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Vehicle Maintenance Day August 28, 2014

Filed under: Automotive — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I am writing this post on a Wednesday. It’s last Wednesday of the month, to be precise. And since it is both a Wednesday and the final Wednesday of the month, it is also “Vehicle Maintenance Day”. I established the day specifically to meet the needs of my rusty, somewhat neglected old pickup truck. I know it needs a bath and that the fluids need to be checked. It probably wouldn’t hurt to vacuum the seats or Armorall the cracked dashboard either. And all of this will be accomplished today – on my newly established, monthly “holiday”.

The need for this special day is evidenced by the fact that for me, vehicle maintenance is a bit like flossing my teeth; it’s something that I know ought to be done (and probably needs to be done), but is so frequently crowded out by things which, quite frankly, are just more interesting. Given the choice between cooking a gourmet meal and waxing my truck, dinner wins out. Faced with the choice between a bicycle ride or vacuuming the interior of the cab – well, who doesn’t want to be peddling along a pathway on a sunny day like this? Offered the option to play my guitar or get my hands greasy… you get the idea.

Of course, I justify my vehicular neglect by pointing out that as soon as I wash my truck, a good gust of wind will blow bits of a farmer’s field all over it. And those growing rust spots are as good as an alarm system! After all, who’s going to steal a vehicle that looks like the engine may drop out at any moment? It’s all part of a plan: a very well calculated plan that usually results in my sitting on the couch with a good book rather than actually standing in the driveway holding a sponge.

I admit that I’ve been able to assuage some of the guilt I feel by ensuring that, at least once a month, I read a good book about auto maintenance. (Or something similar. Today it was a bicycle repair manual.) This gives me the sense that I have some expertise in the neglected matter without actually demanding that I do anything about the problem. I may not take the time to tighten those squealing belts, but at least I know that the belts are the source of the obnoxious noise.

Still, there it sits in the driveway. My little white “baby” pickup, its bright white paint marred by the orange rust colonies building around the wheel wells. It’s a bit windy today, but I won’t let that stop me. After all, I planned for this. It’s a monthly holiday and I will soon begin celebrating with a bucket of soapy water, a garden hose, and the latest episode of Car Talk. Long live “Vehicle Maintenance Day”!


Guitar Toolkit August 21, 2014

I admit to being a bit of an App junkie. So it’s no surprise that I’ve spent some time perusing the iTunes App Store looking for the best guitar app I can find. And I think I’ve found it in Guitar Toolkit. Listed as the “most comprehensive” guitar app on iTunes (as well as the highest rated), this little app does just about everything a guitarist could possibly want.

Looking for a guitar tuner? You’ve got it… but this isn’t a standard tuner. Users can chose between standard tuning and no fewer than 70 alternate tunings! The tuner can also be adjusted to reflect the current capo position, allowing you to quickly tune and re-tune your guitar with ease.

Need a metronome? This one comes with a twist. The app allows the user the choice between a standard metronome and percussion. Play along as a variety of accompanying instruments keep the beat. With a $4.99 in app upgrade, you can select the instruments yourself, as well as create and save your own rhythms!

Guitar Toolkit also comes with a full catalog of scales. From pentatonic to Aeolian and everything in between, you’ll find the scale to fit your style.

Looking for a specific chord shape? You’ll find those as well. Users can search for major, minor, suspended, and diminished chords as well as many others within this well-rounded database. Swap easily from notation to tablature, select your chord, then strum the virtual guitar to hear how it sounds.

The app even includes settings for left-handed guitarists, ensuring that no one gets “left” out!
For just $9.99, Guitar Toolkit contains everything the serious (or not so serious) guitarist needs both at the home and on the go. It’s a single app for every situation and the perfect fix for a guitar-playing app junkie like myself!



On SIght Reading, Tablature, and Differently Abled Musicians August 14, 2014

Filed under: Guitar,Music — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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My introduction to music came at an early age. In fact, I remember the day we purchased that old piano. It was an upright, a converted player piano which, to this day (thanks much to my little sister’s continual financial endowments) has a distinctly superior sound. (I would, in fact, argue that it sounds much better than many of the grand pianos I’ve heard… and my sister’s piano tuner would agree.)

