It's a Final Fantasy song, and this was the first song that I learnt on the guitar, which made my understand reading tabs. Of course, the song that came after that was Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Re-arranging this song was an interesting bit. I didn't know the chords for it, and I had to learn it on the spot, by ear and without touching the guitar. I find that an interesting moment for me to actually figure the chords out, the intervals, the voicings, and everything else.
More importantly, Omnisphere, once again, provides a very good response towards velocity on the MIDI keyboard. The most important thing about this song besides the whole reverberation factor that the instruments provide, is the feel of the song.
And I'm surprised, that I was able to capture emotions through Omnisphere. I always thought if I wanted to learn how to express myself, I'd do it through the guitar. But this, completely changed how I look at MIDI.
To be honest, I always thought of MIDI velocity as "stupid" thanks to Reason. Because velocity in that application works as... well, volume control.
But for Omnisphere, it's based off real samples that the producers/samplers really recorded off actual instruments (e.g. Burning Piano by the great Diego Stocco), so it gives you a hint of realism.
So, sharing my point of view with regards to this song (it's still on loop at the moment), I had to ensure that I was in the best situation to programme/record this. All notes were played by me through the MIDI keyboard, and, ensuring that I poured my emotions to what I played.
Including of how hard or soft I should be hitting the keys. Sure there are some times I paniced, and hit the keys too strong, or too light - which was later on adjusted.
Arranging stuff like these, especially with technology on your hands, the only thing I can say is .. spend time to nurture the "tone" of each notes. Each single velocity, is like adjusting how loud an instrument should be playing given a point of time in a score of any music.
Of course, being the fool that I am, I had to use more than one piano-related instrument that is associated with pads and all, and .. a good choir sample.
The choir bit really took the most out of me due to me trying to figure out the chords, what notes should be used, at which octaves, and ensuring the choir sounded as "real" as possible (I mean, playing that at a super high pitch, you might as well record a cat when you're squeezing its stomach).
I could go on with "picking the right notes", but I'll leave that to your imagination. After all, it was my ears, imagination, and vision that led me to this.. piece. Unexpectedly, it -does- sound pretty alright after a few listens. And relistening value is.. just somewhat there?
Finding the right chords, right notes, right harmonies, right scales, right accidentals, right rhythms, everything just creates music.
I hope I can spend more time producing something even better; something larger. And these minor cover songs are just to warm me up just in case if I need to arrange stuff with my guitar tracks (which should be coming soon!).
The next thing I need to figure out is to see how well BFD handles time signature variation at the rate it crashes on my Mac.
That's about it.
And if you would like to know how I get inspired to be more than an instrumentalist (which is the term I like to use when you specialise in playing a certain instrument), I'll state it here, and now, if you're reading this:
1) Listen to your most favourite album 2) Try to find behind the scene footages (There's YouTube now, no?) 3) Try and search for the person who's responsible in recording and engineering the session 4) .. just watch the sound engineer. Although he's looking at a screen, but he's also a minor "arranger" as he's the one producing the final product. He does not necessary need to look like a person in a suit, conducting an orchestra. 5) For conventional tunes, search Hans Zimmer. For modern and interesting tunes, search up Diego Stocco and Harry Gregson-Williams. My 3 all time heroes when it comes to composing, arranging and producing music.
For some psychotic keyboard works directly associated to MIDI, you should be looking at the one they call Jordan Rudess.
Haven't heard of them? I'm sure you have. Pirates of the Carribean? The Chronicles of Narnia?
More importantly. Forget what you know, and let your ears speak to you on what's right.
Thank you, to whoever listened to the tracks with the good feedback. They all go to Nobuo Uematsu! I was just having fun with his composition as a learning musician.
When you think you've clearly lost it, and the world's against you. This is what you do.
Sit back, think about the past, reanalyse yourself and understand what made you the person you are today.
Yes, I'm talking about taking a big step backwards, understanding yourself, and seeing if you can actually accept what you did before that made you the person you are today.
And if you think you've lost all sorts of beliefs, turn back, and start your metronome.
I'm rather happy to share that I've turned myself back to 2004, understanding how I picked up speed and endurance on the guitar in fast playing on some certain licks.
Until today, there's a specific lick that I can play with speed. But if you slow me down and look at how I play, I'm cheating the notes I played. In fact, nothing comes out clearly sometimes (my case, all the time).
So, I decided to put "playing the guitar" one side, and take up "practicing the guitar". Sure, if you're playing a song and all that, that's really cool. But paying attention to the details on how you're playing and perfecting your mistakes - and UNDERSTANDING your mistakes, that's another different blow to yourself.
