Newsletter Vol. 3 # 77 – November 1, 2008


Welcome to Volume 3, Issue #77 of Guitar Noise News!

In This Issue:

  • Greetings, News and Announcements
  • New Lessons and Articles
  • Coming Attractions
  • Exploring Music With Darrin Koltow
  • Podcast Postings
  • Forum Findings
  • GN Community Close Up
  • Random Thoughts

Greetings, News and Announcements


Today being November 1, 2008, this should be the latest edition of Guitar Noise News, your twice-a-month newsletter from Guitar Noise. Unless, of course, I’ve made a botch of things! Wouldn’t exactly be the first time. And, as you read through this newsletter, you’ll find it probably won’t be the last time, either!

First off, though, I’d like to direct your attention to the website of Nils, long-standing Moderator of the Guitar Noise Forum pages. He’s recently had a change of URL and we want to make sure you can find his page, which is here.

If you’ve not visited Nils’ website before, I highly recommend doing so. Of particular interest are his pages devoted to changing your guitar strings and to basic set-up. Excellent material here that is well explained and the diagrams are also very helpful.

Other news? It snowed here Tuesday. We didn’t get as much as some places in the northeast United States, only three to six inches. The fact that it’s still around is a little unsettling. I’m not sure what I think about getting snow in October, but I do know that means there’s a lot of work around the yard that needs to be done sooner rather than later!

Also, if I remember correctly, today is “All Saints Day.” That may be tomorrow, though. And then there’s “All Souls Day,” which I also think is tomorrow but might be Monday. Little wonder I’m a bit confused!

Be that as it may, we do have some new things for you here at Guitar Noise, with more new material due to follow later in the week. So let’s take a look and see exactly what is going on since we’ve last chatted:

New Lessons and Articles

How To Practice Guitar With A Limited Amount Of Time
by Tom Hess
All of us have lives that can, and often do, limit the amount of time we can spend practicing our instruments. Tom Hess gives us guidelines designed to help us all get the most effective use of the spare time we manage to find for practice.

Guitar Trips Great and Small
by Susan Schwartz
Susan Schwartz returns to Guitar Noise with two stories of recent trips – one to the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania and one to a small town in Maine where there happened to be an open mic night. You never know where you’re going to find a chance to play and enjoy music!

Color Me Blue
Turning Scales into Solos – Part 5

by David Hodge

It only takes a single note to change the minor pentatonic scale into the “blues scale.” And what a world of difference that one note can make! As in the previous lessons in this series, we’ll provide you with MP3 sound files in order to help you create your own solos.

Coming Attractions:

We’re constantly working on new lessons here at Guitar Noise. Sometimes we even get them up when we think we will! Here are some you’ll get to read (and listen to) very, very soon:

Part 2 – Trickier Timings

by David Hodge

In the second installment of this series on strumming, we’ll look at rhythms that are slightly more complicated and involved than simple quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes. In addition to dotted notes and triplets, we’ll also take a look as “swing rhythms.”

Man on the Moon
Easy Songs for Beginners #36
by David Hodge

I had the honor of playing this twice at different shows with Nick, Kathy, Greg and others in the past ten days. It’s a beautiful song that beginners can play easily and it doesn’t take all that much to add some very nice touches to it for a solo arrangement.

PLUS: Shortly after the middle of the month, you can expect to see this year’s offering of new holiday songs! We’ve got quite a few this season, with chord-melody style arrangements ranging from very easy to “slightly challenging.”

Exploring Music With Darrin Koltow

Tip for November 1:

Practice first thing in the morning. The fatigued you is not the ideal, guitar-practicing you. The morning you is. Even if you’re not a “morning person,” you may still feel that boyish/girlish feeling in the morning — the sense that anything is possible, or that you can make the impossible possible. That’s when you get in at least 15 minutes of scales, tunes, or whatever is most important or difficult in your practice.

If you need more incentive to wake earlier to make time for guitar, and to get to bed earlier, think of your time as currency to invest. Do you want to invest in late night TV? What are the returns on that, compared to the possible returns in practicing guitar?

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2008 Darrin Koltow

Podcast Postings

Talk about screwing up. I got a note from Paul Tuesday (before it started snowing), saying, “Weren’t we supposed to have a Podcast yesterday?”

So I look at my calendar and see that I’ve marked next Monday (November 3) as the Podcast date. Then I look again and see that I’ve marked my calendar wrong. It should have been last week.

So, my apologies for that. Our twentieth Guitar Noise Podcast will go up online sometime in the next few days. We’re going to be looking at two main ideas – creating space while strumming, especially in slower songs.

