Tag Archives: Practice

Happy Thanksgiving!!

To the Faithful Shredders,

It has been crazy busy in Fast Fingers land, but it is time to pause and give thanks to the wonderful things that have happened to me this year:

1) My girlfriend and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary this year.  That’s no easy feat when you’re dating me 🙂

2) I repaired an important family tie.

3) I quit my dead end day job and began working for a small but profitable startup.  Not a lot of sleep but getting a fast education in Jquery, Jquery Mobile and Project Management.

4) My band – The Turbo Fuegos – has gained momentum throughout the year.  Ok, well we lost 1 bassist and two guitarist but the current line up feels committed and we are only geting more busy for 2014.

5) My teaching schedule is bursting at the seams.  I cannot take any more students at this time.

All five of the above for me have been important priorities in my life.  All of the above came with challenges – nothing is really free in this world.  You have to work at it.

I’ve been going back to the gym a lot more recently and hope to get an early jump on that New Years Resolution that always seems to come up.  While I’m doing resistance training, I pretty much focus on what I’m doing, but when I get on the elliptical, I have more time to people watch.

I’m going to dump these people into two very broad categories: The Workers and The Loungers.  When you go to the gym, any gym, you’ll see guys and girls, completely focused.  I don’t go to any classes so I normally see them in the free weight section.  They watch themselves carefully in the mirror as they do their reps.  The guys will sometimes grimace as they get to the last 2 reps – sweat breaks out and a look of determination appears on their face as they squeeeeze out that last rep, and with a tired sigh of relief, they put the weight down.

That’s the Worker.  He or she is in there to make the session count.  They went to the trouble of packing clothes, getting water, grabbing a towel, and driving down there and so, doggone-it, they are going to get something out of it.  The same can be true of the person running hard on the treadmill or bike or elliptical.  Or trembling to hold that yoga position.

Then you got the Lounger.  You don’t see them in the free weight section.  I’m doing machines right now since I’m coming back from a long layoff and some old injuries require that I ease into it.  But other people will saunter through their workout, and many of them are on their cell phone.  What?  This is a time for focus.  I once was on the elliptical machine and the woman next to me was talking so loud on her phone (and I was listening to my iPhone music!) that I had to move away from her.

And we all know the guy who won’t get out of the abdominal machine.  You’ve just burned through 3 sets of two different exercises and this joker is still sitting there.  He should be paying rent to stay in that machine.

The same goes for guitar practicing.  Be a Worker, not a Lounger.  If your cell phone keeps buzzing (and who’s doesn’t?) turn it off for 30 min and get your uninterrupted practice time in.  If people support you, they will understand.  If my girlfriend texts me when I’m at the gym, I text back “at gym ttyl” and she gets it – “ok have a good workout”.  That’s support.

So enjoy today, eat, drink and be merry, enjoy your families, be grateful for the good things in  your life, and tomorrow get back on it.  And one day someone will look at you playing your instrument and comment “Wow, you make it look easy”.  Which should make you smile.

Shred on.



Product Review : Tascam GB10

Hi All –

Well, my birthday is coming up.  And if you’re like me, you need to help people know what you want or you’ll end up with another shirt to fill your closet 🙂

One of my long time friends and former students used Tascam equipment to practice with.  When I came over to jam, he’d usually play background tracks on it.  I thought it was cool, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it.

Then one of my current students got the Tascam GB10 and not being very technical, he had me help him set it up.  It’s not too confusing once you do it for the first time.

As a guitar player and teacher, I figure out most things by ear.  Once in a while I’ll look up tab on the internet, but most of the time it’s wrong (sorry guys) or incomplete.  Hey at least they’re sharing what they know, but for me, I want it to be right.

Since music is all digital now, I wanted some software that would slow the mp3 player down, but not affect the pitch.  There are several ones out there but I couldn’t make any of them work for me.  Either I couldn’t figure it out, or it was buggy.

Once I got my student’s Tascam loaded up with the right file type, he plugged it in and didn’t quite know what to do with it.  It was Lynyrd Skynyrd but Ronnie Van Zant sounded like a girl.  I finally got it adjusted down to the right key for him.

So I asked for one of these things for my birthday.  oddly, it isn’t available on musiciansfriend.com or sweetwater.com.  But it is available on Amazon so there’s where it came from.

It uses 2 AA batteries (or it can run of a wall plug, NOT INCLUDED – same thing with my Kindle Fire – why do they do that??).  It comes with one cord to plug into the USB port on the guitar.

So get the batteries in, plug into your computer, turn on the Tascam unit and it says “Power / Storage” – I took the Storage option.  This loads the unit’s directory in the Windows Explorer or Mac Finder.

Next, you need your music files in one of two formats: MP3 or WAV.  If you try an MP4 Tascam won’t display it.

Luckily, we use mostly MP3’s in the band so I had plenty to pick from.  (Note: if you’re plucking tunes from iTunes, you can export them as WAV files – that’s what I did for my student).  I had about 6 band tunes in mp4 format, but downloaded a free converter via cnet and voila!  I had MP3’s.

Then it’s a matter of dragging your mp3 files unto the music directory on the Tascam.  Unplug the unit and it will turn itself off.

