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  #1  
Old 06-17-2017, 07:22 AM
srick srick is offline
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Default A Remedial Course in Steady Thumb

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of a weekend course with Martin Grosswendt. I have never taken regular lessons - so when I take the occasional weekend workshop, it is often like a report card. I learn new techniques, but also discover my....DEFICIENCIES... ugh...

My deficiency is rhythm. So basic. So fundamental. And it turns out that I'm not alone. Martin taught me to listen more carefully and to be aware of my body. He rekindled the zen of sound and the joy of hearing unisons among several instruments. Martin wanted me to feel the pulse of the rhythm through my body - coordinate the tapping foot with the downward stroke of the hand. We inherently have this talent as children and then in our adult life, we lose it.

Fast forward to this morning. I am checking out the Homespun website for sales. I'm a sucker for picking up their lessons at discount; the quality of production and content of the lessons is always high.

This weekend, Happy Traum's, "Conquer the Challenge of the Steady Thumb" is on sale for 50% off. It's for "near-beginners", but when your deficiency is as basic as rhythm... well, enuf said.

One of the comments that Happy makes is this: "Consider this a remedial course; people can keep the thumb going up to a certain point… but once they start putting in syncopated notes, they are off.” So, "yes", this is a my problem in a nutshell. The content is not much different than other courses that I have taken, but you need to practice this basic stuff over and over again.

I hate the term "remedial" because it brings up so many connotations. So maybe I'll call this a "zen" course or a return to the basics of our craft. If you have been working on alternate thumb and feel you are stuck, you might want to check this lesson out.

best,

Rick
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Last edited by srick; 06-18-2017 at 08:57 AM.
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  #2  
Old 06-18-2017, 11:04 AM
Pitar Pitar is offline
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Very philosophical to say the least but I think what he's really saying is practice makes perfect. He's just tactfully preventing you from suffering the same old adage.

With practice you will begin separating and executing each action into musical timeliness way ahead of the music. It's what develops out of practice. I'm no naturally gifted person in any aspect of my life but the crawl-walk-run method of achieving goals has marvelously cloaked that history of hard work with a facade of genius here and there. I believe talent is a word men coined to give themselves a certain pedigree that simply isn't there. Hard work and perseverance is, though, and that's the only road truly successful, self-made people know.

The thumb's use in orchestration with the fingers is a 3-phase achievement. At first it seems like a dead appendage uselessly flailing at strings the inexperienced mind can only hope to make work. Then, there are break-through events over time that a certain practiced pattern yields. This is the phase marking the beginning of confidence and a certain relaxation that it's beginning to work. That will go through a long period of development. Then the last phase has the thumb leading the melody with the fingers in a role reversal. That's when your thumb has left the drums, become a guitarist and truly joined the party.
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Old 06-18-2017, 03:17 PM
Wyllys Wyllys is offline
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When taking the first step in a journey, keep it simple and stick to the straight and narrow:

https://youtu.be/EqLak8XqN94

Spike Drivers Blues (John Henry) by Mississippi John Hurt. Likely the best tune I know for getting going. One chord fingering (first position G), melody easily done over the alternating bass line.

Great for everything: rhythm, melody and simple variations, both in bass line (see how he adds the occasional "B" note on 5th string 2nd fret), melody on the top three strings (mostly using open strings and 3rd fret notes) and abundant opportunities for syncopation, etc.

This simple piece contains everything you need for finger picking. Get comfortable with it and there's little you won't be able to figure out.
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Old 06-18-2017, 06:04 PM
s0cks s0cks is offline
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I honestly feel that learning to count out loud over what you play is the best thing you can do for your rhythm. Metronome is good too, but there's something about counting that helps all parts of the body sync up.

Will you count perfectly in time? No, though you could use a metronome as you count, but really it doesn't matter too much. No-one significantly speeds up or slows down when counting (unless consciously trying to do so) because language is actually inherently based on rhythm - hence why you don't tend to speed up or slow down as you talk. I posted a video about this on this forum, do a search if you're interested.

The point is, once you do this to the point that you can count and play over anything (very hard to do at first, but comes with practice) you start to see music as notes overlaid on a rhythmic base. What this means is that the guess work becomes a lot less involved. Once you know the rhythmic structure of a song, it becomes a lot easier to know where the notes fit, and thus it becomes much easier to learn.

How is the relevant to the thumb? Well, I personally don't feel like that thumb needs to be tethered to a particular beat, such as the downbeat, or tap of the foot. And where it's easier to use a finger, I use that instead. As long as your placing the notes correctly within the rhythmic structure of the song it will flow. And counting out loud has been a huge help to me in this regard. As someone somewhere once said "If you can't count while playing the song, you don't know the song" - has proven true for me.
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Old 06-24-2017, 07:55 AM
srick srick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by s0cks View Post
I honestly feel that learning to count out loud over what you play is the best thing you can do for your rhythm. Metronome is good too, but there's something about counting that helps all parts of the body sync up.
Whadd'ya know - that's helping. Thanks!

