Dotted Eighth Delay Studies

Setting up the U2/Hillsong delay in a variety of situations.

The Sessionists

Esther Subra (vocals), Serena Chew (keys), Justin (guitars), Alphonsus (drums and percussion)

Thoughts on G.A.S.

Why you should save up for an expensive guitar.

Setting Up Disaster Area DPC-8EZ and DMC-8D MIDI Controllers

An easy-to-follow video tutorial to get those patches programmed!

An Overview of My YouTube Channel

Feel free to browse some of the playlists on my channel. Hopefully this leads to you liking and subscribing!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to Play By Ear

The following is from a forum post by a beginner musician seeking help on figuring out chords by ear:

I need help on doing covers!! i cant really figure out the note in the songs i want to play
Trying to do a cover for this (Everybody Talks by Neon Trees)->
Can you guys give me some tips? D:
thxs alot

Figuring out a song by ear makes use of two different skills that you can develop: absolute pitch (how to tell what the notes exactly are) and relative pitch (how to tell the relationship between chords/notes). For pop songs, such as the one you posted, it isn't very crucial to know exactly what's being played, because the chords used in the song are easy to decipher and fall into predictable patterns. To break it down briefly for you, using the song "Everybody Talks" as an example:

1. Figure out the key of the song by finding the root chord. This is the chord that every other chord in the song will feel like changing to eventually. Very quickly breeze through all possible root position major chords to find one that "sits" with the song. Pop songs are easy because the root chord is normally very strong, in fact, for this song it's the first chord. And to make it easier, they hum the triad of the chord for you (0:00-0:04). This song is in Eb.

2. Know what are the "normal" chords in that particular key (in music lingo, you're looking for chords diatonic to the key). For brevity, I'll just mention that there are 7 diatonic chords in every key, numerically notated in Roman numerals: the Root or I chord, minor ii, minor iii, IV, V, minor vi, half-diminished vii, back to I. Pop songs don't want to scare listeners with weird chord progressions, so they tend to be easy and stick to every possible permutation of I, IV, V, minor vi. In the case of the song, it's Eb, Ab, Bb, Cm.

3. Find the intervals of the chord changes. Long story short, when Eb changes to Ab, there's a certain "sound" to that space between the two chords. That space will sound different between Eb to Bb, Ab to Bb, Cm to Bb, etc. At first, I can assure you the process is quite laborious; I fondly remember having scrapbooks of notes I took while figuring out chords to a song. Since a guitarist can only really play one chord at a time, it's a process of elimination to find out what the next chord is (assuming you've done Step 2). In time, you'll be able to hear I-IV, I-V movements, then extend that over longer chord changes, like I-IV-vi-V.

4. Then figure out how long each chord lasts (ie does the chord last for one measure, does it play over two? Is there half/double time chord changes?) according to the time signature. Neon Trees isn't Dream Theater, so it's strictly 4/4 for the entire song.

  • Intro: Repetition of the I chord. Play Eb
  • Verse: Repeating pattern of I-IV, each lasting two measures, so ||Eb---|Eb---|Ab---|Ab---||
  • Prechorus ("...everybody talks, everybody talks..."): The V chord is used to enter the chorus over four measures. |Bb---|x4
  • Chorus: This gets a little interesting. We normally hear progressions in groups of 4 bars. This time, it's a 6-bar group

The 2nd half reverts to a familiar 4-bar group. Then they throw in a weirder chord to spice things up, the major III, in this case G7:


Hope this helps to get you started. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Going Fender

Fender guitars used to bear the brunt of my guitar manufacturing criticisms. For a design which has essentially gone without much significant revision, I concede that Leo Fender got part of the formula right. I use the term "part" because the design isn't perfect. There are obvious flaws with the solid-body electric design: early '50s models can only make truss rod adjustments by removing the neck first, the V-shaped neck is awkward to grip initially, the tiny frets meant you have to be precise and fret lightly, and true single coil pickups have worse grounding than the cheapest radio you can buy.

When faced with these problems, guitarists can choose to react in one of two ways. Firstly, they can avoid the problem altogether. It is certainly a more natural solution to find guitars which address and correct the flaws. Parker and Steinberger guitars, for example, have far superior playability, durability, balance, and features. Adrian Belew of King Crimson made the switch from Fender (most notably known for his iconic pink strat) to Parker because they "have none of the inherent problems and make [him] play better". 

On the other hand, guitarists can accept the flaws and work around them. I have personally gone through this route and can attest: it's a lot of hard work. To play fast and fluidly on a strat requires one to be precise and accurate with a light touch in both hands. Your left hand has to accommodate the neck profile and small frets by bending in a certain way. Your picking hand has to play around the pickup spacing and slanted bridge pickup, being careful not to knock into the volume knob.

To cut a long story short, I think by accepting and accommodating these flaws, I've ended up becoming a better guitar player. I was a very heavy player with a heavy hand who came from a metal background, so when the time came to retire from that particular scene, I needed guitars that were suited for far more mellow music. Acquiring my strat and tele has lightened up my touch tremendously, and that has made me far more dynamically-sensitive.