Next, I plugged in my headphone in the headphone jack of the unit, my guitar into the guitar jack, and then you have to adjust the volume on the side so you can hear your guitar.  Then you have to make sure on the playback screen that “input” is “on” – by default it’s off.

Next, I found a song that I wanted to double check my chart with – “8 Second Ride”.  The introduction has given me problems on that one before and I’ve changed my chart twice.  Listening to it with headphones and slowing it down to about half speed, and immediately I found my mistake.  I was one note off.

Then in the same song, there is a lead part that is played throughout the song – I fixed a wrong note in that one too, plus it was easier to figure out the higher harmony part of the two guitar lead.  So on my first song, I fixed two mistakes I was making and figured out an additional part.  Not a bad beginning by any means.

I worked on another song that has a tricky intro – “A Woman Like You”.  Again, I could hear everything much easier when it’s slowed down and I can “loop” a section indefinitely if I need to keep hearing it.

The Tascam slows things down in 10% increments, which some people in other reviews didn’t like – they wanted finer control over this.  However, that works fine for me.

The Tascam can also change the Key of the music (as noted above in my student’s Lynyrd Skynyrd song).  I’m not sure if I need to use that at this point, but could come in handy later if we change  a key for vocal reasons.  It might also help with artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Van Halen who tune down a half step.  Why re tune the guitar when you can press a button?

You can also record with this thing but I haven’t gotten that far with it yet.

So for $112, it’s a bit pricey but if you can call in some birthday or Christmas favors it might be worth it.  I’m glad I got it.  I’m also working on Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of VooDoo Chile and there are 2 or 3 bursts of notes in his solo that I can definitely use this tool on.

Happy Jamming!



But I’m not Chinese!!

Hey folks –

Yes I know that title makes no sense, but hear me out.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article written by Amy Chua entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” which inspired thousands of comments, both for and against Ms. Chua’s article.

Her article boiled down to a few main concepts –

1) Getting A’s is the most important thing (no sports, sleep overs, etc)

2) You MUST take piano or violin

3) Anything less than an “A” is unacceptable unless it’s gym class.

Well, I read the whole thing and to be honest, I didn’t see it as all bad or all good. There were aspects in that article I liked.

No, I’m not advocating taking away your child’s right to food, water, and bathroom breaks when practicing. I think that hammering a young person into conforming stifles creativity and self expression. But some of the ideas expressed in the article might be key to getting past road blocks in your (or my) development.

First, I would take “failure is not an option” and instead use “Aim High”. When my boys struggle to get good grades in a class, I don’t push for a B anymore. I tell them “There’s no reason why you can’t get an A in this class so work for it”. Even if the A doesn’t come, they will do better than if they’d aimed to get a “B”.

Second – positive mental attitude. My sons have struggled with this at times and I have too when it comes to my day job.

Four years ago I had my dream job – the one I’d worked for, gone to school for, and finally had it. I was successful, I’d built a team that was getting the job done. But a reorganization of upper management put in place a new VP who played favorites. Unaware of this, I went about business as usual and when I went on vacation (2 months before reviews) I came back to a list of complaints from my director who had gone through all my work while I was gone. The complaints continued, I got a bad review and pushed to another team. My replacement, who I met with, said within the first minute of our meeting “The VP said I had a job here as long as I want it!”.

I went to manage a team in an area I didn’t like. A year later I was moved to manage a team I liked even less. Then I was given a chance to go back to computer programming in Java again, I took it, and while the work was interesting, my new boss hated me. Another bad review, kicked off THAT team and landed where I currently am now.

Now my new boss has been fine, the work somewhat interesting, but guess where my attitude was by now? Right, in the dumpster. And it stayed that way for a while.

Recently I’ve been working on changing my attitude, if not for the company, at least for the quality of work I should be doing. With a bad attitude towards your school, your teacher, your work, your boss, there is little room for success. My son criticized his school everyday and came home with some really bad grades.

My suggestion?

Stop saying/thinking negative thoughts. Catch your self in the act “this job is horrible” – and interrupt it with something else. Find satisfaction in SOME aspect. For a student, you can watch that D turn into a C, then into a B, and finally an A.

Focus (i.e. stop being lazy): When one of my sons struggled with math, I asked him how many hours a week does he spend on soccer? His answer: 30. How many on math? 2. Guess which one he was better at?

We need to make up our mind that we are GOING to do something and it starts now. Once started, it gets easier. I hate to clean my desk. Hate it. But once I get started, I don’t want to be interrupted until it’s done, cleared, and smelling like some sort of furniture polish.

Set goals – I will do “this”, “this” amount of time or for this long or this many times a week.

The more you accomplish, the more fun something gets: This is a point that Ms. Chua makes towards the end of her article after berating and ceaselessly pressuring her 7 year old to play a piece on the piano. When her child was able to play the piece, the joy, the relief, the sense of accomplishment gives the child new confidence. Ok, this is a valid point. But for her, the ends justifies the means. I won’t do that to my kids (as much), but I will push. I will remove distractions, I will ground my kids, and I will work with them on what’s stopping them from being successful.

The same thing goes for my work. My work had been sloppy. My manager has noticed it and mentioned a few things. From here on, I plan to dot the i’s and cross the t’s – and maybe I can stay here long enough to find a new job elsewhere 🙂

Check your attitude, focus on goals, and remember success builds on success.

Spencer Out