I’m a Star!…well almost!

I’ve come so far since picking up that guitar from my sister’s house nearly 11 weeks ago! I have gone from knowing pretty much nothing about guitar to being able to play a whole song and it actually totally sounding like that song!

In between then and now I have learned how to hold, tune, pick, and strum my guitar, I’ve learned a whole lot of chords too…well, about 10, which is a lot for a beginner! I have learned how to read chord charts and TAB music, and all sorts of other little tid-bits that I’ve picked up along the way.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been focusing on just one song to see how a little practice can go a long way. I’ve been learning “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt, and I have loved learning to play this song! While there is no app or technological substitution for good ol’ fashioned practicing, I’ve continued to use my GuitarTuna app, and watched more videos of some expert guitar players for tips.

My first week of recording the song was pretty…interesting. I used iMovie to make a slideshow, and had used Voice Memo on my iPhone to do the recording. Last week I tried out Moovly to make a little animation to go along with my Voice Memo recording of my playing, and the music was certainly improving. This week, I’ve broke out all the stops and have created a MUSIC VIDEO! That’s right, I directed, produced, and starred in my very own music video for this song. Now, I tried watching a bunch of music videos for some inspiration, but it was almost overwhelming to think that I could possibly create anything comparable.

I did seek some advice from my brother-in-law who actually does create music videos for local artists. While he said it would be rather difficult to make my own video, he gave me some suggestions, including taking LOTS of video, as most music video clips are only a few seconds long. Many clips are also what you’d call “B-roll,” because they are typically shots that depict real action/emotion/movement, rather than something scripted. He also warned me that it would be really difficult to sync up my playing with the audio track.

I kept thinking, how hard can this really be though! I got my husband to record a wide variety of shots of me playing from far away, up close, and a few silly things too. We even went outside when it was about -22C with a nearly -40C windchill…ya, it was so cold! But hey, I did discover that you can actually play a guitar outside in that kind of weather…although it does change the key of the guitar!

So after recording probably about 30 minutes worth of video I figured I had enough to work with for my 3.5 minute song, but as I began piecing it together I realized that I actually needed more and ended up shooting another 10 minutes or so of footage to work with.

My brother-in-law was totally right about timing though! It was quite difficult, and I certainly did not get it perfect, but I think that it is pretty close for an amateur try! I also found that I wanted to use clips that were a little longer for some sections as I wanted the clips to match up with the verses or chords or changes in the music. I think had I had even more footage to work with I could have switched more often, but I like the result!

Screen shot of Camtasia

Screen shot of Camtasia

This week I chose to use yet another program to create my video with. I chose to use Camtasia 2, a program that I had heard about from a friend. It’s  a pretty powerful program, and has a free 30 day trial with no restrictions that I can tell, which is great. The program is similar in many ways to iMovie in that you can import video, images and audio into the program and drag and drop them into the timeline to create your video. The additional things that are fun in Camtasia are the types of transitions and the animations that you can use. While iMovie has similar options, Camtasia lets you have a little more control over the actual movement of a zoom motion into a video or photograph, and also more control over the transition of volume in the audio. This is great for videos filmed with just an iPad, which is what I used, as you cannot do any zooming when filming. Changing angles and zoom on an image is a lot more interesting to watch than just a static position, so I found that I used this feature a lot in creating my video.

While recording I learned a few tips also: play the recording in the background while filming so that the strum patterns can be synced easier, and get more “B-roll” footage! While I really like how my video turned out, I think it would have been even better if I had more candid types of shots to include (similar to the Mariah Carey video). I will certainly remember these if I ever make another video like this or have students do something similar.

Camtasia screenshot of my video

I did like that I could have multiple music tracks though, so that I could layer my playing on top of the actual recording! I recorded my guitar playing with a free app called MicPro. I was able to sync my guitar playing with the recording by listening to the recording through an earbud connected to my phone while I played and recorded. I had seen and used this idea for Eric Whitacre’s virtual choirs, and it made so much sense! By recording my guitar track separately it allowed me to control the volume of my track and the original track, which was great as I was able to make sure that both were clear.

