Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Desi Serna is my Guitar Hero

I started taking guitar lessons when I was a kid. I don’t recall exactly how old I was, perhaps it was when I was in the 6th grade, maybe around 10 or 12 years old. The lessons were in my teacher’s home – his name was Bill - and we closely followed the Alfred guitar books. I do remember that Bill liked to brag about how well I was doing to my mom when she came to pick me up.

But Bill could only take me so far. He taught me the various notes on the guitar and some basic chord structures, but after a while, he wasn’t really teaching me anything new.

My parents set me up with another instructor a little later, but he and I didn’t really connect. So, my formal guitar instruction pretty much ended there. I kept playing over the years, but never really learned about playing the guitar.

I got to where I could play with my friends, but all I was really doing was memorizing songs and notes with no regard to the theory or structure of what I was playing. I knew this was a weakness, but I never attempted to learn those more advanced topics.

After college, I played in a cover band. It was a lot of fun, but I made sure to limit myself to just rhythm guitar, since I didn’t have any clue how to build a solo or riff. My limited knowledge of chords and notes was fine for what I was doing, but it also limited my opportunity to do more with the guitar.

I knew I was missing something. I found an instructor, Joe who played in a band that I enjoyed at the time, but again I just wasn’t getting it. I’m not sure if I just wasn’t interested, or if their style of teaching didn’t connect with me. Either way, I never felt like I learned anything new.

After a while, my guitars were put away, and I didn’t touch a guitar for 10 years.

I’m now 42 years old. That means that I’ve been playing guitar off and on for about 30 years. Wow. 30 years, and I still don’t know what notes to play over a chord progression. Pretty sad.
About a year ago, I picked up my guitar again to jam with some friends from work. I was enjoying playing again, but again felt like I was hitting a wall.

I recently went on a business trip to London. Before I left, I downloaded a bunch of random podcasts - just anything that I found slightly interesting to listen to on the long flight, or when I was taking the train or tube around London.

One day, while on the train from Bracknell to London, I started listening to a podcast series called “Guitar Music Theory.” I started with the first podcast episode, which simply described what guitar theory is, and why it should be learned. I was intrigued.

I listened to the second episode, which explained that the notes are on the 5th and 6th string on a guitar. Of course, this is basic knowledge, and I already knew the notes, but the way this person was describing it made it make more sense. He brought more meaning into why those notes are important to know. And he described it in a way that clicked for me.

The third episode covered the pentatonic scale. I never learned the scale, and never understood its importance. The voice in my ear was opening a whole new world to me. What I liked best was the real song examples he used to demonstrate what he was saying. “Oh! CCR used those notes over those chords to create that sound!” It made so much sense.

The other podcasts followed: Chords, the major scale, chord progressions, modes, etc. I listened to them all, and suddenly had a new hunger to learn.

Of course, the voice in my ear was that of Desi Serna. Mr. Serna is a guitar teacher in Ohio who specializes in teaching music theory for the guitar. The beauty of Mr. Serna’s instruction is how he simplifies it for the guitar fret board. He strips out all of the complicated concepts that don’t matter to a guitarist, and makes all of those theory topics simple to learn. He then reinforces the lesson by providing a long list of popular songs that use whatever concept he is teaching. By applying the theory to real songs, the learning is hammered home.

I visited Mr. Serna’s web site, and eventually purchased his book, Fretboard Theory. I’m working through the book, learning and practicing a little more each day. I’ve told all my guitar playing friends about Mr. Serna, and they too are discovering a whole new world of guitar music.
Below, you will find links to Desi Serna’s various web sites. I highly recommend his books and videos. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen who can explain these seemingly complex topics in a way that makes so much sense for a guitarist.

Thank you, Mr. Serna for making guitar so much fun. I look forward to years of playing on a whole new level.

Mr. Desi Serna
Website: http://Guitar-Music-Theory.com
Blog: http://guitarmusictheory.blogspot.com
YouTube: http://youtube.com/GuitarMusicTheoryTab
Twitter: http://twitter.com/MrGuitarTheory
Facebook: http://facebook.com/desi.serna
Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/guitarmusictheory
Podcast: Search Desi Serna at iTunes or the Zune Marketplace

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Learn Guitar Theory - scales, chords, progressions, modes and more on the fretboard. Music theory for guitar.

