Rock Band Status: March 18, 2012

Mar 18 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

What with GDC, I didn’t play Rock Band at all last weekend, and basically didn’t do anything musical for almost two weeks straight. This weekend was a little busy, but clearly I didn’t want to let that happen again, so I made sure to play some Rock Band on Saturday.

Which was, of course, great! I went through my regular round of practice pieces, and then on to new pieces: only three this week (like I said, I was a little busy), which were:

  • Combat Baby: super fun. Nice single note bits, pleasant chords that were mostly bottom three/four strings but with some interesting seventh fret playing around. Learned something (especially about the latter) from playing it plugged in.
  • Viva La Resistance; great song (one of my favorites to listen to on the disk), though actually not my most favorite to play guitar on. In particular, the alternating strumming is sometimes a bit too fast, especially when playing it muted; it improves significantly when plugged in. But even so I made it through it fine and there are a fair number of non-tremolo parts to enjoy; and it’s a reminder that I should get back to finding five minutes to do tremolo practice every evening. (Easy enough to do while cooking dinner, after all.
  • Ziggy Stardust: the arpeggiations were extremely similar to those in More Than a Feeling, it had nice power chord mixture, single note runs, all around lots of fun.

In fact, tier three guitar has been great all around: More than a Feeling and Working for the Weekend remain two of my favorite songs to play. (I should probably come up with a tier three practice list to return to, and quite possible all three songs that I learned this weekend will go on it.) So maybe that’s my current sweet spot? Which is gratifying: I’m sure I’ll hit a wall at some point, but I’m halfway through the difficulty curve on Expert and I’m still doing more than okay. The flip side is that I’m not coming close to perfect on any of these; but that’s good, too, I imagine I learn the most if I can do well enough on a piece to enjoy it and to motivate me to really learn it while having enough flaws in my playing that I really do need to work to learn the piece.

Liesl and I also started chipping away at the DLC backlog on Saturday (on fake guitar/bass); nothing too striking there, though Call Me was a reminder that I really like singing along with Blondie. (I fear that the high notes there are just enough on the edge of my range that I’d be nervous singing when anybody else is along, alas.) And Liesl and I should go through the Hall and Oates and Heart songs on harmonies, too.

Today I put in my piano practice; felt rusty (and my fingers actually felt sluggish, through a combination of the temperature and being out of practice), and the Three-Part Ricercar sounded as bad as I can remember in a while. The Six-Part Ricercar started bad, too, but eventually got better; I really am getting close to not sounding horribly incompetent at that. And I went through some songs from My Neighbor Totoro at the end, always fun to play through Ghibli music.

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Rock Band Status: March 4, 2012

Mar 05 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I was busy on Sunday, so I only got to practice on Saturday, but it went well. The missing arpeggiation lesson is finally starting to come together, I got 97% on it a couple of times. (Though I’m not doing so well on the tremolo lesson these days…)

Then I went through some of the old songs that I liked; Working for the Weekend and More Than a Feeling are both super super fun to play, and they’re both great for me to be working on right now on a technical level. So I’m definitely going to come back to those.

For the new songs, I’m actually just going through the motions a little more than I have been in the past—not sure if I’m getting burned out a bit or if none of them are super exciting. Here are the new ones:

  • Funk #49: Boring and repetitive, but playing plugged in was surprisingly instructional. There’s a hammer-on bit and a bit where you add the sixth string to the second through fourth strings, both of which made a difference that I wasn’t expecting when I listened to them.
  • King George: Arpeggiation and chords at the start that I should have done better on; fun power chords; an easy, short, pleasant solo. I didn’t do particularly well, but I basically enjoyed it; not sure why I didn’t put in more time on it, maybe I should come back to it later?
  • Turning Japanese: Another one where I should have done better, though I didn’t take many notes about the song, so I guess it didn’t make that big an impression on me.
  • Oh My God: I did well on the repeated notes, okay on the chords, but much less well than I’d like on one scale bit.

