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Nothing to see here folks, move along… (new website)

Just a quick note to direct readers past and present (all three of you) to my new blog, over at LoriLinstruth.com . The old P.L.A.G posts are archived there, and this site will remain here as a cobweb for the time being, at least.

I could just continue it over on the new site, but the guitar focus of this blog doesn’t really fit anymore (funny how life changes!). So starting from scratch seems to be the better option. Hope to see you there!

Modes for metalheads (repost)

Modes have always been confusing to me, but thanks to one of Vinnie Moore’s instructional videos and many patient explanations by my musician friends, modes are finally starting to clear up a bit. What you find below represents the line of thought that finally helped me make a little sense of modes, and to start understanding how I could use them for something besides practicing scale patterns. At this point, you might want to open the Flash demonstration in a new window and keep it handy as you’re reading.

Major or Minor?

Part of my confusion was caused by tutorials that always take C major as their starting point for discussing modes. Admittedly, it’s easier to talk about intervals and scale degrees without having to deal with sharps and flats, but C major is, well, kind of bland and boring. It’s not particularly guitar friendly either. Why waste time messing about with happy major tonalities (GHAY!) when you can cut straight to the dark and evil sounding stuff? That’s why the discussion below starts with E natural minor(or E Aeolian in modal terms). Of course, Nigel Tufnel has conclusively demonstrated, D minor is the saddest of all keys. But E minor is definitely the most metal. It sure doesn’t hurt that it’s (arguably) the most guitar-friendly as well, at least in standard tuning.

Modal tonalities vs. scale positions

Here is the key (snort!): if you play, say, a C Lydian “pattern” over a backing that has a pronounced E minor flavor, it’s still not going to sound like the Lydian mode. For instance, if you start your melodic line on the 8th fret (C) and play the Lydian “pattern” over an E minor chord, it will still sound like plain old E minor (Aeolian)!

Herein lies the confusion — understanding the difference between static scale positions on the neck and the sound of true modality. Modes have distinct tonal flavors as a result of the intervals that they are made up of in relation to their tonic note and the tonic of the backing. If you’ve graduated from Metal Guitar 101 you can play E-minor scale patterns in positions all over the neck. Play them against an E-minor backing, and they will all sound like the Aeolian mode (E minor). To achieve various modal flavors using those same scale patterns, you need to change the tonic flavor of the backing to establish the modal mood you are after. The difference is far more difficult to explain than it is to hear. If your are confused, play around with the demo and listen to the different moods…that should clear things up.

About the demonstration

You need Flash Player 6 or higher to view the demo. If you haven’t done it already, then click here to open it in a new window.

The example begins with a diagram of the notes from the E (natural) minor scale (E Aeolian) from the open position to the 12th position. (Please note that the actual sound samples are in E flat minor because I tune my guitar down one half-step.) If you click on the mode names, you will see the different modes shown in a 3-note-per-string pattern covering all 6 strings. They are superimposed on the extended pattern (olive green) for reference. The root note of each mode is highlighted in turquoise.

You’ll can listen to two sound samples for each mode. Each sample features the same guitar part, but one is played over the “modal” backing note, and the other over an E. This lets you hear the same melody taking on different modal flavors due to the harmonic context within which it appears. The take-home point is that modes are context-dependent moods or flavors, not static scale positions!

Although the visual demo highlights only one 6-string pattern per mode, the patterns can actually be extended up and down the neck when you play. In fact, in the sound samples I don’t stick to the illustrated patterns, but extend the melodies up and down the neck. I’ve not included any sound samples for the Aeolian positions, because the other modes’ samples over E backing all sound Aeolian anyway!

I hope this will help you understand modes a little better. If none of this makes sense to you, just try to remember that modes are a sound, not a scale position. That’s really what it’s all about in a nutshell.

Note: This post originally appeared years ago on my static website at lorilinstruth.com. I never bothered to move it over to my blog, probably because I didn’t think the sound samples were clear enough and I couldn’t be bothered to re-do them and reauthor the Flash. Thanks to Alan and other readers who have written to ask about it, giving me a reason to dust off the cobwebs and upload the old demo to my new site. The perfectionist in me hates the sound of the old samples, but WTF. Sorry it took so long for me to pull my thumb out and get around to it!

Best of 2010 – puppy love

It’s weird how in one moment you can go from being mildly interested in something to totally passionate about it. At least that’s how it is for me. There is always some defining moment where, through some biochemical magic that I doubt science understands yet, something in your brain goes “click!” and suddenly you’re keenly interested in something — to the point of obsession. It’s all you can think about, all you WANT to think about. Guitar was like that for me. Hearing Michael Schenker’s “Into the Arena” was my gateway drug to my passion for putting fingers on strings to make melodies aided by the penetrating midrange of a Crybaby wah. Back in my first few years of playing, I orchestrated my entire life around being able to play guitar.

Many years later, when my guitar passion had mysteriously faded away (probably disillusionment, but that’s a topic for a separate post), bicycling took over. I was completely in love with the idea of bicycles and bicycle touring. I rode my bike EVERYWHERE, rain or shine. (I lived in Sweden at the time, so it was mostly rain, very little shine.) I ended up riding solo from southern Sweden to northern Norway and back, camping in my tent along the way. I did that two summers in a row, on a bike whose wheels I had built myself. I’ve always liked cycling, but it was reading Josie Dew’s first book that turned it into a passion. My lifestyle doesn’t permit me to indulge my bike touring passion anymore, but to this day I have a hard time throwing away plastic bags (a touring cyclist’s BEST FRIEND) and my heart jumps a little when I see touring cyclists on the road.

