Diary of A Bad Guitar Player: Alternate Universes


I must confess, I am scared of alternate tunings. I am not sure when in my near-30 years of being bad at playing guitar that the fear set in, but it is there now and it is quite real. I think it took root early on. After learning the basic chords and beginning to strum some songs, play some riffs and get my #guitarface on, it probably occurred to me that by changing the tuning of the guitar I would cast myself out in to a world of unknown patterns, of misplaced notes and general bewilderment. Once I took the time to get most of my scale patterns down, I was all the way out on alternate tunings. I was not about to let a few twists on a half-dozen pegs turn me into Donnie from the Big Lebowski- out of my element, like a child who walks into the middle of a movie…

So, no alternate tunings for me. Not for the many, many fingerstyle blues songs that I might learn in open G or open D. Not to add one of my favorite Dylan tunes- Buckets of Rain (played in open E)- to the setlist. Not to get the rhythm guitar sound that drives so many amazing Joni Mitchell tunes.

I would guess this not uncommon. It is intimidating to look at the six strings and twenty or more frets that make up a guitar. You naturally wonder how the hell anyone knows which note is which in that perplexing arrangement of steel and wood. Once you get a little bit of handle on it, you sure as hell don’t want to go back to that place where you are entirely unsure what the note on the next string is.

I realize now though, that this a mistake and it is exactly the kind of mistake that I tend to make. In fact, this the kind of mistake that is at the heart of my struggle to play music.

I am not comfortable not knowing things. I like to have some kind of understanding of a subject, a basic working knowledge I can build on. This is helpful in many areas of life, of course. It creates an impulse to research things, to commit things to memory, to read and learn and engage with a wide range of topics and ideas. Even in studying music, this is generally a good thing. I know far more about music theory than I need to as a result and that knowledge is often useful. The problem is that music- playing music specifically- is largely about experience and not information. That is why is requires practice and not study. By avoiding the difficult and uncertain terrain posed by alternate tunings, I avoided a way of playing that would depend on my ear and not my hands. It chose the security of knowledge over lessons only experience can teach.

My recent playing, most of which has been following Lee Anderson’s Play Guitar Academy, has pushed me to use my ear more. Playing leads of backing tracks, I am trying to find my way more by ear now than ever before. And I am happy to say it is working. I recognize when I hit chord tones, even if I don’t know exactly where I am in the progression. I also get lost in the progression much less often because I hear the changes better.

 It is encouraging, but it has also shown me my limitations. I still can’t reliably transcribe anything. I still feel lost trying to play over chords if I don’t know the key or the changes. And I am still baffled by alternate tunings. Now, however, I see that limitation as just another excuse. I don’t have a great ear- that is true. I have tried to hide behind knowing songs and theory and other tricks to dodge the discomfort of getting into a place where I don’t know what I should play. I can see now I need that discomfort. I need to try to play in different tunings. I need to get lost and not know the chords and find my way by ear alone. I am excited to try.

Diary of A Bad Guitar Player: Playing in the Band


I never had a band, exactly. When I first started playing guitar, I played with anyone I could find to play with. This was mostly just jamming- though calling it “jamming” is probably generous. After a while, my cousin and I joined forces with a drummer and tried to start a band. We called it the Psychedelic Aliens and we played whatever Phish or Grateful Dead songs we could best approximate. We did this three or four times, never got anything down, never had set rehearsals and never sound like much. That was the closest I got to being in a band.

I really wanted to be in a band. I just didn’t know how to pull it off at that point. By the time I was in college, I had set my sights on other artistic ambitions and given up on the guitar as anything much more than a hobby. I played a few “gigs” at college functions as a solo act, covering Dylan songs, sounding bad and feeling awkward until I shelved the guitar as a mere hobby. It’s been a great hobby for my entire life. Now I play songs for kids when they will let me or around the occasional campfire. Mostly though, I just play alone.

