Saturday, January 26, 2013

Guitar advice for fresh punters

Anyone that's had anything to do with me since 2011 knows that I picked up a guitar and essentially have never put it down - literally. It goes everywhere with me - work trips, climbing trips, Singapore, Thailand, weekend trips - i am rarely without it (or 'them' these days). :)  

In any case, I struggled with a few things during my learning process. Now don't get me wrong - I'm still a complete novice! But - if I'd gotten this advice early on I feel it would have helped me improve faster. i searched the net heaps and some of this incorporates things i read/heard - but a fair bit are my own observations. Very well may not apply to you but worth considering.  

Further, this is probably a bit too "scientific" - after a while you definitely don't think about some of this. But figured I'd share in case it helps someone else along their guitar journey.

bar chords

Lots of people struggle with clean bar chording. I got into barring arguably quite early - i just loved the sound, reproducibility up the neck, and quick access to other muting techniques, etc. But I couldn't figure out how to make every string clean on various chords (in particular dominant 7 off the 6th string (e.g. A7), but a number weren't that clean.  

Here's some advice you'll probably get off the web:
  • Pay attention on your particular hands where the creases are. Don't line those up with a string.
  • Roll your finger in a bit.
  • You just need some time - build up that finger strength

I tried these first two mainly for months (how do you explicitly do the third!?!:). They kind of helped, but not consistently. I really couldn't figure out what was working when it was clean and what wasn't. Very frustrating. And ironic since I'm an avid climber and my fingers are actually relatively quite strong. :) What's going wrong?

my advice:

Those may all be a factor, it's hard to say in hindsight.  But for me what cleaned it all up was really the placement of the thumb and a bit of thumb strength building. Maybe I already had the finger strength though, as I was trying to push down hard with the bar finger - which you do need to do. But the key is you gotta put the thumb behind where you're bar chording - and pull freakin hard with your thumb :). Now that's the "finger" strength I personally think you need to build. 

Good news is - for me - as soon as I tried this I instantly saw consistent results (when i pulled hard with the thumb - it always cleaned it up) - that alone was super rewarding - mystery over. And second - it didn't take long at all to build up the strength. In 1-2 months i was consistently having clean sounding bars -well for every 'one finger' bar, anyway. 

Two finger bars (e.g major off the fifth if formed with ringer finger) are a bit harder. You've got to be able to contort your finger into gumbyville for these! Here - you duck tape your ring finger back every night whilst you sleep to increase the bend. I'll explicitly point out that I'm joking for those that don't know my humour. ;) But you can form the chord differently if you can't get the 2 finger bar. I'll leave you to search the web for numerous other options there - documented in detail quite well. In fact it's good to know the different techniques anyway - they come in handy and can give your hand a rest.

Clean hammer-ons 

I think generally most people will find hammer ons quite easy. But if you're soloing - or even playing a song where you're in a scale/moving and hammering (e.g. clapton's tears in heaven) - i found it hard to consistently have the hammer on clean.

Again - what I found is the thumb is critical here. When you're moving up patterns - don't just move the fingers - you gotta move that thumb! Getting the thumb behind where you're fretting/hammering seems to clean everything up.

The major scale/modes

Practicing scales (pentatonic, major, minor, etc) and arpeggios is key if you're interested in soloing/improv (my personal fav). For me memorizing the patterns was quite simple - you can get them online or numerous books - visualize them and you'll be flying in no time (seems much easier/faster on an electric btw). I am very amateur at soloing and as such am definitely not giving advice there - but rather on a difficulty I experienced in comprehension of what is arguably the simplest topic in the world - and in fact likely most familiar to all of us in the western world: the major scale. So why did I find it confusing? Well a couple reasons really - I'll try to explain here, potentially incorrectly - very keen on feedback if anyone has it.

Interestingly, for both these confusions if you talk with someone quite advanced (i asked quite a few) they don't seem to really be able to relate to the confusion. I *think* that's because back in the day - these ambivalent sources of information weren't available when they learned (gotta love information overload sometimes). Further, they probably never query for this online as they already know; if they did they would already understand so not be confused. Or maybe I'm just a dumb@ss. ;)

Confusion 1 - They're sayin' different things Jan

Chuck major scale patterns into googlie, and you'll get back some patterns. For example this site shows the patterns for G major scale:

G Major - 5 Patterns

You can see this because if you look at the root node ('R') - it's always on the 'G' (and of course if you're familiar with this you'd just know that position). 

But then you check your handy music theory book - and you see a different set of patterns - this time 7.