In the 46 years I’ve been on this planet, interests have come and gone, which is what I meant the self-indulgent babbling above to illustrate. What I REALLY want to talk about is my latest obsession. It’s dogs. Lately I’m all about dogs. Seriously. Dogs and dog training are pretty much all I can think about. Why dogs? I’m not really sure. I’ve always liked dogs (and most animals) but not like THIS.

To back up a bit, I spent the better part of this past autumn in yet another bout of depression. I won’t overshare with the gory details, all you need to know is that one of the fun things that come along with depression is something called anhedonia: basically, even the things you normally enjoy give you no pleasure. Nothing is interesting, nothing is fun.

Through the years I’ve learned that one sure sign that a depressive episode is passing is that when I least expect it, something becomes INTERESTING again. There is nothing like an all-consuming new interest to get your thoughts off yourself (and everything that is WRONG with you) and onto something else.

This time, it was the video below that did it.

And it wasn’t just that it’s the cutest thing ever…I was immediately struck by the amount of time and effort that must have gone into training Jesse to perform all of those behaviors, and how willingly he seemed to approach his tasks. This couldn’t be a dog being trained with choke chains and the other aversive methods I remember reading about back in the 1980s.

Reading the information on Jesse’s Youtube channel introduced me to the idea of training based on “positive reinforcement.” Before I knew it I was ravenous to learn more about it. That led me to two amazing Youtube channels run by positive-based dog trainers who freely share their knowledge with the public via their videos. I don’t often get girl-crushes, but I’m totally SMITTEN ;-) If you have a dog and are interested in positive methods, trust me: you want to get to know the women I’m about to show you below.

Here is my favorite clip of dog trainer Emily Larlham (known as kikopup on Youtube) having fun with her border collie Splash:

Emily had hundreds of instructional videos on her channel, covering everything from tricks to basic doggy manners to “how to’s” for solving common behavior problems using positive methods. Here’s a particularly useful one in which she demonstrates how to use positive methods to encourage dogs learn loose leash walking:

As it turns out, Emily is friends with another trainer in her area – Pamela Johnson, who goes by Pamelamarxsen on Youtube. Like Emily, Pamela also has hundreds of instructional videos on her channel demonstrating positive-based training solutions to common dog behavior problems, as well as tutorials about how to teach agility, tricks, frisbee, and other fun things you can do with your dog. The video below, which covers teaching your dog how to be calm and quiet when the doorbell rings instead of going crazy and barking its head off, is a stand out:

To sum up, I have to thank whomever originally sent my partner the video of “useful dog tricks.” It was my partner who showed it to me and (unintentionally) sparked this new interest. It’s been many years since I had an interest that did not involve needing to spend hours on end in solitary practice (like guitar) or involved staring at glowing rectangles. I don’t have a dog of my own (yet, haha!) but have realized that co-operative interaction with other living creatures, out in the fresh air, can only be a good thing! Additionally, seeing how Emily and Pamela generously make use of their Youtube channels to educate others was inspiring. I hope they can inspire you as well :-)

[Edit: Other awesome trainers who share their knowledge: Katie Buvala of 3LostDogs.com, she’s 3LostDogs in Youtube — she’s awesome! Another one I’ve found notable is the guy from Trainingpositive.com, who goes by Tab289 on Youtube (I couldn’t find his real name anywhere). These are just a few — I’m discovering new ones every day!

Best of 2010 – push the boulder

Over the next few days I’ll be sharing some things that made an impression on me this year. The first is Colleen Wainwright’s galactically awesome video “The Boulder: a song for the New Year.”

This video is about a year old, but as of today it’s had fewer than 10 000 views (It SO deserves more), thus I’m betting that many readers here haven’t seen it yet. It’s not safe for work, though, so unless you have a cool boss (i.e., one who understands the difference between using profanity because you’re too lazy to think up a better word and using it you think it’s the best way to make your point) you’d better wait until you get home:

When times have gotten hard over the past year, when I’ve been faced with scary or odious tasks that — even though I TOTALLY don’t feel like it — still have to be done, I think of Colleen’s boulder song and it helps me. Seriously. Then I just set my timer for a 10-20 minute “get started” interval and hop to it, rather than expending valuable mental energy worrying endlessly about how the heck I’m EVER going to manage. I have a permanent entry on my Astrid to-do list, just to remind me if I forget.

The boulder is always on my to-do list

The Boulder song was my gateway into Colleen’s world. Her newsletter and RSS feed are two of the few things that have survived the Great Media Cleanout of 2010. Two strategies I’ve learned from her have been part of my regular self-motivational repertoire over the past few months:

Annual goals daily

Colleen’s not-so-stupid Stupid Reading Hack

Now that I “get” the concept of just pushing the confounded boulder, one of the most important questions I’ve been trying to answer for myself recently is this: out of the universe of possible boulders, which ones are ACTUALLY WORTH PUSHING? Admittedly, I don’t really find the concept of “New Year’s Resolutions” particularly useful. But even so, at this time of year it feels natural to review and assess the past year, and look forward to the year to come.

In the next “best of” post I’ll be presenting one of my totally-not-guitar-related boulders for 2011.