But lately, this has started to change. When you reach a certain age- or more accurately, when your kids reach a certain age- you begin making new friends with the parents of your kids’ friends. Early this year, a few of us, realizing that we all play guitar, decided to set up a regular jam. That jam is slowly starting to evolve into something like a band. We have songs we rehearse. We have parts to those songs we are supposed to play. It is fun and energizing and a little bit awkward. There is a enough drinking and socializing to give it a relaxed feel, but there is enough focus on the music to make it more than just four dads hanging out with their guitars. It isn’t exactly a band just yet, but it isn’t not a band either.

The dynamics that shape a band have been memorized in dozens of movies and documentaries. They are fertile ground for stories for a good reason. There are extremes within those dynamics. Bruce Springsteen earned the nickname “the Boss” through his total and complete control of his band, while Jerry Garcia spent 30 years as the leader of the Grateful Dead insisting he would not be the leader of the Grateful Dead. The greatest rock band ever, The Beatles, disbanded fifty years ago, but the complex web of relationships in that band still fascinates the world. All of this is to say that being in a band is complicated, even if you are just four dads butchering classic rock tunes.

As my little jam session gets just slightly more ambitious, I find myself sympathizing with Jerry Garcia. Jerry famously just wanted to have fun. He hated authority and didn’t want to become “the boss” of his band. But he was only ever going to be the leader, if only because he was the musical genius of the group and paired with Robert Hunter, the primary songsmith. I am neither of those things, but I have started to feel everyone looking at me when it comes to “what should we play?” and other musical issues. I don’t want answer those questions, I just want to play.

Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Yousician


I doubt there is anything worse for a guitar player than sitting down to practice and not knowing what to practice. This might be the biggest limiting factor for people like me, who have gone well beyond beginner, but still lack any sense of mastery. It is definitely the worst part of teaching yourself and so often it leads you to just hacking away at something simple or noodling around without direction or purpose.

This problem makes a system like Yousician very appealing. Yousician is a play-along app that features customized progressions for players built around original songs and exercises. It also has a library of songs by popular artists that you can play along with. I have been playing with Yousician for a year and a half with mixed results. This week I decided to return to it to get some more structure to my practice.

It is hard to overstate just how incredible the technology of this program is. It listens to you play and tells you I you hit the right notes in real time as you play. You can slow down songs in practice mode to help master them and then try to nail them in performance mode to progress. As someone old enough to remember a time before there were even chord charts available online, this seems as futuristic as flying cars or self-fitting clothing.

But as impressive as the tech might be, you can’t help but use Yousician and think, “this is basically Guitar Hero on a real guitar.” The program gamifies playing music so much that it feels like you are really only learning to play the game of Yousician and not playing music. This feeling is reinforced by the biggest flaw with the app- you can’t print out or export any of the music to play outside of Yousician. This makes it really difficult to feel like you are mastering a song independent of the app and basically makes it impossible to play anything on your own. As a result, to date, I have only learned one song that I play on my own from Yousician and it was a pretty easy song for me to play (and to memorize) to begin with (Ain’t No Sunshine). Without being able to step away from the very easy-to-follow format of Yousician’s notation and practice with just a metronome, I feel like I never really learn anything but how to play inside Yousician and that is disappointing.

This week, I did discover one thing that I really love Yousician for, however. The program cannot be beat when it comes to practicing techniques like scales and arpeggios. One thing Yousician does really well is to force you to have great time. Because it judges you on accuracy note-by-note, there is no speeding up and slowing down to fit to the beats. You have to nail every sixteenth note in time and this makes it perfect for warming up and for technique exercise. I just wish they had more of them available. As much fun as the app can be for playing along with famous songs, it really crushes it for the more mundane elements of practice and I’ll be incorporating it into my playing for that reason for the foreseeable future.

Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Playing the Changes


After floundering around with what to practice for a few weeks, I was more consistent this week, in large part because I decided to consciously try to have more fun practicing. I generally enjoy practice, even when it is difficult or even if the things I am practicing are a bit tedious. However, when your principle reason for playing the guitar is not professional aspirations, there is a limit to how much you can push yourself, especially when life outside the fretboard become very stressful.

