Rock Band Status: March 25, 2012

Mar 25 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

When practicing older songs on Pro Guitar this week, I concentrated on Tier 3 songs instead of my earlier practice playlist (which was mostly Tier 0); and wow, Tier 3 is so much fun. I went through More than a Feeling, Working for the Weekend, Combat Baby, Viva La Resistance, and Ziggy Stardust; all fun, all instructive, all worth returning to. (Viva La Resistance is maybe a little boring to play, though not to listen to, but it’s good tremolo practice.)

And the first song I played this week may well get added to the list; I didn’t take detailed notes, but I really enjoyed playing The Look. Walk of Life was okay but not great; Tier 3 on Pro Guitar versus devil horns on fake guitar, and it’s a little hard for me to imagine what would make it devil horns: unrelenting, but not ludicrously fast, and either no solo or an easy one. Admittedly, my hand did hurt by the end of it, but not so much that I didn’t play through it several times; good, albeit not quite as much of a keeper as several of the other songs. As was Spanish Bombs: that one was mostly barre chord practice.

After that, I went through five (I think) songs on Pro Bass, finishing off Tier 3 and doing the first two songs in Tier 4. Pleasant but, of course, noticeably easier than guitar, and I have no idea why the first of those Tier 4 songs was marked at that level, it was quite easy.

The one blemish was that my guitar started acting funny, not detecting input reliably even after swapping batteries; that happened before and it was caused by the MIDI cable, so I swapped that out and yes, it was the problem again. So I ordered another backup; and, since I’m starting to get paranoid about equipment availability, I also ordered a spare MIDI adapter.

I worked on the Musical Offering some, too; getting better, but my heart wasn’t in it this week. Not sure if I was tired or if that’s a sign that I’ve been working on that for too long; not sure I have the energy to really polish the 3-Part Ricercar, but I would like to get the 6-Part Ricercar sounding better, so I’ll keep going for a few more weeks (a month, really, to be realistic) longer. Not sure if I’ll pause on piano playing after that (to focus more on guitar and on non-musical pursuits) or switch pieces.

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Rock Band Status: February 26, 2012

Feb 26 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

The main unusual event that happened this week was that I replaced the strings on the guitar for the first time. Electric guitars are different from other instruments that I’ve dealt with, because the strings are a lot stiffer; I wish I’d wound the bottom two pegs a bit more, but they seem to already be holding their tune fine, so I guess I didn’t screw things up too much?

This weekend’s pro guitar pieces:

  • Werewolves of London: an alternate tuning, and the music itself was mostly boring but with a few bits that were harder than I’d like mixed in, all of which added up to something I didn’t enjoy.
  • Me Enamora: It started off with single note bits that were fun but a bit too hard for me, then strummy bits that I had the wrong pick for (I would have liked a thin pick, but I couldn’t have played the single notes with that), then a solo that was definitely too hard for me, then repeating some of prior bits. I like the song; right now it’s too hard for me, but I hope that eventually I’ll come back to it and be able to do rather better on the single note bits in the start and somewhat better on the solo?

That was the last of the solid songs, so next on to moderate:

  • Working for the Weekend: Really really fun, absolutely one of my favorite pro guitar songs. Though I didn’t take good notes on it, so I’m not exactly sure why I enjoyed it so much; I’ll definitely be playing it again and will find out more. It also sounded quite good plugged in.
  • Hey Man Nice Shot: Full of fast dropped D power chords, changing constantly instead of repeating the same chord over and over again; the upshot was that I couldn’t hit them properly, and didn’t particularly enjoy the attempt.
  • More Than a Feeling: Arpeggiation that started out a bit too hard but where I eventually started getting used to it; chord bits that were pleasant, and a surprisingly accessible solo. I should return to this one, too.
  • I Can See for Miles: Surprisingly accessible and pleasant. It had unusual chords, but not too many different ones and they weren’t too difficult. And that made it quite interesting to play when plugged in, hearing what those chords sounded like coming out of the amp.

I also went through five (I think?) songs on Pro Bass. I’m actually on the moderate difficulty tier on both instruments now (though noticeably further ahead on pro bass), and bass is giving me trouble more and more often, though it’s still generally a bit easier than guitar.

Liesl and I also finished going through all the on-disc vocal harmonies content; that’s been a lot of fun, and while there are songs that I have no desire to sing again, on balance it was good to have an excuse to branch out more than normal. I was amused to see that we’re in the top 1% of the harmonies leaderboard: so now I’m there on pro keys, pro guitar, and harmonies, and pro bass is certainly attainable. Pro drums, not so much; and, while I haven’t checked, I doubt I’m particularly close to the top 1% on solo vocals, I think there’s a lot more people who have done a few songs on harmonies than who have gone through all the songs. (Also, Liesl is a better singer than I am.) Still, we have gotten gold stars on many of the songs; in fact, I think the “5 star every song on expert harmonies” goal may well be attainable for us?