I will write a more detailed review of this book in the near future, but for now just know that this book is amazing. It's helped me finally begin to understand guitar theory so now I know why those songs work the way they do. Mr. Serna is a great teacher!

Learn Guitar Theory - scales, chords, progressions, modes and more on the fretboard. Music theory for guitar.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers

On Tuesday night at Knucklehead’s Saloon, Roger Clyne literally became a Peacemaker.

Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers made their first appearance in KC with new lead guitarist Jim Dalton Tuesday night, to the delight of a sparse crowd on the outdoor stage. The rain threatened throughout the 2 hour show, but never materialized.

In the 90’s Clyne was the front man for the Arizona-based band, the Refreshments, who’s single “Banditos” gave them a modest amount of fame. After a weak sophomore effort, and a record label buyout, the Refreshments broke up. Eventually, Clyne formed the Peacemakers which included Refreshments drummer P.H. Naffah as well as ex-Gin Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson, ex-Dead Hot Workshop guitarist Steve Larson, and bassist Danny White.

The Peacemakers’ sound is less post-grunge, and more southwest-flavored, pop/country/rock than the Refreshments. Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers have been a completely independent band for 10 years, and though they’ve endured several personnel changes, still boast a small but loyal fan base.

The current lineup still includes Clyne’s longtime friend and partner, P.H. Naffah on drums, but White was replaced by Nick Scropos on bass in 2004. Johnson left the band to rejoin the Gin Blossoms, and earlier this year, Steve Larson was replaced by Jim Dalton on lead guitar.

The quartet pounded out 28 songs, 10 of which were Refreshments songs. The small crowd was enthusiastic from the start, singing along and shouting out at all the appropriate times as if they were at the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Clyne’s energy was projected on the crowd all night. He came to KC with a reputation for putting everything he’s got into every show, and Tuesday was no exception. He accepted shots of tequila as well as requests throughout the night, and constantly thanked and complimented his loyal fans. (“The best rock and roll audience on the planet!”)

A highlight of the show was the popular Refreshments’ song “Mexico,” which featured band friend Jason Boots on trumpet to provide a little mariachi flavor.
Unfortunately, the alcohol was flowing and about two-thirds of the way through the show, a small fight broke out right in front of the stage. Clyne implored the parties to break it up and “make peace.” He then took a request from each side of the scuttle (two Refreshments songs, of course) and played them both, “in no particular order.”

Clyne entered the stage announcing that Tuesday was an “international holiday: Nick Scropos’ birthday.” Later in the show, the band was joking about Scropos’ birthday, when the bassist started playing the bass line from the Pixies’ “Gigantic.” The band joined in and played a somewhat sloppy impromptu cover of the song. “Happy birthday, Nick!”

After over 90 minutes of rocking, the band left the stage briefly and returned for a five-song encore. The encore began with the slow waltz “Green and Dumb” and picked up from there. Even though the show was nearing its end, it felt as if the band was just getting warmed up and could have played a few more hours. They covered Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and closed the show with the Refreshments’ “Nada.” A fitting close to a long night of peacemaking and celebrating life through rock and roll.

Setlist: I do, Beautiful Disaster, Preacher’s Daughter , Sonoran Hope and Madness, Contraband, Mexico, Mercy, Down Together, West Texas Moon, I Know You Know, Tell Yer Mama, Dolly, Never Thought, Maybe We Should Fall in Love, Wanted, Jack vs Jose, Gigantic, Tributary Otis, Girly, (Fight), Interstate, Mekong, Counterclockwise, Banditos, (Encore), Green and Dumb, Hello New Day, American Girl, Blue Collar Suicide, Nada

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The new Zune / iPod Battle

There have been some interesting developments in the digital music player market this week. First, Microsoft trumped Steve Jobs by announcing some updates to its Zune device and software. Then today, Apple announced the updates to the iPod and iTunes products.