This week, what I found most fun was playing simple tunes and improving in fingerstyle over those simple changes. I focused on Neil Young’s Helpless, Tom Petty’s Walls, and simple ii-V-I’s in a couple of keys. I focused on using chord forms to shape lines and help me to keep the bass-chords-melody style going to some degree. My main goal with these improvised solos was to “play the changes,” to imply the chords with the lines I created.

The challenge in playing the changes is not just the challenge of highlighting chord tones at the right time. If you have a decent handle on arpeggios, you can navigate simple changes like the ones I was using easily enough if that is the only thing you are trying to do. The real challenge is stay musical while making the changes and still keep the feel of the song. There are hundreds of songs that share the same basic chord pattern at some point in their changes, but don’t share the same feel or melodic context within those changes. It is possible to play the changes and end up with something that doesn’t feel at all like the song you are playing. I managed to do this a lot.

Fingerstyle guitar arrangements offer an advantage in avoiding this though since you typically play the melody as well as implying the chords. I had the most success beginning with simple variations around the arrangement of the melody.

That is somewhat the opposite of playing the changes. Early jazz musicians primarily based solos on the melody, referencing it and return to it as they improvised. A few of the great swing area sax players- most notably Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins- played lines that were more explicitly concerned with the chord changes and these players inspired the next generation of players to follow their lead. When Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie blew open the jazz world with their creation, be-bop, this approach became the dominant one. Navigating complex changes at blazing speeds practically became a sport with pieces like Giant Steps set up like an American Ninja Warrior course for soloists. The style of playing around the melody has become antiquated.

But guitar players are not sax or trumpet players. As guitarists, we are always playing the chords, or riffs that imply them and far too often we don’t actually play the melody. At all. Ever. Every woodwind and brass player plays melodies constantly. Playing the melody is in their blood. It isn’t the same for guitar players, especially if they have played mostly rock, folk, country or blues, like me. When I try to play the changes, I lose the song completely and everything sounds like an exercise in playing chord tones in a pattern. Beginning with something more musical and evolving it away from the melody helped me a lot. So did keeping it simple and slow. I feel like I made real progress with this concept approaching it this way.

Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Of Dogs and Homework


There is guitar playing and there is life. Sometimes life gets in the way of guitar playing. That has been the case the past two weeks. My practice has slipped and my focus is shot.

What I’m saying is… the dog ate my homework.

She didn’t actually eat my homework, or in this case I guess it would be my sheet music, but adopting our beautiful new puppy, Zuzu, has ruined my practice schedule, along with my sleep schedule and my mind in general. Just over two weeks ago, my family decide to finally fulfill my daughter’s life-long dream- if eight-years old can be said to have life-long dreams- and get a puppy. We got incredibly lucky and we were able to rescue the adorable little girl that you see above.. She is sweet and gentle and quite sleepy. She is also, as anyone who has ever had a puppy will tell you, a ton of extra work, and that work has mostly fallen to me.

Sweet little Zuzu doesn’t deserve the blame here, however. The reality is there will always be something that screws up my guitar practice. Someday (maybe) this quarantine will end and I will have to figure out where practicing can fit in between twelve hour work days, long commutes, being a dad and occasionally even sleeping. I am a bad guitar player, in part, because I have been bad at fitting my guitar playing in to everything else that happens in my life. Music is a hobby for me. I have no intention of ever trying to make a living doing it. When it comes down to it, it can’t really rank that high in my priorities.

But one reason that I don’t just scrap the whole idea of playing music altogether is that I love the discipline of it. I need the discipline of it. Along with exercise, playing music is the main experience in my life that is capable of reminding me that progress comes from doing a little bit every day. Seeing small improvements here and there brings me comfort. It is a reminder that we can be better. Change is possible. I can’t imagine a time where that lesson would be more vital to our everyday existence than it is now. It is one thing to say that change is possible, but it is another to experience change regularly, to embody it. Playing guitar has given me that experience, especially during quarantine, when it feels so hard to imagine change really coming about.

