Guitar Status: December 9, 2012

Dec 10 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

On Friday evening, Liesl and I went through all the Rock Band 3 DLC that we’d bought over the last couple of months that we hadn’t yet played. (On fake guitar/bass.) Nothing particularly striking to report there, other than that Nugget Man’s lyrics are quite something.

I played Rocksmith on Saturday; two events, maybe 10 songs? I was going to stop after the first event, but then the second one looked short, and for the first time the game suggested ‘Riff Repeater’ mode to me. And that turned out to be something that I’d hoped was there but hadn’t yet gone looking for, namely Rocksmith‘s version of Rock Band 3‘s trainer mode: a way to focus on snippets of a song. Done in a typically Rocksmith-ey fashion, with the game either speeding up the snippet for you automatically or increasing the difficulty level automatically. And, with the help of that, I mastered my first song in the game, Next Girl. (Mastered = got over 100,000 points on a song with all sections at max difficulty; it unlocks a mastery mode for the song where you get double points but don’t get told what notes to play, I haven’t tried that yet.)

That may have been my first Rocksmith session where I never felt frustrated by the game: it seemed to be reliably detecting what I was trying to do, which was great. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration—sometimes it felt like it didn’t pick up on my bends, though admittedly my guitar makes that harder. And trying to do as well as it wanted on Space Ostrich was slightly frustrating, but that was mostly frustration with myself rather than the game. Still: I’m pretty sucked into the game. Which raises the question of how I should best use it; I’d been thinking I’d go through what it recommends until I feel like I’ve probably seen every song in the game, and then pick a subset of the songs to try for mastery on. (Using it in the same way I’m using Rock Band 3 now, basically.) And I may indeed do that, but seeing it throw the Riff Repeater mode at me makes it think that I’ll be able to stick with its suggestions longer than I expected? Who knows, no need to decide right now.

On Sunday, I played Rock Band 3. Not a lot—we wanted to clean the upstairs carpets and do some yard work—so I didn’t go through my full practice routine. I decided to go through most of the harder songs, including training on Me Enamorata; I still have a ways to go on that song. And I went through three or four new songs; I think I’ll put I Can See for Miles and King George into my practice routine, and I think I’ll need to spend a fair amount of time in training mode to do well on King George.

I expect to be playing a lot more guitar for the near future: I left my job on Friday, and I decided to take December off instead of applying immediately for another job. Honestly, part of me wants to spend all day playing guitar; I definitely won’t do that, but I may try to go through one Rocksmith event per day? And I’m actually tempted to spend some time working on singing, too. Who knows if I’ll end up doing that, we’ll see. But I will be somewhat restrained: I have programming to do, blog posts to write, and various loose ends to get in order.

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Guitar Status: December 2, 2012

Dec 02 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I got my guitar back from the shop. I can’t remember what all he said he adjusted, but he worked on the curvature of the neck, the tuning apparatus (the bridge, maybe?), put on a new set of strings, and probably did some other stuff.

In general, it feels a little better to play? Also, the new strings seem noticeably stiffer, which probably helps with the problem I’d been had from being out of tune when I press too hard. (I wonder if that will change as the strings get older.) And it sounds maybe a bit janglier, but I’m okay with that, in some sense it sounds to me more like an electric guitar should. I don’t think it will make a colossal difference in my playing, but I’m glad to have had the guitar set up, and the guy who did it seemed to know his stuff. (Mark’s Guitar Repair in Campbell.)

On the way home, I stopped by a local guitar shop to wander around for a bit. Mostly I just looked at price tags on guitars, I didn’t really try anything out. (I probably should have looked at effects pedals, too; ah well.) I’m thinking that, at some point, I should just pick a price point (not particularly high, $300-ish) and buy a guitar somewhat randomly there along with a couple of pedals, and just get used to the ways they can make noise. Then again, I should probably do that more than I have been with my current guitar; I’m just feeling somewhat hampered by some aspects of its construction (e.g. not being able to bend strings smoothly) and by my feeling that it’s almost certainly musically deficient in many ways.

Once I got home, I played Rocksmith for maybe three and a half hours. I went through something like nine songs; I’ve forgotten which ones they were (Sunshine of Your Love is the only one that comes to mind, though I’m sure I’d remember more if I looked at the track list), but I was enjoying the experience enough to keep at it.