The bottom line is that I have LOVED learning how to play the guitar and plan on continuing my journey and this blog! I have already started looking at some Christmas songs that use a few other chords I have learned along the way, so stay tuned for that!

But, here is my fabulous music video: a cover of “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt

Thanks for joining me so far! Any tips for improving my playing or music video directing?







Moovling along

I’m happy to report that I practiced EVERY DAY last week! That’s quite the accomplishment at this time in the semester when the work load is mountainous! But, as a result, I think my guitar playing has greatly improved. I have really been enjoying practicing my song. It’s starting to feel just natural to play it!

After last week’s adventure with Scratch I was intrigued by the idea of making animations and I figured there had to be a fun and interesting way to present the recording of my playing. I searched for different ways to make videos with slideshows or music, and found quite the variety. Wideo seemed kind of interesting, but their free account only allows 45 second clips, so that wasn’t going to work for my song. I tried out Garage Band, but found that it went a little too complex for what I needed as for music editing, and of course, it’s only music with no visual. I also found a cool app called UJam, which, like GarageBand allows you to upload your own music and play with its style. It was really fun to play around with because you can also add different styles to your music, and all the instruments that go with them. From punk to pop to classical, and everything in between, there’s a style that fits almost anything. For what I wanted to do, however, it wasn’t going to do the trick.

I also considered Animoto, but decided to go on a hunt for something new to share with my ECMP class, as Animoto had already been presented. I also wanted to find something that had a library of images or animations that I could use instead of uploading photos. After some searching I came across Moovly. This web-based application allows you to create your own animated presentations, and has a great library of pre-made images, or you can add your own. It also has a database of sound effects and music, or you can upload your own! You can also add text to your presentation. It’s super simple to use, and is basically just drag and drop. You just find the image you want and slide it over to your “stage.” From there you can control how it enters the screen, how it moves and when and how it leaves with simple menu clicks for the item and dragging some slide bars. You can also change the colour, size, position and orientation of the objects at any time, and also their layering within the screen.

It’s marketed towards doing presentations, specifically “white board presentations”, and has “hand drawing” options for many images, text, and entrance/exit styles, but you could really use it however you wanted. Plus, even on the free version you can make videos up to 10 minutes in length! The site automatically saves your work, and when you’re finished you have the option of downloading it, emailing it or publishing it to their public gallery and/or YouTube.

So, here’s my video!

How should I present my video to everyone next week? Hmmm…I’m thinking music video…because obviously I’m at that level, right?

Not So Beautiful Just Yet!

In my post last week I’d asked for people to vote on which song I should play! Well, it was a tie of points between “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt, and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” the Christmas Traditional as sung by Carrie Underwood. Firstly, thank you to everyone who participated!

I chose to play “You’re Beautiful,” because after some more careful looking at the chord charts I realized that I could not find my way around a barred chord, and no matter how hard I tried I just could not make that note play! So, back it was to the song with the 5 chords I could figure out! I really do enjoy this song though, so I’m happy to learn it.

I was away for the weekend with my provincial gymnastics team though, so unfortunately did not get my continuous days of practice in, but I have been working diligently on it for the last three nights and thought I’d update my progress!

Photo Credit: Paul 李加乂 Li via Compfight cc

To learn the song, I’ve been relying on this TAB chart, and also this YouTube video, which I believe I posted before. I also found just a straight up recording on YouTube of the song itself to play along with (censor warning it does have one swear in it), as the radio link I found before doesn’t let you rewind the track, which is important to me so that I can keep practicing it!

It’s been so much fun to actually try to play along with the song! It just makes me smile to know that I’ve learned enough to play along to a real song!…ok, enough to sort of fumble through playing along and make myself think I’m actually playing it.