The lessons of playing music don’t just apply to the good times though. They are there when things go wrong as well. Improvement is never a straight line. It is never a series of uninterrupted successes. Failing is part of the process too. So is regression and frustration and wanting to give up and making ridiculous excuses that involve your dog. There is nothing to do but start again. Back to the one. Take two or take two million.

Diary of A Bad Guitar Player: Natural Guitar


This week’s diary entry was delayed for two reasons. First, I was camping this past weekend and that kept me away from technology for a few days. Those days just happen to coincide with the days when I usually write this entry.

The second reason for the delay was that the experience of practicing in the serene spot that I had while camping and a few other parts of that experience got me thinking about playing the guitar in a different way and I was not immediately able to find words to express what I was thinking and experiencing in the days after.

On our camping trip, I had a sweet little morning practice routine going. After brewing some coffee on the camping stove, I trucked out along a cliffside path through the woods to a spot where the forest opened up onto- and looked out over the eroded sands- the ocean. There I sat down and began to practice as egrets and cormorants fished for their breakfast and swallows darted between the sand and the trees. It was a beautiful spot and a beautiful way to begin a day. Just me and m guitar and the wild world around me.

Because this was so idyllic, I wanted to play beautiful music and have that music score the serenity of the moment and… well, of course, I sucked. I sucked out loud over the dunes and that crashing tides, over the tangles of briars, over the majestic oaks and maples. After all, this wasn’t a recital. This was practice and I was practicing shit I can’t yet play and playing it as badly as ever. I could wish to replace my metronome with the soft crash of the waves, I could hope to harmonize with the cedar waxwings and goldfinches fluttering through the trees, but I was still me and the guitar was still a guitar and as beautiful as all the world around me might be, it was still separate from me. Still just a place that I visit and it’s music is not my music.

If this had been the only experience I took away from this minor departure, I would probably not have struggled to express my experiences for the past few days. But something else happened while I was voluntarily living out of a tent with my family this past week. Sitting by the campfire, I set my guitar down, probably to prevent one of the kids from setting it aflame with an errant marshmallow. My niece picked it up and began to mess around with it. I explained to her how the frets worked and showed her how to hold down a string (I was hard for her, it’s always hard when you first try). She listened and tried and struggled and wen back to the serious matter of extinguishing blazing confections.

After ten or fifteen minutes, she asked me “ how do I play something on it?” The question stymied me. I think I said, “well, it’s not easy.” Or something similarly trite and unhelpful. She didn’t stop playing though. She puzzled over the strings and the frets and the entire idea of the instrument for a while longer, strumming here, picking there, listening to the sounds and trying to make sense of them. So I watched her for a while and started thinking about how I look at the guitar.

The guitar is this strange instrument. If you look at the keyboard of a piano, each note has one key, but on a guitar, the same note could be played maybe three or four different places on the instrument. Starting out, we try to make sense of this by learning all these chord shapes and fingering patterns for scales and eventually, it kind of makes some kind of sense. But, after a while, that becomes the only way that you look at the guitar and it is not always a natural way to look at it. You get to the point of trying to make the guitar fit in a piano-shaped box, musically speaking. This can be particularly true when practicing things like chord inversions, which is what I have been working on recently.

One exercise that I love to break out of this way of thinking comes from one of my favorite YouTube guitar teachers, Assaf Levavy of Lick N Riff. In this video, he breaks down a way to improvise with just Emaj7 and Amaj7 in fingerstyle and using the open E and A strings. I love this because with just a couple of very intuitive fingerings and a little knowledge of the E major scale, you can improvise these gorgeous lines over E and A bass notes, exploring and inventing in a way that uses the guitar as a guitar, with open strings, slides, single finger barres- all the simple techniques that belong to the instrument itself.

