Archive for June, 2011

Pro Guitar Status, June 19, 2011

Jun 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

The main bit of Pro Guitar excitement this week: I bought an amp! At the recommendation of a guitarist friend of mine, I went for a Fender Vibro Champ XD, and I have no regrets so far: I like the way it sounds, and it allows for what seems to me a decent amount of experimentation, which will help me get a better idea of the possibilities that are out there when/if I decide to move up to something fancier.

And it turns out that, indeed, playing Pro Guitar on Hard is good preparation for the real thing! I’ve only gone through three songs on Hard so far, but in all cases, when I played them plugged in I could definitely hear the music. Flourishes were missing, so I clearly have something to look forward to when I learn those songs on Expert, but buying the amp when I hit Hard was definitely the right choice. (And, conversely, I tried out a few songs on Medium with the amp on, and it just wasn’t the same.)

It was also very educational from a musical point of view. Most notably in learning how notes sustain on an electric guitar: when you’re playing in game, the game is in complete control of that, and when you play unmuted but not plugged in, notes don’t sustain very well. When I’m plugged in, though, notes sustain for a quite long time. In particular, it was quickly clear that I need to mute notes that I don’t want to sustain; for now, I’m doing that with the pick, but I should play around with other possible ways to mute.

That also raises the question: what should I do when the game gives me notes that are marked as muted? The game doesn’t really care, though it gives me advice to not hold down the strings very much; I’ll need to experiment with the different sounds I can produce with that. And hammers-on and pull-offs are much more real to me now: I’d been playing them for years without really believing that they could work (at some subconscious level, of course I trust Harmonix to represent music accurately within the game’s constraints), but it turns out that, yup, they work well! Though that is very much an area which I need to explore more, in order to figure out how to get notes to sustain best across transitions.

The amp aside, though, I’ve only played very little this week. We have guests in town (summer being when grandparents come to visit their granddaughter), and yesterday in particular was quite busy with brunch, a musical, and dinner. So I didn’t have time to learn any new songs; I did manage to put in most of an hour on practice mode, though.

And I would seem to be making progress. There are 10 barre chord lessons; the first four went rather smoothly, which isn’t something I’ve been able to say in the past, and I made it through the last of them for the first time. The open chord lessons also went well, so probably I’ll soon reduce my frequency of practicing those. (Or maybe not, it’s core muscle memory and the better I get the less time it will take for me to go through them!) I also finished the strumming pattern lessons for the first time; those, I wasn’t so impressed by (it wasn’t even clear which strings I was supposed to strum when or what mistake I had made in a given attempt), and I don’t plan to return to them particularly often. I didn’t have time to go through the arpeggiation lessons (which I haven’t yet finished) or the scale lessons (which I have finished but plan to return to frequently).

I’ll happily dive in full force next weekend, though. My current plan is to go through songs like I have been and then play each song a couple of times unmuted and plugged in to see what it sounds like. And I have no idea what my rate of progress will be; I’m sure it will be slower than on Medium (both because of the difficulty and because I’ll be wanting to listen to myself), but how much has yet to be determined.

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Pro Guitar Status, June 12, 2011

Jun 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Last week I started on barre chord training, and my main takeaway there was that it was going to require a lot of (painful!) practice. Which I dutifully did: every weekday this week I pulled out the guitar after I got home and practiced for a bit. (Outside of the game: I didn’t plug in the guitar and left the strings unmuted.) Which was a good choice: I made a lot of mistakes while doing that, and learned something about the pitfalls of different finger positions.

And I still have a long way to go. I went through the game’s barre chord training both yesterday and today; I did better both times than last week, making it through nine of the ten sections, but it was a struggle, and I had to give my wrist frequent rest breaks. And the game was surprisingly generous: it doesn’t actually require you to be holding down the barre chord perfectly, though I’m not sure exactly what mistakes the game allows. (Maybe it lets you miss one of the high strings?) Still, it’s progress, and I’ll keep at it.

I also tried out the other Hard training lessons. And I was surprised to find that the barre chord lessons wasn’t the first group: there’s an open chord group of lessons before that, which (among other things) teaches you about E and A chords, which is kind of useful when working on barre chords! I did manage to go through all of that group, and all of the scale lessons; actually, I rather enjoyed the latter. Oddly enough, the chromatic scale was by far the hardest of the scale lessons for me—a chromatic scale should be straightforward on a guitar, one would think, but it didn’t turn out that way. There were two other groups of lessons that I dipped into but didn’t complete, I’ll give those a try again next week. (Actually, I’ll give all of them a try again, this is all core knowledge, and I’m not nearly solid enough at any of it to be able to move on.)

I also went through three songs. None of which had barre chords in them: they all had three-note chords, with open fifths. Which raised a fingering question: should I finger it like a barre chord where I happen to only be strumming three strings, or should my index finger be vertical? For now, I’m going with the latter, but any advice would be welcome. Also, the game kept on claiming that I was missing the three note chords when I thought I was fingering them correctly; eventually, I realized that I was in fact fingering correctly, I just wasn’t strumming through all three strings. (A bad habit I picked up from the two-note chords on Medium, where the game/controller really only makes you strum one of the strings.) Once I figured that out, I did a pretty good job on I Love Rock and Roll, which was nice.

