Addicted to the Six Strings

My progress of mastering acoustic guitar songs

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Angel-My Hands Itching XD

Posted by Isaac on July 12, 2009

A beautiful song by Eric Roche. He is an amazing guitarist from New York, America. He died from throat cancer when he was only 37 years old (in 2005), leaving his wife and 2 children. His music will always be inside of our hearts. May he rest in peace…

This song reminded me about my lovely younger sister. She is beautiful, funny and caring, and although being naughty sometimes, she always listen to me and tolerate with me. Sometimes I’ve upset her (or another way round XD), we will be ok after a short while,  and sharing food and giving present to each other as a token of apologize. When she’s crying, I am always at her side. She is always my angel, I am really happy to have her as my sister ^^

The major problem I’ve encountered when learning this song is it requires insane stretching and rapid movement of left hand to play. There are some place I have to stretch my hand 5 frets apart, which is really hard for small handed person like me.

Another problem (not a problem actually) is that this song is in non-standard tuning(also known as altered tuning). The standard tuning for guitar is EADGBE. However, Eric used DADGAD tuning, which made some chords are easier to press, at the same time complicated some chords into funny shapes. This is also the reason why I have to stretch my index finger and my pinky 13cm apart just for the funny chord shape. Moreover, I will have to tune my guitar to this tuning when I want to practice the song,  I can’t practice immediately when I grab my guitar, and due to my lazyness (ops..), it took me some time to master the song.

Here’s the recording, enjoy^^ (I become tense in fornt of cam and mic, sorry for that XD)


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Ebon Coast – Recording

Posted by Isaac on June 16, 2009

Finally done with this song! I’ve slighty improved on playing in front of recorder (invisible pressure XD), which I’ve done the recording within 5 times. However I still make some mistakes at the end though.

Anyway, enjoy ^^

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Ebon Coast

Posted by Isaac on June 10, 2009

This week is a busy week; Metrology presentation on Monday, Communication Skills presentation on Tuesday, E. Maths test on Wednesday, Programming Lab Test on Thurday. I’ve survived the first three days, and finally able to squeeze 30 minutes to update my blog.

As mentioned in the post before, besides Cavatina, I’ve been working on the song, Ebon Coast by Andy McKee. Andy McKee’s pieces is REALLY hard to learn as there are many techniques in his songs, which most of them are very complicated, and there isn’t an exception for Ebon Coast. Moreover, the only resources for me to learn are a tutorial video and an inaccurate music sheet. Struggled a lot to learn this beautiful piece though..

To learn this song, I practised only 2 bars and maximum 4 bars a day, as it was a pain by just referring to the video for the fingerings. Although the author of the tutorial video played the song slowly, it was hard for me to get my playing right by just simply refer to the video without explanation by the author.

The hardest part would be the bridge part (02:02 to 02:27) and the ending part (04:28 until end). First, the bridge part requires frequent movement of right hands to make the percussive sounds and press the bass note throughout the whole part, whereas my left hand’s fingers ring the note without plucking using the right hand. It takes me some time to synchronize my left and right hands. It feels like playing a piano, but on a guitar.

Second, the ending part. It was quite troublesome to me as the beat of the ending bars is inconsistent. It was hard as I can’t count the beats accurately (its keep changing duh..or its me counting wrong?). Therefore, I can only try my best to imitate the original video as well as the tutorial video. At last, I can play the thing quite similar to both of the video, but there are still some details I need to take care of.

After learning this song, I can feel that I have improved significantly. I acquired many techniques (Andy’s technique is weird yet awesome XD) and learn to synchronize both of my hands better.

For the video recording, I guess I will do it on holiday, as I need some more time to polish up the song XD. 2 more days to go…

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Cavatina-Simple Melody, Hard Playing

Posted by Isaac on May 31, 2009

This week I’ve been working on Cavatina and Ebon Coast. At the first glance I thought that Cavatina will be easy for me. However, after some time of practising, I’ve found that it is much harder than I thought! It is a simple melody that is hard to play indeed.