I didn’t have anyone around to video me playing tonight, so I made a “voice memo” on my phone. I figured I could just load that on my computer and link it to the blog. Easy peasy right? Uh…no. Turns out you have to sync voice memos to your computer, find the file, then import it into iMovie, add an image, save it as a .mov file then upload it to YouTube….oy. But hey, I did it! I actually ended up making it into a slideshow of photos of my husband and I, which probably took a lot longer than it needed to, but I think I’ll probably keep it like this and just update it at the end with a better version of the song! Way back when this song was newer my husband used to play it for me all the time because he liked the words, so it certainly reminds me of those moments.

Now my playing is not very good….and I missed a lot of chords, but I think it sounds pretty decent so far! And if you really find my playing to be horrible, just turn the volume down and enjoy all of the cheesy photos!

Aside from just practice, practice, practice, does anyone have any suggestions or tips?

Guitar Dreams

When I first started trying to play the guitar I thought “How hard can this be?” Answer: VERY HARD! Learning to play an instrument is difficult! And I find that learning to play the guitar is even more difficult than I anticipated. I learned how to play piano as a young child, and then clarinet in grade six, so I just thought that this would be like that. All I needed to do was learn the pattern of notes and off we go. The problem with guitar is that there IS NO PATTERN of notes! Or if there is I have not found it yet! Sure, I know the order of the strings, the names of chords, and can read music, but does that help me? Nope.

Photo Credit: victor.lavrentev via Compfight cc

In playing piano if you know the order of the notes and how those notes look on a page you can theoretically play pretty much anything with some practice. I know what a C note looks like, therefore I can play the C on the piano because I know where it is. After C comes D (just like the alphabet!), and wouldn’t ya know it comes right beside C! Even on clarinet, you often just added or lifted one finger to move up or down one note. Even for chords on the piano the notes were in similar patterns. But in guitar this is not the case. If you want to play a scale of notes (that’s the 8 notes in a row that combined in different ways make up chords in that key) you can sometimes play them all on the same string, but if you want to play a chord, you have to play on a variety of strings with fingers stretched in all sorts of ways. And no, a C chord does not even remotely resemble a D chord.

So this has been my battle the last few weeks. I have been attempting to learn chords, and just continue to repeat the same 4 or 5 chord positions over and over until I think I have it. But then inevitably the next day I don’t remember any of them anymore! Then I’m back to looking at my chord charts every day…also, did you know that there’s multiple ways to play many chords? Oy. So confusing! This has been helpful though, as many chords are played using a barre technique where one finger (usually the index) has to span the whole neck of the guitar on all the strings. I’ve tried some of these with little success. Luckily I have been able to find out ways around this!

I have not given up hope though, and I am determined to learn to play at least one song! But, there are only a few short weeks left in this semester, eek! So my goal is to work dilligently each day on just one song. No more switching songs and getting overwhelmed by the millions of possibilities out there! The problem has also been that many of the “beginner songs” that I have found are ones that I have never heard of. I would much rather play a song that I actually know and enjoy over one that I don’t, but it’s been difficult to find these.

I have a few choices of songs that I would like to learn: “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt, “Teardrops on My Guitar” by Taylor Swift, or the Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear”, but I’ll learn to play with the Carrie Underwood version (I found a great website for this one that plays a video and lets you actually play along while it highlights the chords!).

Which song do you think I should learn? Help me choose by filling out this survey!

Happy Birthday to…

…no one! I learned how to play “Happy Birthday” today, but not for anyone in particular. I only learned it because it was the first song that this website suggested I learn in TAB. Now I had already learned about what TAB was a few weeks ago, but I was on the hunt for some new songs or lessons that might take things a step further. Well, what I’ve found is that when things go up a step they REALLY go up a step! The next lesson on the same site did not even make sense to me. So, I’ve been continuing my search for more lessons and songs that aren’t too difficult for me to play. I have not been successful so far, but I’ll keep looking!