Before we consider this week’s developments, let’s review the long and treacherous path of the Zune.

Back in November 2006, Microsoft released its first Digital Music Player, the Zune. Some who had grown tired of Apple’s dominance were excited to see what Microsoft had up its sleeve.

Along with the device, Microsoft also launched the Zune Marketplace, an online store offering 3 million tracks (compared to iTunes’ 6 million at the time) and a subscription model offering unlimited downloads for a fixed price of $14.99 per month. iTunes still does not offer subscription music.

The device was released, and mocked. It was a 30GB hard disk device that came in white, black and brown(?). The original Zune was based on the Toshiba Gigabeat device, and was not designed or built by Microsoft. It was also just a bit smaller and lighter than a brick.

The desktop software used to shop the Marketplace and sync the Zune was awful. It was dark, gloomy and buggy. The Zune didn’t have support for podcasts or audiobooks. And the Marketplace did not offer any video content, even though the Zune player was capable of playing videos.

The Zune’s tag line, “Welcome to the Social” was confusing, but indicated where Microsoft wanted to go with their music player. The original Zune included wireless networking capabilities that held promise for all kinds of exciting features. Unfortunately, the first Zune only used the wireless to send songs to other Zune devices. There were several problems with this. If you could find another person with a Zune (unlikely), the tracks were time-bombed and could only be listened to 3 times in 3 days.

The Zune also included an FM tuner, something that seemed somewhat worthless at the time. Even today, there is no iPod model that offers an on-board FM tuner.

Needless to say, the first Zune was a flop. The Apple fans enjoyed ridiculing Microsoft for their failure. It was obvious that the device and supporting software were quickly cobbled together and released before it was ready. In fact, some reports said that Microsoft’s Zune came together from idea to product in just 10 months. Many felt that Microsoft was losing too much money on Zune and would soon give up on the project.

Instead, Microsoft kept fighting. One year after the original Zune release, Microsoft released a new Zune. This device, designed and built from the ground up by Microsoft, was much thinner, featured touchpad navigation, and 80 GB of storage. Microsoft also released smaller, flash-based players of 4GB and 8GB. The desktop software was rebuilt from the ground up and was a vast improvement over the old software. The new software is bright, lively and very easy to use.

More importantly, Microsoft’s strategy of music sharing and collaboration began to take shape. The “Social” became a way for Zune users to share their music tastes with others. Zune users could place a “Zune Card” in their Facebook or MySpace page showing others what they’ve been listening to.

Also, Microsoft began offering video content on the Zune Marketplace, including NBC shows, which had disappeared from iTunes. The 2.0 version of the Zune finally introduced native podcast support.

Another six months later, Zune introduced the ability to “subscribe” to friends. My friend John has a Zune, and I can subscribe to John, which means I can see what he’s been listening to and, using my Zune Pass subscription, his favorite songs could be automatically downloaded to my Zune.

The wireless capability of the Zune device was finally put to good use in the 2.0 version of the hardware. The device can now sync to the PC wirelessly, without the need to dock the device.

With the new, thinner large capacity device and the flash-based device, Microsoft started making some inroads in the DMP market. Of course, Apple still dominates, but Microsoft is showing that the Zune is indeed a long term project for them.

Meanwhile, Apple made a big splash with its iPhone/iPod Touch devices. The Touch also includes wireless networking, and Apple put it to good use by allowing users to shop and buy songs from iTunes right on the device. But at as much as $500 for the 32GB version, the Touch was still overpriced for many folks.

Now, in the fall of 2008, the crossroads may finally be nearing. No, Zune isn’t anywhere close to the iPod in terms of market share, but in terms of features and capabilities, the Zune may be poised to surpass the iPod/iTunes dynasty.

On Monday, Microsoft officially announced its new Zune devices and software updates. Microsoft will offer a 120GB hard disk device, as well as a new blue 16GB flash device. The device itself is largely unchanged other than some cosmetic differences.

The big news on the Zune front is the software updates.

The wireless capability is now expanded to allow the device to connect to wireless hot spots, not just your home network for syncing purposes.

