Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy


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Home Studio Gear For Recording Great Sounding Fingerstyle Guitar

I call this an “update” because you may have read my earlier post or seen my videos on recording fingerstyle guitar for Youtube videos.

Here, I will describe my home studio setup with getting a great sound in mind.

Please comment below if you have a suggestion or want to mention your gear – or, especially if anything I am saying is not accurate!

The Attitude

All kinds of gear ail sounds great for fingerstyle guitar.  There are many ways to do record it, mine is just one…here goes.

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7 Tips for Making a Great Fingertsyle Guitar Recording (and…it’s not about the equipment!)

I just had the pleasure of spending some time in my home studio recording a few solo tunes.

During the past few days I have experienced the range of emotions from elation to frustration, mainly with my own guitar playing.

I’d like to share some insights with you. The following applies to do-it-yourself home recordings as well as sessions where you go to a pro studio.

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6 Pieces of Guitar Gear I Can’t Live Without

Hey Gang!

I was just peeking through the mountain of “Fanbridge”  questions that I have, and I came across a recurring theme…

Question:  “Adam what guitar / strings / gear do you use?”

I get asked about this 10 times a week.

With the “mountain”  of gear that one sees in catalogs & stores it is easy to get confused.

Since I carry most of my stuff myself (no car – yep, I’m a a New York guy), it has to be portable, easy and sound great.

All of what I am listing fits in a backpack (except the guitars), and I am ready to play any size concert hall or festival.

Keep in mind, this list WILL change, and “there is more than one way to do it” – but this has been working for me.

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How to Kick Butt on Guitar – Creativity Plus Discipline

Being a guitar player is not that different from being an author, photographer, magician or pizza parlor owner.

Huh?

In actuality – it’s only ONE field…we’re all self-employed entrepreneurs getting our creations out into the world, providing value for people, and earning something in return.

As an entrepreneur, you have to self motivate.  It’s the “long haul”  tactics and daily habits that build into something worthwhile, over time.

Short bursts of inspiration can’t build musicianship or a great career, but a little bit of work every day – towards a worthwhile goal, most certainly will.

I just read an article by my one of my favorite information marketers, Fred Gleeck, and he talked about the writing process…this quote rang true to me as a creative musician.

He says…

The one thing I suggest you do is that you MAKE yourself sit down and start writing every day for a given block of time. Writing is an act of creativity AND discipline.

This is exactly the process  I use in regards to practicing guitar… I use “creativity AND discipline.”

You are the CREATOR, not the CONSUMER

As a CONSUMER, and lover of music – when you listen to your favorite musician or band, it’s as if you are getting the most delicious dessert at a fine restaurant, served to you.

Mmmm yummy!

No work is required.  You sit back, hit play and enjoy watching and/or listening.  Easy as pie.

As the CREATOR of that dessert, you will not likely “feel the feelings”  that the consumer feels!

This is precisely the spot where, for example, little kids at music lessons realize they need to practice and “it’s no longer fun.”

The shiny new thing loses it’s luster, you see the errors and really have to polish your work of art.

A Recent Real Life Example

I recently did a stretch of arranging, videotaping and uploading 9 Beatles tunes  to YouTube. Here’s one of them for your enjoyment – “In My Life”

The Discipline:

As the musical “dessert chef”  I spent, on average

  • 2-3 days creating the guitar arrangement & practicing it
  • 1 day video taping & recording
  • Maybe 1 day more recording the video again after “sleeping”  on the problems of the first taping
  • For each of these 5 day projects I have a delicious 3 minutes to present to the world.

The Creative:

Even though it’s “covers”  some serious “creativity” went into choosing this stretch of tunes, before I even picked up the guitar.