We’ll also look at how to use different chord voicings, in tandem with the many strumming techniques we’ve used in our past Guitar Noise Podcasts, to create different moods for your music. You’ll hopefully be amazed at how many ways you can play an Em to A chord progression.

Paul and I try to post a new Guitar Noise Podcast every other Monday, so look for the next one on Monday, November 3, 2008.

Forum Findings

Tomorrow, Sunday, November 2, 2008, marks the beginning of the seventh year of the Sunday Songwriters Group (or “SSG” as we tend to refer to it on the forum pages). That seems truly incredible to me.

The SSG began back in the Fall of 2002 – Nick Torres and Ryan Spencer thought it would be great to have a place where both aspiring and seasoned songwriters could hone their craft. After all, songwriting (just like playing) requires practice as well. Each week we get a new assignment to work on and the group also helps each other by offering critiques and constructive suggestions to those who submit their work.

Nick turned over the reins of the SSG to Bob during its second year, and Bob ran things until the end of SSG Year 5. This past year, Year 6, I’ve handled the chores of doling out assignments for the group.

But I’m thrilled to announce that, starting tomorrow, Vic Lewis will be stepping in manage and run the SSG. We couldn’t ask for a better person to inspire us.

So come on by the SSG page on the Guitar Noise Forums and say “hi” to Vic. Maybe you’ll find yourself writing a song or two in the near future!

GN Community Close Up

Since, as you just read, Vic Lewis is taking over the running of Guitar Noise’s Sunday Songwriters Group, it just seemed to make sense to pick him to answer a few questions this time out.

Vic lives in – Newton-le-Willows, a town (pop. 25,000 approx.) midway between Liverpool and Manchester – about 15 miles each way. For those of you who like a little local history, the town grew up around the railways – Earlestown Station (Earlestown is part of N-le-W) is the oldest surviving Railway Station in the world, and the first railway fatality happened here. Famous residents include Colin Welland (Oscar-winning scriptwriter for “Chariots of Fire”) Rodney Robert Porter (Nobel Prize Winning scientist) and the person with most hits on Youtube – Rick Astley. Oh, and the Beatles once played at Earlestown Town Hall!

Like most British kids of a certain age, Vic started at school with the recorder. If asked, he could probably still remember Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the theme from “Banana Splits” and the theme music from “Kung Fu!”

Vic joined Guitar Noise ’round about October 2003. He’d got back into playing guitar again, and thought, “this time I’ll learn to play properly!” Like many folks, he googled “Guitar Lessons,” and after a couple of false starts found GN. We’re definitely glad he’s stuck around all this time!

GN: When did you first take up the guitar?

VIC: As soon as I heard the Beatles, I knew I wanted to play guitar. I was six years old, and it took over ten years to persuade my mother to buy me a guitar for my seventeenth birthday. Unfortunately, it was a nylon-strung Classical acoustic and there was no rock’n’roll in it – at least I never found any! I bought an electric about six months after, but never got around to being any good – work, a couple of marriages, kids, real life – they all conspired against me.

GN: In addition to recently becoming a Guitar Noise Forum Moderator (congrats, by the way), you will be assuming the leadership of the Sunday Songwriters’ Group as of “Year 7,” which begins tomorrow, November 2. Are you nervous about taking charge?

VIC: A little, though I do love a challenge – I’m very competitive by nature! Following Nick, Bob and David Hodge is a big task – those are some big boots to fill! Fortunately, I do have large feet – I’m 6’5″ tall, and my old dad always used to say I’d have been a big lad if they hadn’t turned up so much for feet!

GN: Are there any goals that you have for the SSG in the upcoming months? Any assignments that you are especially excited about trying out? –

VIC: I’m excited, period, at the chance to take over! The first goal has to be to continue the high standards set by Nick, Bob and David – I’ll be more than happy if I can achieve that. What I would like to see is more people contributing lyrics and constructive criticism – both if possible – and more SSG lyrics turned into recorded songs. That’s got to be the ultimate aim, hasn’t it!

GN: You’ve been a participant in the Sunday Songwriters’ Group for several years now. Have there been any songs – yours or other writers’ – that have truly stood out for you. Ones that inspire you to write more and better? Which of your songs are you most proud of?