A few of the features that are differentiating the Zune include Buy from FM, and Buy from the Cloud.
Remember that Zune offers a subscription that allows for unlimited downloads for a flat monthly fee when you consider these features.

That FM tuner is finally going to get some good use. When listening to the FM tuner on your Zune (and connected to a Wi-Fi hot spot), you can simply click the Zune Pad to find and download whatever song you happen to be hearing on the radio. If you aren’t connected at the time, the song will be queued up so that you can download the song the next time you connect to the Zune Marketplace.

You will also be able to connect to the Zune Marketplace directly on the Zune device. You can browse the current top songs and albums, or search for a song, album or artist using the on-screen keypad. When you find a song you want, you can either download it directly to your Zune, or stream the song to listen to it without adding it to your collection.

These two features, combined with the Zune Pass subscription, make the Zune a powerful music finding device.

Zune 3.0 will also introduce even more features to allow for sharing of music with your friends. The Zune will feature Channels – playlists developed by the music editors at Zune tailored to your musical taste – as well as dynamic playlists that are generated and downloaded automatically based on your (or your friends’) listening habits.

All of these new features were announced by Microsoft on Monday in a simple press release. No big event or hype. The new software will be available for download on Sept. 16.

On Tuesday, Steve Jobs put on a grand event to announce the new features and hardware for iPod. For many, the announcement was a bit of a let down.

The rumored iTunes subscription was just that: a rumor. iTunes will now feature a “Genius” that can build dynamic playlists like the Zune. The iPod Nano’s new form is back to its old form, but will include accelerometers to automatically transition from portrait to landscape, as well as a “shake to shuffle” feature. There will be a new 120GB iPod Classic, and the Touch will be available at a lower price. Apple and NBC made up, and NBC shows will again be available on iTunes as well as Zune.

So Tuesday’s iPod announcements didn’t quite deliver the goods that some were hoping for.

While Apple is doing enough to stay on top of the market, could it be that Microsoft is doing enough to gain on the leader?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bump, Set, Dance!

My daughter is a volleyball player.

She’s also a dancer and a cheerleader. She’s 12, so she’s just coming into her own, starting to become the woman that she will eventually be.

She’s tried a lot of things over the years. She’s played softball, but has given that up (she was hitting better than her brother), she tried basketball but didn’t like that (it didn’t help that she was on a pretty bad team. I mean, I know these youth sports are to have fun and learn the game and all, but you can only take losing for so long.)

She’s danced since she was in kindergarten, with the exception of one year when she tried gymnastics. Now when I watch her in practice and at her recitals, I think she’s one of the best dancers out there. (It could be just fatherly pride, but really… she’s great!)

But now volleyball’s her thing. She played on a rec team a few years ago, and they did okay. Then last year she played in a different league that was a little more competitive. After the season, her coach asked her to play on a competitive team this fall.

She’s small, so she doesn’t fly up to the net like Kerry Walsh. But she is quick and can bump and set accurately. This new team just started practice, and games will begin soon. It will be fun to watch her develop, and to see if perhaps volleyball will be the sport she latches onto throughout high school.

Of course, if she decides not to play sports, that’s fine too. She’s a great girl who does really well in her classes, seems to get along with everybody, and who is generally happy. I’m sure she’ll be successful no matter what she does.

But seeing her on the dance floor or volleyball court is so fun for me as a dad. She’s living a very active and well-rounded life, and I think she will be all the better for it.

At least, I hope so.

Are Those Things Real???

This weekend, our kids were at the lake with their cousins, so Denise and I had some time to ourselves. Besides trying to figure out what to do with ourselves (it’s amazing how unbusy a busy schedule becomes when the kids are gone), we decided to go visit the Bodies Revealed exhibit. The exhibit has been at Kansas City’s Union Station all summer, and this was our last chance to see it.

If you aren’t familiar with Bodies Revealed, it is an exhibit of real human bodies on display. They are “unclaimed” Chinese bodies that have been “plasticized” to preserve them. The display is meant to be an educational experience to learn about our bodies.

