I, Robot

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When you’d completely dehumanize the process of guitar playing, and instead see things like a technician or scientist would do, it might look something like this:

  • The guitar player is reduced to something like a “data-generating device”. When playing on her or his instrument, the guitarist merely functions as an “encoder”, producing a dataset of some given size and length. In fact in digital recording that’s what’s happening anyway.
  • The raw “data” (ie. the music) is then transfered over (to) some transport or storage medium (through the plain air, on a recording hard disk, …)
  • The “decoder” on the other side of the chain receives the data and “processes” it. These could be listeners at a concert, or the software program used for recording.

If you temporarily treat yourself like a robot using the above way of thinking, you effectively eliminate all emotions from your playing. This sounds really bleak, but can be a powerful thing.

Because if you think about it, emotions are really the only thing standing in your way between you and your future self. They are often holding you back.

As an inexperienced guitarist or any level of guitarist actually, you probably face some of the following negative emotional aspects frequently:

  • Shock: when hearing a weakly played recording of yourself, full of subtle and apparent mistakes.
  • Frustration: practicing for months, but not being able to play like you would really like to.
  • Disappointment: when other people tell you your playing sucks, when you thought it was good.
  • Resentment / Reluctance: to different styles of music or techniques, leading to more work.
  • Impatience: Trying to play way faster than you’re able to, and failing at it.
  • Greed: A deep lust, wanting to progress further in an almost inhumanly swift way.
  • Stubborness: The inability to give in to that Greed.
  • Competition: feeling the need to challenge other players, but not being able to at all.
  • Awe: when listening to professional players or watching Youtube videos of famous players.

The chance of these emotional events actually occuring depends a lot on your personality type. For example, I don’t see guitar playing as a challenge at all, but I certainly have encountered the shock and the frustration.

Each of these types of emotional events usually leads to serious mistakes. Kind of obvious, if you really try hard playing some lick 50 BPM’s faster than you’re able to, it will sound bad.

But since your personality is completely removed here (you are still a robot, remember?), all that’s left is the actual data that was produced by you. And the quality of that data can be improved by looking at it, devoid of all emotions, and refactoring the data via thorough practice sessions. By taking away the emotions, you take away the mistakes.

Don’t let your own emotions fool you. Keep practicing by looking at all the data you generated and analyze your playing constantly and scientifically. Don’t be stubborn when practicing. Don’t be greedy by turning your metronome to 200 BPM.

You will probably never know why your customers buy your Music

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I almost exclusively wear black t-shirts with white designs on them (if any design at all) because I don’t like colorful clothes, especially when it comes to metal merchandise.

Even the older bands jump on a bandwagon and have all these pink and jelly designs. Yuck.

So I’ve recently found in an online shop a nice black/white t-shirt of some band I actually never listened to yet.

The “problem” was that the t-shirt was only available in a pack containing the t-shirt itself along with the latest CD of the band.

Still a good deal so I bought it anyway and I now have a t-shirt of a band I still didn’t listen to. And they have another sale of their CD.

It is weird, but so am I and so is the music industry.

Release Early, Release Often

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Any creative product will at some point in its existance have to be publicized in its final form.

But when is the right time? And isn’t the path leading up to the final release date as interesting as the final product itself?

In the world of software development (which I’ve left behind earlier this year), one of the main mantras was

“Release Early, Release Often”

As soon as a software program did the one thing it was initially meant to do well, it could already be usable to people other than the developer, so it made sense to just put it out there and collect valuable feedback, possibly leading the development of the product into a different direction the developer originally intended.
All the fluff (such as a thoroughly well-designed graphical user interface) could still be added later without weakening the program’s core cause for existance.

In the world of music though, there seems to be this very cultural aspect I am sometimes missing from the development world. Bands tend to work on an album sometimes even for years, without releasing any kind of material other than some promo video shortly prior to the album release.

Maybe it has to do with record labels and licensing rights and the fact that maintaining some official blog or producing a series of “making of” videos is actually a ton of work that somehow will have to be compensated financially.

As a musician and as a fan alike, I often try a lot of different search queries on Youtube, in order to find “in-studio progress updates” and “making-of” series of bands working on their music. In fact the artists and bands doing it are most of the time my favourite bands coincidentally.

As I’m going to announce my one-man band project real soon now, I’ll try to keep this in mind and make showing my progress a real priority, higher than what my current view of the final product is, because it is undoubtedly going to turn out all different from what I anticipate right now in the early stages.

A Box of Toys

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Imagine for a moment your own little world of guitar playing as a “Toy Box”.