Rick
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  • My favorite guitar: a Dana Bourgeois 00 Country Boy with SCGC parabolic strings. GAS solved (for now).
  • And this just in: My Sammy Shelor fingerpicks are paired with a Blue Chip JDM thumbpick - now that works just fine!
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Old 06-24-2017, 01:23 PM
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TBman TBman is offline
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Homespun is very cool. I really like their software. Stefan Grossman uses the same platform. Tommy Emmanuel's "Fingerstyle Milestones" emphasis is on the thumb also. The thumb is like what the bass guitar is to a band - the backbone of the "beat."
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Old 07-16-2017, 06:53 PM
srick srick is offline
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I am also re-visiting Toby Walker's "Band in Your Hand". Overall, it is is probably one of his best lesson sets.

Rick
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  • And this just in: My Sammy Shelor fingerpicks are paired with a Blue Chip JDM thumbpick - now that works just fine!
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Old 07-17-2017, 10:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by srick View Post
I am also re-visiting Toby Walker's "Band in Your Hand". Overall, it is is probably one of his best lesson sets.

Rick
I have to get back to that one too. There's a lot of good stuff in there.
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We really should be practicing....
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Old 07-17-2017, 12:06 PM
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Toby Walker Toby Walker is offline
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Many times when I perform I can see people tapping their feet to the music, even when they're not realizing they are doing it. Our bodies naturally keep a sense of time this way... we do it while we walk.

The next time you listen to music, take a look at what your feet might be doing. Chances are one of them is keeping time. As both of your hands are occupied playing the guitar, you may also want to check if your foot is tapping along to your playing. I'll bet it just might be, even ever so slightly and as such, it's probably tapping on the downbeat. That could be the 1 and 3, or the 2 and 4, or even 1, 2, 3, and 4 - assuming you're in 4/4 time.

By thinking of your foot as an extension of your thumb, that might help you to keep better time.
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  #10  
Old 07-19-2017, 06:47 PM
srick srick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toby Walker View Post
By thinking of your foot as an extension of your thumb, that might help you to keep better time.
Funny thing about that, Toby - my foot keeps terrible time - AND it has been noted by several people who've watched me play! So, I am working at getting a little rhythm in my body. I could make a lot of jokes here (at my expense) that will get me kicked off the AGF for weeks!

Gotta pay my dues so I can sing the blues....

Rick

(hmmm... remember that scene with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor from 'Stir Crazy' (we're bad)? I've got the same problem as Gene)
__________________
  • My favorite guitar: a Dana Bourgeois 00 Country Boy with SCGC parabolic strings. GAS solved (for now).
  • And this just in: My Sammy Shelor fingerpicks are paired with a Blue Chip JDM thumbpick - now that works just fine!

Last edited by srick; 07-20-2017 at 04:00 AM.
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  #11  
Old 07-20-2017, 06:47 PM
s0cks s0cks is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by srick View Post
Funny thing about that, Toby - my foot keeps terrible time - AND it has been noted by several people who've watched me play! So, I am working at getting a little rhythm in my body. I could make a lot of jokes here (at my expense) that will get me kicked off the AGF for weeks!

Gotta pay my dues so I can sing the blues....

Rick

(hmmm... remember that scene with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor from 'Stir Crazy' (we're bad)? I've got the same problem as Gene)
I've been playing a djembe to improve my body rhythm. I've had fantastic results. What better way to improve rhythm than by playing purely rhythm? I also spend time tapping out rhythms with my hands on my legs to songs that are playing on the stereo.

It's important to note that prior to this I couldn't tap my foot or my hands to anything, especially switching between different note divisions. I was rhythm-less pretty much.

In my opinion rhythm is totally separate from playing. Once it starts to click you don't even think about it. In fact, thinking about it makes your rhythm worse. It appears to be a subconscious act, probably a lower-brain function. Since we use rhythm to walk, run, and even for language, that would make sense.
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Old 07-20-2017, 08:05 PM
SunnyDee SunnyDee is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by s0cks View Post
I've been playing a djembe to improve my body rhythm. I've had fantastic results. What better way to improve rhythm than by playing purely rhythm? I also spend time tapping out rhythms with my hands on my legs to songs that are playing on the stereo.

It's important to note that prior to this I couldn't tap my foot or my hands to anything, especially switching between different note divisions. I was rhythm-less pretty much.

In my opinion rhythm is totally separate from playing. Once it starts to click you don't even think about it. In fact, thinking about it makes your rhythm worse. It appears to be a subconscious act, probably a lower-brain function. Since we use rhythm to walk, run, and even for language, that would make sense.
Mine's a bodhran. I also spent quite a few train and subway rides last year practicing "limb independence" - tapping out different rhythms with each hand and foot simultaneously. Definitely works the brain. I greatly improved my understanding of rhythm. I, too, couldn't clap along before. But I can now keep a steady beat and can "bury the click" most of the time.
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