Learning Guitar Update

I try to keep myself honest–and on target!–by posting an update on my guitar learning journey.

I hoped to do these posts monthly, but that went south. Thankfully I've done a lot better when it comes to keeping up with my practice! Here's a quick recap of my goals to complete by July 2019.

# Done? Goal
1. Buy a travel guitar
2.   Jam with other people at least twice
3. Finish Justin's beginner/consolidation modules
4. Complete two modules of Justin's "Green" grade
5. Learn 5 new songs
6. Become more procifient with my looper pedal
7.   Research how to record myself on video

I had not only bought a new travel guitar, but even a new travel amp! I've gone to one local beginners' jam session, and was expecting to jam with colleagues at a work trip but unfortunately something came up last moment and I couldn't go. The local jam sessions happen every week, however, so I should still be able to meet this goal.

As for finishing Justin's beginner/consolidation modules and the "Green" grade, I'm just putting finishing touches on Intermediate Foundation 2, having covered the Effective Practice and Intermediate Foundation 1 modules previously in the year. So, doing well on that score.

As for learning 5 new songs, I've got three AC/DC songs I can play along to. For two of them I can do a passable solo. I've also been practicing Layla (Unplugged) by Clapton and The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals. They're not entirely new to me, but I wasn't happy with my performance previously. Now I'm getting to a point where I can sing and play at the same time.

I'm not yet a looper pedal expert, but I have been using it more to lay down simple chord progressions to practice soloing over. I'm a lot better at keeping a steady beat and getting the loop to transition seamlessly. I would use it more, but it uses up a lot of batteries, so I think one of my next purchases will have to be a power supply so I can keep it permanently plugged in.

I haven't really done much with regards to recording video. For now I'm satisfied sticking to audio, since I'm really just tracking progress rather than entertaining others.

Transcribing & Recording to Track Progress

My yearly goals list record myself once a month to track progress. On this I have not done as well as I had hoped. Partly this is because I try to keep my computer and guitar practice separate, as the computer is too distracting. Nevertheless, I have managed to do a couple more recordings since January.

In February i transcribed and recorded Touch Too Much (PDF). This is one of my favourite AC/DC songs. I am particularly proud of transcribing the full song on my own, including the little solo in the recording. I'm sad that it's difficult to play along to the original of this one, as it's "not in a standard tuning". (Cough.)

In March I attempted to transcribe and record For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) (PDF). This was much harder, for a combination of factors. The rhythm in the riffs, particularly the intro, was more subtle and varied than I expected; there are sections where no instruments are playing; the beat changes from about 126 to 140+ BPMs before slowing down again; and a large section of the song has all the instruments playing so loud it's hard to discern beats. All of these factors made it hard to determine where bars start and end.

As a consequence I've soured a bit on doing these thorough transcriptions, and haven't done any since mid April. I'm still trying to decide what to do about it. Maybe doing some lighter transcriptions, essentially producing "lead sheets", with just lyrics and rhythm chords, and perhaps general strumming rhythm, is the way to go.

A note on Lilypond

This is the program I've used for producing the PDFs of the songs above. It produces beautiful output for the rhythm parts. However, it doesn't really support guitar bends so I struggle to represent lot of the solo parts using it. There have been multiple attempts at adding this functionality over the years, but nothing has landed in the official distribution as far as I can tell. This makes me sad, and I wonder if I need to look around for a different tool for transcribing solos.

On Keeping A Goal Journal

My Goal Journal, which I've kept since January, is probably my most effective practice tool. This was an advice I found in The Inner Game of Music. This lets me stay honest, and also ensure that I practice with intent.

Musical Goal Journal cover
Figure 1: Journal Cover

(Part of) Week 8 Goal Journal Entry
Figure 2: (Part of) Week 8

I started out writing out individual days, using about 3 pages per week. It was inefficient, both in terms of paper and time use.

Week 13 Goal Journal Entry
Figure 3: Week 13

By week 13 I had structured & economised my journal entries better, and each week fit on one page. Having more consistency of practice day to day I saw more progress too.

Week 17 Goal Journal Entry
Figure 4: Week 17

By week 17 my journal had improved a bit more, simplifying the "done" marks and sometimes using numbers rather than ticks to record progress. Previously I recorded PBs on a separate sheet taped to the wall next to my guitar, but I prefer to have it all in one place.

Conclusion

While not as far as I had hoped with the transcribing (and recording) I am happy with my progress, and think I'm on track for completing my goals for the year. More importantly, practicing is becoming more enjoyable and it's getting a lot easier to pick up new songs.

I probably need to go back to an earlier module and put more work into playing different strumming patterns, and getting my foot stomping along to those. I only started to put effort into that in April (according to my journal) and I have seen so much progress.

Copyright © 2011-2019 Stig Brautaset