Inside the box are a lot of toys: Notes, Chords, Bends, Licks, Scales, Arpeggios, Rhythms, Drum Beats, Riffs, Songs, Choruses, Lyrics, …

In fact whenever you *play* you take all the toys out of the box like a child would play with its legos.

Sometimes you prefer this toy over that other toy. You learned how to use each individual toy, sometimes there are new toys and you learn how to even combine old and new toys in new kinds of ways.

Now imagine you pick up that box and you shake it really hard.

In fact you hopefully shake it so hard that all the toys inside the box disintegrate.

When you turn the box upside down, what comes out of the box should be your truly unique style of music.

Reverse Engineering

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From Wikipedia:

Reverse engineering is the process of discovering the technological principles of a device, object, or system through analysis of its structure, function, and operation.[1] It often involves disassembling something (a mechanical device, electronic component, computer program, or biological, chemical, or organic matter) and analyzing its components and workings in detail, just to re-create it.

By using this quote from Wikipedia, I want to talk a bit about learning music made by other people, in other words the art of “playing cover songs”.

Cold War Stories

First, imagine some weird scientists in a russian underground bunker in the 1980′s. They’ve just found some crashed U.S. war plane and now have to examine it to the fullest detail, perhaps so they can improve their own aircraft technology or find invulnerabilities to gain an advantage in combat.

The jet was assembled piece by piece in some U.S. aircraft factory, and now the exact reverse process happens. They disassemble and then perhaps even multiple times reassemble it piece by piece, without using a blueprint or any other document. What they do is Reverse Engineering.

With a 600-page blueprint with the title “Here’s how we built that thing” inside the cockpit of the jet, the scientists would of course find things out more efficiently and quickly. But a good scientist is always up for a challenge.

And as a guitarist, so should you.

By using your intellectual abilities and your highly trained ears, your sense of rhythm and song structuring, you will become a musician in high demand, even if it’s just an advantage when joining some local hobby band.

Using blueprints is lame. Hacking is cool. By using Guitar “Tabs”, you are cheating yourself and you’re probably missing out on most of the details the original recording of the song contained.

Nastrovje!

Random Thoughts on Practicing

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Here is how I feel about practicing guitar today, right now. I’m sure not many people will actually care, but this blog is just a snapshot of my personality at a given moment, so.

My main motivation, as it has always been from the beginning, is to be able to play songs. I seem to be a musician first, guitarist second.

When I can’t yet play some riff or part of a song, I will give it only some practicing time until it either works or doesn’t. If I see it’s really beyond my technical ability, then I will postpone playing the song for a few days, weeks or in some cases even months, and play other songs instead. I’m not worthy yet.

This sounds like I’m really lazy. Of course I am! But put differently, I am also self-aware and patient. Stubborn I am not.

Being able to play the song becomes my longer-term goal, playing the song then becomes a big fat reward for all the patience. Because without a goal all the practicing would have been meaningless. I will never practice a technique if I’ll never need it anyway.

I have in fact a problem with the word “practicing” right now, because I actually do not practice at all anymore.

Instead, I only do warm ups, usually twice a day.

I will warm up usually sometime in the morning, always using a drum machine. This is also the time where I record new original riffs and save them for later in my riff library. Sometimes the riffs combined with the drum beats become real sections of potential songs for my current band or my solo project. As my hands become warm in the first 20 to 30 minutes, the riffs tend to get faster and more complex. Each warm-up session leads to tangible, recorded results.

Then I will warm up again in the afternoon for not more than 10 to 20 minutes and from then on it’s all about playing song after song.

Have a nice day.

Rockstars and Astronauts

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(This is a post reflecting my personal career choices, not an advice really)

It is July 2014, the summer solstice is over and although it is Summer the days will slowly begin to become shorter soon. Fall is the season where everything that lives is about to die, but it can also be a breeding ground for new things (I was born in September by the way)

And so I am henceforth officially aiming for a career as some kind of musician (more on that later). By “officially” I mean that if asked right now, I would tell them that I am soon going to be a full-time musician working in the industry with other musicians and also importantly working on and for myself.

Of course this is a bold and maybe even naive statement to say for a 35 year old, located in a country which still has for the most part a rather disfunctional music industry in the first place. But music will always be borderless and this is just small part of the challenge.

Murdered Dreams

Right now I feel like a naive kid, daydreaming about becoming an astronaut someday. These days, becoming an astronaut is probably a more stable career choice than a career in music anyway.. But there is always a “better and safer career choice”, especially when dictated upon you by parents or other peers.

When you remember that same feeling you had as a daydreaming kid, wasn’t it a lot of fun to dream about flying through space or playing in a rockband someday? Apart from the chores of “growing up”, you can still have these dreams and even make them become a reality when you’re older.

