Archive for January, 2012

January 29, 2012

This Week In Guitareste

This week has been crazy busy for me.  And full of guitar goodness.  Last Friday I watched Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.

This movie was a revelation to me, boys and girls.  It stars Diane Lane, and is about a young woman who has lost both of her parents.  She goes on the road with her sister and a good friend, forming a band, and calling themselves The Fabulous Stains.  They start with one (really bad) song, and gain celebrity, infamy, and heartbreak along the way.  It’s a comedy, poking fun at the music industry.  I loved it.

Last night, I attended the Forever 27 concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  For those of you who don’t know, the 27 club is all of those talented musicians who died at 27.  The list includes Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, D. Boon of The Minutemen, Pete Ham of Bad Finger, Mia Zapata of The Gits, Jim Morrison, and the school snuck Nick Drake in there for good measure (he was 26).  There were many great performances last night, including those by talented women guitarists such as Lisa Derosia, Shelley Miller (last night playing banjo), and Cheryl Lawson.

And finally, all week I’ve been playing with a new little toy of mine.  It’s the Vox AC30 AmPlug.  It’s this tiny little amp you plug directly into your guitar so you can play into headphones.

This thing rocks!  Like the name suggests, the one I bought is designed to sound like a Vox AC30 amp, but they have a bunch of varieties including “Lead,” “Metal,” and “Twin.”

My S.O. was also performing in the concert last night, so he had to practice a lot this week.  He does much better practicing along with recordings — he’s all ear — while I like to switch back and forth between practicing single riffs and practicing with the recording.  So this week we kept finding ourselves in situations where we both needed to practice at the same time, but we were practicing different things.  With this little amp, I can just sit my butt down in the bedroom, close the door, and jam away.  I don’t have to drag my amp and cables in there to set up.  I just need the guitar, the tiny AmPlug, and my earbuds.  It is great.  Plus, I can practice “at full volume” any time I want without disturbing the neighbors.  It’s far preferable to practicing unplugged.

January 22, 2012

How To Play A Song By Ear. If I Can Do It, You Can Too!

I’ve talked a bit before about how I started playing guitar.  Up until now, I’ve been very dependent on someone else telling me how to play a song.  I’ve written a couple of songs myself, but only recently started learning to play by ear.  Since playing by ear is something I’ve been thinking about and practicing, I thought I would share my method.

Step 1) I pick a song — usually something with a relatively slow tempo.  If there is a section with single notes played at a relatively slow speed that helps.  It also helps if there is only one guitar, although if the guitar parts are distinct enough from each other, that doesn’t matter as much.

Some examples I’ve used:

“Jockey Full of Bourbon” by Tom Waits — this song has a relatively lengthy — and slow — intro which uses single notes

“Blessed State” by Wire — there are several motifs that are repeated throughout this song.  It’s pretty easy to pick up a few of the single note phrases and work backward from there.

“Sour Grapes” by Screaming Females — the advantage of this one is that Marissa Paternoster’s guitar playing is really distinct.  The notes are clear.  There is a motif she plays through the verses, followed by a chorus using barre chords.   There is a short solo, followed again by the chorus using barre chords (you could also use power chords).

2) I choose a short phrase or riff, usually 4-5 notes.

3) I sing that phrase a few times, using the word “lah” or “dah.”  Most people are pretty good at matching pitch.  We’ve all hummed or sang along to our favorite songs.  Singing a guitar line is the same thing.  If you need some help learning how to match pitch, there is an instructive Expert Village video here.

4) I find the first note of the phrase on the fretboard.   (The first few times you try this, it     might be pretty difficult.  But stick with it.  Eventually, you’ll be able to lock it in.)  I keep singing the phrase until I find that first note on the fretboard.  If I lose the sound of the phrase, I go back to the song and listen again, repeating step 3

5) Once I have found my first note on the fretboard, I think about how the other notes in the phrase relate to it.  Is the next note up or down?  Is it a whole step?  A half step?  Is it more than a whole step?  A minor third?  A perfect fourth?  (It helps to know a little music theory at this point.  But you can always just think of the the song “Doe, a Deer” from the Sound of Music.  Most of us know either from this song or elsewhere that the major scale is root note, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, root note, or Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do.)