Sitting PositionCavatina is a melancholic music composed by Stanley Myers, and be played with guitar by John Williams. The song is the theme song of the movie, Deer Hunter ( a 1978 war drama film). Cavatina reminds the quiet and languid life in Clairton,  a third-class city in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

There are many fingerings that need me to stretch my finger so much and many unusual chord I haven’t seen before. It is difficult to me as I have small hands. I also can’t play the tunes smoothly as I still not familiar with the later part of the songs. The frequent transitions between barre chords make it hard to sustain the melody.

To overcome the problems, I tried to make myself familiar with the weird-shaped chords to avoid pressing the wrong notes and ensure that the transitions between those chords are smooth. I also sit according to the classical guitar’s standard position (as shown in the left pictures) as I found that some of the fingerings will be more comfortable in such position. As for the difficulty of stretching my hand, I guess I can only try my best to reach the notes by practising more.

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Bo Go Ship Da (Recording)

Posted by Isaac on May 20, 2009

Finally done!

It took me about 20 attempts to get a satisfactory result.

There is a little bit messed up though 😀

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What Is Fingerstyle Guitar?

Posted by Isaac on May 18, 2009

“Fingerstyle” refers to using each of the right hand fingers independently in order to play the multiple parts of a musical arrangement that would normally be played by several band members. Bass, harmonic accompaniment, melody, and percussion can all be played simultaneously when playing Fingerstyle. Fingerstyle guitar songs are often composed and played using steel string acoustic guitar.

Acoustic guitarClassical Guitar

There are three main categories of guitar: classical guitar, acoustic guitar and electric guitar. Classical guitar ( also known as nylon string guitar, as shown in picture on the right side) is evolved from lute, and it is used to play classical pieces, which is the rudiment of fingerstyle pieces. Electric guitar is widely used in most genres of music, mainly rock n roll and metal music, as well as pop and jazz music. It is frequently used to play solos in songs and also rhythm parts.

In contrast, acoustic guitar is limited to rhythm playing in the past; It can only prove it’s existence in a band or song by strumming or when it is played alone, as it has small volume and it’s tone doesn’t stand out like electric guitar or classical guitar.

Electric GuitarHowever, as time passes, more and more musicians realized that acoustic guitar has the potential to be used to play solo pieces, just like classical guitar, and surprisingly, some songs sound even better using an acoustic guitar. More musicians compose their pieces using acoustic guitar, and hence, the traditional fingerstyle is born. It’s playing style is similar to classical guitar, except the songs are played using acoustic guitar. The traditional fingerstyle guitarist includes Masaaki Kishibe, Isato Nakagawa and Chet Atkins.

Slowly, acoustic guitarists started to explore the possibilities of an acoustic guitar. More and more advanced techniques are brought in, such as tapping (originally an electric guitar’s technique, which is a technique of ringing a note by pressing on the string with right hand), popping, slapping (bass guitar’s techniques, produce groovy and funky sounds), slap harmonics, etc. They’ve also discovered that there is drum’s soul inside an acoustic guitar! Just like a drum set, different parts of guitar can be hit to produce sounds like snare drum, bass drum and hi-hat. Therefore, fingerstyle evolves to a higher level, which is called contemporary fingerstyle. Contemporary fingerstyle requires higher level of techniques, mainly right hand techniques. Some of the famous guitarists include Michael Hedges, Kotaro Oshio, Andy McKee, Tommy Emmanuel and Preston Reed.

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The first challenge-Bo Go Ship Da (I Miss You)

Posted by Isaac on May 16, 2009

I’ve started with a relatively easy, yet really touching song sang by Kim Bun Soo. This song is the theme song of the popular Korean drama, Stairway to Heaven. It is an awesome drama about the endless love of a man toward a woman despite of her disability and illness, even even after she passed away. The beautiful melody is so pleasant to listen to that I want to play it on guitar. Here I should specially thank boundaryless from Youtube, he arranged, wrote down and shared the music sheet with me.