I’d done a better job practicing guitar mid-week than normal this week: Good Girl in particular has gotten stuck in my head, so I’ve practiced it both unplugged and in game a few times. Which has gotten me back in the habit of playing Rock Band 3 plugged into my amp. And I figured out how to turn off failed note sounds (you have to scroll down to see the option on the appropriate menu, which is why I’d missed it before); I still wish the game had a way to turn off failed note detection completely, but at least now it’s not actively offensive. (I’m currently #11 on the Good Girl leaderboard, which made me happy until I checked how many people had played the song at all; the answer turns out to be 78 people, which made me despair at the lack of popularity of Pro Guitar, because it’s a super fun song to play. Though admittedly probably a lot of people overlooked it, because Carrie Underwood isn’t the first artist that comes to mind when thinking about guitar.)

On Sunday, I played Rock Band 3; I was feeling like I had a lot to do, so I didn’t try new songs, but I did go through all of my standard routine, and went through the practice sections of Me Enamorata. I can already see some improvement on that song, which is heartening; still a ways to go, the solo in particular will take a while, but that’s okay. Once I’d gone through all the standard practice songs muted, I went through a few of them plugged in; I was planning to only do two or three of them that way, but I enjoyed the experience enough that I ended up playing about half of them plugged in. The other main thing that I learned today was about The Only Exception: something was clearly off on the solo when I’d played it before, with one of the strings being a half-tone off, and when I looked more closely at the names of the chords it was displaying, I realized that it showed E7 for what looked like it was the fingering for a standard E chord. Putting those two bits of information together, I realized that I was supposed to tune the top string down a half step, to a D#; I’m a little embarrassed that it took me so long to realize that, but better late than never! (And most of the chords don’t sound awful in either tuning, they just sound better tuned correctly.)

My hand ached a noticeable amount by the end of the afternoon. After this week, I’m planning to take December off from working and to do a lot of guitar practice during then; I hope my hands are up to it…

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Guitar Status: November 25, 2012

Nov 25 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It’s a four day weekend, and I took advantage of that to do quite a bit of guitar playing! And other related guitar work: as I mentioned last week, I’ve been feeling that my guitar was out of adjustment, so I decided to bring it in to get adjusted. Somewhat randomly, I decided to give Mark’s Guitar Repair in Campbell a try; we’ll see how different the guitar plays when I get it back, but I have a good feeling about that choice so far. He seems like a straightforwardly conscientious and knowledgeable guy, and he knew about the Rock Band 3 Fender Squier (e.g. telling me that he couldn’t work on the frets), so I’m hoping he’ll improve what he can while leaving the instrument usable with Rock Band.

I wanted to drop the guitar off on Friday (and hopefully I’ll get it back next Saturday), so I spent some of Thursday getting some Rocksmith practice in. Now that I realize how sensitive the tuning is to my finger position, I went through the scale drill mode again while making sure to hit the frets, and did a lot better this time. And I went through another set of songs (four of them, I think?); I also noticed that I seemed to be doing better at bending notes, so I went back to that challenge and managed to get a gold medal on it, as well as on whatever was the other technique challenge that I hadn’t gotten a gold medal on. I also poked around the manual a bit; Master Mode, which gives you double points but removes the in-game interface, sounds like a great idea, reinforcing the idea that the point is to learn how to really play these songs, not to play a game about the songs. A very pleasant time with Rocksmith, none of the frustration that I’d had on my other recent sessions with the game.

Because the guitar I’d been using with Rocksmith was in the shop, I went back to Rock Band 3 for my practice on Saturday and Sunday, and I’m glad I did. On Saturday, I went through my practice routine, and went through the last couple of Tier 2 songs and the first two Tier 3 songs. I’m going to add Me Enamorata and Good Girl to my practice rotation, and I’ll occasionally throw in Working for the Weekend. Which makes my practice rotation even longer; I was forgetting which songs were on it, so I decided to write it down, and the list is (marking ones I don’t plan to play every week as (sometimes):

  • I Love Rock and Roll (sometimes)
  • Last Dance
  • I Wanna Be Sedated
  • Take on Me (sometimes)
  • Yoshimi
  • More Than a Feeling
  • Outer Space
  • The Only Exception
  • Jerk It Out
  • Whip It
  • London Calling
  • I Need to Know
  • I Got You
  • Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before
  • Need You Tonight
  • Livin’ On a Prayer
  • Me Enamora
  • Working for the Weekend (sometimes)
  • Good Girl

16–19 songs is a lot; but I’m learning something from all of them, so I hesitate to give any of them up. In fact, I should be learning more from them, and Me Enamora is a great example: it’s rather difficult for me right now, but difficult in a way that makes me think I could learn it if I put in the time.

So on Sunday, that’s what I did: I went through the songs on the practice list that had sections that I reliably can’t play (as opposed to the songs where I should be able to play any individual segment, I just mess up sometimes), and dropped into training mode for appropriate bits. (Which had the frustration that training mode on the one bit of London Calling that I miss on triggers a bug that freezes the whole console; le sigh. But now I know what to do and I should be able to practice that one offline.)

