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First Inventions

Pardon the self-indulgence here, but I wanted to make sure I close out the last year with a review of some of the musical things I've been working on since picking the guitar back up. For those who aren't aware: I opted to spend a little money by getting a pretty decent guitar instead of the usual, crappy starter guitar. The one I ended up with is the telecaster style Charvel, reviewed in the video here. I added to that with a digital recorder with built-in preamp and drum patterns since I've always believed the best way to improve is listen to your work and start making it better.

I'd played as a teenager and attained "so-so" status as a guitar player back in the neoclassical Age of Yngwie. I was a better player than I was a musician, so you can imagine that there were limitations on what I might accomplish there. A career in music was never in the offering for me. At some point in the 90s, I gave it all up. The guitar of my youth wasn't maintained well enough to play reliably and a lot of bad habits had accumulated to a very stale practice regimen after college. Still, there's a certain amount of fun to be had by playing and I've probably always wished that I had the time and freedom to at least give it another go.

The result is as follows: an eight-pack of tunes from whatever amount of work I've digitized this past year that at least holds up as "tolerable enough that I might one day do something with it." A lot of the stuff I've recorded was nothing more than an effort to make drills enjoyable on my part by putting them into something resembling a song. It's the only way I'm going to spend 15-20 minutes reviewing scales & modes each time I break the guitar out. From that, occasionally comes a melody that I'll pick out from trying a few different exercises. And from there, a "songlet" which is basically me trying to find chords and a rhythm to package it all up with. Believe me, there's nothing competing with J.S. Bach in here. Listen at your own risk and be amused if you wish. But if you really want to rock in the new year, I'll suggest the first track.

One of the first things I started putting together with the guitar & recorder. For some obvious reasons, I loved the drum beat on this pre-set pattern. My modifications were pretty minimal, but I still left some oddities in the mix. Namely, I was adding a rhythm fill after four bars instead of making the fill as the fourth bar. So compositionally, this one is messed up. But the guitar sound is one of the best that I've got here and the song format rips off equal parts Whitesnake (chords borrow from "Love Ain't No Stranger") and Deep Purple (solo idea ripped from "Death Alley Driver"), so this first effort was pretty darned gratifying. Like a lot of melodies I end up doing, I prefer to harmonize the line. It's a great way to learn more of the fretboard and it helps instill some discipline in recording since the timing has to be as accurate as possible.

I believe this one was an early morning test-drive with the setup. The opening arpeggios are a mess as it sounds like I was trying to do four different things on each bar instead of committing to one idea. That's about par for my limited practice time, though ... try out every idea in my head and never devote the time to writing something good with the best single idea. The transition to the melody on this one was the main thing that I liked about this. It definitely has a Satriani-style vibe to it. But again, all I was doing was plunking around with a pentatonic scale and I'm not really a pentatonic kinda guy. So it sorta drifts and that's why it never really resolves into a good song structure anywhere along the way.

[audio: Dance - uncompressed.mp3]
I remember being committed to trying out something that involved two-hand tapping and this is about the best that resulted from that effort. The more I've listened to this, I think I have a better idea of how to work this into something of a song now. Just need to make the time for turning that into a reality.

Basic idea here: simple chord structure & melody that leaves four spots open for me to try whatever fast, cool-sounding riffs and guitar tricks I think I can pull off (hence the name of the song). It's not quite Steve Vai's trick bag, but I'm fine with starting more gradually. I'd intended this to just be a drill helper, but the little singing-melody style created with some simple two-hand tapping convinced me that there was a song idea in this. Definitely need to experiment with some tones for this one. As far as showing off the state of where my neoclassical chops are, the first two "tricks" of this song are about it. There's a little bit of everything in this and it feels a little jam-packed even though I left the third opening bare of any guitar tomfoolery. This one definitely deserves to be stretched out another 90-120 seconds to give it some breathing room.

If I'm not a pentatonic type of player, I'm equally not a blues player. I think I had stumbled onto the melody for this drumbeat pattern and found myself searching for a rhythm that might work underneath it. How I ended up with some old-school rhythm & blues, I'll never know. But it was kinda fun. Just need to work on getting things sorted out sonically so that every guitar has it's proper place. I think this was also the piece that convinced me that I'd be better off adding a real bass to the mix rather than trying to get the rhythm guitar sound to compensate for the lack of a bass. My recorder comes with guitar effects that mimic the sound of a bass, but it's not the same.

Usually, my order of priority is as follows: 1) find a drumbeat that sounds good to me, 2) find a melody that makes me learn something new, 3) pray that I can think up some chords to put underneath it all. I do not recommend this for anyone. This resulted from an effort to create a decent chord structure first. That, for me, was a huge adjustment. But I'd had this basic idea in my head ever since the opening chords of Ratt's "Round and Round" gave me fits as a kid. This songlet borrows a little from the chords of that song as well as Van Halen's "Unchained" and has the good fortune of not entirely sounding like it's a ripoff of either. The title is derived from the fact that the melody was an afterthought once I figured out what key I was playing in. Needless to say, it drifts a bit.

My lone experiment with cleaner tones. Also my lone experiment with putting a melody over arpeggios instead of chords. Like a lot of these songlets, this represents a good idea that might be combined with something else to make a fuller song some day. I have a hard time coming up with musical ideas in this style, so this leans heavily on some of my favorite songs on Joe Satriani's first album (probably this one more than most).

There's a lot I don't like about how this is mixed, but the structure of this was designed to start spreading out some of the mini-ideas for songs and try putting them together into a more complete song structure. In that regard, it's a step in the right direction. Instead of just one idea played over 60-90 seconds, this one starts to combine a few different ideas. Not sure where the idea of the progressive rock rhythm came from - I only own one Dream Theater disc and gave up on John Petrucci's guitar lesson books long ago. Who knows, maybe something stuck.

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