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Saturday, 31 October 2015

Just Relax - Rethinking guitar technique


Hey guys, 

This blog is all about dropping your shoulders, breathing deep, relaxing your muscles and shredding some mean guitar. This is a simple thing that you can do in order to improve on almost every technical aspect of your guitar playing and it's all about not trying so hard. 


Identify Your Issue

The reason I’m writing this is because I am the number one culprit of over-tensing. In my guitar playing, singing, sports and pretty much everything in day-to-day life, I would tense my body far too much at the expense of what I was trying to do. My natural instinct was that, if you try harder you’ll do better, but I now know that’s not the case and it was holding me back. Even if you’re not as guilty of this as I am, being conscious of your body and how it affects your playing technique is always beneficial.

If you’re like me, and you tend to tense up a lot while playing, you’ll notice some side effects of your bad technique. These can range from symptoms that restrict your playing, to physical discomfort, and even permanent damage to your body. If you notice any of these occurring while practicing or performing, then this article might do something to help you out.

- Tensing in your neck, jawline or back. Sometimes leading to pain

- Cramping in your hands

- Finding your hands just cutting out and stopping doing what you want them to do.

- Exaggerated body movements to perform a certain part (even something like playing a bar chord)

- Hand/wrist/arm pain during practice (this is bad)

- Hand/wrist/arm pain that persists after practice (this is really bad and you should revise what you’re doing immediately)

These are all the extreme noticeable symptoms of overtension caused by bad technique. Luckily, it is easy to overcome this problem and with a little practice you will do it subconsciously and will quickly see vast improvements.


Doing A Body Factory Reset

This idea comes from the Alexander Technique, which I’ve found referenced quite a bit and looked up during my research for this post. The technique is a set of ideas about posture and conscious body positioning that can help you to maximise your movement efficiency and is often connected to musicians. 

Here are some videos that go over some of the techniques without going too in depth when it comes to music. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6IHPrT7sggVideo on Alexander Technique in guitar playing 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prN9kbDtedcTed Talk about Alexander Technique in posture 
http://www.alexandercenter.com/pa/musicjonesii.htmlPage that talks about alexander technique for musicians

So when you go to start practicing next, try to consciously reset your body as to allow it to act most efficiently and start with your posture. This isn’t supposed to be a hardcore “tall as possible, chest out, stiff body” approach, as that will probably yield the same problems as a slumped and sloppy posture. Instead, it is best to use our minds to maximise our efficiency and minimise discomfort. 

1. When you’re sitting or standing, scan over your body with your mind and try to identify any stiffness, imbalance, unnecessary pressure and discomfort. This may be how your feet are distributing your weight, your back supporting a slouch, your shoulders pressing forward and tense, or just clenching of your jaw.

2. Adjust yourself according to what you notice. And again, the goal here is to have as little tension as possible over your whole body. These might be large adjustments like changing your stance in your feet or straightening up your spine. They could also be very small muscle adjustments, like moving the pressure in your hip bones or wiggling your jaw to loosen it up. 

3. Repeat the process when necessary. You’ll find that as soon as you go to do something, like grab a glass of water or play a new passage, that you’ll very quickly revert to your old ways. Like anything else, practice makes perfect and the more conscious you are, the quicker these changes will become second nature. The other good thing about this technique is that you can practice it at any point in the day. Sitting on the bus, standing in line, at your computer or even walking it helps to think about what you’re doing with your body and how you can fix your posture (I’m doing it right now as I’m writing this)


Bring In The Guitar

Now that you’re posture is how you want it, let’s put an instrument in your hands. Before you even play a note, get yourself into your playing positions and check your posture again. Whether standing or sitting, you will find that you may arrange your body in a certain way that, when looked at from the outside, seems counter-intuitive, uneconomical and sometimes a little bit weird. You may need to make some adjustments to counteract these habits. 

One that I’ve notice that I do is an awkward leg thing that I never noticed until I look deeper into my posture and it’s very bizarre. I would bend my left ankle and have my foot sitting sideways with my right foot resting on top of it. I did this to keep my guitar in a comfortable position and stop it from sliding off my leg. The side effect of this was that my leg skewed my hip position and threw my whole body out of alignment. You can buy guitar foot rests for this purpose, but I found that just putting a suitcase under the desk fixed my position right up. You might notice similar body distortions when you start playing. Try to be conscious of what your body is doing and take the necessary steps to create as little tension as possible.