Because I have also been working on “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix as discussed here, I thought about Jimi’s playing this way as well. One of the reasons “Little Wing” is so captivating is that Jimi finds all these little passing lines within the chords he is (or often isn’t) playing. He is completely at home playing within the “shapes” of chords to the point where they disappear and he accesses everything that the guitar can be for itself.

I realize this is all a bit esoteric, but I think it is also practical. Getting away from all these complicated finger patterns is very freeing and seeing the power of what the guitar makes easy for you to play is a good idea every so often.

Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Days When You Don’t Have It


One thing that I have been thinking about this week while practicing is what happens on those days when you just don’t have it. I don’t mean days when you lack motivation. That is one thing, of course, but I have found that that is something you just have to fight through. I am talking about the days when you just don’t have it in the sense that you just can’t play well. When you can’t do what you usually do. When everything is forced and it all comes out bad.

I had a few days like that this week and I started to think about them.

What is going on when this happens?

What does it mean that it is happening?

How can I reduce the chances of this happening?

What should I do when I feel this happening?

With these questions on my mind, I started looking into skill acquisition to see if I could find some answers. One interesting article I found came from a sports science site called Humankinetics.com. It outlines the three stages of motor learning- Cognitive, Associative, and Autonomous. Most of the time we spend practicing is spent between the associative and the autonomous. The article explains the associative stage as “is transforming what to do into how to do.” So I might know from the sheet music that I need to play a G chord, but now I need to learn the motor pattern that makes that happen at the moment it needs to happen. Now, making a simple G chord is pretty easy for me at this point, so that particular example is closer to the autonomous level of learning, where motor skills can be reproduced automatically, leaving room for your mind to think about other things. To really play anything, we need to push most of the skills into the autonomous level.

Not being a cognitive scientist, I can only make a few guess at what the underlying causes of these off-days might be, but based on a simple understanding of these learning stages, I think the problem lies in the fact that there is no clear line between associative and autonomous for the person doing the learning. After the fact, those might be distinct categorizations, but if you are playing music, especially new, challenging music, you are going to spend the majority of your time in the border between the free-flowing autonomous actions and the more deliberate associative steps needed to get there.

It then becomes easy to mistake where you are at any given time. Some of the things that you might have assumed were locking into an autonomous process are actually not there yet. Throw in additional distractions, poor sleep or some other stressor and those not-quite-autonomous actions need more deliberate attention than they did yesterday. It feels like you “don’t have it” because your grip on the skill is less firm than it seems. Maybe you can do something autonomously in perfect conditions, but that is not the end of the road.

I think I can take away from this two important points. First, if you feel like you “don’t have it” any given day, you never “had it,” at the level you need it to be at. Second, when this happens, the best thing to do is to take note of it and take a step back and re-cement the basics behind what you are struggling with.

Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: New warm-ups and new challenges


After one week of focused on trying to taking better care of my hands, my fingers are feeling much better and I am starting to look for ways to begin building more strength in them. If you are struggling with soreness in your playing, I highly recommend making the following additions to your practice routine.

My Warm-up

I used the following warm-up before even touching the guitar.

  1. Hand-shakes: Keep your hands loose and shake them to get them warmed up. Any way that is comfortable and gets them moving will do.
  2. Finger taps- lightly tap each finger to your thumb, moving from pointer to pinkie and back. Do this with your hands facing away from your body, in neutral (hands facing each other) and with hands facing your body. 3-5 times
  3. Finger presses- press each finger to your thumb firmly, moving from pointer to pinkie and back. Do this with your hands facing away from your body, in neutral (hands facing each other) and with hands facing your body. 3-5 times
  4. Finger bends- Bend each finger down to the heel of your hand, from pointer to pinkie and back.
  5. Finger curls- Bend each finger to the bottom of the finger
  6. One-hand claps- slap all your finger against your palm and extend them back up straight.
  7. Thumb circles- make wide circles with your thumb in both directions
  8. Jazz hands- make a fist then pop your fingers out as wide as possible

This takes just a few minutes and it really helped me to feel less stiff as I started playing. It is simple enough to do basically anywhere.

