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Guitar practice

My new guitar practice regimen is going well. I’ve been doing it for over a week now and managed to get through the entire week without missing a practice session.

The two Kaufman flatpicking days go together well and it means that I’m working on two tunes during any given week. I need to concentrate on playing cleanly and work on my technique as I’m going along. It won’t be long before the Kaufman Fretboard DVD gets into playing up the neck. Phase 1 is just about learning the 5 tunes that are included; phase 2 gets into chord centres and scale patterns. So I guess another 4 weeks of working on the tunes and then the juicy stuff.

The Mary Flower DVD is fun. I’m learning the 6251 progression in the key of C using Rag Mama as the tune. I got two nice turnaround patterns from the last session and guess I’ll do one more session on that tune before moving on to the next one.

I had a good 90-minute session last night working on two of El McMeen’s arrangements in CGDGAD: The Mist Covered Mountains of Home and Fanny Power. I just love the MCM and now that I’m in my second week of practicing it, it’s really coming together nicely. Last night was my first session with Fanny Power and it’s the first new fingerstyle tune that I’ve learned in over a year. Ironically it begins with exactly the same notes as the Mist-Covered Mountains! And I’m remarkably pleased to discover that my Clarksdale Crossroads sounds good in CGDGAD – a most pleasant surprise (given that it has a short scale length).

On the classical stuff from my Fred Noad book, it will be a while before I get to the place where I stopped the last time. I went back a bit to recover old ground and discovered that I really need to practice a lot the stuff that I’ve already done before I’m ready to move on to the new stuff. It’s fun to play though and I think it’s an important part of my overall practice regimen.

I’m also covering old ground in the Skeptical Guitarist book and getting the same Eureka moments that I got the first time round and had subsequently forgotten. I’m not so keen on the “humour” style of the book, but it does explain the concepts well.

I think I have a pretty full and rounded regimen on the go. There’s some nice variety and each thing should feed into the other to some degree.

I’ll start doing recordings once the tunes start to become more polished. I guess the Mist Covered Mountains will be ready in a couple of weeks. I might even play it out at the next open mic if I feel ready for that. I had hoped to have it ready for the RMMGA UK gathering last month, but it wasn’t to be.

Guitar practice season

Now that my monster translation is out of the way, I can really get back into my guitar playing again. The problem is that I have no focus to my practice and my time is limited, so I really need to put a schedule together.

Here are the things I would like to work on:

  1. Accompaniment – working through my Frank Kilkelly book (Accompanying Irish Music on Guitar), first brushing up on the four sets of tunes I’ve already worked on and then getting onto another set;
  2. Open mic stuff – since finding the local open mics and meeting a bouzouki player, I’d like to start playing with him more. This will involve accompaniment as well as some flatpicking and fingerpicking. I also need to keep working on my songs and have asked a girl at work if she’d be up for joining me on some vocals. I also know a violin player whom I’m trying to turn to the light of trad music. She’s coming around I think!
  3. Flatpicking – I noticed at a recent UK gathering I attended that if one does not practice flatpicking, one gets rusty. I thought I’d share that, just in case you didn’t know. My Parking Lot Pickers book is a heck of a lot of fun to work from, particularly playing along with the CD. This will cover accompaniment too.
  4. Fretboard knowledge – I really would like to finish Volume 2 of the Skeptical Guitarist, work through Steve Kaufman’s Figuring out the Fretboard DVD and work through Mary Flower’s Fingerstyle Ragtime DVD.
  5. Sight reading – I’d like to progress through my Fred Noad book. I’ve started going through it from scratch about four times, and each time I get a little farther. I’m about a third of the way through it and it gives me a great sense of achievement when I learn a new tune from that book. I know it will do a lot for my playing.
  6. I really must work on El McMeen’s arrangement of The Mist Covered Mountains of Home. It’s one of the most moving arrangements I’ve heard and I could play it fairly well a couple of years ago. I’d like to get it to performance standard.
  7. New tune to learn – I’ve had a desire for a long time to learn El’s arrangement of Fanny Power. There’s just something about it that moves me (as is the case with a lot of El’s arrangements, but this one in particular).

Fanny Power

So I’ve put together a spreadsheet of things to practice each day and will try to get in 30 minutes a day of what it says on the spreadsheet for each particular day. That will take the thinking about what to do when I get the time each day and should go a long way to helping me to progress.

My guitar year: a brief review

Have you had a good guitar year?

My initial response to this was a resounding “no”, but I was tired, grumpy and overworked then. I’ve since been thinking about it some and there have been some pretty good highlights.

— The UK RMMGA gathering in March 2005. This is like the Little Brother Jam in Conyers GA, but with inverse proportions of Brits vs Americans (and a high contingent of Scots, for some reason). No matter where you go, acoustic guitar players are the nicest folks you will ever spend time with. I got to spend some quality time with Mark, a guy I met on the Internet, and even did a duet with me on guitar and him on small pipes. That was a lot of fun. I’m right looking forward to the next one!

— The song circle. So it hasn’t become the huge, life-changing event that I had hoped, but it has become a regular fixture in my playing and I’ve met some decent folks. There is a core of regulars and it’s settling into something good as we get to know each other better.

— The house concerts. Through the song circle, I became acquainted with a local guy who hosts house concerts. I got to see Eric Lugosch and “Philadelphia” Jerry Ricks this year, and even had the nerve to ask Eric for a lesson – he obliged and so there’s another highlight right there!

The Speak Easys. I pretty much only just discovered these, this time through the host of the house concerts. Basically it’s an open mic in a bar in down town Lux. I’ve played at two of them and met a bunch of decent folks. There should be some crossover with that and the song circles, each feeding from the other.

The LB Jam. This is a firm fixture in my annual guitar calendar. Each year I make the long journey from Luxembourg to Conyers, Georgia for a jam at my very good friend’s home. This year I taught a Celtic workshop, basically teaching how to flatpick the Butterfly, a slip jig. This was regurgitated from the lesson I got from Tony McManus at Kaufman Kamp in 2005.

The SCGC Vintage Artist. So it took a while, but it finally arrived at my home last Tuesday and I’m tickled pink with it. It truly is a terrific guitar and I’m going to have a lot of fun with it.

Do you feel you have progressed?

Not really, no. One thing that has happened is that I’ve gained some more respect for songs. My playing over the last few years has led me into fingerstyle, altered tunings, then flatpicking and working on my accompaniment. This year I’ve had very little time actually to sit down and work on new stuff, and I guess the song circle and speak easys have got me working on my repertoire of songs again. What I’ve come to realise is that three chords and the truth can sound awesome if the heart and soul are there. It’s a good and powerful thing to have learned. Everyone else seems to know this already; it’s just we guitar players who think it needs to be hard to be good!

What goals are you setting for yourself next year?

The only goals I can realistically keep are to keep playing. I know so many players who basically stalled to have a family and only really started progressing again after the kids were grown up. I’m not in any danger of quitting, but I do have to make sure that I don’t just plateau. I keep hearing songs that I think I would like to learn; I sat down with a Warren Zevon song [Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner] a few weeks back whilst watching Hamish and got it down pretty well. I can foresee more of that happening this year.

I also recently got a laptop, so, if time permits, I can sneak off to the back room with a DVD or some of Little Brother’s video lessons or whatever and try and work on progressing style wise.