In particular, I spent some amount of time on Me Enamora. Not enough to actually be able to play it well—I came in not having gotten 100% on any of the training segments, and left having gotten 100% on only one of them, at least at full speed—but it’s a start. I’ll try to do that more often over the coming weeks. (Unfortunately, it also triggered a feeling that Rock Band doesn’t reliably detect fast pull-offs: there are several songs where I’m fairly sure I’m doing the right thing but it only gives me credit for a pull-off two-thirds of the time.)

I also played through some of the songs plugged in today, for the first time in a month or two. I’m very glad that I did that, and I should do it more. You could make a case that I should always do that; I’m not entirely convinced of that, I suspect that playing songs muted gives me a clearer (and less forgiving) view of what bits in songs I really don’t know how to to play at all, and might also be a useful bridge to allow me to learn a song while I’m still bad enough at it to feel embarrassed about listening to myself. Still, definitely something I should get back to, and possibly something I should make the norm—e.g. having gold stars or full combos be a goal is actively unhelpful in some ways.

A good use of a four-day weekend. And I’m looking forward to getting my guitar back; I’m also thinking I should get a guitar stand (instead of having my guitars lying against various walls), and I should probably get a better guitar sooner rather than later. And I should get a bass one of these months, too; though I really don’t have enough time for my guitar practice now, especially given that I don’t want to keep Miranda up on weeknights with my guitar playing, let alone to add another instrument into the mix! Maybe once I’ve gone through all the songs once in Rocksmith; or maybe Liesl would be interested in learning bass…

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Guitar Status: November 4, 2012

Nov 04 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

On Saturday, I went through my practice rotation, which is getting pretty long, and then tried maybe four more Tier 2 songs. I don’t remember all of the songs I tried, but I tentatively think Need You Tonight and Livin’ on a Prayer will enter the practice rotation. That rotation is getting pretty long now, but I tend to think that’s a good thing: the Tier 2 songs in particular have lots of bits that would be good for me to learn and that are definitely within my grasp but that I can’t play fluently yet. So if the length of the regular practice rotation means that I don’t have time to try out new candidate songs to add to it, I’m okay with that: that means that I should practice more until I get good at those parts! They’re all songs I don’t mind playing, and several of them I quite like, so I’m happy to play them over and over again from week to week.

And today I tried Rocksmith; there were good and bad parts, but overall there were more than enough good parts that I’ve changed the title of this post to reflect what I expect to be the focus of this series going forward. Because I really like listening to the guitar, and I also like having the strings respond normally instead of having the muting damping their movement, and it’s great to have a game that lets me do that.

Which isn’t to say I loved everything about Rocksmith from the start. There was one frustrating period when it claimed I missed a bunch of notes; I eventually figured out that what was going on was that my guitar was out of tune, and the game’s automatic tuning hadn’t picked that up. My guitar unfortunately goes out of tune super easily; I’m not sure how much of that is the amount of playing I’ve done with the mute on, and how much is the bad job I did restringing it the first time I replaced strings, but there’s something not right there. (I have two of the Rock Band 3 Squier guitars and no other electric guitars, maybe I should just use one of them solely for Rocksmith.) Once I figured that out, though, things got a lot better; in fact, it seemed at times that Rocksmith does a better job of note/strum detection than Rock Band 3. (I’ve already gotten a 200 note streak; incidentally, the audio lag hasn’t interfered with my enjoyment of the game much at all.)

The gradual ramping up of difficulty is interesting; right now, songs are too easy, but that’s understandable, and I’m willing to give the game a pass on that. (I suspect I’ll like the adaptive difficulty quite a bit eventually, in particular that it will allow me to play all the notes in the body of a song but only some notes in tricky solos.) At first, I was playing song after song instead of going into the technique trainer (easy to do the way they designed it), so it actually threw techniques at me in songs before I knew what the notation meant or how to perform those techniques; eventually, though, I went back to the technique trainers. I’ve gone through about half of them so far, and they seem fine; I’ve only gone through one of the minigames (the one about sliding), and I wasn’t at all impressed by it, but I’m reserving judgment for now: it may be that they’re an effective way to make drilling techniques be more bearable.

Like Rampant Coyote said, it’s nice to be asked to perform a wider range of techniques than Rock Band 3 allows. Though so far I’ve really only had to do with one new technique, namely bending strings, and my experience there has been iffy: not sure how much there has to do with my lack of experience / understanding of what to listen to, how much has to do with the game not clearly explaining what’s going on, and how much has to do with the fact that the Rock Band 3 guitar I’m using has these bumps along the frets that make bending strings much less smooth than I’d like.