The other thing about the guitar practice was that something started to feel funny with my playing part way through. I hope/assume it wasn’t the strings, given that I just replaced them; maybe it’s the picks? I should experiment more with that next time.

I also put in some Musical Offering practice this weekend, and for the first time I can start to see what the 6-Part Ricercar will feel like when I basically have it in my fingers and can actually start really listening to it. I still have some work before that happens, but I’m a lot more optimistic about the how it will be after my second pass going closely through the piece than I was a couple of weeks ago.

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Rock Band Status: February 12, 2012

Feb 13 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Some general practice notes:

  • I’m up to 70% speed on that arpeggiation lesson; and it’s revealing that, not only am I not good enough at shifting to F chords, I’m actually not as good at shifting to G chords as I think I am. (And I did badly on the tremolo lesson this week, not sure what’s going on there.)
  • I created a guitar practice playlist, to make it easy for me to go over my current batch of songs that I want to practice every week.
  • I’ve started writing down key chord progressions for some of those for use when practicing outside of game, instead of trying to remember them. Which got me used to the notation of chords with a dropped note on the bottom, and also had me realize that the weird barred C chord in Take On Me is actually an E chord with a G# on the E string. Interesting.

This week’s new guitar songs:

  • Have You Ever Seen the Rain: I’m only playing it now because I just downloaded it, it’s deservedly warmup, but I liked the moving bass part to move it into the practice rotation.
  • I Need to Know: mostly plays around on the seventh fret, with a bit of arpeggiation thrown in, I can tell that the difficulty is increasing.
  • I Feel Good: Different chords than I’m used to (more R&B / funk), but I got used to that soon enough, and I was surprised how much I liked the sound when plugged in. I need to work on scales more, though.
  • Riders on the Storm: pleasant noodling around that felt more like a bass part than a guitar part. And then some annoying vagueness on the high frets.
  • Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before: some pleasant chord variants, I didn’t do so well on the arpeggiated bits.
  • Need You Tonight: there were three different modes of the piece: some 9th fret chords, some rhythmic alternating strumming, and a bassy bit. All of which added up to something I enjoyed.

I went through a few songs on bass, too, and Liesl and I sung for maybe two hours? We were going through some on-disc songs that we hadn’t sung; and we seem to be getting better, we’re getting gold stars surprisingly often.

Quite happy with that amount of practice, given the number of other things I did on both Saturday and Sunday. And I was good about piano practice: I practiced on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. I’m on my second pass through the 6-Part Ricercar in the Musical Offering; it’s going quite a bit faster than I expected, though I’m also starting to realize just how little I understand the different voices in that piece.

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Rock Band Status: February 5, 2012

Feb 05 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Busy day on Saturday (we went to The Pitmen Painters in the afternoon and I went to 915 Cayuga in the evening), but I did get in a bit of guitar practice in the late morning. I gave the lessons one more try, and I managed to make it through the easier arpeggiation lesson: once I started paying attention a bit more, I realized I was moving my fingers off of the D chord a bit early. The other remaining arpeggiation lesson is still rather tough for me: not so much because of the arpeggiation but because it requires me to quickly and forcefully shift to an F chord, which I’m not great at. The other lesson I haven’t succeeded at yet is the tremolo lesson—I’ve gotten 98% a couple of times, so clearly one of these weeks I’ll luck out and get 100%, but not yet.

My list of songs to practice is getting longer and longer. Yoshimi continues to get better; the main area where I’m having trouble in it is quickly shifting to that same F chord I mentioned above, so clearly that’s one of my next hurdles to focus on, I should add that chord sequence to my nightly unplugged practice. Also, I managed 4 stars on Take on Me, so my barred C chord practice is paying off: I’m still not at all comfortable with that shift, but at least I can succeed at it some of the time.