And another googlie:

G major - 7 patterns

What's going on here? Well apparently :) there's kind of two sets of patterns. One is often called 'CAGED' patterns, the other '3 notes per string' patterns. I say kind of because sometimes the patterns listed will be from one group and some from another - and sometimes they'e a mixture of the two in one pattern -  author's personal fav I suppose - not sure.  I think the theory goes that CAGED are "easier" - you don't have to move your hand as much (hence caged in), whereas 3 notes per are more "advanced" but can require more movement up and down the fret board.

Here's a couple of sites that address this:

Purported advantages of 3 notes per string
CAGED & 3 notes diagrams

What you'll see if you analyse  is that the patterns are quite similar.. They're just utilizing a note on the next string - and as you start to comprehend the fretboard layout more this makes perfect sense. Here's an example of caged on the left and 3 notes per string on the right:

NB: images courtesy of

I'm sure some will argue you in fact should not just memorize patterns, and then you'd realize the notes were close by/as per the close pattern - and that's true. But when you're first starting out memorizing the patterns, let alone the entire fretboard is a bit much (I'm still working on it now!)

Confusion 2 - That doesn't sound like the major scale

Ok now that we understand the scales to practice.. let's get playing!  I'll just follow the whole pattern. Let's start with the first one my teacher gave me:

NB: image courtesy of

Easy. starts on the root node (black dots here). Bit of a stretch on the fingers when starting out, but sounds good. I can do it.. that sounds like something i know! I'm back in kindergarten music class. Ok time to progress..

Let's try the caged version of the above pattern: 

NB: images courtesy of

Again let's follow the whole pattern - for the CAGED starting with F# (2nd fret, 6th string). Hmm.. something doesn't sound quite right. Let's try the 3 note version on the right above- where we start on G (3rd fret,6th string) - yeah that sounds better..hmm..

Ok let's try these:

NB: images courtesy of

Huh? I don't know something just doesn't sound right? At least that was my perspective - it just didn't sound like the major scale.  Well at this point I won't say too much - because it seems to cause great controversy when I try to discuss it with people (Lots of conflicting views imho), and despite much online reading and a few books - I am a Complete novice in music theory.

What I can say is:

  • When you start playing a scale on any note other that the root note (the 'black dot' or 'R') - you *may* be playing a mode.  I say may because some vehemently refute that this is what a mode is :). Good ol' wikipedia offers some input for the inquisitive, which arguably suggests they are in fact 'modern' modes from my understanding but not trying to bring up that debate! :) Just for reference. Remember - I may be a dumb@ss and completely misinterpreting ;), and it's clearly not that simple.
  • When you play from the root note, it all sounds good. ;) Or at least like the scale you're familiar with. After a while it all starts to sound ok but initially I could hardly play the scale if played in the pattern entirety.
  • If requested to play a scale - I recommend you play it from the root note and end on the corresponding note one octave up. This last point I experienced the most irony/contradiction with, but I won't delve into that here. It's complex and also has a lot to do with the extremely subjective/relative nature of music. Technically I don't think you actually have to - but for now - JUST DO IT. ;) Makes everyone happy.. most of the time.

Having spent all this time on the major scale - I must fess that actually mostly I utilize the pentatonic. But - clearly depends on the style of music you enjoy - and even further you can incorporate the scales together which is predominantly how I utilize the major/minors. Anyway have a go you'll work it out for yourself.

i got this wicked guitar, now what do i do?

So, major confusions aside - now what do you do? How you practice clearly is highly dependent upon your goals. As such giving advice here is a bit impossible. But again I probably have a couple suggestions that *may* help. 

Some people claim they don't know what to play. For me that was never actually an issue - I pick it up and can't put it down - until 4am sometimes - although complaining neighbours have stopped that!!.. :)  But even how I practised (even currently) was/is not the best. So clearly take this with a grain of salt as I'm figuring it out myself - but this is my current perspective:

play songs you like

I started with private lessons from the moment I got my guitar.  That's a good idea - i think - although arguably you could get things for free off the web too. We played a number of classics - and I am very appreciative of both teachers I've had. But - you'll be most passionate about songs you really love. I left this out the first year really because I was quite focused on what I was learning in lessons. I suggest from day one you take at least a couple of songs you really love and learn them.

play with music 

(this was my failure). I go off into another world when i play guitar. But it's crucial to play with the actual music and to beat (a metronome is key here). A practice amp can make this very easy but you don't need anything that serious to get started. Just play the songs however you normally would. Sounds common sense but many of us don't actually do it.