Breaking up my warm-up exercises on the guitar was also extremely helpful. I did one minute on and thirty seconds off while running my finger exercises and I felt much better. I am planning on build these up my doing one day a week on the acoustic for the next two weeks and by slowly adding time in fifteen second intervals. With my hands feeling better and my focus on maintaining a lighter touch, I was able to improve my speed on these exercises as well, so that was a great bonus.

Now that my hands are feeling better, I am trying to decide on what to learn next. I have been playing exclusively fingerstyle arrangements for the past few weeks and I am coming close to having locked in on the songs I am working on. For my next song, I am looking for a different kind of challenge but I have not decided what that should be just yet.  

Diary of A Bad Guitar Player: Weakness is my biggest weakness


This should have been a good week of practice. I am close to locking down one of the fingerstyle songs I have been learning and I made significant progress on the other song that has been my primary focus for the last three weeks. But as thrilled as I am with that progress, there is a shadow that has hung over all my playing this week. That shadow is pain. Specifically, pain in the fingers in my left (fretboard) hand. My fingers are aching, they are sore, they feel weak- it’s awful.

Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is a concert pianist. He is an extremely talented musician with unreal skill on his instrument. I remember asking him what he practiced every day because I was curious what someone who is at that high a level of skill works on day-to-day, with playing and practicing as their sole professional responsibility. He explained that his current performance was roughly an hour worth of music, so if he were just to go through that music four to five times, that would be four or five hours of practice on its own. Then explained that he spent an hour or so stretching, warming-up and keeping his hands in shaped because if he injured his hands, he would be out of work. That conversation has been on mind ever since it dawned on me that I was wearing out my left hand by playing guitar.

It is probably not all playing guitar though. My other main hobby is fitness and my regular workouts certainly have their effect in beating down my hands as well (I am looking at you pull-ups and hangs). Of course, when it comes to exercise, I am hyper-aware of needing to build up capacities, warm-up, rest and strength weaknesses. Naturally, I feel like a fool for not realizing sooner that if I was going to really make a leap in my playing, I would need to at least consider the same things when it comes to my hands. I have even had conversations with friends who are into bouldering and rock-climbing about how finger strength is one of the most difficult areas to train because the hands are largely ligaments and tendons which take much longer to strength than muscles. Like the Beatles say, I should have known better.

I am fairly confident that I do not have a serious injury in my hand, just the normal fatigue that comes with careless overuse piled on top of poor conditioning. Fortunately, I have a lifetime full of sports training-related screw-ups that I can apply to this problem. Musical problems are beyond me, but a physical one? Yeah, I got this. I am going to apply the following protocol to my hand issues and see where I am in a week.

  1. Rest: I didn’t count on 30 minutes-a-day blowing up my hand this much, but it has so now I need to consider rest days. I won’t play two days this week to completely rest my hand since it is actually hurting.
  2. Active recovery: Thanks to this video from the great sage of soreness Kelley Starett at The Ready State, I have already started foaming rolling for my hands with the markers my kids leave all over the house.
  3. Strengthening: Weak muscles, tendons and ligaments don’t magically become strong ones, so I need to focus more on actually strengthening these weak areas. Since the main reason I hurt my hand to begin with seems to be the fingering exercises that I was using to strengthen with hand, I can assume that it was too much too soon. If that happened with a lift or some other exercise, I would lower the tension (practice these exercises on the electric guitar instead of the acoustic), and take longer rests between sets (or any rest, in this case, since I was just running finger exercises for five minutes straight and only pausing when it started to hurt) I think one minute on, thirty seconds rest for a six sets should replace the five minute warm-up.
  4. Better technique: I think it is safe to say that I generally press too hard on the guitar, especially when I am struggling with fingerings, which is absurdly counterproductive since a lighter touch is smoother and quicker. In these exercises, I am now going to focus not just on the fingerings, but on how light I can keep my touch as I go through them. Typically, I start with a lighter touch and grab the strings firmer as I fatigue. That is poor habit to develop and a recipe for hurting my hand again when I try more challenging exercises.
  5. Better warm-ups and stretching: Before you train, you warm-up. After you train, you stretch. That is a basic tenant that most athletes are familiar with. Warming up means dynamic movements to get blood flowing to muscles and prep them for movement and stretching is using extended positions to expand range of motion. I probably should have done some of this for my hands, right? I know, I am an idiot. What does like for your hands? I am not exactly sure, but I think it will be easy enough to figure out with some experimenting.