As to the new songs I’ve done: my left hand hurt when playing Centerfold, but the chord sequences seem pretty reasonable, I should add them to my practice routine as well. 20th Century Boy had these fast single note/chord combos, and I wasn’t sure what weight of pick to use there; eventually, I decided to compromise on a medium pick, which turned out okay. It sounded surprisingly non-awful when plugged in, given how many notes I was missing; I think the point there, though, is that I simplified the piece rather than flailing around at random, so while the game didn’t like that so much, my ears were less unhappy.

London Calling got me worried, because my Xbox froze up several times while practicing that. But eventually I realized that it was freezing up in the same training segment, so now I think something in that segment is triggering a bug in the game and OS, rather than it being a sign of my third (fourth?) red ring of death being on the way. That training segment was, unfortunately, one I could use the help on, though actually it’s hard enough that I’m not sure that going through that segment more really would have helped; it didn’t sound too bad plugged in, but that was for the same reason as 20th Century Boy, namely that I didn’t try to play that part at all accurately. Other than that, it had some interesting chord variants where I had my hand in the same basic position on the top four strings but had to move my fingers around a little.

That was yesterday; today I played through some Pro Bass. Get Up, Stand Up was fun, with only one hand position transition providing a bit of challenge; no reason for me to miss any notes there, though I didn’t quite get that far. Humanoid was some interesting hopo practice and required periodically jumping to the 15th fret. King George was probably the toughest bass song so far: lots of fast notes, and getting the third star took both time and luck. And Been Caught Stealing also had fast notes, but they were in sets of three notes with space after them (and in fact I could have treated the third note as a hammer-on if I’d wanted), so they were more manageable.

And then Liesl and I sang together for probably a couple of hours? It’s been way too long since we did that, we should really try to do that every weekend. We finally got 100% on Expert Harmonies (on Outer Space, I guess my practicing that on guitar has rubbed off subconsciously); quite surprised to see us at #22 on the leaderboard for that song, but I won’t complain.

I practice piano a couple of times (and once or twice in the middle of the week): I’m now done with a first pass through the 6-Part Ricercar, but I’ll need a second pass before I feel like the notes are at all starting to get into my finger. And I’m still not thinking about the 3-Part Ricercar as much as I should. I’m thinking I might also do another run through the Ghibli book—I went through the Nausicaä songs on a lark, and they’re really pretty—though notes are sticking when I hold down the pedal, so I’ll probably want to have that looked into first.

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Rock Band Status: January 29, 2012

Jan 30 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

This week, I acquired my first non-CRT TV (yes, I am behind the times), which meant that I had to actually calibrate Rock Band before playing it. Which I was a little nervous about, but the automatic calibration that comes with the current guitar controllers works great, so I can’t tell any timing difference at all. Looks good, too, though you can definitely tell that the game’s not in 1080p.

After which, of course, I sat down to practice. Aside from going through four or five of the older songs, my guitar practice was: Fly Like an Eagle (boring and surprisingly hard); Walking on the Sun (simple, fun, I somehow reached #98 on the leaderboard); Touch Me (meh chord practice, but the hammer-on bit was surprisingly instructive when I played it plugged in, I’m getting to where I rather like hopos though they still don’t sound as good as I’d like); Space Oddity (interesting chord variants in the strummy bits, a bit too long of a solo for me); Get Free (a surprisingly pleasant mix of power chords and single notes, I rather enjoyed it); Antibodies (at least I dislike it on Pro Guitar rather less than on other instruments; and I managed to break a pick on that one); and Du Hast (I suppose it’s good that my two least favorite songs on the disk showed up back to back, because now they’re both out of the way).

A quite solid weekend’s practicing, and now I’m done with Apprentice! On to, uh, Solid? (Two-dot difficulty.)