Perhaps most pertinent to a GAS-prone guitarist is that you'll have to acquire more gear to get a single coil to really sing. They aren't as beefy as their humbucker counterparts, and they tend to have this shrill treble bite to them which isn't too appealing in a modern musical context. My personal solution was to stack my overdrive pedals with some EQ to roll off that high end, both on the guitar and on the amp side. I think this has had the side effect of making everyone's single coil tone unique, in that people use different configurations of pedals and amps to achieve an entire spectrum of tone, from full and fat to thin and shrill.

My simple exhortation to those dismissive of Fender guitars is to try them out. Take a vintage guitar out for a spin. You just might be very pleasantly surprised.

For further viewing:
Dave Hunter and Carl Verheyen demonstrate telecasters

Carl Verheyen demonstrates his stratocaster

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Responsibility of Followers (1Cor4:6-14)

What do you do when your young ones in the faith have severe disciplinary problems? Look to Christ.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bitter Water Made Sweet (Exodus 15:22-27)

As an inaugural post about bible study, allow me to divulge that bible study is one of the few things I am passionate about. I love it and I want to make freely available my devotional and bible study material for you. I hope this blesses you!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Going Acoustic in a Church Setting

Being an acoustic guitarist for church can be challenging. I had the privilege of playing for Pastor Anthony for the recent LCEC Planning Retreat, and it was the first time in a long while picking up the acoustic for official duty as a guitarist. Nothing too difficult: 8 songs, all mostly of the same contemporary genre.

However, I realized that some of these songs had huge band arrangements: guitars, drums, bass, keyboards, synthesizers and horns, for the worst case of the lot. I had to somehow play the acoustic in such a way to fill up the whole musical pie chart (in Paul Baloche's words, when you're the only musician, you're the pie).

Now, as an acoustic guitarist, you're never really replacing the other instruments in the band--you're "tricking" the audience into hearing something that reminds them of other instruments, but not actually emitting the sounds of the other instruments. Here's a breakdown of the mental process:

  1. The first step I take to making an acoustic arrangement of a big band song is to visualize what the drum kit is playing. The drum groove gives a big clue as to how to construct your strumming pattern. For example, an accented muted-down-stroke could mimic the intensity of a kick and an accented punch with a full chord could mimic the snare.
  2. I then try to visualize the bass line for the song. This will help create moving lines between chords, filling up the melodic space in the lower-end. For example, a chord chart may show a repetition of ||F - - - | G - - - | F - - - | G - - - ||, but once you think like a bass player and add a walk-up, i.e. ||F - - - | G - - - | F/A - - - | G/B - - - ||, you add a whole dimension of colour to the progression. A quick cheat method is to look out for the slash chords in a full-band chord sheet, or the piano chord sheet.
  3. I'll then try to hear and incorporate the melodic hooks of the song into the "safe" places: intros, end of choruses, first bridge. This breaks the song out of chord-only-monotony. "From the Inside Out" by Hillsong is a good example (see my video tutorial of the intro played fingerstyle below). It has a terrific hook and shouldn't be left out when playing this acoustically.
  4. If I have the time, I'll try to figure out if I can play any fill-ins at the turn-arounds of the song. In our modern musical context, this usually happens between verses, or from intro to verse, and sometimes even between a verse. Acoustically, this can be in the form of hammering-on/pulling-off chord tones, or a quick scale run (like Tommy Emmanuel).
I hope this gives you useful ideas on how to incorporate "tougher" songs into smaller settings like cell group meetings.

For viewing:
My "From The Inside Out" acoustic riff video tutorial

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

11 Years Together

I speak, of course, about my Yamaha AES820. (What else were you thinking?)

Steve Mazur of Our Lady Peace, one of my favorite Alt Rock acts of all time, uses this exact model, and Frank Gambale based his signature model off this beauty of a guitar. It features two DiMarzio custom pickups, a three-way pickup selector with a 3-position rotary coil split (humbucking/single coil/"high cut" variation which sounds like the pickups are hotter and have a treble boost) for a total of 9 possible pickup tones. It has a flatter neck radius, a slimmer neck profile, and closer fret spacing (because of its shorter scale) which helps me play long, complicated lead lines more smoothly.

This guitar saw me through several stages of my life as as guitarist
  • Early 2001: The beginning of my shredder wood-shedding days. I was learning tunes from X-Japan, Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert on this guitar. I also starting serving in the children's worship ministry around this time (applying the term "making a joyful noise" a little too literally).
  • 2002: By this time I was a regular mainstay for the children's church, and made regular noise with jam mates from all over, in school, and at church. Phrygian, harmonic minor, and pentatonic were my favorite scales, and over-the-top distortion was my favorite tone.
  • 2003: I didn't bring this with me when I first went to Australia, and brought only my acoustic guitar. I think it was beneficial too, as I discovered the acoustic music of John Mayer, Jason Mraz and Jars of Clay, and eventually developed my acoustic style based on them. It was mostly in its case until I returned back for vacation to play at the youth camp and for a Christmas production which incorporated elements of both the heavy and the light, of Dream Theater and John Mayer.
  • 2004-2007: Having been recruited into Hope Sydney Christian Church, I became an electric guitarist and served nearly every week due to a lack of musicians. This was instrumental in building up my skills in band dynamics--we needed to be able to come down on Sunday morning, set up, practice, memorize our arrangements, and pull them off for service 2 hours later.
Yes, this guitar was a big part of my musical life. Do you have pieces of gear that also represent pieces of your history?

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