I’ve been practising this song on Week 4, and this takes me about 3 days to master the songs. The hardest part would be the chorus of the song, which I will have to play at the higher position, especially those barre chords at high fret, which I will need to press down 6 strings at once with 1 finger like this:barringphoto

In order to overcome the problem, I’ve searched for some basic barre chord lessons on Youtube (such a great tool for self learner). Although I already know how to do a barre chord, I still gain benefits from the lessons as I can learn to do it better. I found that my mistake was not positioning my elbow perpendicular to the finger that was doing barre chord,  and this leads unclear ringing of the guitar as the strings weren’t pressed properly with enough force (Before that I thought that was because I have small hand or just didn’t have enough strength).

Another problem I’ve came to is the poor transition between two chords which are too far apart. The result of poor transition is that the song’s smoothness is greatly affected, which means it won’t sound good and won’t be able to impress the audience. To solve the problem, I’ve added some notes, open strings and sliding notes so the transition wil be smoother, and it does works! No more disfluencies in the song, yay!

As picture (video actually ^^”) is worth a thousand words, I will post a video to show the improvements and the results. However it is pretty late now so I guess I can only do it by the next day.

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A Guitar Freak’s Ultimate Goal ^^

Posted by Isaac on May 13, 2009

I started to play guitar when I was sixteen, I first picked up guitar when my roommate brought one to the hostel. After learning a few chords, I was motivated to learn more and search for more information, music sheets, technique and even interview of my favourite guitar heroes by internet and books.

One day, when I was surfing forums, I came across a name, Kotaro Oshio, a Japanese artist who plays guitar solos (or fingerstyle) with guitar. I was shocked when he performed his pieces. He managed to include the melody, harmony, bass line, and even percussion in his songs, just with an acoustic guitar! Since then I learn more about fingerstyle and knew about more and more talented guitarists, such as Andy McKee, Tommy Emmanuel, Masaaki Kishibe, Isato Nakagawa and Preston Reed.

Example of fingerstyle song, Classical Gas played by Tommy Emmanuel

Then, I started to learn their songs, learn the complex left and right hands’ techniques and explore the possibility of an acoustic guitar. I’ve mastered some of their songs that have difficulty level of easy to medium. However I am not satisfied. I want to learn those soulful, exciting songs with high difficulty with a lot of skills, such as attack mute, tapping, and playing melody and beats simultaneously.

Therefore I set my goal, which is to master the following fingerstyle and classical songs below: (Not in order)

1. Hard Rain

2. Angel

3. Ebon Coast

4. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You

5. Going Home

6. Bo Go Ship Da

7. Cavatina

I have included Cavatina, a classical song which is the theme of the famous movie The Deer Hunter, Bo Go Ship Da, the theme song of Korean Drama, Stairway To Heaven and also Going Home, soundtrack from the Japanese animation Bleach. These songs have to be played using classical guitar. As joining NYP’s Guitar Club requires one, I have bought a classical guitar recently. Therefore I hope to learn more classical techniques and songs with the newly bought classical guitar.

As the songs require high level of techniques, I will schedule myself to practice every day, but not exceeding 2 hours a day, which is four 30 minutes sessions a day. This is because the longer the practice session, it will be harder to concentrate, especially when I can’t master a certain technique, get bored, or frustrated. I will break down a song into several parts, and practice only one part of it every session. I will play the part slowly to know the tricky part and think of way to overcome the problem. It will be easier for me to spot my mistakes and I can play cleaner.

When I am able to play each part perfectly, then I will join those parts together, which I will play the song right from the start to the end. I will pay more attention to the place where two parts join together as these places usually are easy to forget.

When I am able to play the whole song, I will record myself to spot those mistakes which are not detectable when I am playing, for examples, lack of emotion and bad postures. Moreover, by recording myself, I will be able to put myself into a on-stage-performance like environment, which I will be able to train myself to be more confidence and be able to play in front of crowd with minimal nervousness.

If there is any part that I found that is too difficult to me, I will put the part aside and practice on another song first. After some time I will get back to the difficult song. This is to avoid myself from being frustrated, impatient and then abandon it.

I hope I can achieve this goal before Week 13, which is about 3 months from now. I am sure that I will be able to master the song if I am practicing according to my schedule. I am sure that my guitar playing will improve when I am able to play those songs fluently. Moreover I will have more songs to play for self enjoyment and satisfactory. I will be able to entertain my friends and family with the songs I’ve learnt.

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