Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Urgent: Please write your US representative concerning the NAIS (National Animal Identification System).

You can read more about this thing that would require animals to be ID-ed with chips installed under their skin at this site.

Please find your US rep as listed here and contact him asking to stop all funding to the NAIS.

Contacting mine just took an email, I looked one up for a friend and there was no email listed. This is America; if you aren't happy with what the NAIS would be, then do something now to stop it!

Following is the letter I sent:

Please do what you can to stop all funding for the NAIS (National Animal Identification System).

Thank you for your attention to this matter about which I am very concerned as a Massachusetts citizen that you represent. Your attention is most appreciated.

Feel free to copy it and send it in your own email.

Now on to another topic...warning: long and mostly guitar related post.

A few posts back someone commented about something which is one of my favorite topics to talk about but that I blog about very seldom. The reason is just because I don't know how many of my readers would find it interesting or worthwhile. Besides that, I don't know if I could even explain anything about it because it's something I generally find it hard to explain. However, as a question on the subject has been asked, I'll attempt to give due explanation and try to expound on a few other points that weren't part of the original question. Here goes a post on flatpicking!

Just curious about what you used for learning materials for the guitar? Just listening to CD's? I'd like to work on the guitar some more, it sounds so neat when flatpicked.

First off I'll agree that a guitar sounds neat flatpicked :D I started off picking with my fingers and I couldn't imagine using a pick - now that I play with a pick mostly I can't imagine not flatpicking.

When I first started to play guitar I read notes; when I started to flatpick I used mostly tabs. You can check out alltabs.com for some bluegrass tabs. Googling 'bluegrass tabs' will probably result in a slew of good bluegrass tab sites.
If you can read notes, you can pick any melody line in piano or other treble clef music. In all of this note/tab reading there remains a downside - it can get you boxed in. There are plenty of musicians who only read music and when asked to improvise over a tune they have a hard time, not only with the melody but with the feel and all. It doesn't happen in just bluegrass; a lot of classically trained musicians have a hard time improvising in a jazz setting. There's no problem with being able to read music, but having to have a sheet of music in front of you to tear through Blackberry Blossom just doesn't cut it in a bluegrass setting. If you memorize it, you don't need the music, but you still are boxed in by whatever notes you've learned by rote.

I try to find new material now mostly by listening to CDs. You can still get boxed into the note by rote thing. A good friend and I discuss the topic of improvisation almost every time we discuss guitar (which is often!). How do you get a hold of what's inside of you and bring it to the strings? How do you get what you feel to translate into notes? I don't know what the exact answer to that is, but I do think it takes time and effort to get there. Some people seem like they do it effortlessly, but I am convinced that the only way to play effortlessly is to put a lot of effort into it. Maybe there comes a point where it does look effortless and feel effortless, but in the meantime for me there's a lot of effort and especially focus involved. For the sake of clarification, here's the definition of 'effort' in the dictionary I have on my computer.
(1. energy or exertion: mental or physical energy that is exerted in order to achieve a purpose Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.).

Just because it doesn't feel like work doesn't mean you haven't put energy into it. But on the flip side, you can put a lot of effort into practicing and not be getting much done. If you're just mindlessly playing through tunes you already know (as I do far too often) then you're not doing anything. Learn new things, always be finding something to conquer. If I took this advice I'd be a lot better off!

So back to the CD thing. I had asked a lot of people how they learned to play and almost all said by playing along with CDs. I couldn't play along with the rest of the people in a jam, much less a CD humming along at full speed. I couldn't figure out exactly how to go about playing along. One evening while I was in the bus and we were in a traffic jam I went to the back and just for fun decided to slow a song down on the laptop and started playing backup with it. I couldn't wait to get home and sit in my room and practice playing backup with slowed down tunes! I don't know why I didn't think of that sooner, but there was some sort of mental block telling me it couldn't be that simple. So pick a slow song, slow it down more if necessary (I usually use Window's Media Player) and start by practicing backup with it. Before I say "In time, you'll get the hang of it," I'll first say that if you are using poor technique you might not be able to get it up to speed. And here is where I'm tempted to just say "Have fun, figure it out yourself!". It's not me being unfeeling, it's the stupid thing that defines (or doesn't define) good technique. What exactly is good flatpicking technique? You've got people that flatpick all different ways. About 6 months ago my big question became "To anchor fingers on the face of the guitar, or not?" I asked a good many people this question and got all sorts of different answers, although the prevailing one seemed to be little anchoring, more of a 'finger brushing on the face for reference' type of thing. I asked someone in Oklahoma while on the road last fall and the answer I got was "Do it whatever way God made you." My right hand is still sort of messed up but I tend to try to keep my right hand wrist close to the face of guitar, use mostly wrist movement, and little or no anchoring. All I can think of for advice on good technique that is pretty much accepted as 'good' is don't let your left fingers fly out from the guitar as you change positions/notes, and move your right hand the minimum amount that you have to. I guess the biggest thing in good technique is economy of movement. But then what am I doing even giving advice about this stuff?! I don't have it down, so I can't offer anything solid. I know two really good guitarists that say exactly the opposites - pick with your wrist out further, and your wrist is out too far. I wouldn't mind being able to play as well as either! My hand position is definitely different for rhythm than for lead. That might be one of the many flaws in my technique, I'm not sure. Right now the position for rhythm is definitely not working. Ok, on from my personal problems!

Most of learning tunes is just doing the work to listen and imitate. The pause and play button gets used a lot! A theory I've recently encountered is that the best thing to do is learn the simple melody of a tune and ingrain it in you. Once you've done that, then you can add your own licks and embellishments and they'll be a part of your interpretation instead of someone else's arrangement. I think this is the biggest and most obvious (but extremely obscure at the same time?) piece of guitar wisdom I've come across in a long while.
If you are working with the basic melody only, it's up to you and your guitar playing voice to come up with the feeling of the tune. For me at least, I think it requires more effort than learning note by note what the greats play. Maybe it's not, because I know people who say the exact opposite - that taking someone else's notes and putting them into you is harder than taking the notes already in you and putting them out.

For the regular readers of my blog, I did NOT expect you to read through this whole thing :p If you're a flatpicker, I sure hope this has been of some help to you, and of course to Jonathan Bartlett, who posed the original question, I wish you the best with your flatpicking :)

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