vary your practice

If you are very keen to improve, incorporating different techniques into your practice is quite essential. Perhaps one night chords, another strumming patterns, then arpeggios, but each night also working on a favourite song.  I actually got that advice from my teacher Angus and it does help your progression - when you actually utilize it. :P It's pretty easy to get caught up in same songs but hey if you're enjoying it - it's all good, eh.

play with others

This is so ironic for me to put this in here - as it's exactly what I need to do that I'm not. 
It's hard though - finding someone to jam with - around your level, on similar schedules, in an environment that tolerates noise. hmmm... well if you can jam with a group, I believe this will exponentially escalate your learning.

utilize all opportunities to learn

This is probably debatable and a bit a function of my personality/drive (i feel guilty if I'm not learning all the time/being productive). In any case - this isn't about me just highlighting the potential bias on this one.

But I argue there are so many opportunities to learn even if you don't have a guitar in your hands:

  • When you're listening to music - start to listen/break down the different guitar (and other instruments) types. Try to figure out the notes being played. I suck at this but want to improve
  • read. and best to practice at same time. buy music theory books - and i'll plug a personal favourite - 'Spartiti's - Everything Rock And Blues Guitar Book'. Picked this one up from my guitar teacher actually - if you're in Sydney and want lessons check out Sydney Guitar Lessons!!
  • when you're going to bed - go over things in your head - envision the pentatonic, major scale, appegio, etc patterns. Think about all the notes on the entire fretboard - take one (e.g. F) - think about where it is on each string. While you're at it - think about how to form various f chords.
  • When you're at live gigs - watch like a hawk and listen like a (I don't know? who listens well?? ;)). You can pick up SO much from chords, to strumming techniques, acoustic setup, distortion and other techniques, to charisma and audience interaction. Of course not at all like I'm ever going to perform on that last point!! But.. it's all part of what makes a good musician in my opinion. There's so much to learn from just watching - and probably even more important listening - at live gigs.

Your fingers hurt

You pansy. Toughen up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eternal Sunshine in a world gone mad

It's all a head game.

So just what's going on in this crazy world- and what exactly are we doing here? Well none of us know the answer to that of course, so we might as well make something up that makes us feel good. ;) So here's my perspective - the idea is to develop and cultivate techniques and a philosophy of life to get into the right state of mind so that you can experience sunshine in every moment by simply ‘being’,  treating each experience as a celebration of life.

But how do you do that?

Cultivate a positive personal philosophy on life & meditate on it

So if we can agree that happiness is entirely a state of mind, all we have to do is work out how to get into that good state right? Easy. Well not really, as we know. But - for me, developing a life philosophy and embracing it by meditating on it daily helps me to maintain a fairly consistent positive state. I view it as a "personal improvement program”, modified as new challenges arise or particular issues need addressed. 

Clearly the following positions are my perspective and I am in no way suggesting you should feel this way nor am I promoting these particular beliefs. This is just a philosophy I've picked from reading varied sources, and what works for me so I provide it as an example. Whatever works for you is what you should utilize - but for this to work though, I do think you need some concrete ideas.

·         perception is Everything; nothing is real; it's all a matter of perception and what you make it; there is no truth except the current moment

·         everything is neutral, neither good nor bad;  YOU paint them one way or  the other . events do not disturb you, your beliefs/perceptions of them disturb you
o        Having an afflictive emotion?
§         change your perception/belief
§         remove yourself from the situation
§         take action to resolve the underlying cause if that makes sense and is possible.. but remember, your perception made it “bad” so its true nature should be revealed.  AND.. perceptions should still be modified so that afflictive emotions do not arise.

·         Remove ALL rules. Create a list of preferences that you Really want/need.. the fewer the better. Communicate your preferences to relevant parties. Never expect/require anyone to do your preference, but  if they do thank them for it.  Over time they will do it more and more often.

·         feeling down/stressed/anxiety? just remember. YOU are doing it all to yourself. YOU perceive some situation as bad.

·         It is ONLY because you (ego) tell yourself that you need something (basic needs aside) that you actually do; only because you developed (or accepted from your environment) a Rule or Belief about some event/trigger that it causes you to feel a particular way

·         If the Real “soul” is revealed, No one actually cares whether or not you achieve goals, acquire things, look a certain way, etc.. it is only because your ego is telling you they care that it causes you pain..  If others project such visions onto you, it is their ego. YOU are doing it to yourself or you are succumbing to their ego

·         choose to create your own reality; you are in full control – modify your perceptions to maintain a positive state. SLOW DOWN (particularly relevant for me), breathe, ask yourself how you're feeling.