Here are some articles that I found helpful 
http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/5_Tips_to_Relax_While_Playing_Fast 
http://www.johnmcniel.com/articles/playing-guitar-without-tension/


Now it’s time to start playing and this is where you’ll hopefully find the biggest difference in your playing. We’ll start with your favourite warmup technique. mine is an alternating chromatic pattern which I find is good for coordination, but you can use whatever you normally do. When you start to play, try to be conscious of all these things, they’ll take a bit of time at first but soon become second nature.

This is my warm up exercise. It continue's all the way up to the 12th fret 


1. Go through all of the posturing that we’ve already been through. Scan your body for any unnecessary stiffness and make the bodily adjustments to relax them to a comfortable state. Even the muscles in your face can be strained when playing.


2. Breath normally. Something that I’ve seen a few people do, especially beginners, is to stop breathing while they’re playing. Their chests cramp up as they put all their effort into playing the guitar. Make sure your breathing is normal and consistent. 

3. Check your picking hand is nice and relaxed. Your joints should be nice and loose from your shoulder, to elbow, to wrist, to finger joints. Do not squeeze your pick. In fact, hold it as loose as you possibly can without dropping it.

4. On your fretting hand, place the meaty part of your thumb in the centre of the back of the neck and place all four fingers loosely over the fretboard. Check that your wrist is in a comfortable position and that you aren’t tensing your shoulders.

5. Start playing your warmup technique and put only as much pressure on the string as is required to make the note sound. Start off very slowly and go through each previous point in your mind as you do so. Are you tensing up when reaching for specific notes? Has your posture changed? Are you gripping your pick tight? Has your thumb slipped over the neck to a gripping position? Are you pressing hard down on the frets? 

Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t come straight away and you find yourself slipping out easily, this kind of thing takes practice. If you start feeling the tension build up or you’re noticing that your technique is causing discomfort or pain: stop, go back to the start and go again. It’ll get easier each time. Once you’ve done this in the warm-up, start using the same techniques in your practicing. Go over songs that you know well, only now you can focus on your body positioning and your mechanical economy.


Live A More Stress Free Life

You’ll find that this new found technique will provide you with many benefits. You’ll have more comfort in your playing and, if done right, significantly decreased your chance of severe physical conditions like tendonitis. You’re stamina will increase quite a bit and reduce cramping in long playing sessions. Your faster passages will have the chance to to get a lot faster. You may notice your tone getting better, and this has to do with the fluidity and lighter touch of your picking hand. FInally, your tuning will improve as your fretting hand presses lighter on your frets, you’re not bending the notes sharp as you would if you were squeezing the fretboard down hard.

Comment below or e-mail me at Lockyberesford@gmail.com if this helped your playing, or post your own technique changes that have increased your abilities. 



- Locky








Mixing Live Acoustic


A couple of weeks ago I mixed some live acts at a pub and I thought I’d go through the what I tried to do in terms of getting a great sound while trying some new things.The desk I was using was an Allen & Heath Qu24 digital desk, which I personally really enjoy working with. They’re a very intuitive, feature packed digital desk that you can pick up for just AU$3750 brand new. With built in compressors, fully parametric EQ and gates for each channel, plus 4 x inbuilt digital effects with heaps of features, I had quite a bit of technology to work with.



Doing My Research

First I decided to do some research, so I looked up some articles on how other engineers went about mixing live acoustic music. I didn’t find much on mixing live acoustic sounds, most articles cover mic’ing up guitars in the studio. These ones were the most interesting that I found, and I got a bit of info from them.






Acoustic Guitar EQ

Thinking Outside The Boxiness

One thing that always tends to get on my nerves is the sound of acoustic pickups. Acoustic guitars usually have piezo pickups which sit under the bridge and as a result to accentuate a very sharp, boxy and mid heavy sound that isn't that appealing. I thought I'd try some experiments to counteract this and get a nice, full guitar sound using some short, sharp and shaped reverb. I got this idea from my TC-Helicon Acoustic Play pedal, which has a Resonance effect that makes the acoustic guitar sound much nicer than a straight signal. It does this by adding an extremely short reverb that is then EQ'd to simulate the natural resonance of the body of an acoustic guitar. 