If you're a weakling, you might find that a bit demotivating. But if you're really up for a change, and improvement, I think that's the best step so far.
What pushed me to "go back to the roots?". Simple. Rhythm Knowledge by Mike Mangini. To cut things short, he and his students found a study that if you were to practice a certain technique, or part of a song, for 90 minutes per day, 4 days a week for 6 weeks, you'll sustain the ability to play that practice session for quite a bit, until you degrade.
Which is pretty interesting, because I used to play the A minor scale in reverse with quadruplets to familiarise myself with scales for the first time in 2004. Every single day without fail, I'd play that. Only because, that's the only thing I knew how to play back then. Exactly after a month of hard practice, I realised that I "shredded" on that quadruplet riff taught by my guitar instructor, and learnt the concept of scales on a guitar's neck.
But here's the magic. I never thought of "playing fast" or "shredding". I just wanted to play that A minor scale right. And playing it right and well, was my objective rather than "shredding".
If you were to ask me to play that A minor passage today, I won't be able to do it as well as I used to in 2004. My problem is that, BECAUSE I already mastered it back then (and not applying it to songs and jam tracks anyway), I am not able to play that passage at the same speed as I used to in 2004.
The common, and most saddest thing, about instrumentalists these days (drummers, guitarists, bassists, percussionists, violinists, cellists, violists, fluters (??), keyboardists, pianists), is that when they're self taught, they just want to jump into hyper speed on the first try. I'm not kidding about this. I've seen a couple of friends (and family?) of mine doing this. And it's really hard to let them know that to play quickly, you have to play slowly first. Master everything, and build up speed with patience.
Little do they know that they're actually killing their muscles to achieve what they have in mind.
I built my speed picking naturally, and I must admit that it isn't perfect. That's why I'm going through this whole "therapy" of "slowing down" (I even had issues playing clean & properly at 100bpm when I was doing a simple semiquaver [notes in 16th] practice!).
It took me a month of long hours of practice per day to realise that I was actually building up speed gradually, and naturally.
If you don't believe me, just attend Mike Mangini's next clinic and ask him about training on speed. Drummers have it as the worst when it comes to building speed without applying the right techniques and concepts. What Mike Mangini said back in 2004 when someone asked him that question, he said to never go against nature - this means never go against what your body can NOT take.
You have to build speed, gradually. The best way is to practice from slow, and eventually, it'll be quick. I did 2 repetitions of 90 minutes of the same thing with tempo variation (a few in 90, a few in 100.. a few in 120.. But didn't go more than that). And I realised that I was having fun rediscovering myself on what I did when I was a younger guitarist.
I was a guitarist back then, not a musician.
Of course, with life as it is now, since some of us might have jobs, or are attending school, or doing both at the same time (!!), all we want is to go home, and just pick up our musical instruments and start playing what we feel like playing. That's because we've already "mastered" the instrument based on our own expectations.
But we're never the master of our instruments. Even professional musicians are constantly seeking ways and methods to get better. And you can ask most professional musicians, I bet you most of them (or all of them) would say that they really missed the times when they could just sit down and practice, rather than to play, their instrument as they did when they were younger.
On another note, do not forget the most important thing. If you're not recording your 90-minute practice sessions, then pay attention to what you're playing:
- Make sure you're playing clean. Watch unethical habits that you could have applied (like mine was to string-rake when I wanted every note to sound clean).
- Make sure you're hitting the right note/notes at a time
- Make sure you're playing with the metronome.
More importantly, don't underestimate yourself. Playing the 6 same notes in a single measure for 90 minutes, you're bound to throw yourself off somewhere. So pay details to yourself.
Also, know what you're playing. Make sure you understand what you're playing. The notes that you strike, timing, and everything else. It's all part of the learning curve.
With reference to my previous blog post, I have posted my very first video of myself playing a cover of Neil Zaza's King Of The World (link here).
Just a short writeup about this song: It's the 3rd song on Neil Zaza's latest album, 212, which you can digitally purchase via his website, iTunes, or you can order and purchase his album and receive the whole packaging! I'm the #179th proud owner in this world! King of the World was composed during a soundcheck in Italy, when Neil was messing around with a bunch of open chords - which became the intro to that song. And this song has that enthusiastic drive, and the bridge shows a great melodic solo that's not even technical at all! It's all about dynamics that changes the mood for some songs, and this is one example. And I had real fun playing this song, when I wasn't recording. It touches me, personally, when I play this song.