6) At this point, I find the rest of the notes of my chosen phrase along one or two adjoining strings.

7) Once I’ve found the notes on the fretboard, I play the phrase along with the song, listening to see if the pitches sound the same.

8) Next I think about the phrase, seeing if there is somewhere on the fretboard the phrase is easier to play.  (Again, at this step, it helps if you either a) have a little music theory under your belt, or b) know the notes on your fretboard.  For example, if the phrase starts on A, is there another A on the fretboard that is the same pitch?  If so, is it easier to start from that note?)

9) Repeat!  I repeat this method until I’ve got the whole song.  Once I know a phrase or two, it is fairly easy to determine what key the song is in.  (Chords are more difficult to determine, but if you know the single note phrases use a particular note over and over again, that’s a good place to start.  Does the phrase you chose keep coming back to G?  If so, try playing a G chord over different points in the song to see if it sounds right.)

There are several resources that can help when playing songs by ear.  Like I said above, a little music theory helps.  There is a great book by Ed Roseman called Edly’s Music Theory For Practical People.  The style of the book is fun, and the material covered is extensive.  There’s also the Hal Leonard Music Theory for Guitarists.

One tool that helps me quite a bit is the Capo app for iPhone.  It’s twenty bucks, and allows you to add songs from your song library, slow them down, and mark sections you want to repeat.  You can also slow down songs using GarageBand if you have it, or by using Audacity, which is a free program and can be used on both Macs and PCs.

There are other ways to learn how to play by ear, but this is the method I have found easiest and most effective.  Please comment if you have other tips or suggestions.

January 20, 2012

Rock Hall Is Opening A Library

The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame is opening its archives to the public.  They have an extensive list of books including biographies and literary criticism, as well as audio and video recordings.  I like to bag on the Rock Hall, but the archives look pretty cool.

A biography of Joan Jett is one of the over 3,500 books on the shelves at the newly-opened Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Library and Archives in Cleveland.

Read more here…  or visit the Rock Hall archive site here.

January 15, 2012

Today Is The Final Day For Weblog Award Nominations

If you haven’t nominated your favorite blogs yet for the 12th Annual Weblog Awards, today is your last chance.  Nominations close at 10pm Eastern.  I’ve got a post here with some suggestions.  And please feel free to comment below if you have your own suggestions.

Thanks to those of you that have already nominated Guitareste.  Every little bit of publicity helps toward my ultimate goal of world domination.



January 12, 2012

Interview: Marissa Paternoster!

photo by Rebecca Wilson aka Saucy Salad via flickr

Let’s face it.  A lot of the best indie bands today are… mellow.  Even some of my favorite acts, people like Will Oldham and Fleet Foxes, or the New Pornographers.  They have a  certain quality that could never be confused with the mind-blowing balls-to-the-wall sounds of the punk of the 70s.  For lack of a better word, they are folky.

Not so with the Screaming Females.  The Screaming Females are the kind of sexy, gritty, annoying punk rock guitar band that was prevalent in the late 70s and early 80s.  They are noisy, in-your-face, warbling, annoying, and just out-and-out rock and roll.

This is in no small part to the guitar work and vocals of Marissa Paternoster.  Paternoster has an incredibly diverse guitar style.  I listen to her dirty, crunchy, gritty style, and players like Neil Hagerty, Judah Bauer, Greg Ginn, Carrie Brownstein, and Tom Verlaine all come to mind within the course of an album.  But this isn’t to say she’s a flake or a copy-cat.  She has her own style, and it is incredible.

Paternoster performs as guitarist and lead vocalist of Screaming Females, along with drummer Jarrett Doughtery and bass-player King Mike.  She has an equally interesting side project named Noun.  Screaming Females have four studio albums, with another on it’s way.  And Paternoster has released two solo albums as Noun.   These call all be found on Don Giovanni Records.  She’s also an impressive visual artist, and has created album covers and t-shirts for Screaming Females.

Here’s what she had to say for Guitareste.

When did you begin playing and why?

I began playing guitar when I was 14.  My Dad played guitar a bit, so we had one lying around the house.  I was sitting in my bedroom drawing and listening to Nirvana (typical!), and my Dad walked in and said, “This song is really easy, do you want to learn how to play it on guitar?” I said sure, and consequently became addicted to learning how to play songs that I liked.  That’s how I learned how to play.