Resonance Verb Setting
So, when I got onto the desk, I went about setting up a similar effect. I went through the reverbs that are available on the Qu24, trying out only the ones that sounded like they would work (short plate, small room etc.) and ended up liking the patch called "Room Kickbox". From there I solo'd the patch in my headphones and worked the effect parameters and EQ until I had a sound that I thought sounded like a nice and natural acoustic guitar. It’s important to note that I wasn’t looking for a big and beautiful hall reverb, or even a room verb, I was just trying to simulate the sound of an acoustic guitar’s body resonance sound which, in the reverb world, is pretty short. The big room reverb was run on another channel, and had both the normal guitar signal, and my new "resonance verb" running to it.

Resonance Verb EQ
I then took off my headphones and went back to listening to the mix in the room. I slowly brought up the reverbed guitar effect until I felt that it brought the sound of the guitar to a more natural sounding acoustic. This is when I was running out of time with the sound check phase of things so got the voice sounding good and got them to start playing their set. At this point, I don’t think it was perfect, but it sounded much, much better than what I could have got with the straight D.I tone by itself. Because this kind of acoustic music doesn’t require much attention throughout the show, I was free to work on getting this guitar sounding as good as I could get it. So, for the remainder of the set, I worked on very small increments in trying to perfect the guitar sound. There were five guitarists over the night with five different guitars and five different playing styles. So the sound of the resonance, as well as the EQ and compression on the guitar changed for each one, so I definitely wasn’t bored.


The Vocal Point

Vocal EQ
The only other sound source that I had to deal with one this particular gig, was obviously the vocal mic. I didn’t spend as much time on this as I did for the guitar, but I still had some ideas that I definitely wanted to try out. Being an acoustic gig, I had a lot less sound to compete with when it came to the other instruments, and this was a breath of fresh air. It’s common, especially with loud bands in smaller venues, to have half of your decisions are to make the vocal sound good, and the other half are to get them to cut through the mix while not feeding back. Because I had complete control over all the sounds on stage (a luxury that doesn’t come when you’re dealing with drummers or loud guitar amps in the room), I could really sculpt the sound of the vocal to exactly how I wanted to hear it.

As with the guitars, I spent a lot of time changing the EQ and compression over the course of the gig to try to get it to a point where I thought it was near perfect. I also resisted the urge to make an EQ shape that I thought I would need before actually hearing the performer play. Instead, I tried to really listen to the sound of the voice and only EQ anything that I thought was necessary. This meant that I was taking out a lot more high mid and boosting a lot more low end than I would normally do on a live vocal. This was really interesting, but made sense.

The Human ear detects the most detail at around 1000-3000Hz, so when you’re fighting to get a vocalist to be heard and understood in a room full of loud instruments, you’re most likely going to boost some frequencies in this range. The downside to this is that these frequencies also have a tendency to sound harsh. Alternatively, sounds lower down tend to have little detail in the human ear, so if you boost these frequencies, the overall sound tends to just blend in with all the other sounds in the room and create a big, muddy mess. However, with acoustic music, you’re not fighting with many other sounds, and the acoustic guitar is easily manipulated to your will. There is plenty of space in the frequency spectrum to have a vocal that’s up front and easily understandable, without having to pull out the low end body of the singers voice and inject it with harsh upper mids. 

One thing to note, which should go without saying but some engineers tend to forget, is that this is NOT a one-size-fits-all scenario. Every singer, microphone, desk, EQ, PA and room are different, and you should EQ a voice depending on what you’re hearing on the night. The instruments supporting and even the size of the crowd can have a drastic input on what a voice will sound like. Over the course of the night, I changed the EQ shape 5 times, for each of the 5 singers and I urge any budding engineer to resist the urge to jump on a desk and start EQing what they think will make a great vocal sound before they get a chance to hear the raw sound of the singer first.