The game’s notation seems fine; not better than Rock Band 3 notation, but not clearly worse, and I suspect that, after flipping the string ordering in the options, it will help me a bit at learning tablature, which is potentially useful. Though the one time so far that the game has thrown barre chords at me, I couldn’t sight read them at all just from the notation; but even that was useful, because then I had to rely on the chord names, so I got some practice translating chord names into barred A minor and major chords. I assume it will become second nature soon enough, though.

I’m still very much getting used to the game: it has its opinions about how to do things, and I’m pretty sure those opinions aren’t how I eventually want to spend my time learning guitar, but I also suspect that those opinions are a pretty good guide for what I need right now. And, poking through the menu options, it looks like it has a reasonable range of knobs to turn to let me use it as a song learning tool.

So I’m definitely glad I followed Rampant Coyote’s lead. Like him, I think I’ll stick with both games, but it really is great to have a game that is encouraging me to listen to the sounds I’m making, instead of consciously keeping me in a fantasy bubble.

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Rock Band Status: October 28, 2012

Oct 28 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

It was a busy weekend: I had friends coming over on Sunday afternoon, which meant that I did grocery shopping on Saturday, so no Rock Band practice on Sunday and only an hour or so on Saturday. (I might have been able to find more time on Saturday if I hadn’t played Drop7 for the first time that day…)

So I went through most of the standard practice routine on Saturday, but that’s about it. Still, that’s enough to keep my fingers at least somewhat limber, and I’ve been doing a decent job of chord practice evenings in the middle of the week. It’s not the only busy weekend coming up, so expect more posts like this in the future.

(I didn’t play any Rock Band today, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t play games at all: Drop7 aside, I played a couple of games of Diamond Trust of London against a computer followed by three (I think) against Jorge Albor; I suspect there’s quite a bit of meat there, though I doubt I’ll play the game regularly enough to know for sure. And then Mattie Brice joined us for the Gears of War board game (with Liesl in the fourth seat); a quite solid board game, enough so that it actually got me curious to play the video game…)

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Rock Band Status: October 21, 2012

Oct 21 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Tier 2 would seem to be the tier of songs that I don’t really like very much but that probably would be good for me to add to the rotation for didactic purposes. The latter certainly makes sense, given my level; the former is, I suppose, bad luck. With that in mind:

Last week, I said I was adding London Calling and 20th Century Boy to the rotation. The former is staying in there, but when I played through the latter this week, I decided that the solo at the end was annoying in ways that I didn’t particularly want to work on. I also tried out four new songs this week, all of which I would learn something from practicing but none of which I was super excited about practicing. Right now, I’m thinking I’ll stick with I Need to Know, I Got You (I Feel Good), and Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, but I’m not 100% sure about that; Riders on the Storm doesn’t make the cut. (Which makes the practice rotation pretty long: I spend most of an hour at the start of each session practicing the same songs. That’s fine, though, it’s good for me; in fact I should probably spend more time, focusing on the trickiest bits.)

The other event this week was that Rampant Coyote published this comparison of Rock Band 3 and Rocksmith. Most other posts I’d read strongly took the side of one game or the other; in particular, Rocksmith proponents’ negative comments about Rock Band 3 left me thinking that I didn’t expect to be aligned with their judgment about Rocksmith, since clearly we disagree about Rock Band 3. But this post spoke favorably about both games; and I am definitely seeing ways in which not listening to the guitar is causing me problems. I’m still worried that Rocksmith is not the solution in that regard, because of the audio lag that it apparently introduces with normal TV setups, but it’s only $45 these days, and I’m spending enough time on guitar that it’s worth a flyer at that price. So I’ve ordered a copy and will give it a try.

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Rock Band Status: October 14, 2012

Oct 17 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I played a decent amount of Rock Band this weekend. I finished the Tier 1 songs on the current Pro Guitar run; Get Free would be a good candidate to add to the rotation from a didactic point of view, but it’s enough not my style that I’m skipping it, and Antibodies and Du Hast are probably my two least favorite songs on the disk! The beginnings of Tier 2 are better, though—I think I’ll add both London Calling and 20th Century Boy to the rotation. (Though, if I’m remembering correctly, the hardest bit of London Calling causes the console to freeze up if I try to learn it in practice mode, so that could be interesting…) The practice list is getting pretty long now, with a fair variety of what I think of as slightly nonstandard chords in it; that seems good for me, and if that means that I spend most of my time practicing the same songs and only a little bit of time trying out new songs, I’m perfectly fine with that.