What was your first guitar, and how did you get it?

My first guitar was a Fender Musicmaster.  It’s my Father’s guitar.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which guitar?  What amps or pedals?  Anything unique about strings or cables?  Why?

I play a G&L strat.  I’m not much a gear head, but I do like to  use my equipment in particular.  I just bought a 410 Kustom Hustler, but for most of my time in Screaming Females I played out of a dinky solid-state Hughes & Kettner Attax 40.  I still swear by it, it’s loud, it’s light, and I think it sounds good enough for a live show.  My main overdrive is by an NJ-based company called Earthbound Audio.  The pedals are made by a terrific fellow named Mark.  I use two of his pedals, one is called the Supercollider and the other is a fuzz called the Centurion.  They are fantastic pedals, they sound amazing and I have yet to have either of them crap out on me during a performance.  My cables are made by a lovely young man named Andrew in Philadelphia.  His company is called Cameltone Cables, perhaps an unfortunate name but the cables are terrific, I’ve had them for nearly two years and haven’t had a single problem.

 Has this changed over time?

For sure…until I discovered Mark and Earthbound Audio I went through a lot of different distortions.  I tried the built in overdrive on my Hughes & Kettner, plenty of Big Muffs, and I even used a Rat pedal for a long time…but the Earthbound pedals give me exactly the sort of sound I’d like to hear.

What is your songwriting process like?

Well…when Screaming Females writes songs, we get together in a basement and riff around a bit until something sounds right.  It sounds silly, I suppose, but a lot of the songs seem to come together organically.  Once we have some basic parts we’ll start discussing details, structure, yadda yadda.  We’re pretty flexible…if someone has an idea they’ve been knocking around for a while, sometimes they’ll bring it to practice to we can all weigh in on it.

What are you working on right now?

Screaming Females just finished our 5th album.  It has 14 songs on it, and I think it’s safe to say that we broke our backs working on the songs for well over a year.  I haven’t touched the guitar too much since then.  It’s good to take breaks from playing so I don’t obsess.  It also helps me dissolve bad playing habits.

Which artist or artists do you find inspiring?  (It doesn’t have to be a musician.)  Why? 

Gosh, I don’t know, there are just so many.  I was just about to go out to purchase a new biography on the great lady painter Alice Neel…so I guess I’ll name drop her!  I could go on and on, I’m a real sucker for hero worship.  Edith Piaf, Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka & John Doe, Frida Kahlo, Phillip Guston, Darby Crash, Courtney Love, Robert Crumb, Joan Crawford, Dusty Springfield, John Fahey…just to name a few.  Not to mention that so many of my contemporaries & friends are also artists that I would not hesitate to consider heroes, like the bands Shellshag, Hunchback, Double Dagger, Punch, Magrudergrind, P.S. Eliot, and Tenement…just to name a few of those too…

January 12, 2012

Marissa Paternoster Videos – Screaming Females and Noun

January 8, 2012

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Documentary On Youtube

This morning I stumbled upon a BBC documentary about gospel singer and guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  It looks like the thing is posted on Youtube, but I’m wondering if it’s somehow available as a DVD.  She’s someone I’ve been wanting to learn more about for some time, so I’m pretty excited.  The documentary is part of privatefender‘s channel – there’s quite a bit of interesting stuff up there.  Most of the documentary is posted to Youtube, although it appears the end or final section is missing.

Here’s the first section of the Rosetta Tharpe doc.  And here, too, is a piece on Tharpe’s influence on Elvis.

January 6, 2012

Wild Flag On Jimmy Fallon Tonight

Wild Flag are on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon tonight.  Very cool.

January 4, 2012

Please Consider Nominating Me For A Bloggie

It’s 2012, and that means it’s Bloggie nomination time. Please consider nominating Guitareste for an award. I think the one that probably makes the most sense is “Best New Blog.” The Bloggies are a great opportunity for recognition and new readers, so a nomination or two would be a great way to start off the second year of Guitareste.

As for other suggestions, I’m going to be nominating Feminist Music Geek for Music, New Dress A Day for the fashion category, and Hyperbole and a Half for Comedy.  If you haven’t seen those, check them out too.

Thank you!

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