In the meantime, here’s me playing “Happy Birthday!” I did modify the notes of the third line from what was posted on the website because they didn’t seem correct. Enjoy my feeble attempt at playing the tune!

Unlock the yousician in you!

Today, when I was looking for some youtube videos to play along with, an ad popped up before the video played. Now normally I begrudgingly wait the required 5-15 seconds and skip the ad, but this one had my attention.

Presenting yousician.com where you can learn how to play the guitar with a series of video tutorials and games that test your skills, earning you points so you can move up levels. Games + Learning? Cool! I’m in!

So, I checked it out. Turns out it’s made by the same folks who make GuitarTuna (the tuner I learned about a few weeks ago in this post). Now, I had tried to check out the GuitarBots site, but you had to keep adding friends to the site in order to unlock anything, even the very first lesson. Yousician doesn’t have these same restrictions and I could sign up and play right away!

It started off very quickly introducing ideas of reading TAB music (which took other lesson sites a while to get to), and playing along with music to a beat in a game-like fashion. You do have to download a utility driver for the program to work, but it’s well worth it. The videos are nice and short, and you can replay them if you want to, and then it goes right into playing a game! The platform accesses your computer’s microphone and can tell if you’re playing the right note at the right timing to the music. Only downside I can tell so far is that you either have to keep the background music soft, play loud, or wear headphones so that the computer can pick up your guitar sound.

Here’s a little screencast of me playing along with one of the levels I unlocked. Yes, that’s really me playing!

These are a few of my favourite songs…

While my friend, Andy Guitar, has been great, I’ve decided I needed to expand my guitar playing horizons. So I ventured out into the unknown and went in search of something new!

So the first few songs that I had bee playing along with weren’t really ones that I liked, so I went in search of some lessons and videos of songs that I knew and liked!

The first one I came across was a video for Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” but it had some chords that I don’t know yet. I think they’re fairly simple and I could learn them pretty easily with some more practice.

Now, since I’ve watched a few videos from this girl I also thought I could go and see what else I could find.

Guitar TAB Photo Credit: Ethan Hein via Compfight cc

I did find a cool list of “easy” guitar songs on this website, but they are written in TAB format. Well, I had to figure out what that was, luckily they have a page for that. It’s really just single string plucking to play a song. It kind of looks like sheet music, but it lists the fret to play on which string. It took a little bit to figure it out, because as a musician I’m, of course, used to reading music in a traditional 5 line staff. Armed with that bit of knowledge and my ear for music, I managed to figure out how to play “Amazing Grace!” Woot! There are also several Christmas tunes that I’ll have to learn too!

Also on my must-learn-to-play list is “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson. I shamelessly watched “Princess Diaries 2” yesterday (while “studying”), and it’s one of the theme songs of the movie and is written for guitar. I found the video and the sheet music for it also.

Just keep strumming…

It’s been a bit since I last posted my progress on the guitar, but fear not, I’ve still been keeping at it!

In the last week I haven’t ventured into learning any new chords, but I have learned a few new things:

1. Picks – It took a bit to find purple guitar pick a really good online resource that really said much about selecting a good pick for a beginner guitarist. This one by Gibson (a guitar company) was the best one I found. When I went to the store, however, I was still confused and ended up just asking one of the sales people to help me out. While they have packs for sale on the shelf, he showed me that you can buy just one, so you can give it a try and see if you like it. I ended up going for one with a bit of a grip to it, which is better for beginners, and kind of a medium to light thickness of 0.60mm. I actually even got it for free!


2. Capos – When my sister gave me her guitar to borrow, she also gave me a capo. Now, I’ve seen her use one before, and have seen other performers (like my favourite acoustic guitar singer-songwriter, Steve Bell), and had a vague idea what it did, but I turned to my ol’ friend Andy to see what he had to say about them. Turns out they’re actually a great tool for beginners to be able to play along with a lot more songs! By changing the key you can still play easier chords! Cool!