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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 NausicaƤ 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 16, 2012

Jan 16 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

A three-day weekend, which I took advantage of by putting in quite a bit of Rock Band time. Starting with the Pro Guitar training mode: coming into the weekend, there were only four segments that I hadn’t done, two within Advanced Single Note Runs and two within More Chord Holding and Arpeggiation. And I finished off one of the former (the fifth in that group, with tons of hopos); I still haven’t quite managed the first one (tremolos), though I’m not too far away, certainly I could do it if I get lucky. I didn’t manage either of the arpeggiation ones: I’m not particularly close to being able to finish the second segment in that group (I need to be faster at shifting into barre chords), but I think it’s mostly bad luck that I haven’t yet managed the third segment in that group.

Then I went to songs on Pro Guitar. I first went back to some older songs that had been giving me trouble and where I’d been working on the relevant techniques offline, and my practice definitely helped: on Last Dance, I had a much longer streak in the barre chord section than before, and I finally managed to at least get three stars on Take On Me, and while my streaks were still shockingly short, I fell out of them as often because of the alternating strumming on the D chord as because of jumping to the barred C chord.

As to new songs: Yoshimi was a song that I’d done surprisingly badly on at Hard, so I was worried about it on Expert, but it actually went much better: part of that is because my skills have improved, but a lot of that also has to do with my trying out a thinner pick. So I’ll have to keep my eyes out for other songs where I can use that. It sounded surprisingly good when plugged in, too, and actually I spent a while just playing it outside of game (unplugged and unmuted). Modern Love was easy to the point of being a little boring (so I guess not all DLC is harder than the rating says), but it’s so much fun to sing that I didn’t mind: that made it possible for me to sing while playing guitar. (Though, actually, the vocals at the end demanded enough concentration that I wasn’t able to sing them accurately while playing.) And Midlife Crisis was enough not my style that I didn’t put significant amounts of time into it. Which was the last Warmup song: glad to have successfully navigated that tier! Hopefully I’ll be okay for another tier or two, but I’m certainly going to hit some real challenges at some point, maybe halfway through.

Today I played a bunch of Pro Bass, all in the two-dot tier. (Solid is apparently the official name of that tier.) In general, a fair amount of alternating strumming, without too much moving around but usually with enough to keep me interested; Portions for Foxes was particularly good alternating strumming practice, I Need to Know and Outer Space were straightforward but pleasant, Rock Lobster was similar and easy enough that there was no individual note I should have missed (though I did miss several of them), Get Free was surprisingly pleasant the second time, once I got the notes right.

Viva La Resistance was much much harder than any of the preceding songs: the tremolo section in the beginning is fast enough that it took me a while to realize during training that I was only playing it at half the speed I’m supposed to! Pity, because it’s absolutely one of my favorite songs on disc (and my most surprising favorite on disc); something to work on, I guess? She’s Got the Look had fairly relentless alternating strumming, albeit not as fast; it was good practice on switching strings during alternating strumming. Foolin’ is a song that I don’t like and while I’m usually good at finding something interesting in the technique even on such songs, I didn’t manage that here. Here I Go Again was pleasantly easy; but I was shocked to discover when I finished it that I’d reached #25 on the leaderboard, I’m not usually in the top 10% for Pro Bass. (Makes me wonder how many people have played the song on Pro Bass.) I mean, I did a good job, but I wasn’t perfect or anything, and I would have thought many other people would manage a similarly good job? And Touch Me was pleasant enough, though I don’t have a lot to say other than that.

And then there’s a discovery I made: if you hit down on the D-pad on the screen after finish the song, you see tons of stats: longest streak, a breakdown of accuracy percent on each section of the song, a breakdown of how much of your score is due to accuracy / streaks / overdrive, etc. I would say that I have no idea how I’d been unaware of this for so long, except that the on-screen indicator isn’t very obvious and I’m usually not thinking about the D-pad. Still: very glad I learned about that!

I practiced the Musical Offering a couple of times this weekend; the 6-Part Ricercar is still hard, but I’m getting through it, so hopefully in another month I’ll be able to play the whole thing and not sound dreadful. There will, of course, be a lot of work to do after that, but that’s when it will really get fun, so that’s okay.

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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: December 11, 2011

Dec 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

This week, I didn’t have a huge amount of time to play Rock Band, so I decided to focus on Pro Bass and on my guitar technique. For the former, I went through 10 songs, finishing off the Apprentice tier on Expert; quite pleasant, started off very easy but the last few gave me some opportunities to make mistakes, albeit not enough opportunities that I decided to replay any of them. There were also several bits that were fast enough that I used them as alternating strumming practice.

As for guitar, I went back through the Hard Pro Guitar barre chord lessons, and a smattering of other ones. The good news is that I’m better at barre chords than I used to be, and in particular the one lesson that took me a couple of weeks to master I succeeded on the first try this time. But the bad news is that it took me a few tries on some of the other lessons and that my hand ached after doing them, so clearly I should work on barre chords more. Really, I should work that into my outside-of-game practice, instead of restricting the latter to alternating strumming.