The Bottom Line


This was a great gig. Because of the simple changeovers there was no stress, the performers were really easy to deal with and the setup at the venue was well kept and simple. This could easily have been a “set and forget” style gig where I got a decent sound and sat back, looking at my phone for the whole gig and the performers and punters wouldn’t have noticed. However, I had a lot of fun with this one. I’d gone in with some ideas and done a bit of research and was interested with the results that I could push out. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or send me an e-mail at Lockyberesford@gmail.com. I hope you learned something that you can experiment with in your own mixing.

Check out the Video Tutorial I did on how to set up a resonant channel for acoustic guitar using plugins in Pro Tools here: http://lockyberesford.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/how-to-make-di-acoustic-guitars-sound.html

- Locky

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Welcome to my Blog!!!

Hey guys,


Welcome to my music blog! This is going to be the first of many posts that I’ll be putting up and I’m really excited to start sharing my knowledge and experience with all who wish to see it. I’ve been contemplating this idea for a while now and now I’ve decided to pull my finger out and start it up.


Who are you?

My name is Locky, and I’m a singer/songwriter/ guitarist/sound engineer from Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 8 years old and playing in bands since I was about 14. I went to Box Hill Tafe and got my Bachelor of Applied Music (Audio) in 2009. After that I managed a recording studio called Bear Lock Studios for about 4 years, recording countless acts.

I still record music out of other studios and do a fair amount of live mixing. My main income is as an AV tech in the corporate world, which isn’t as fun but the people are cool and it brings in the cash. I am currently playing for a Modern Rock band called Lazarus Mode (check out www.lazarusmode.com) and for the last year or so I’ve been working on making some money playing acoustic covers live. 

On top of this, I’ve been writing my own music on and off since I’ve started and am looking to start playing some acoustic original music soon… maybe even branch out and form a band. 


What is this?

This is my blog! I’m going to be posting a variety of different types of blog over a heap of different subject matter. Honestly, the structure will probably change a bit over my posts as I get used to this whole blogging world, but hey, that’s part of the fun of it, isn’t it? 


I intend to do tutorials on different techniques I’ve picked up here and there, trying to go as in depth as possible while trying to make it usable for your average Joe. I’ll post some videos on some of these techniques and maybe just some of me showing you what I’m doing with my music. There’ll be walk-throughs of stuff I’ve tried out, stuff I intend to try out and stuff I’ve failed at. There’ll be gear reviews and just blogs about what I did that day, should my content get low.

In terms of subject matter, I plan on trying to cover all the things that take up my time. I’ll be talking guitar playing, singing, songwriting, recording production, mixing and mastering, and all the little bits in between. One part that I’m looking forward to is taking a song from the beginning of the writing process, through the finished product one step at a time, and take you through it in detail.


When will you post?

I’m going to be posting twice a week, every week. Sometimes more if I have too many ideas to share and not enough blogs to share them. There’s no fixed times that I’ll be posting through the week but hopefully they don't get too spaced out. I also encourage you all to comment, share and get involved with this blog. I hope to make this a community and would love to hear your ideas on how I can improve or just tell me if what I’ve written has had any impact on your own creative endeavors. 



Why would you do this?

I’m trying to tell myself that it’s not an egotistical thing (but hey, I’m a muso after all). I’m really trying to move forward as a musician/producer as I feel like I’ve been stuck in a rut for a while. They say the best way to learn is to teach, so by making my experiences and my ideas public, hopefully I can have more experiences and take my ideas a little further than I would have before. 

I would also love to make this a little community and try to get different musos involved in helping each other reach a new potential in their art. I would like to force myself to create more, and hopefully having an audience who’s interested in what I’m creating will give a little extra drive. I, by no means, would call myself an expert in any field and I don’t see myself as a guru at anything I post. I just want to post my experiences and method and hope that you guys find something interesting in what I’ve got to say.



Where can I find you?

I have quite a few different pages that you can follow and they all lead to each other. As with everyone else trying to find their calling on the internet, I’m a part of a plethora of social media pages


Twitter: @LockyBeresford

Instagram: lockyberesford


This Blog: lockyberesford.com 

E-mail: Lockyberesford@gmail.com


How?

Never mind the how! Welcome to my blog. If you like this page, please share it with your friends. If you know pages that I should like or just have a comment, please message on here or e-mail me. I’m always happy to hear from you. 

I hope you all have a good week, you’ll hear from me soon.


- Locky