I took lessons through most of my childhood and youth, beginning at the age of six. I was full of dynamic expression and had just the right touch on the keys. What I didn’t have, however, was an ability to convert those little dots they call notes into music.

I could (and still can) read music. But it never came easily to me. I’d rather listen to a piece played by someone else, then try to bash it out on my own. In fact, I do this reasonably well. But notes… something about them simply seems in-congruent to me. Place a series of them on a staff and, for some reason, my fingers struggle to pick them out.

Even flashcards weren’t a great deal of help. I could quickly name the notes when showed to me singly, but seeing them displayed in succession gave me heart palpitations. It was as if I were sitting on that hard, wooden bench, staring at a jumbled mess that desperately required reorganization. So, eventually, I just quit. My sister could sight read just about anything and her playing had long since surpassed mine. I didn’t love the instrument the way she did and it no longer seemed worth the effort.

It was time to find something new… and I did. I admit that I selected the guitar based more upon the instrument’s sound than upon any particular style of notation. But as soon as I lay eyes upon that tablature, I was in love. Numbers on lines made sense. A 3 on the third string meant I should depress the third fret on the third string. A 5 on the second string mean that I sound ease my finger over to that fifth fret on the second string. Easy peasy.

It wasn’t long, however, before I found that the validity of this notation style was being called into question. After all, can you really be said to be playing an instrument if you can’t (or in my case, chose not to) read music? In a way, I felt like I was being forced into some type of remedial learning… music for the less adept. My difficulty sight reading was a musical disability. Tablature was for those who had been “held back”. And yes, I felt a little sorry for myself.

I confess that I spent far too much time struggling with this question. (I’ve always been skilled when it comes to having a good mope.) No two minds work the same way. And some minds function in ways distinctly different from the majority. Math, reading, and music come easily to some, but not to others. A person may excel at one skill, but find themselves struggling with another. There is no shame in that. So I quit whining, read the tablature, and made some really awesome music. After all, music is music, regardless of what it takes to get the tune off the paper, into your head, and through your fingers. The song is the same, even if I read it a bit differently.


On Muscle Memory and those Callouses that Never Go Away August 7, 2014

Filed under: Guitar,Music — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: ,

I’m not really sure what happened yesterday. I was sitting on the couch, enjoying a day off, when all of a sudden a force beyond my control took hold of me. Before I knew it, I was hurrying downstairs to pull my Dad’s old Gibson guitar out of its case.

I haven’t played in over a year. Life got in the way. And I was never a great guitarist anyway. I’m better acquainted with the art in theory than in actuality. I understand the chord shapes and a little bit about harmonics, but not enough to impress anyone other than a neophyte. Still, that’s enough to be getting on with… or at least enough to cover the fact that my singing is worse than my strumming.

To my surprise, the instrument was still relatively well tuned and, to my even greater surprise, I remembered how to get it back into tune! I strummed a few chords, then a few more. I played with some picking patterns and struggled to remember the B flat chord that was missing from my progression. After tuning my voice to the guitar (an art far more complex than tuning the guitar, itself), I began to belt out a few of my favorite songs.

The disconnect between my voice and my hands was immediately evident. My hands appeared to know exactly what they were doing. My voice didn’t. I sang my off-pitch rendition of a song which shall remain nameless (I couldn’t remember the lyrics, so I was making up my own as I went) and my fingers picked out the baseline as though they’d known it forever.

Curious as to the extent of this muscle memory, I abandoned the song and shifted the guitar to a position appropriate for the classical version of the instrument. It had been my attraction to Celtic music which had originally drawn me to the strings and I wondered if I could reproduce one of the complicated tunes. Sure enough. There it was. Complete with the expressive dynamics with which I had originally endued it. My hands remembered the song even though my head didn’t.

They say that music is the last thing to leave a person as their mind begins to fade. I don’t know whether there’s research to back the idea or whether it’s yet another anecdotal “fact”. What I do know is that I hope it’s true. I hope that somehow, some way, I never forget the soundtrack that has accompanied my life… even if I forget my life, itself. I hope that my fingers will always find the right notes, that the lyrics will always make sense (even if they aren’t the proper ones), and that those callouses on my fingers will never go away.

I trimmed the nails on my left hand and filed the nails on my right. Then I played until I could see the pads of my fingers beginning to bruise and blister. I didn’t want to stop. I never should have stopped in the first place.



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