·         the ULTIMATE source of happiness is simply 'being'. Cultivate mindfulness/awareness/consciousness and you will realize that.  Focus on breath, each step you take, each object you look at, where each item of food or drink came from and what it will do for your body. Appreciate it. Think how lucky you are to have the opportunity to experience life and be thankful for each and every interaction.

Embrace your passions

Meditation is a great way to get into a great state of mind, but perhaps an easier, or at least complementary technique is to discover your passions and engage in them as often as you can.  There's arguably no easier way to maintain consciousness and stay in the current moment.  There's heaps of books on this - Flow, etc. but it's pretty common sense. 

For me personally, this includes experiencing music in many forms - ranging from listening but most passionately playing instruments, in particular guitar but drums are are up there too. Then there's painting, climbing, running, and most recently yoga (namely bikram), amongst many others I won't bore you with.  But these are just examples, whatever makes you feel amazing - as though there's nothing else you'd rather be doing right now.. and oft causes hours to fly by in minutes - you found it. Figure out how you can do this every waking moment - and you've nailed it - welcome to eternal sunshine.... ;)

Monday, November 12, 2012

An Acoustic Evening with Ben Harper at the Opera house

Decided to write a review of Ben Harper's recent performance at the Opera House in Sydney. In part because I was so affected by the experience I feel compelled to document it in some way, in part because it's a night I am going to remember for a very long time - and I hope this will help keep the memories fresh.  

As already alluded to, from my perspective Ben's show was absolutely incredible. Rife with humour (a lot of self-deprecation!), amazing music, audience interaction, such an expressive range of voice - and so soothing it could probably cure my life long insomnia. And I can't leave out charisma, sensuality, some serious name dropping (hehe), and quick wit (by the audience too!).  He mixed in the old, the new, audience requests (even at the house!!), ( some nirvana!), and talent and creativity only available in BH style.

As soon as you stepped into the house - you knew you were in for a true experience when you looked on stage and saw an amazing display of instruments. The audience was in uproar when Ben surfaced onstage and a couple not far to the right of me announced they were just engaged. Ben set the tone for the night:

BH: Holy Smokes! That's awesome. But wait - don't tell me you're going to upstage me at the Opera House!  Pullin' the engagement trick! So did she say yes?
EC: I said only if you're not interested Ben!

Ben kicked off with some Amazing slide (i believe on the Weissenborn), but he  later dedicated Drugs Don't Work to the happy couple :). After (from memory) Diamonds on the Inside and Blessed To Be a Witness on the yuke and standard steel string (not sure which make it was), Ben moved onto an amazing performance on the piano. Bruce Springsteen in the photograph on top of the piano. Apparently one of Ben's most memorable commendations was when Bruce's mom "approved" of his cover of one of Bruce's songs. "She came up to me after the show.. let's just say she liked it."

Back on guitar, Ben  started to play 'With my own two hands' - but for some reason the audience didn't go off like you'd expect.  He stops playing and says he needs to tune the guitar - but I think he really wanted to rightly draw more attention to the song. He tells this funny story:

"BH: So when my son was in Kindy, I used to walk him to school, 'cause that's what you do with your kids right? So I rock up and this bully of a kid looks at me and says:"

Bully Kid: Man - what are you doing here? 
BH: Well I'm Ellery's dad I'm dropping him off at school
BK: But don't you have a job to go to?
BH: [oh man!] A job - well - I play guitar...
BK: Yeah - I play guitar too. I said do you have a job?

"So there it started.  I develop this sort of fear of this 5 year old bully at my kid's school. Every time i go there I'm kind of avoiding him.  One day it's one of these "hands on" days.. you know.. that's what they want.. everyone involved so I go along.. with these snotty kids.. You know I'm no germ phobe but I'm quite certain I got sneezed on and snot rubbed on me on the way to a table with my son.  Next thing you know - here's bully boy.. he plops himself right next to me. [At this point Ben's literally acting all this out on stage]. I mean like if I'm sitting here. This kid's - like 'HERE' (right in his face)."

BK: So I heard you play guitar on the radio
BH: [Interesting] Oh really? What'd you hear me play?
BK: You know - that one. . the one with the hands
BH: [Very interesting.. ol' bully has a change in tone]. Yeah i know the one.
BK: Yeah and you were with Curious George! Ol' George - What's he like?
BH: [Seriously?? Now who doesn't have a job Mr. I play guitar. I know Curious George!!!! Boo ya!!]

Ben kicked into My own two hands and this time the audience gave it the appreciation it deserves!  Other songs somewhere in the lineup were Another Lonely Day, Blessed to Be  A Witness, Excuse Me Mister, Forever, Morning Yearning, Pleasure and Pain, Power of the Gospel, Walk away. And of course the frequently requested Sexual Healing (wow.. he definitely still has it!!) and Steal My Kisses from you. 