That’s Pro Guitar. I didn’t do so much Pro Bass, but I did get a few out of the way: My Sharona was quite a bit of fun; Working for the Weekend’s fast triplets were too much for me but it was quite pleasant otherwise (and rhyming “weekend” with “deep end” is lyric genius); Ziggy Stardust was absolutely the best thing to play; I Can See for Miles was fun in training, but in the actual song you play the same note over and over again for most of it (in fact, you can make it to three stars before you have to play a second note), and by the time you get to the interesting bits, it’s been long enough since your training that I for one screwed up; and Spanish Bombs never required you to change your hand position but had enough variation that I had fun nonetheless. (No reason why I should have missed a note on Spanish Bombs, and while of course I did miss three or four, I reached #6 on the leaderboard, though admittedly that doesn’t mean much for DLC.)

On the piano front, I’ve been slacking on my Musical Offering practice, but I did put in a decent hour. The Six-Part Ricercar continues to be extremely thorny; I’ll be done with my first pass at figuring out fingerings and hand placement in a couple of weeks, but I’m pretty sure I’ll need another full second pass before I can start seriously thinking about the musicality. I did at least work more seriously on the Three-Part Ricercar this time, instead of just coasting: it sounds good enough that I enjoy just playing it, but there’s definitely enough room for improvement that I shouldn’t settle for the way it sounds now.

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Rock Band Status: January 1, 2012

Jan 01 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I went through four songs this week on Expert Pro Guitar. Low Rider was easy and boring, mostly sounding like an unimaginative bass part; but hey, at least I got my Pro Guitar gold stars out of the way, and reached 50th place on the leaderboard. I actually shouldn’t have missed any notes; I did make some mistakes though, and on my first playthrough the game frequently thought I was playing extra notes when I wasn’t. I’m not sure what was going on there, but when I played a little more crisply, then that didn’t happen as much, so I guess that’s good?

Last Dance was also easy and boring, but a little more useful: a significant chunk of the game had me switching between a simple I-IV-V barre chord sequence, and while I could do that well enough to not get an awful score in game, I didn’t do great, and it made my hands hurt. So that’s useful feedback: a touchstone that I can use to measure the extent to which I’m not completely incompetent, both by listening to myself and by building up my hand strength. I’ll certainly work on the chord progression in question outside of game, and play through it again in-game (plugged in) in future weeks.

For Beautiful People, I finally tried out the dropped D tuning plugged in; and, you know, it was more fun than I expected it to be. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to going through more pieces in that vein, but I should give them a fair shake instead of skipping them.

And I Wanna Be Sedated was interesting enough that I wrote about it on my main blog. And, as I said there, it also suggested something I should practice outside of game, namely alternating strumming of power chords: I’m bad at at it, and hit strings that I shouldn’t far too often when shifting chords. Like Last Dance, I’ll return to that song in future weeks.

I’m also thinking I should experiment more with different guitar picks; I’ll stop by a music store this week and pick up a few to try out.

I went through a few songs on Pro Bass; fun, though they’re definitely getting harder, enough so that I can’t just go through a whole swathe at once. And I finished off another group of the game’s lessons, just two of them left.

I’d been lax on my piano practice over the last week and a bit, and you could definitely tell: the 3-Part Ricercar actually wasn’t so bad, but I was at sea far too often during the 6-Part Ricercar. I’ll definitely have to put in more time on that in the middle of the week.

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Rock Band Status: Finished Hard Pro Guitar

Nov 28 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

As expected, I finished Hard Pro Guitar this week. Which was great! I’ll go into details more on my main blog, but, for the record, the last four songs were: 25 or 6 to 4, whose solo was interesting enough solo practice; Llama, about which I have nothing good to say; Beast and the Harlot, whose main positive feature was that it wasn’t Llama; and Roundabout, which defies description. So, not my favorite group of songs, but really that’s my fault: we’re clearly well past my level of competence even on Hard, especially at the solos. It will be refreshing to go back to the easier songs: even with the switch to Expert, I imagine I’ll find more in those songs that I can play well.