Here's the breakdown of the stuff that was used with my guitar: Guitar: Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster 2010 (colour code - Amber, full maple neck) Amp: Roland Cube 30X - Bass 5, Treb 5, Mid 8-8.5, Volume 8o'clock, where 7 o'clock is volume level @ 0 Pedals used: Boss Distortion DS-1 - Tone 12o'clock, gain 3 o'clock Boss Blues Driver BD-2 - Tone 1o'clock, gain 2 - 3 o'clock * no DD-3 used - I didn't hear any delay in this track, I just realised it and that's clean recording! Sweet!
** Volume pot settings used - Intro @ 3, Bridge @ 5, maxed out everywhere else Bridge pickup used throughout the whole song - Tone pot @ 7.5-8 .. 10 would be too "twangy" for this song.
That's the basic setup. If you read my about my setup, you'll notice that I had all fuzz pedals on - this is to break the limitations provided by the Boss Distortion DS-1 pedal. It's a great pedal, but it's not crunchy enough to approach this song. So, that is when the BD-2 comes into play. Usually I use the BD-2 to be some sort of a compressor to add a bit more gain to my lead sound. But it served a different purpose for this song. Because my guitar is a SSS setup (single-single-single coil setup - where HSS is humbucker-single-single coil setup, vice versa for HSH), it will definitely not deliver the same amount of gain / output compared to the guitars that has a humbucker loaded on it.
In other words, I was using my pedals to manipulate on how my tone should really sound like, that was the main idea, and it worked!
Comes the second question regarding gain control - It would be easier to cut off the DS-1 when I was playing the intro and the bridge area that doesn't require much distortion, which is true. But I had a listen to the BD-2 alone, and it was a bit too sharp for the overall feel on how the song should be like. Usually, I know how to do this on an Ibanez - especially with my old Ibanez JEM Jr - I'd cut the tone pot to about 4 - 5, and the volume down to 2. But because this Fender strats have different resistance values in their pots (something about 250k vs 500k?), my volume pot had to be at 5 for the bridge, and 3 for the intro. I controlled the volume because it was exactly what I needed, instead of switching off more pedals. It sounded great when I listened to the tone I produced by cutting down the volume.
Also, on another note, since Neil Zaza uses his Carvin guitar that comes with standard humbucker pickups, it's more forgiving in terms of being ear-piercing compared to single-coil pickups. So I had to cut down the tone pot from 10 to 7 - 8's range to get a less-sharper tone. I usually use this to play rock rhythms so I wouldn't deafen any audiences if it was a bit too sharp. It IS a stratocaster, after all!
On top of that, the secret behind this song would be tone. Not tone that you can set on knobs that you can physically touch and twist, but the tone that plays the guitar - your fingers. That's the most important thing, and to control your tone is extremely crucial in approaching this song. Ranging from your bending pitches, to the strength you put in picking the strings.
And yes, in this song, everything matters - pitch harmonics and palm muting will definitely help in improving the feel for this song instead of playing all of the notes clearly. My opinion is that you really listen to the palm muted areas - it really DOES make a difference (in general just about everything you play, really).
The other thing I need to stress about is regarding that bit that I did the bend - tap thing. If I'm not mistaken, generically, you'll need a 24-fret guitar, because you're going to be bending on the 2nd string (b-string), the 22nd fret, and hitting the 20th fret of the 1st string (e-string), and then letting go the bend for the b-string. Although with the cutaway on the Fender American Deluxe, it's still uncomfortable to play something like that on a 22nd fret guitar. If you're fine with it, that's alright. But I felt really uncomfortable playing something like that on my guitar, so I had to substitute it by bending on the 1st string on the 17th fret, and then tapping on the 18th fret, then letting go of the bend.
Since the bend is already a full step, tapping on the 18th fret will give you the tone of the 20th fret. This is common knowledge, but nobody really does it because either it's cosmetic, or they don't know about it. One good way to see how this is utilised would be the guitar solo for Panama by Van Halen. Either that if you think your fingers are a bit too stressed for bend + picking the next few strings, you can use taps to substitute that. Plus it's a very interesting bit because you require accuracy for tapping. But when you bend, and then tap on the note, it's a bit tricky. Practice on this and you'll be just fine.
The other important thing I would like to stress would be on pitch. My vibratos were messed up in that video because that was the 8th time I played out of 12 continuous takes, I think. Besides vibratos, you're going to be using a lot of bends for this one. The tricky bit would be the half-step bends - and the tap & bend if you're planning to use that technique. I went overboard with the 2nd chorus, and it sounded wrong, but yeah. It shouldn't be that hard if you put in effort and practice.
The other pitch you should pay attention to would be slides. The slides for this song is very far away. The first verse requires you to slide from a B to a G - which are about 8 semitones/frets away from each other. So watch it! Again, pitch!
