Branching Out …

I’ve been very fortunate, musically speaking. I belong to a songwriting group, filled with talented and supportive people, and of late, we’ve been having mini workshops at the beginning of each monthly meeting.

A few months back, Dan Hazlett, an extremely talented songwriter and guitarist (among many other talents) encouraged us to stretch ourselves, to really feel the song and spend time with the lyrics before trying to learn to play what we hear in our heads, and then hold tight to that while we figure out how to actually perform it the way we hear it inside. A month later, Joel Palmer, a local jazz and blues virtuoso, gave us some musical theory background using various scale modes, as demonstrated by a looping pedal. He played a chord progression, then ran through the modes of a scale to demonstrate how these affect the feel and style of a song.

Well, I’m not a virtuoso guitarist, and I’ve never been able to get what’s inside my head to some out of an instrument, and until I started performing and rehearsing with friends and family, I’ve been unable to really convey what I’m feeling inside all that completely. The problem is, friends and family aren’t always available, and I’ve become accustomed to having a driving bass line, percussion, rhythm, the occasional backup vocal or a lead riff over an instrumental break, and that’s hard to do as a soloist.

I have been contemplating the wisdom of the words of these recent lessons, and trying to find a way to get more skilled, but also to convey more musical information, and I recalled the looping pedal used by Joel. I happen to have a used one that I bought a couple of years ago, but never put the time in to be proficient with it. My daughter needed some assistance with learning to play guitar for a song she wrote, and I dug the pedal out, looped a section of her song slowly, and left her to it, gradually speeding up each section for her until she could play it at speed. Once she was done, I started goofing around with her intro and the looper, and it worked. Suddenly, doors opened, and I began to really have fun.

Boss 20-XL Looping Pedal

I’ve been working hard each night after work, looking at my favorite original songs, the ones that really felt like they were missing something. I’ve been adding rhythm to support some songs, with percussive tracks looped on some, or looping a chord progression or fingerstyle melody that I can turn on and off throughout a song and play lead over.

That’s been a whole other realm of growth, as I’m not, by nature, a lead player. From what I’ve seen, few soloists are, but now, I’m going back and picking up those skills too. Another side benefit I hadn’t even considered is the built in metronome effect. There’s no tempo drift on a 1-4 bar repeat, so I’m more consistent, which is much better for recording. The whole thing just keeps building on itself, causing me to develop new skills, polish others, and have fun the whole time.

When performing with Sentimental Value, Bridget has typically been on percussion and vocals, but hasn’t been consistent over the past year. She is getting back to practicing, and may join us this season. When she’s there, I won’t need to add the rhythm loops, but it’s nice to have a backup when she can’t make it. Devon playing on bass fits nicely with the loops, and is generally complex enough that I couldn’t loop what he does anyway. When playing solo, that’s the one area that I’m going to really miss, especially once he goes off to college in the next couple of years.

For now, I’m experimenting, adding all kinds of rhythms, and having a good time. Can’t wait to share with you all. Have a great day!

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