Music and Life

Literature may have been one of the most important keys in strengthening the Appalachian stereotype in the public view. Through fiction and nonfiction, this image continues to show its face. At Ian Ainslie’s site, he traces his own Blue Ridge roots and describes the people of Southern Appalachia in negative and positive portraitures. As in nonfiction, Mandell Sherman and Thomas R. Henry’s Hollow Folk and Muriel Earley Sheppard’s Cabins in the Laurel are both “colorful, detailed descriptions of individual rural communities, one set in Virginia, the other in North Carolina” (Olson, 66). They give romanticized pictures of mountain life and exaggerate the degree in which Southern Appalachians still observe traditional folkways, and by the time of the Depression, many people in towns were thoroughly “modernized.” The Foxfire magazine and books are “haphazardly organized and frequently lacking interpretive analysis,” yet they offer a load of information on folklife tradition and oral histories from the old people in Appalachia (66). Such novelists as Fred Chappell and Lee Smith use themes and inspiration from the Southern Appalachia region to write their novels (67). Lee Smith’s study of the mountain area did not stop with just the people, but continued into their beliefs and worries. One belief she worked into her novel, Oral History, is that of “milksick.” This disease came from drinking bad milk from a cow. “No one knows for sure how the milk would become contaminated, but it was thought that the cows ate a mysterious plant that grew in dark coves” (“The Nut”). It is from being milksick that kills Pricey Jane and Eli, Almarine’s beautiful wife and son. As Granny Younger called it, “dew pizen,” she and everyone else knew that it had no cure:

That is why you had to watch where a milk-cow grazed,
keep her out of cow-stomps and shady swamps and ferny places so
she wouldn’t get took milk-sick like this one did. Anybody who
drank off a milk-sick cow, or ate her butter, would die too.
(Smith, 78).

Such beliefs as the milksick cow or any ghost and witch stories were characteristic of early Appalachian folk, and are still handed down from generation to generation.

All these types of media portray a people who have long been a mystery among those who admire the Appalachian region. The exaggerated antics of character sketches in modern day media help urban society cope with stress using humor. Most depictions are rooted to some sort of reality, which can often be found in the journals and dairies of early mountain folk. Such men like William B. Northcutt and Peter Cartwright, as varied as their lives have been, are able to help one understand the origin of the hillbilly or Appalachian folk stereotype. Yet, so many of these depictions are exaggerated and painted in colors that falsifies the people’s lifestyle and culture. Nonetheless, these portrayals are grounded in modern day media and perceptions. They help society feel that it has not yet lost all of its morality, virtues, and tradition. As one who loves this mountain region and desires to go there to see for herself whether these paintings of Appalachia are true in color and detail, she also feels the comfort in believing that a people still exists that treasures family and tradition.

Silent But Not Gone

Just a quick update, as things have been a little quiet around here of late. Don’t worry – I’ve not hung up my guitar and headed for pastures new. I don’t think I could give up the six string even if I tried!

As you are probably aware, when you’re an old git like I am, your body starts to fail you in all kinds of ways that you never thought were even possible. Consequently, I’ve been in and out of hospital for the past few weeks, trying to get to the bottom of a recurring problem.

We’ve finally found out what it is and I am glad to say that there’s no serious threat and I will be back on my feet in no time. Which means that I’ll be back blogging in no time, too.

So expect more from this old blues hound. And for some considerable time to come.

5 Basic Guitar Playing Techniques

In order to enrich and enhance the sound of your playing, there are some basic techniques which are both epic-sounding and very fun to play and learn. These five techniques are very simple to learn, yet they are an essential skill of a good guitar player.

1. Bending Notes

Bending notes means that once you play a note, you move your finger up or down while still holding your finger on that fret. By bending the note you are raising pitch. The changed in pitch depends on how far vertically you bend the string. You can also first bend the note, pick the string and then gradually move the string back to its original position, which is called ‘Bend and Release’.

2. Hammer-on

A hammer-on is achieved when you play a note, and then while the note is still playing you push down the note next to it or whichever you can reach without picking the string again.

3. Pull-off

The opposite of hammer-on – you set your fingers on two frets on the same string, pick the string, and while the note is playing pull your finger from the higher note up while leaving the other finger down; this way you’re playing these two notes consecutively while picking the string only once.

4. Vibrato

While pressing a note, twist the tip of your finger so that the note gets a sort of resonating and pulsing sound. It is important to define the extent of how hard you twist the note, meaning that slight twisting is almost always welcome as it sounds much better than the plain note.

5. Slide

Sliding is a very fun technique; you simply pick a note and then slide your finger to the targeted fret on the same string creating an accelerating and quick sound.
Hope this helps. And note, when properly incorporated and combined, these five easy techniques will lead to a masterpiece!

Fun Ways of Writing Guitar Music

Once you’ve gotten over the initial struggle of learning to play, it’s time to start writing. If you are struggling with or are stuck with the process of writing music, there is a way that has always been inspiring, to me at least.