The other one that's going to be annoying is the Dsus harmonic arpeggio. I was planning to go in further details regarding approaching this song, so that will be further discussed that. A Dsus harmonic arpeggio isn't that hard, you'll figure it out eventually if you know your harmonics well. It would be worse (Like Eric Johnson's Manhattan in G3 '01 - That is by far the MOST insane artificial harmonics being played to my ears!)
This song is in the key of G major, and all of the notes fall in that scale - no modal progressions or anything.
Lastly, have fun with the song. And remember, it's not about the guitars, the pedals, or the amps. It's all in the fingers that you use to play the guitar, so be cautious of what you're playing.
And I'd like to share the official music video to this song - available here.
Besides the guitar, it's being hooked onto several BOSS pedals and a Jim Dunlop Wah Pedal in respective order:
1) Jim Dunlop Buddy Guy Signature Series Wah Pedal (BG-95 .. Which I recommend you to check out with its unique two-tone switching system. I find it very handy during live performances even if you have to consider how many people are there in the band) 2) BOSS Distortion (DS-1) 3) BOSS Blues Driver (BD-2) 4) BOSS Digital Delay (DD-3)
All of these pedals and the guitar are being run through a "practice amp" that I prefer to call it - the Roland Cube 30X.
The American Fender Deluxe Stratocaster is a very interesting instrument. It's my first proper Stratocaster and it's somewhat magical. It's versatile in terms of its conventional 5-way switching system that's hooked to 3 single coil pickups. All of them are the Noiseless N3 pickups, which is somewhat mind-bloggling.
There is no hum, or noise, from the neck pickup when you leave it alone for it to be idle! Something different compared to the pickups I have from my other guitars.
But something tells me that this has a minor catch to it. For the moment, I still don't see any cons out from it. It still gets the same amount of bite, gain and sustain. It's pretty hard to control, and switching from an Ibanez JEM JR to this guitar is like a kid skipping puberty, but he has all the hormones required to be a man.
I never really messed around with the tone knob on guitars before, and most of the friends I have usually cut off the tone knob from their humbuckers to get less resistance from their wiring.. and… a lot of technical terms that I will never understand until I see what's in the guitar, and learn about electronics.
I tried the BOSS BD-2 that ran through my practice guitar before the Fender Stratocaster came - the Samick Interceptor (Made in Indonesia), and the HSS setting really ruined the BD-2. But when I plugged the Stratocaster in, I had to re-set all of my tone controls on my amp, on the pedals (except for the DD-3). Shows how different this guitar is, with the wood, and the hardware on it. I was really happy with the BD-2 because it gave me the ideal tone I was looking for in Blues music.
And listening to my long-time guitar mentor - Kelvyn Yeang (from Penang, Malaysia), he suggested (if I was looking for a compound sound) to layer a BD-2 and DS-1. Now, if you were to be new in guitar stuff, you probably thought he was insane. But if you really paid attention to guitar music, you'd notice that Steve Vai runs through a MIDI-setup for his distortion sound, and he layers a DS-1 on his pedal board for his rhythm sections (Easiest to spot when he plays Bad Horsie), and that is why some pedals comes with 2 distortion functions instead of one. Like the Jemini pedal Steve Vai designed.
The whole effect board is one way how a guitarist gets about. But sometimes if you were to have a really good amplifier, you won't really bother with the effects. Like Eddie Van Halen. If I'm not mistaken, he usually does a direct run from his guitar to his amp, and boosts the gain up to its maximum for his recognised style of playing (tapping, anyone?)
Of course, tube amps play a bizarre role in tone as well besides effects. I ran a Gibson SG-61 through an Orange Dual Terror pre-amp and an Orange 4x12 stacked amp, and I admit that I have very shitty playing on and off..
.. But I sounded pretty good. And after that, I never liked Gibsons because of its odd proportions. But the tone that came out from that amp and the guitar sounded really good.
Like the time when I went back to Malaysia last December in 2010, I tried a 2x12 Marshall tube amp (I forgot which model - it was going for about RM2300 - which was about AUD$750-ish), and it was absolutely mind blowing!
But that's it for my musical experience throughout the update and the new guitar.
I know that I need to revamp my effects board because I need probably one more fuzz pedal that's not too piercing (BD-2), or something too crunchy (DS-1). I want something in between. I sent another email (which means more money to be spent) to my guitar salesman for fuzz pedals as he understands my situation (as he goes through the same too), and he mentioned something about Hughes & Kettner Tube Factor.
I have no idea what a Hughes & Kettner is, but it looks really good. Problem is, it's tube-technology and I'm running through a transistor-based amp.
This ought to be interesting. But until then, I will try to give a clearer update on perceptions of music and all.