So I will take all the risk of listening to my inner voice which tells me to become a “musician”. Whatever that means in detail I have yet to find out and will lay out in great detail via this blog. I can see so many opportunities in front of me already that I wonder where to get all the time from.

It’ll need a lot of experimentation, but working on anything that has to do with music and working with other musicians is what I just need to do from this point onwards, leaving many other interests behind.

Music and art in general is a form of communication that suits me much more than business meetings and useless smalltalk.

Codification

Over the course of the last two decades, I’ve tried out different things career-wise. I eventually ended up as a self-employed software developer for many years, sometimes even working on cool stuff such as 3D games and lucrative web applications. You will notice a strong influence in the way I write some of my articles.

After I took a short break earlier this year, I realized that software development to me has almost become the same dull thing as painting houses or being a plumber (not that that is a bad thing; if you are a painter or plumber, I apologize by using these as an example; your work of course is valuable)

The world of software development was a huge challenging and constantly evolving world with many different paths to choose from and it was fun, too. But in the end it wasn’t really that much creative. Most of the code I wrote is obsolete now. It was a great feeling building and writing code and seeing an application come to life, or rolling out updates to grateful users, but nothing can beat writing a song or playing a cool guitar riff.

To me, the reward of music is exponentially greater. Therefore becoming a musician isn’t a tough choice, it is just a logical progression.

You will see where this goes further if you subscribe to this blog. Thanks for reading!

Debugging

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Software developers use the term “debugging” for the analytical process of finding errors (so-called “bugs”) in a software application.

Every piece of software is crafted so that under certain conditions it will fail. So is a guitarist.

The reasons for software failures can be obscure, and developers initially have no clue where the real source of the problem is. So do inexperienced guitarists in regards to their playing.

Before debugging, the effect of a software bug might be identified by a visual warning sign such as an error message on the computer screen. In music, a deeply rooted problem usually leads to some general kind of audible deficiency (ie. in the worst case your playing sounds awful in the overall mix, but you don’t really know why)

Even worse, what is a show-stopping bug to somebody, might not be a bug to the developer of the software at all (“it’s a feature, not a bug!”)

Again, if you take this analogy further, an inexperienced musician might be totally confident in her playing, but listeners simply don’t like what’s being heard. Ouch!

Squishing the Bugs

By using a “divide and conquer” method instead of a wild guess, the software developer will find the bug in less time. X doesn’t cause it, so it must be Y or Z. Or is it a combination of both causes? Or something else entirely? Which cause has the lesser cost of investigating further? etc.

You can use the same analytical thinking to improve your guitar playing, and I strongly suggest that you begin by recording your playing, because when you play with the guitar in your hands you won’t be able to focus on what’s being heard.

Bug-infested

A musical piece recorded to some medium is full of mistakes, most of them generated by the musician himself, but many mistakes might also be a result of bad choices of recording hardware, software configuration, and of course all the gear such as strings, cables and picks.

If you are a rock / metal player, try recording a riff with a clean amp setting, without any gain or overdrive. Reducing the bass is also important. Even if the riff did sound good with overdrive to you, you will be surprised how many inconsistencies you’ll find in the clean recording.

In order to sound bad-ass and often even to cover up mistakes, most inexperienced guitarists also make the mistake of using way too much gain and/or overdrive and bass up 10, literally distorting the mix. Reduce the distortion and record yourself again to see if you made the same riff still sound bad-ass and thus leave room for the other instruments in the mix.

Become a self-aware guitarist by questioning your playing constantly, and by subscribing to my blog.

Pawns on the Chessboard

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Like a guitar’s fingerboard is two-dimensional, so is a chess board.

In chess, there are rules dictating where you can go and what you can’t do, leading to success or failure. You must follow the rules or you play a version of chess that is incompatible with all other chess players.

On a guitar fingerboard, you either make up the rules yourself, leading to innovative music and a unique style, or you follow a huge set of rules already dictated by others (which could still lead to the same positive unique result if you know how to use them creatively). In any way, your version of the music will always be compatible to all other players who actually know how to use their ears.

To me, the endless examples of musical theory applied to guitar, such as chords, scales, arpeggios, or even only using TAB’s to quickly reproduce songs, mostly feels limiting and sometimes even nauseating to me. At least when it comes to songwriting. It’s like wandering through the forest, counting the number of trees and categorizing trees by size and height, instead of just admiring the beauty of the forest.

By following the rules dictated by others, I deliberately become a simple pawn on the chessboard, unable to move freely.