What are you trying to learn right now?

April 25, 2020 8:47 AM

Are you learning to play a new instrument? Learning a new technique? Discovering a new style of music? Let's talk about it here!
posted by FishBike (7 comments total)

I have been slowly learning the 120-button accordion over the past decade or so. It's hard. So, so difficult. And heavy.

I've also been able to get some squonks out of a 3/4-size saxophone we have.

I have grand plans and one day, ONE DAYYY
posted by not_on_display at 11:15 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I have been slowly learning the 120-button accordion over the past decade or so. It's hard. So, so difficult. And heavy.

Neat! That brings back some memories from about 40 years ago. My dad had an accordion, and could actually play it pretty well. I don't know if it had 120 buttons, but it certainly had a lot. I never understood much about it, but this prompted me to read up a little today. It was a piano accordion, with the Stradella bass system, and a whole bunch of register switches. I knew how to play the piano keyboard part a little bit, and had some idea that the multitude of buttons were for chords, and had no idea at all about the switches on the front. And I do recall it being astonishingly heavy.

Myself, I am currently trying to learn to play the bass guitar. I last tried to learn to play an instrument about 30 years ago, a 6-string accoustic guitar that was in pretty rough shape. I watched quite a few instructional videos even before buying this thing, so I knew there would be a lot to learn and I expected to be pretty bad at it initially. I am happy to report that I am indeed a terrible bass player so far.

I have no plans to join a band or play for an audience or anything like that, this is just something I'm doing because I started watching some bass-related videos on Youtube and kept imagining myself playing it. That idea stuck around for several months, so I decided to give it a shot.

Ideally, I want to be able to hear a tune in my head and play it on an instrument, so in support of that I'm practicing a lot of just finding notes on the fretboard based on note names, sheet music, fret numbers, trying to connect all those up mentally with the note that results. I'm using an app on my phone to help with that, and it seems to be effective. But there is so much more to learn than that.
posted by FishBike at 6:56 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I've been learning some music theory, trying to apply it to my guitar playing, learning the CAGED method.
Then, today, I tried to forget all that and just play.
posted by signal at 6:04 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I'm learning the Sarabande from the Bach Partita for Solo Flute in A minor, and a much more modern flute tune entitled Bright and Chirpy.

The flute is difficult to consistently get a good sound from, but I feel a certain freedom in that (unlike electronic or electronically amplified instruments) it is 98% me and 2% the flute.
posted by solarion at 10:59 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


@not_on_display: I feel like you'll arrive at a heartfelt "Ow, my lumbago!" exclamation soon if you're not careful with that chonky accordion. Sounds like fun, though, and somehow complaining about back pain and playing an accordion seem so right together.

@signal: CAGED is... fine and it can definitely help tie things together across the fretboard and demystify it a bit. I would recommend combining that with regular scale practice, particularly switching between modes and figuring out how that works. For example, take a C Major scale:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

On the guitar, you can start at the 5th string (the "A" string) on the 3rd fret. This is C and you may notice it's the root note in the open C chord shape. If you start at that note and work your way up the fretboard (or dropping down the strings) you would plot out the following tonal gaps:

root, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half

So, from 5th string/3rd fret, you would go to the 5th string/5th fret since each fret is a half step. From there, which is the note D, you can go to the 5th string/7th fret (or 4th string/2nd fret if you want to descend down the strings instead of up the frets). The next step would be a half, so either 5th string/8th fret of 4th string/3rd fret. You should be able to plot out the rest using this method.

A quick note (heh) about descending the strings, if you ever learned to tune your guitar using the 5th fret above the string you are tuning (or 4th when tuning the 2nd/"B" string), that's how you figure out how to work downward instead of up the fretboard. Find the 5 (or 4) fret relationship where the notes match and that's your base when figuring out a whole or half step along a scale.

Now, after you get the major scale, consider the Lydian mode. It's literally the major scale but the 4th note is sharp. In other words:

root, whole, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, half

So back to C, the lydian mode for that is:

C, D, E, F#, G, A, B

Just one single note different, but oh what a difference it makes! Give it a shot and you'll get that very distinct vibe that your ear will probably recognize. So bam, right there, you've got two scales/modes for dang near the price of one. But wait, there's more! If, instead of raising the 4th note a half step you instead lower the 7th note a half step, now you've got the Mixolydian mode. Three modes, all for the price of one + remembering two slight note changes.

Playing around with these should help cement some elements of music theory as you understand the relationships between the modes and where and how to deviate from your standard scales to add some flavor of your choosing. And don't even worry (fret?) about minor, there are similar relationships there as well. We can even cheat in this lesson and use the relative minor of C major, which is A. For this purpose, it simply means that they share all the same notes it's just the starting position that changes, so:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G
root, whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole

If you play this on guitar, you can start on the open A string then to the 2nd fret on that same string and then follow the same dang notes of the C major scale. This was just a little side detour here to suggest learning the relative minor/majors to decrease the amount of perceived brain-load. Anyway, back to minor modes.

You have the Dorian mode, which has a sharp 6th, Phrygian which has a flat 2nd, and Locrian with the flat 2nd and a flat 5th. So, bam, 4 modes for the price of 1 + 4 note variations.

But wait, there's more!

To really bake your noodle, consider the relationship between the major and minor modes. Guess what, it's just a flat 3rd for the minor scale. That's it, nothing fancy or magical. So, to sum it all up:
  • Major to Minor: Flat the 3rd note
  • Major to Lydian: Sharp the 4th note
  • Major to Mixolydian: Flat the 7th note
  • Minor to Major: Sharp the 3rd note
  • Minor to Dorian: Sharp the 6th note
  • Minor to Phrygian: Flat the 2nd note
  • Minor to Locrian: Flat the 2nd note and Flat the 5th note
A few last points: To flatten or sharpen a note, it goes either down or up a half tone respectively which corresponds to a single fret on the guitar. Also, the proper names for the major and minor modes are Ionian and Aeolian. Also, also, there's a whole field of dreams beyond this, but I think this is a great way to start learning the relationships between the modes and then practicing them on the guitar helps open up the fretboard and helps you memorize (and/or be able to "calculate") the notes anywhere you're at on the guitar.

While practicing, try both counting off the notes and the steps (whole and half) to reinforce those concepts. If it starts to feel overwhelming, dial it back to just your favorite pairing of modes where (other than locrian) you only need to remember one note difference.

I really didn't intend for this to be that long and I don't know if any of it useful to you, @signal, but I figure maybe it'll be helpful to somebody out there, one day. Also, disclaimer: I did double-check my figures here, but if I made any errors, apologies in advance.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 9:26 AM on May 29 [4 favorites]


@Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin: that's beautiful, thank you.
posted by signal at 12:36 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


@signal, glad to be of help! When I finally learned the relationships between the primary seven (western) modes, and how simple they actually are, I was kind of annoyed that none of my various instructors, tutorials, websites, YouTube channels, etc, had laid it out like that.

Anyway, I also recommend playing with scales on a piano or keyboard, even a virtual one, just to reinforce the shape of things in a different way, which can help with understanding and memorization.

There's a great site for that which packs a bunch of info into each page. For example, their post on diatonic chords. Or this page for scales. Lots of good music theory reference in general.

Cheers and happy music making!
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 9:36 AM on May 31


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