My other musical project has been the Three-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering. Which is now at a state where I’m not making stupid mistakes, but I could stand to improve its musicality. And, frankly, I could use help with that: I am sorely tempted to fly to Paris to beg a lesson from my harpsichord teacher. (Well, maybe I’m sorely tempted to fly to Paris for other reasons. But still!)

I decided to keep the Three-Part Ricercar in my fingers, but to mostly move on to learning the notes for the Six-Part Ricercar. Which has been interesting so far, though clearly I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. But then a funny thing happened today when I went back to the Three-Part Ricercar: my ears did a much better job than they had of parsing out the different voices! So, all of a sudden, improving the musicality of the piece doesn’t seem nearly as out of reach: I like the way it sounded today a lot more than I had, and I’m really looking forward to playing around with different possibilities.

Good times. And my throat is feeling better, maybe we’ll get back to harmonizing next week?

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Rock Band Status: November 20, 2011

Nov 21 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I finished off some lose ends: I did the Expert Vocals hall of fame challenge, as well as a couple of other random challenges. (What a Diva! and the Rock Band 1 one.) The only hard bit in the hall of fame challenge was Good Vibrations, which manages to be both above and below my range, but there were more than enough other songs that fit into my range (though I did shift Rainbow in the Dark up an octave) to make up for that.

My throat was feeling pretty raw from drainage, so instead of singing with Liesl after that, I decided to switch over to Pro Guitar. And I felt like I’d run into a brick wall there, I just couldn’t do anything. Only when I was at dinner did it dawn on me: I’d probably left the difficulty at Expert, so no wonder I couldn’t play the songs!

And, indeed, when I came back the next day, that proved to be the case, and they were all much more tractable on Hard. Free Bird was quite a lot of fun, and could be good practice for scales; Rainbow in the Dark isn’t my type of music at all, but I enjoyed the repeated bit rather more than I expected. Caught in a Mosh is probably my least favorite song on disc—I’d been thinking that Du Hast had that honor, but now I’ve changed my mind. (Though even there I enjoyed the fingering challenges outside the solo.) And Crazy Train was interesting because it took me four tries to get the third star: there’s one repeated sequence with unusual chords where I kept on either missing the fingering or playing the wrong strings.

Satisfying week, and only four songs left to go: I’ll finish that over the long weekend with room to spare. Which means that it’s time to think about what to do once I finish Hard Pro Guitar.

As to making music outside of the game: my plan of record has been to try to practice alternating strumming, 風の丘, and the Three-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering every day. I’ve been doing the alternating strumming rather reliably; it’s amazing how much a difference just putting in a couple of minutes a day makes. I haven’t been working on the Three-Part Ricercar every day, but more than enough to make a difference: in fact, now it’s getting to a state where my fingers generally do a quite good job of getting the notes right, so I need to switch from what to play over to how to play. Not so easy, for the first time in ages I wish I had a teacher to help me with that. Still, I’ll keep on working on it for a while, and then probably switch to something else on the piano.

風の丘, however, is not going so well. I enjoy playing it, but I’m finding it surprisingly hard to memorize; I could probably succeed at that, but I really would need to practice it every day to do so, and I’m not making the time for that. And, upon reflection, I’m happy enough with that decision: I’d rather spend that time focusing on improving my piano playing. Also, as I move up to Expert Pro Guitar, I’ll have many more opportunities to focus on really learning individual songs on the guitar. So: it’s been fun, but time to move on.

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Rock Band Status: November 6, 2011

Nov 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, Liesl and I sung together. (For the first time in several weeks; I’d missed that!) We mostly tried to go through songs that we hadn’t yet sung, and we were going in order of band name, which meant that we did a lot of Billy Joel and most of London Calling. The former was surprisingly fun on harmonies; the latter was rather frustrating, partly because only 15 of the 19 tracks had harmonies and mostly because the harmonies just aren’t that good. (Actually, the melodies aren’t that good even when singing alone: I really like the vocals in the album, but that’s mostly due to the lyrics.) Lost in the Supermarket is still awesome, though.