So that is plan. I will let everyone know how it goes and hopefully, I can spare you the same pain and figure out how to fix my biggest weakness- weakness itself.

Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Gone Loopy


This week I added the ultimate toy for any bad guitar player- a loop station pedal. I have considered getting one for years but held off because I always felt like I should work on my playing and not add gear that would just add to the goofing off at the expense of actual playing. With so much more time on my hands these days, I figured it was a good time to grab one. I also feel like I am reaching a point in my playing where this is something that has a good deal of value for me. All this time in quarantine practicing regularly has got me to a place where I am moving beyond playing in just one scale at a time for improvisations and to a place where I need to be more focused on the song, its melody and the changes. Being able to create quick loops is very helpful in pushing my playing forward.

Of course, the first thing that I realized when I threw the pedal down on the floor is that I am pretty bad at using it. I have had no trouble making loops by recording to a computer, but having to hit the pedal to end my playing and start the loop just threw me for a… you know.

 Some of the time, I just didn’t hit tap the pedal hard enough for anything to happen. I mean, I am not slamming my foot down when I tap the beat out with it. No problem. I’ll just stomp on the damn thing. They call them stop boxes, right? That worked! All good now…

Except… wow, that first beat is kind of loud. I guess when I stomped the box I also hit the one beat twice as hard as necessary. At least I can hear where the one is. How do I reset this stupid thing?

With clearing the loops from the pedal mastered, it’s time learn to walk and chew gum. I isn’t too difficult to stop slamming the first chord down to start the loop, but ending the loop is trickier. I might be a bad guitar player, but I would be horrendous drummer. I tap the pedal again at the end of the loop and hit it too softly. So it doesn’t stop looping.

Now this thing is in my head. My foot is on the pedal, here comes the end of loop. Bam! Foot to the floor, we have looping! But wait… it’s a half-beat too soon. Take two. Half beat too late (and I slammed on the one as I stopped the loop, just for good measure). Resetting people, going again in five. Such is the life of a bad guitar player.

Ultimately, the pedal is actually pretty ease to use and even on the first day I am making more quality loops than bad ones after a few tries. The one thing that does continue to give me issues is the way the pedal works for adding a second loop. On the Boss Loop Station RC-1, when you end the loop it, it begins play back and continues recording what you are playing to create another loop. Since I am mostly just practicing improvising over chords, one loop is enough for me most of the time. This means I have to hit the pedal twice to stop recording as the playback continues. I forget that about half the time and end up recording the solo as a second loop. This feature also makes it slightly difficult to record the loop and jump into a solo right on the first beat without getting an extra note or two in the loop. This way of functioning is incredibly cool though if you are looking to create more layered sounds or write music because it is easy to play one part, start the loop and jump into a second part. That is something I will definitely play with more as I get more comfortable with this new toy.

After a few days of playing with this thing, I feel kind of foolish for not getting a loop station earlier. I don’t have a ton of people that I play with (and now that number is down to none) and this is a quick and easy solution that definitely beats play-along tracks and having to open up recording software just to lay down a eight-bar pattern. It’s fun to laugh at all the mistakes I make using it, but it is incredibly simple to use even for a pretty lousy guitar player like me.