3. Strumming – Ya, not the easiest thing to strum AND change chords! Andy’s strumming video was great though, and I’m really getting better at those D and A major chords! I can even play along to a few songs now!

4. Practicing – Life’s been crazy this week, but it’s my goal to get on task with practicing every day! Even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes, I hope to build up my fingers better! I’m getting better though, and certainly looking like a pro, hey? Haha!



Sore fingers, soft sounds

It’s been a bit since my last post as I’m still trying to get the hang of the first few chords!

Last time I looked at learning E minor and Asus2. I recently also learned E major and A major with the help of Andy’s YouTube video again.

I also checked out another of Andy’s videos about how to help your hands not hurt so much! I can only play for about 15-20 minutes right now before my fingers are just like spaghetti, so I’m hoping that the tips I learned here will help out! I’m still having some troubles getting a couple strings to ring out loudly, so everything I play sounds pretty soft and in tune, or really loud and kind of wonky.

In talking with a friend, he suggested I learn “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” because it’s “really easy!” HA! I found a video that shows you how to play it, and I think this should be my GOAL for this project! Cuz this looks crazy hard to me!

Before that I think I’d better learn how to read chord charts though. I’ve noticed that there are a couple different kinds in the various videos I’ve checked out. I know one is called TAB music, but I’m not sure of the other. As I’ve mentioned before, I come from a musical background, so understanding notes or chord names makes sense to me, but these chord charts actually show you which strings on which frets to press on. Maybe this weekend I’ll get a friend or my sister to just confirm I’ve been doing things the right way so far too!

The Phoebe Buffet School of Guitar? Maybe not.

In life, when in doubt, refer to Friends, they’ll always tell you the best way right? So, when learning the guitar, refer to Season 5, Episode 11 and Phoebe Buffet will show you how!

Ok, so even Joey couldn’t follow Phoebe’s guitar playing methods, so it’s probably not for me either. Back to the drawing board…

Let’s recap where we are at:

Have guitar = check
Understand guitar parts = check
Tune guitar = check
Learn guitar chords = ….uh….

Chords: probably the most key element of playing guitar. Do I know any? Not-a-one. I thought it would be pretty easy to find basic guitar chord tutorials all over the internet, and it was! But were they any good? Ah, now that’s where things got a little difficult! Sure, I found a lot of videos and websites and blogs saying they were “beginner chord lessons”, but I found that most of them were not beginner enough. The already assumed that you knew how to play chords and what strings and frets were which, and which fingers automatically went to which places…pretty much they were videos that taught you chords and assumed that you already knew how to play chords. Didn’t follow that? Ya, neither did I. Bottom line, it was difficult to find something for true beginners out there.

I did find a great YouTube channel for beginner guitar for “grownups” that I checked out, and it seemed quite promising. His first video gave some great lead up tips to how to achieve your goals of playing the guitar.

The first chord video, however, I found went way too quickly and I couldn’t keep up. So, after some more searching I came across this video:

After watching this video, playing along and practicing a bit, I am pleased to say that I now can play 2 whole chords. That’s right, TWO. WHOLE. CHORDS! It is pretty exciting for me to say I can do that! I even know the names of the chords: E minor and Asus2. Andy Crowley, who made this video also has a great website with different levels of guitar instruction broken down…all for free! You can also book Skype sessions with him for one-on-one help!.

String ImprintsThe two chord lesson went well, and I even have the indents on my fingers to prove it! I will keep up with this, and maybe try out his video that adds 3 more chords. I also realized that I need to learn how to read “TAB” chords. I remember my sister’s guitar books often having those, and many of the videos I looked at today had them also. I bet Andy has a guide for that too…yup he does! Maybe I should look at getting a pick also….although I managed without one today. I see there’s a video for that also!

I’m off to do more reading and strumming!