And today I went through six more songs on Hard Pro Guitar. No One Knows had nice riffs and a pleasantly short solo; the tuning was completely different when I tried plugging it in, though, not sure what’s going on there. Jerry Was a Race Car Driver really wasn’t my style of music, but I kind of enjoyed playing it anyways. Been Caught Stealing had some interesting chord transitions, though I wouldn’t want all songs to be like that. In the Meantime mostly served to show that I really need to improve my technique on barre chords: I just can’t transition as fluently between different ones as I’d like. China Grove, on the other hand, showed that I can at least transition between power chords, and have fun doing so. And Radar Love was rather fun, which is surprising given its melodic/solo focus.

So: only 3 songs left on Nightmare, and then, I believe, 12 left on Impossible? Next weekend is a three-day weekend, and Liesl and Miranda will be out of town; it’s not inconceivable that I’ll finish Hard Pro Guitar next weekend, though my guess is that I won’t quite put in enough time to manage that. (Alternatively, I may use the extra time to put in more solo vocals practice.)

I’ve also been reasonably diligent with my out-of-game practice. I’m trying to put in a couple of minutes a day of alternating strumming practice; doesn’t feel like much, but it really is having an effect. And I’m continuing to shake the rust off of the 3-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering: still fumbling notes at times, but I’m hoping it won’t be too much longer before I can start focusing on the music.

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Rock Band Status: October 30, 2011

Oct 31 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

We were playing bridge with friends on Sunday, so I had to get in my guitar practice on Saturday; fortunately, that practice went rather well, so it was a productive weekend. I finished the last two Challenging songs on Hard Pro Guitar; Misery Business was straightforward fun, though I wish I’d done a bit better with chord transitions (dropped D tuning didn’t help), and Humanoid was a bit too metallic and showed that I need to work better at quickly sliding between chords. (And, again, that I don’t like dropped D tunings! I should try actually tuning the guitar that way at some point, to see if that helps me make peace with it.)

After that, I moved up to Nightmare, and made it through four songs there. The first song was Power of Love; I have no idea why it’s rated at that difficulty level. Though the solo did seem to be missing an unusual number of notes, I’m willing to believe that it’s significantly more difficult on Expert? And I ended up in the top 3%, which is unusual for me, so it would seem to be a song that plays to my strengths, whatever those might be. (And I did a better job hitting the chord transitions in that song than in others; it feels really good when that happens.) Oye Mi Amor and Don’t Stand So Close to Me were also quite entertaining, though I don’t have notes on what I found distinctive about them. Which is three songs; I could have sworn I played through four on that tier, but I don’t remember what the fourth was and I don’t feel like turning on the game to find out.

At any rate: six songs is a good total for the weekend; that leaves, I believe, 9 more songs on Nightmare (including one piece of DLC) and 12 on Impossible? So the end is in sight, and it’s not so crazy to think that I might even finish Hard before the end of the calendar year. And it makes me just as happy that there’s not another Rock Band game coming out this year, I’m quite confident playing through songs on Expert will take up a good chunk of next year…

Liesl and I also played through another dozen or so Lego Rock Band songs on Saturday. Mostly unimpressive, though I was surprised how much I enjoyed Ghostbusters and the Jackson 5 song. (I Want You Back, I guess it is.) What we haven’t done for a while is vocals—I had a bit of a cold and she was feeling a bit frazzled this weekend, I hope we’re up for some singing next weekend.

I’ve also been working on the 3-part Ricercar from the Musical Offering some recently. And the rust is starting to shake off: I don’t feel too bad about the first half of it, and Liesl commented that it sounds better to her, too. So nice that my fingers haven’t completely lost their abilities to play fugues, at least at a basic mechanical level; we’ll learn in a couple of weeks how good my ears are at refining the music once I have the notes under control.

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