What you’ll need is obviously recording software of your choice, which can record at least two separate tracks. Plug in your guitar either directly into a computer or through the guitar amp connected to your computer.

If you don’t have any material written, look up some guitar scales – any scale will do, you can even pick more of them and then combine them. The idea is firstly to create a rhythm riff using the notes from the scale. Make it as simple as you want as it isn’t that important and record it.

Guitar Scales
Guitar Scales

Now you’re going to record another track with the previous one playing in the background. The fun part starts as you’re making a song with two guitars. It doesn’t matter whether your intent was to make a song with one or two guitars; the goal is to draw inspiration from combined tracks which will give you an idea of how to continue with your song.

Play with this for a while, try using different scales or no scales at all. Try to align and keep both tracks in-time, of course. After the rhythm and solo guitar combination, you can add another guitar track to create some harmonies. Adding drum tracks may also help as they will add weight and edge to the song. All these tracks will definitely help in finding your inspiration for that perfect guitar riff or solo that you are trying to come up with.

Add as many tracks as you want; you can also add some background music such as the wind howling, fire crackling or rain falling. And remember, as long as you are enjoying the process of making music, something amazing is bound to come out of it!

Guitar Basics – Taking Your First Steps

Saying that more or less anyone can learn to play a music instrument is somewhat a bold statement; but I will try to justify it nevertheless. There are only two important things separating you from becoming a guitarist, a musician or really anything you wish to be; and it’s not talent – the two are determination and desire.

Most parents and people unfamiliar with the art of playing music have another idea about this, that in order to be a musician you need to be talented, born with it, go to music school for many years and practice every day for ridiculously long hours. I still believe that all that it really takes is will, before anything.

The Fender Stratocaster
There’s a range of sources on the Internet today from which you can collect information about music playing; from video lessons to how-to guides on music theory and techniques of playing. Here is just one simple and easy beginners’ guide that may help you in this endeavor, and will hopefully attract and encouraging people to start learning an instrument, in this case the guitar.

Guitar Tablatures

Start with your favorite song and search for its guitar tab. Guitar tabs are written by people enthusiasts to help other musicians while also improving their own knowledge of music. Whether you find them on a website or they’re written in various software programs you can download, they are easily understood.

A guitar tablature features 6 lines, each line representing one string on the guitar. The uppermost line is assigned to the highest and thinnest string on your guitar and it produces E note. Downwards follow B, G, D, A and the last, thickest string produces E note again only two octaves lower.

The numbers written on each line show you what note to play. So, a 0 on the line tells you to play an open string of the same line; 1 for instance, means that you place your left hand’s finger on the first fret of that string and then pick the string. If there are two numbers written vertically next to each other, this means that you play those two notes at the same time. The duration of notes is pretty simply indicated with symbols of whole, half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth of a note; but you can also easily pick this up from the song itself.

Start Playing!

Whether your first song consists of powerful heavy metal riffs, a tune from a cartoon or a movie, or is just a simple pop song – once you start playing and linking just a few notes together you will start feeling the music and this beautiful feeling of you playing music will be your constant source of inspiration for you to continue practicing. In just a few weeks of playing every day for an hour, you will be able to play your first simple tune in its entirety!

In time you will notice how your technique is improving, as well as your hearing and the ability to distinguish notes. Moreover, you’ll no longer need to pay attention to trivial things like picking strings correctly or pressing the frets hard enough, as it will come naturally to you; as long as you keep practicing, it’ll become deeply rooted in your brain. Before you know it, you’ll be on on stage, feeling the buzz of live performance!

Your First Gig

Microphone check. One. Two. Microphone’s working, guitars are tuned and while the drummer is struggling with his drums and cymbals, you can either help him or go hang out and drink with the crowd. We all know what you’re gonna do!

As excitement fills the room you can’t help but feel a little nervous and anxious, but you shouldn’t worry about that as all of it will be gone once you start playing. Whatever music you are playing and whatever the kind of audience you are playing for; you shouldn’t be thinking about that at all. After all, it is the energy and atmosphere you need to create for an excellent performance. As long as you’re enjoying what you’re playing, people are going to feel it. Years in the business have shown me the truth of this.

I’ve always wondered why various bands always have a set list for each member, “Can’t they remember their own songs?” I learnt the hard way that when you start the show, you’re not exactly fully conscious and aware, so to say. So, have it around – just in case.

While you are performing try not to get too carried away with your instrument. Take a look at the audience every now and then, and try to entertain them; sort of, include them: lift your guitar up in the air, jump, do whatever comes naturally and don’t restrain yourself. There will always be at least one person reacting and into it, which will help you feel more free and energized.

The audience will feel and be overwhelmed by the outburst of positive energy and magic of music you and your band are creating. Because, once the cue is given for you to start playing, you’ll be in a whole other place; and it is THAT place the music is coming from!

Take a moment to view some of the videos of my live performances. The more you get out there, the more accustomed you become to playing in front of people!