Of course, an exhibition like this is sure to attract controversy, and it (along with others like it) certainly have. A quick check of Wikipedia shows several references to those opposing the display. There is some question about where the bodies really came from. Some speculate that they may be the bodies of executed Chinese prisoners.

For us, we were more curious than anything. We’ve heard about it, thought it would be interested, and since we had nothing else to do, we decided to go.

The tickets were $24 each, not cheap by any means. We had to wait about an hour and a half before we could enter, as they try to control the crowds going into the display. Once we were finally allowed to enter, it wasn’t long before we were ready to leave.

It’s not that we found it offensive or morbid or disgusting. We were just… bored. The first room showed us a skeleton, muscles and some bones. Then we saw the spinal cord and the nervous system. We then got to see the lungs and heart. The next room taught us a little too much about the reproductive system. A “special” room was next with a sign that allowed us to skip it if we felt it was necessary. This room showed us how babies develop. There were several fetuses at various stages of life, as well as the body of a pregnant woman with her womb cut open so we could see the baby inside.

Sprinkled around the exhibit were bodies arranged in various poses. One was throwing a baseball, another swinging a bat. There were a few bodies that were sliced like a ham and encased in plastic.

We zipped through it in about a half hour. We came out just feeling a little, disappointed I think. The bodies just didn’t really look real. I’m not sure if I just don’t have enough compassion to feel bad for these people who are on display, or if I don’t have the morals to be offended by the idea of a company profiting on the public gawking a dead people. It was just… ho hum for us.

We certainly could have found something better to do with that $48.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Me and Bruce

I saw my first Bruce Springsteen concert Sunday night.

I’ve never really been a big fan of Springsteen. I’m 41, so I was in my prime music-taste-defining phase of my life when Springsteen was becoming popular – the late 70’s.

Over the years, I came to know the hits like everybody else. I know most of the words to “Born to Run,” if only through osmosis.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself re-evaluating my opinion on not just Springsteen, but several artists. I recall driving home from work one day, and “Badlands” came on the radio. It’s a song I was aware of, but I never really paid much attention to it or any other Springsteen song. This time however, the song caught my ear. From that one song, I started paying more attention to Springsteen’s music.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the concert. After reading about this shows and talking with others, I figured it would go down like this: Bruce will come out, probably late, he will sing a bunch of songs I’ve never heard before, and I’ll walk away thinking that it was a great show.

My wife and I arrived with our friends at the Sprint Center around 6:00. We enjoyed a few beverages, a little food, and made our way to our seats. We were seated by 7:30 (the time printed on the ticket), and ready for the show.

I looked around and noticed that at least 1/3 of the arena was empty. Lots of folks were taking their time arriving. The minutes ticked away. 7:45, 8:00, 8:15. I wasn’t bothered by it. We enjoyed chatting with the folks around us. We took turns going out for bathroom/drink breaks and to buy t-shirts. Finally, at 8:50, the lights went down.

Springsteen emerged, walked up the microphone and announced, “Hello fine citizens of Kansas City!” He then launched into a song called “Ricky Wants a Man of her Own.” All of us looked around with a puzzled, “what is this song?” look on our faces. It didn’t matter. Everybody was just thrilled to see him. Later, we would learn that “Ricky” is a song that Bruce may have never played in public before.

Two hours later, Bruce must have been exhausted. He puts every ounce of his energy into these shows. He’d sung 21 songs, danced around the stage, mugged for the cameras, retrieved signs from the crowd and picked a few requests from them. Then he launched into “Badlands.” This was the capper for me. The song that brought me back to Springsteen after so many years.

He played it with all his heart, and allowed the crowd to convince him to extend the song with a sing-along. After the song, Bruce and the band took their bows and left the stage. About three minutes later (the shortest pre-encore break I’ve ever seen), they re-emerged for an unforgettable encore.

Seven more songs came. First, the ballad “Fourth of July (Sandy),” which allowed everybody to catch their breath. They were rocked back to their feet with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” Suddenly, the house lights went up for “Born to Run” and “Rosalita.”

The crowd was about to explode. The lights went back down, and Bruce kept going. Next came his Irish-influenced “American Land” followed by “Dancing in the Dark.”