Ben with the family music store and museum emblems in the background.

Ben on the Bells. Magic.

Ben talked about politics briefly, and it transitioned into this funny dialogue:

BH: it's difficult, you know. the fact is there are evil people out there. what do we do? i don't know man.. what do we do with these evil people?
Audience:  'Cook em, Ben!!'
BH: BWAAHhhhhhh! I love it. That's the ozzie solution - cook em.    
Chuck em on the barbie mate! 
Passionately belting it out in BH style.. 

Ben told a funny story about Heath Ledger - apparently Heath had a grand piano unknowingly delivered to Harper's house as a gift! He paid respects to Heath, speaking very highly of him, and acknowledged their close friendship and creative undertakings  - noting that he thought of Heath as he played in Australia and moved on to play a difficult song. Seriously.. is that not one of the most sensual and Amazing videos you have ever seen? The only other video from recollection that remotely has this sensual flair is Franti's Love me Unique, although Ledger/Harper's work is much more subtle and stylistic. Back to BH.. Apparently each morning he plays on this piano to start the day; pretty amazing vision. I can only imagine what other phenomenal projects they would have created together.

 Back to slide for Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley's cover of Hallelujah...

BH: 'Man i know this is a school night and all.. you guys have to work tomorrow but i'm havin' so much fun. I hope you're having as much fun as i am!' [Audience - awww yeah!!]
And then a little later..
BH:  Holy Smokes! Oh my god - I can't believe you guys are all still here! This is incredible. 
Audience: It's ok Ben.. we're ozzies we love to chuck a sickie!!

Ben chucks aside all the mics and picks up the yukulele, belts out... [can't remember the closing song! ugh.. caught up in the moment :)]

Ben sitting 'amongst the people' after the show. Legend.

Ben played from about 8:30 until nearly midnight - superstar!! Other than Manu Chao - who can last that long!?! I don't think anyone wanted to leave - he nor the audience. 

I wanted to yell out - 'Don't give up on me now!'. But I couldn't - as I knew I'd probably make this amazing man pick up his guitar again and belt out perhaps my favourite BH song at midnight.. and that would be just asking too much. Instead i yelled out 'respect' as it's the only adjective that remotely epitomized what we all upheld for him. This probably all sounds a bit dramatic - I am Still on a natural high from the experience - but you know what - maybe it really was this good. :) Every once in a while you have an experience that really affects you... an acoustic evening with Ben Harper at the Opera House was most certainly one of those nights.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Just thought I´d compile a few good links to sites on sweatshops, globalism, fair trade, etc. As I´m sure would be a goal for just about everyone, I would like to try to purchase products that are sourced from companies that are "sweatfree" (i.e. do not use sweatshops, unfair work conditions, etc.). Alternatively, I would like to avoid purchasing from "evil" :) companies.

When I started looking into this issue, though, I discovered that a) the issue is more complex than initially meets the eye and b) it´s a little difficult to determine exactly which products to buy as well as what other actions can be taken. There are definitely a number of brilliant sites which have so much valuable information and details as to what can be done. However many have a region focus (i.e. might only be valid mainly for the US or Australia, etc. in regards to which products to buy).

So, below I´ve provided the sites that I have found useful in both education regarding issues as well as specifics for various regions. This is just an initial draft which I hope to update and refine over time. Ideally one day there will be a searchable database of the "good guys" and the "bad guys" on a global basis, but as per yet I have not found such a global site.


global exchange contains a vast array of knowledge. The link 'An Easy Introduction to the Global Economy' is very useful.

maquila solidarity provides an education page.

has a nice brief overview of why sweatshops exist.

Details regarding where to shop
The following links provide specific details regarding which companies from which products can be bought if attempting to go sweatfree.

Sweatshop Watch provides a list of companies.

sweatfree's list of anti-sweatshop organiz(s)ations. This is a really inclusive sight. Some of the links below are repeated here except the ones listed here are a bit more specific in general (i.e. takes you to the organisation's list of sweatfree companies,etc.)

Fairwear's shopping guide (see ethical shopping guide link) for Australian clothing companies.

Look for the No Sweatshop Label in Australian clothing.

maquilasolidarity contains some excellent resources on Canadian Retails (See the appropriate section).

cleanclothe's list of ethical clothes.

coopamerica´s details about sweatfree products.

Global Exchange´s online shop

Organic Consumer Association's links to organic and eco-friendly products.

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