VIC: When I first started participating, there were very few SSG lyrics made it to MP3 – Marvelous Optimist, Portia and Jamir were some of the first people I actually listened to, and I was impressed by the high standard of their songs. Lyrically, Straycat, Scratchmonkey and Alan Green were writing some good songs back then. I thought, “I wish I could write like that….” and then thought, “well you won’t if you don’t try!” Straycat (or Bluenightangel, as she was back then) particularly impressed me – I thought, “Wow, here’s this young kid, English isn’t her first language, and she can turn out lyrics like that, week after week?” I think I already mentioned my competitive nature…

As for stand-out songs, there have been a LOT – but my current favourites have to be Kathy Reichert’s “Jack MacKenzie” and John (Celt) Roche’s “Do You Remember.” Of my own songs, “Back On Track” is a favourite – getting a song as upbeat as that out of a relationship break-up was a bit special. The feedback on that was a big ego boost! And an older one – “Blood On Your Hands” – a Dylan-inspired protest song, written around the time of Live 8 is one I regularly practise – I had to learn to play harmonica for that one, which was written and (originally) recorded in a Texas hotel bedroom!

GN: I’m not sure that everyone realizes what a prolific songwriter you’ve been the past four years. Can you tell us a little about your songwriting history and about how you have been making such great strides in your writing? Has there been a natural evolution in your writing or are you working hard while making it seem relatively easy? –

VIC: Hmm, tough one! I’ve written just over a hundred songs around SSG topics – by far the bulk of my writing has come from there these last few years. I suppose I started writing songs as soon as I knew a few chords, but 99% of them have been discarded over the years – well not completely,

I NEVER throw anything away – you never know when you’ll find a diamond in a dustbin! I still do have a couple of songs from the 70’s and a few from the 80’s that I play – haven’t recorded them yet, but I will one day!

I think my writing has evolved over the years, as my vocabulary’s increased – I’ve always been a voracious reader, from Asimov to Tolkien, from King (Stephen) to Queen (Ellery), from Pratchett to Holt, from Higgins to Clancy, from Michener to Harris – I’ve read literally thousands and thousands of books. I suppose, subconsciously over the years, everything I’ve ever read has had some sort of effect on me.

Not long after joining the SSG, I found Nick Torres’ articles on songwriting – one for beginners, one for intermediates. They were a huge help – no hard-and-fast rules, but a lot of good, straight-forward, commonsense guidelines. Of course, the feedback from other SSG writers has also been an enormous help – you’ll rarely find a comment like, “This SUCKS! I HATE it! Put your pen away and never, ever use it again unless you’re signing a cheque!” in the SSG. Quite the contrary – if someone’s not keen on a song, or a verse/chorus, or a line, even, that you’ve written, they’ll tell you they don’t like it – but more importantly, they’ll tell you WHY they don’t like it! Constructive criticism is a rare thing to come across for wannabe songwriters – but not here in the SSG. I really value the input I get from my fellow writers – it’s a great help when someone points out unnecessary repetition, or a misused word, or a badly worded phrase. I sincerely doubt there’s a more friendly, welcoming songwriter’s forum anywhere on the WWW! I do find it relatively easy to come up with the right word, phrase or chorus sometimes – but I do have to work hard on the rest of the song!

GN: I’m sure that it’s a little different every time, but basically how do you go about writing a song?

VIC: The songwriting process, for me, usually follows a certain path. Idea for a song – hook – lyrics. I’ll probably get one lyric line, pick up a guitar, and work on a chord progression. Work on the lyrics, strum a few chords – then I’ll probably get a pen and paper and start writing things down. I’ll fool around with different chords, writing lyrics and music as I go along – I’ll have the melody in my head, and be humming along.

Once I’ve got the lyrics written out, I’ll work on the music a little more – try and find some interesting chord substitutions, see if a 7th or a major 7th will work better than a major, or a minor 7th or 9th better than a minor. Mostly, though, it’s down to that age-old format for which there’s no substitute – trial and error. Try something – if it doesn’t work, try something else!

GN: What kind of advice would you offer to people who say “I’ve always wanted to write a song, but don’t think I can?”

VIC: Just write. You CAN do it – there’s no such word as can’t. Well, not in my dictionary – but then, there are quite a few pages missing, between “Caravan” and “Dread!” Seriously, just write. Write down what you’re thinking, feeling, felt, would like to feel, hope to feel – use your imagination and visualise. Write every day – whether it’s a diary entry (it’s raining, as usual!) or a shopping list…..something will eventually fire a spark in those songwriting synapses. Buy a Thesaurus – there’s no better tool for would-be writers than a reference book that gives you lists of related words. That goes back to Nick’s articles – “make a list of related words you can use” was one of his tips. Write – revise, edit, do it again. Above all, don’t be scared of asking for feedback on your lyrics – don’t be too shy to post. We can’t see you blushing! There’s a saying in the UK about the lottery – “you’ve got to be in it, to win it!” You won’t know how good, or bad, your lyrics are until you’ve actually written them – and if you don’t write them down, you’ll never know! Our old friend