I also went through all of the songs I’d bought with a keyboard part that I hadn’t yet tried on Pro Keys. Which was mostly songs from Rock Band Blitz, though there were a few other one-offs there. Nothing too stunning to report there, though it was generally a pleasant enough experience.

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Rock Band Status: October 7, 2012

Oct 08 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I practiced guitar on both Saturday and Sunday; not hugely long practices either day, but I went through my current practice rotation both days plus a few other songs. One of which, Whip It, is getting added to the rotation: nothing too complicated, but good single notes and arpeggiation, a song I should enjoy playing but would learn from getting rock solid at. I considered adding Touch Me and Space Oddity to the rotation, too, but ultimately decided that I was on the fence about both of them in terms of what I’d learn from them and I didn’t enjoy either song nearly as much as, say, The Only Exception.

The other thing I did was sing through all of the Blitz songs in vocal harmonies. I was quite surprised to find that 24 of the 25 songs had harmonies parts (and the only exception, Give It Away, was one that fully deserves its place because it makes Blood Sugar Sex Magik complete again); and, while I was expecting the vocals to be good on those songs based on listening to them in other game modes, I was quite surprised just how fun harmonies specifically were in them. So: Blitz is a mediocre game on its own, a pretty good track pack for guitar, but it turns out to be stunningly excellent for vocalists (especially vocalists with somebody else to sing with), significantly better on average than the non-Beatles on-disc games.

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Rock Band Status: September 30, 2012

Oct 01 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I didn’t play much Rock Band this weekend: we decided to watch the last six episodes of Last Exile on Sunday afternoon, and that combined with grocery shopping didn’t leave much time for guitar practice. No regrets about that, though: Last Exile is a great show, and what guitar practice I did was productive!

I went through my new normal practice songs: from Tier 0, that means Last Dance, Yoshimi, and I Wanna Be Sedated. And I was very pleased with how Last Dance went: I got a 513 note streak, only missing two chords, both near the start. (And one of them was a two-note chord, no excuse for that.) So I’m getting significantly better at barre chords: I’m going to keep the song in the rotation to consolidate those gains and to build up strength (I can make it through one playthrough no problem, obviously, but my hand is somewhat tired at the end), but that’s a huge improvement.

I’m doing less well on the other two; Yoshimi in particular I really would like to get better at. And then I moved on to Tier 1; from the previous songs, I decided to keep in Outer Space and The Only Exception, and I also went through Jerk It Out and will add it to the practice rotation as well. I definitely have room to improve in Outer Space, but it’s good solid chord practice for me to work on, and the solo is also useful practice. The other two have somewhat more idiosyncratic chords; I’m not sure the specific chords and chord transitions themselves are going to be common enough for me to need them for many other songs, but they’re all chords that I would like my hands to be able to do without thinking. Plus, Liesl and I both like singing The Only Exception, the lyrics are very sweet.

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Rock Band Status: September 23, 2012

Sep 23 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Yesterday, Liesl and I went through the Blitz songs in Rock Band 3. A good collection: nothing that I was super in love with, but very few that I disliked, and in general we had fun. We went through them on guitar/bass; for a lot of the songs, it seemed like the vocals were the high point, so we’ll have to go through them again in vocal harmonies. (And I should do another sweep of songs that I haven’t played in pro keys, too.)

One bit that I hadn’t realized: the Blitz soundtrack includes two songs that were part of Rock Band 2 but that we weren’t allowed to export to Rock Band 3, namely Give It Away and Spoonman. I in particular really appreciate them for including Give It Away, because without that, it would have been impossible to play all of Blood Sugar Sex Magik in Rock Band 3, which kind of sucks. So yay to Harmonix for making that possible again.

Today I went through some pro guitar: I went through some of the tier 0 songs again and then started on my second tour through tier 1. In terms of tier 0, I think I’m going to leave I Wanna Be Sedated, Last Dance, and Yoshimi in the rotation for a while: they all have me emphasizing different core techniques that I still have significant room for improvement at, and they’re all songs I basically enjoy, so I should keep on going with them. Probably the solo for I Love Rock and Roll, too.

I wish I’d taken better notes on tier 1, because there were two or three songs in today’s selection that I also felt that I should replay, I just can’t remember what they were! And, of course, several that I was less excited about and will drop. (And one that I was unsure about: I really like The Only Exception, but that’s mostly because of singing, I don’t know yet how I feel about its guitar part. I’ll probably keep it in the mix for another week, though.) I only went through maybe six of the tier 1 songs, it wasn’t a particularly long session, so lots more exploring to come.

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