I also practiced the 6-Part Ricercar from the Musical Offering three times (I believe) this week; I’m making progress, though there’s a long way to go before I even have the notes down. I only practiced the 3-Part Ricercar once; that piece is scaring me a bit, I should confront that.

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Rock Band Status: December 4, 2011

Dec 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Lots of Rock Band this weekend. On Saturday, I decided to give Pro Bass a try; I jumped in on Expert, on the theory that, on the non-pro versions, Expert Bass is probably a little easier than Hard Guitar, and that proved to be the case for Pro as well. So I ended up going through all 11 of the Warmup songs, and the first 3 (I think) of the Apprentice songs.

So they were obviously easy enough that I didn’t feel compelled to play most of them multiple times (and I got a full combo on one and a 625-note streak on another), but they were fun! My ears weren’t always doing a great job of picking out the bass lines from the music; so while I was more aware than I normally am of harmonic changes, how they expressed themselves was occasionally a bit surprising. And this being Expert there were some bits requiring more dexterity than I could comfortably do: Werewolves of London had these cute little flips, and there was another song (I’ve forgotten which) that was tremolo-heavy. In general, I enjoyed playing single notes (instead of chords) without the ostentation of guitar solos, and I’m planning to continue with this for a while.

I also took a swing at a few of the Expert Pro Guitar lessons: I certainly need to improve my technique.

Saturday evening, Liesl and I went through several recent DLC songs, with her on non-Pro Bass and me first on non-Pro Guitar, later coming back on Pro Keys. And it was all great music: the Stevie Wonder DLC is absolutely one of my favorite DLC packs (I was going to say my single favorite, but on reflection London Calling clearly has that title, and there may be others that rank with Stevie Wonder), but I also enjoyed the other songs quite a bit. Specifically: “Galactic Love”, by New Nobility; “Frankenstein Teaser Trailer”, by Richard Campbell; “Welcome to the Black Parade”, by My Chemical Romance; “El Monstro”, by Dance for the Dying; “Break Me” and “Pretty Boy”, by The Irresponsibles. If you’re looking for DLC, I recommend all of those: not a dud in the bunch, some very good indeed, and I really wish “Welcome to the Black Parade” hadn’t been released before Pro Keys was available.

And today, I played my first songs on Expert Pro Guitar, which was awesome! Living In America’s main difficulty was that I found it hard to jump from an open E power chord to a seventh fret power chord: my fingers still can’t quickly hit chords quite as firmly as I’d like. Also, while I’ve been working on my alternate strumming, it’s less regular than I’d like. And the other interesting thing about that song was the different sounds that it makes: the game represented some of that difference by telling you to mute some of the chords, but my guess is that the game uses muting to represent a range of techniques. I could be wrong there, and certainly I need to spend more time experimenting with producing different sounds out of the amp. (I played through the song maybe six times, half muted and half amped.)

And I had as much fun playing The Hardest Button to Button as any other time I can remember with the game. (Which is saying something!) Nothing fancy, which combined with enough repetition to mean that I could learn the bits; but there was also enough variation to keep me on my toes. Some amount of arpeggiation; some amount of power chords; and a couple of variations on power chords, with it having you extend your finger over an extra string on one barred E power chord and having you occasionally dip over to an open E between barred A power chords.

That song, in particular, was quite a lot of fun to play while plugged in. Normally, I’m sight reading for significant chunks of most songs; but with that one, once I’d gone through it a few times and was used to the harmonic shifts in the song, I knew what to do everywhere, including bits where they switched things up. And hearing what those varied power chords sounded like was quite instructive: e.g. the sharp note that you get by extending to a fourth string gave me quite a bit of motivation to strum precisely enough so that I’d hit the bottom four strings without accidentally strumming the fifth string. Muting strings to cut off notes was also important; it’s something that I’d been doing instinctively, but I played around with it a little more consciously, including seeing how it felt different with both the right hand and the left hand.

After I’d played through it plugged in several times, I went back to playing through it muted to see if I could get a good score; I did (5 stars, 309th place on the leaderboards), but it felt very odd indeed playing without hearing my strings. Incidentally, I’m barely in the top 1% on Pro Guitar now, and finishing eighteen Pro Bass goals put me comfortably over 500 million fans.

I’m not planning to play through every song on Expert Pro Guitar; and I hope that there will be songs that I like enough to want to focus on them for quite a while. (I bought a bunch of Pro Guitar DLC upgrades yesterday, too.) But certainly today was an auspicious start to that experiment.

(Not much to report on the Musical Offering front: I played a couple of times, but in general evenings this week I wanted to spend hanging out with Zippy instead of practicing piano. I’ll get back to that, though!)

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