Just when we thought he was through, Bruce grabbed another guitar and launched into CCR’s “Rockin’ All Over the World.”

Finally, the band took their final bows and headed back stage.

It was after midnight when we left the arena.

It was a great night. Springsteen really does know how to put on a show. Even at nearly 60, he has more energy and is in much better shape than I, nearly 20 years his junior.

I’m not sure I’ll become one of those die-heard Springsteen fans, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to experience this concert. The E Street Band may never play together again. But I saw them.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Youth Sports

My son’s a baseball player.

He’s entering high school now, and he still has the passion and desire to play baseball. He started playing ball when he was 4, so he’s been playing baseball for 11 years. He’s not very big or strong, but he is fast and he has good hands and a strong arm. And he has a love for the game.

I didn’t play baseball growing up. In fact, I never really played any sports. I’m not sure why. I guess I wasn’t really exposed to sports early on, so I never developed that competitive drive that so many athletes seem to possess.

I remember trying basketball once. I guess it was for some YMCA league or something. I don’t know if I ever played any games. All I can remember from basketball is the one time that a pass was thrown to me while I wasn’t looking. I turned my head just in time for the ball to smack me right in the face. I never played basketball again.

When I was older – maybe 12 or 13 – I played a season of baseball. We were called Medallion Auto Sound. Our uniforms were sort of a powder blue / gray color with red pinstripes. Awful.

I played right field. I remember standing out there hoping that they don’t hit a ball my way. One time, I was standing out there, and I remember a car accident catching my attention. I was standing in right field looking over in the parking lot as these folks argued over whose fault the wreck was when a ball was hit out my way. I remember being perturbed that this stupid batter would disrupt my argument watching like that.

When I hit, I typically would just stand there hoping for a walk. Yeah, I was that kind of player. I did walk one time, and the pitcher threw over to first. I got back to the base safely, but when I got up off the ground, I took my hand off the base and the first baseman tagged me out. Fortunately, the umpire felt sorry for me and let me stay at first. Needless to say, this wasn’t a very competitive baseball league.

We won one game that season. It was a forfeit.

As I got older, I started wondering why I never played sports. I was a fairly athletic kid. Skinny, quick. In high school, I decided I should at least try something. I told the basketball coach that I wanted to try out for basketball. He looked me up and down and asked if I’d ever played basketball before. “Um, well, yeah, kinda, well, no, not really.” He just said “Okay” and walked away. I never tried out.

I went out for track. That’s a good sport. Nobody gets cut from track. I remember running a relay during a meet one afternoon. I had the baton and I was running as fast as I could. As I approached my partner, I reached as far as I could to hand the baton to him. I reached too far, however, and I took a tumble to the blacktop track surface. I landed on my elbow and my hip, scraping the skin off. I laid for a while trying to figure out what had just happened, when the coach finally looked down at me and said, “You better get up, they’re coming back around.”

I was at least 16, because I remember pulling myself up off the track, walking slowly to my car, and driving home.

I never played any sport again.

So, as a father, I definitely wanted my children to participate in sports. As an adult, I see sports a big part of my life that I missed out on. I regret not putting more effort into sports as a kid, and I wanted my kids to have that experience.

My son tried soccer first, but hated it (thankfully). He played tee-ball when he was four, and never looked back. It’s been fun.

We’ve watched him play for many different teams and coaches. He’s played just about every position on the field. He’s gone through slumps. He’s hit homeruns. He’s struck out way too many times. But he’s always played. He’s played hard, and he’s never complained.

We’ve watched him play on chilly March afternoons, blazing July days, freezing October nights.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve always wondered if he’d get tired of playing ball, and would decide not to try baseball in high school. He started high school yesterday, and he still wants to play baseball.

He says he will work hard this winter to get better for spring tryouts. He will need to work hard. There are some very good baseball players in his class. But he’s determined to make this team.

I’m proud of him, and I’m glad he’s getting to experience things that I missed out on.

And even if he doesn’t make the baseball team, I still feel comfortable knowing he’s one of the best basketball players in his class. He’s never let a pass hit him in the face.