I also took a break from pro guitar, going through London Calling on regular bass. Which was awesome, it’s a wonderful album with some pleasant bass lines. The only weird thing was trying to go for the all-upstrum 100% expert goal: for the second time, I thought I’d finished the goal (I certainly got 100%!), but I wasn’t credited with it. No idea what’s going on there.

And then there were the equipment events of the week. The said one is that the Squier controller is being discontinued. It’s still available at Best Buy; talking it over with Liesl, we actually decided to order a second one, on the theory that she’s dipping her toes into the instrument as well and having a second one available would also be welcome if the first one breaks. (She has quite a bit more experience than I do playing an actual guitar, though she usually plays bass in our Rock Band sessions.) If you’re finding this series of posts interesting and are on the fence about buying one yourself, I encourage you to take the leap: I’ve obviously found mine to be more than worth it.

On a more pleasant equipment note, I also ordered an amp! I talked it over with a guitarist friend of mine, and it seemed like the Fender Vibro Champ was the best tradeoff between price and quality. (I’m obviously quite enjoying my guitar learning so far, but I’m not committing to trying to become a really solid guitarist; so while I may well eventually buy a better guitar and amp, I may decide that sticking with playing the guitar in game is all that I’m up for.) So I’m really looking forward to its arriving this week and seeing what the guitar sounds like; I’m thinking that, every time I go through a song in game, I should try it once or twice plugged into the amp as well.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to practice next weekend—we have guests in town whom I might not want to inflict too much bad guitar playing on, and we have theatre tickets for Sunday afternoon. Which is okay: at worst, that means that I won’t have time to do much beyond regular barre chord practice, and that’s what I need much more than anything else.

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Minecraft: Hollowing out a Train Station

Jun 11 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

At the end of last post, I’d figured out where my first stretch of track was going to be, and where my first two stations would be: a large one inside my home hill, and a small one near my new house. So now it was time to start work on one of those; I decided to tackle my home hill.

Miranda decided to help me design, so first we walked around the top of the hill a lot figuring out where things should go. Eventually, we noticed that the track location went in a line that connected a tower on top of the hill with a tree on top of the hill. That seemed to be too much of a coincidence to pass up, so we decided to go with that. After looking at pictures of train stations, we decided go go with a window at the top window of the roof, along with further windows down the sides.

A sunrise we saw while looking out the side of the hill

Leveling off the top of the roof

The skylight is in place

A view of the tracks from the roof

The tower, which we widened to match the skylight

After that, we had to figure out what to do with the sides. We decided to put windows and dirt in rows on the sides; also, the east side of the hill was quite a bit steeper than the west side, so we ended up building up the east side more. Once we had the windows in place, we went back up to the top and started hollowing out the inside.

Adding more windows on the west side of the hill

Extending the east side of the hill

Starting to hollow out the middle

Sunrise through the windows

Hollowing it out wasn’t too tedious at first, because it was narrower at the top and because it was dirt instead of stone. As we got further down, it started to drag on a bit; fortunately, however, the space started to look pretty amazing as it got taller, so the effort was worth it.

Space is starting to form inside

Lots of blocks bouncing around

It's getting taller

Now it's really tall

By this point, we were getting close to the track level, so it was time to figure out exactly how the sides would look where they met the ground. (Which was actually a few blocks above track level, because of the hill that we were on.) Eventually we decided to add vertical sides with double-height windows; they were in slightly different positions on the two sides, because of the different configurations of the land.

The windows on the east side

Looking through the station

And now we’re done hollowing out that part. And it looks great! Except that it’s clearly too short in comparison to its width: we’ll have to extend it further in to the hill, and possible also further out the sand dunes; I guess I’ll work on that next weekend. That will require some amount of fiddling with the shape of the hill, but now that I’ve gotten past my need to leave natural features exactly as they are, I think that will probably improve the look of the hill: in particular, the east side was way too steep before.

An inside view of the full height

The west side of the station

The east side of the station

And, of course, we have to furnish the station. Not least, laying at least one set of tracks! (There’s probably room in the station for around ten sets of tracks, it’s something like 26 squares wide.) I think I’ll put half-height blocks on the ground, to provide a raised bed above the tracks. Also, I’m not sure about the lighting: Miranda was lobbying for having minimal torches, but I’m not convinced that’s the way to go, so I may end up climbing way up the walls to add more torches. And we’ll want some sort of big window high up in the front of the station, once we figure out where the front of the station actually is.

A good day’s work, I’m glad to see this finally taking shape.

Watching the sun set through the station

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Pro Guitar Status, June 5, 2011: Finished Medium!

Jun 05 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

As expected, I finished the last eight Medium Pro Guitar songs this week. Which, honestly, weren’t my favorite songs: too many guitar solos with the vast majority of the notes missing, and which I actually don’t think I would have enjoyed that much even if the notes had been there. Still, there were some fun bits. And still: I’m done with Medium Pro Guitar!

Which means that the fun is about to start. Which I dipped into today, making it about halfway through the barre chords training; it turns out that “fun” is another word for “my left hand is hurting in new and different ways”. Fortunately, my twitter feed is filled with people named Dan who give excellent guitar advice, but clearly I have my work cut out for me.

I have more to say, but I think I’ll leave that for my other blog. I imagine that I’ll spend the next few weeks going through tutorials, hopefully finding time to practice barre chords (without the game, just playing the guitar unmuted) most evenings during the week as well. And I’ll probably dip into a couple of actual songs, just to see what those are like.

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