Arjen came up with some good advice in a recent thread – “Everything,” he wrote, “you write at first will be cheesy.” Looking back at my earliest tries at songwriting, “cheesy” was a lofty ambition! Songwriting’s like everything else you do, the more you work at it, the easier it’ll get – the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out. Like everything else in life, it has to be worked at, polished, honed – and the harder you work at it, the easier it’ll become. The great golfer, Jack Nicklaus, was once described (by his recently beaten opponent!) as the luckiest golfer alive. “Yes, that’s right,” replied Jack, “but the harder I work on my game, the luckier I get! Funny, that, isn’t it!”

GN: Besides guitar, what other instruments do you play?

VIC: Well, just to take guitar alone, on my own songs I’ve played in standard tuning, open G, open D, DADAAD – I’ve played rhythm, lead, slide, fingerpicked….that pretty much takes up all my musical energies! But I do know enough about bass to put a rudimentary bassline together, and I can manage a few chords on piano or organ, just about carry a tune on harmonica – I’m
experimenting with crossharp at the moment – and I suppose I could still play a few tunes on recorder.

GN: Do you find that knowing other instruments is helpful when writing songs?

VIC: For me, not really – as I’m first and foremost a rhythm guitarist, all my songs have been put together on guitar, although there have been times I’ve started with a bassline – very infrequently, though!

GN: How about when jamming with other folks?

VIC: It’s a boon being able to play bass a little – there are always more guitarists than bassists!

The only problem with that, though, is I absolutely can not play bass and sing. I can sing while playing rhythm, although that’s taken a good while to come together – and I can sing while finger-picking. But not while playing bass!

GN: Speaking of playing with others, you’ve posted on occasion of playing at your local pubs. Are you still playing out? If not, any plans to do so in the future? Do you play your own material at open mics? How is the open mic scene in your area?

VIC: I haven’t played anywhere except in front of my computer for a while, but hopefully, in the near future, I’ll be able to get back into the jamming scene. There’s very little open mic action in this town – we don’t even have a guitar shop, or anywhere that sells strings! – apart from the one pub that hosts an acoustic jam session once a week, but I’ve been chatting with a friend about the possibility of going out of town occasionally and looking into that. I have played a few of my songs at open mics – in fact, the first one I ever went to, I played “Proud Mary” “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and one of my own songs, “Blink Of An Eye.” That was when I was on holiday in Texas – I figured, if I’m going to mess up, might as well do it a few thousand miles from home!

GN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to play his or her own music at an open mic but thinks that he or she “isn’t ready yet?”

VIC: If I was talking to myself I’d say, stop making excuses and putting it off! To anyone else, I’d say if you can play half-a-dozen easy songs all the way through, you’re ready. Preparation is the key – make sure you know the songs inside out and you can do them almost on autopilot. Practise them until they’re second nature – and then play them all again to make sure. It’s a little nerve-wracking first time out – but there’s a first time for everything. The longer you
put things off, the more you’ll regret missed opportunities. If you do make mistakes, learn from them. One of the commonest mistakes, I’d say, is making your arrangements too fussy – trying to compensate for a missing band just doesn’t work. Concentrate on easy arrangements – most of the time, you’re up there on your own, so arrange your songs for one guitar and so you can sing along with the minimum of effort.

GN: Any future musical projects you’d like to chat about?

VIC: At the moment, I’m working on some of my own songs, putting arrangements together – usually something like two guitars, a simple keyboard line, bass and drums. I’ve got quite a few I’d like to record properly, I’ve got some rough demos on my soundclick site but I really need to look into some decent recording equipment – whether that’s just a new soundcard for my laptop, or whether it’s going to take something more, I’m going to look into. I need a new bass, and a programmable drum machine – that’ll be early next year. I’m not going to repeat previous mistakes and buy expensive white elephants – I’ll buy second-hand, user-friendly equipment. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve had is, “Never buy anything electronic that weighs less than its user manual!”

And of course, there are always new songs coming along – which leads me back to the Sunday Songwriters Group. Hopefully I’ll be able to come up with some musically fulfilling topics – and find the time to come up with something myself. Nearly all of what I consider my best songs have started life in the SSG, so here’s hoping there are plenty more to come – not just from me, but from everyone else as well!

Random Thoughts

It’s Halloween as I write this. I hope that yours was enjoyable.

Until our next newsletter, play well. Play often. Stay safe.

And, as always…