun messing around with the 1000's of combinations of software instruments available in the program.

Connecting my guitar was even easier as I already had an iRig cable to use my guitar with my iPad.  I then added a guitar track and started experimenting with all sorts of amp and effect capabilities.  As a practice tool I found some .mp3 jam tracks to download and add as a track in Garageband.  I then started a commitment to learn some blues scales.  I can confidently say today that I have the Am pentatonic scale memorized up and down the fretboard.  I've been inspired by Gary Marcus's book titled Guitar Zero.  My interest in neuroscience and music intersect once again.

Next steps?  I am going to continue trying to find the time to practice guitar everyday.  Playing along with backing tracks is not only fun but a great way to learn.  If you add a drum track to Garageband you can even sync the guitar track in perfect time even if your timing is a bit off.  Secondly, I plan on teaching my son and daughter the in's and out's of creating music.  Since they are both better musicians than I will ever be, I hope they start to enjoy the creative process as well.

So don't be intimidated.  Read, explore, watch videos and have some fun!