  • I felt it was time to inject some new life into my repertoire, and I love hitting the “bullseye”  musically for my audience.
  • Almost everyone loves the Beatles – so it’s as if I am coming “back from the bullseye”  like a Zen archer. (See my C + Y = R post)
  • With a nice set of Beatles songs, I can maybe do a Beatles DVD
  • I can offer to now teach a Beatles class at a guitar workshop
  • Of course I’ll have more GREAT tunes to play on concerts
  • If people like the videos, they’ll share them socially
  • Maybe a Beatles CD is worth doing…
  • I strove to  get GREAT versions of these songs onto the guitar that really convey the music, better than I’d ever heard…

When I saw what I wanted to achieve, I determined that it would be well worth the discipline and time needed to whip these tunes into shape and make videos, upload etc.

Is there “Luck” involved?

It makes me almost want to barf when someone says “oh you are so lucky – you get to do what you love…”

Are you kidding?  I work my tail off and claim it….it ain’t luck!!!

🙂

Hopefully this gives you some “inspiration”  to be disciplined, put the time in daily, and stick to a plan – and achieve your dreams!

Now….git to work!


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How To Record Guitar For Youtube Videos

Hey Gang,

I wrote a post on this 2 years ago, but I have refined my guitar recording technique.  The old post is here.

At the bottom of this post I will list the equipment & software I use….

There are MANY ways to do the same thing.  I do only one, but it is very easy & fast.  I like NOT using a laptop for these recordings…because the fans create background noise.  That’s why I use a ZOOM H4.

For a CD recording I would use better gear (interface, laptop, several mics), but as I have to be my own video & audio engineer I want to make things E-Z!

If you have ideas, or a better way to do it that could enlighten readers – please comment below – Thanks!

This is a 2 part Video series – Total Viewing time 17 minutes.


Equipment & Software Links:

Maton Michael Fix Model Guitar – http://maton.com.au/product/ebg808c-micfix

Canon Vixia HF M40 – http://usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/products/camcorders/consumer_camcorders/vixia_hf_m40

Flashpoint Lights with Stands – I use 2  – http://www.adorama.com/FPCL4K.html

Oktava MK-319 Mic:  http://www.oktava-online.com/mk319.htm

RODE NT5 Mics (I have a stereo pair): http://www.rodemic.com/mics/nt5-s

ZOOM H4 Recorder (newer model available):  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/H4N  

Apple Macbook: http://www.apple.com/macbook-pro/

Audacity Software: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

Garageband Software: http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/

iMovie Software: http://www.apple.com/ilife/imovie/

Enjoy and feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

Adam


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What’s More Important – Musical Essence or Technical Perfection?

Here’s a peek into my mind as to how I craft something musically for solo guitar.

I recently arranged the Beatles “Michelle” for solo fingerstyle guitar  and while I feel it could be way better ‘technically’….it looks like people are digging it, from the comments.  (thanks Youtubers!)

It is very far from perfect – but it feels good!  There’s a different “perfection” in the good feeling I am talking about.

I am not tooting my own horn, please understand!  I  am talking about the overall sound and feeling of the piece, and I wouldn’t have posted online  it unless it had that “little piece of magic.”

Of course, guitarists will ask me for sheet music, because they want to learn the arrangement, and that’s all fine and good….it’s very good!!!

But there’s a secret as to where the answer lies.  To get the sound of the song….well, it ain’t on paper!

It’s not in the chords, or where I put my fingers.

First, I listened closely to the original Beatles version for the songs “essence”…the life, the personality and gut feeling for this musical “entity”  called “Michelle.”

Inside, I am singing the song…and every note, bump scrape, slap and mistake I make – has to aligned with the “Michelle” essence.  I had to “become” the song…and wait patiently until the fingers tell the story.

(Further proof that life is an “projecting”  outwards of our inner vision! )

Actually I don’t even see what I am doing as an “arrangement” …I’m just trying to sing you the song – with my fingers.

It’s the same thing as when a painter steps back from the canvas and takes the whole thing in.  It’s almost like you have to look with fuzzy blurry vision, rather than obsess on the “perfect shadow cast by the cherubs little finger.”

Get it?

In regards to “essence vs technique”….

  • Essence wins – with the “people” –  They can hear the SONG!
  • Technique wins in school.  You get a good grade, and then reality strikes!

Gut, intuition and exploration are the tools needed!

Wow…it only took me 37 years to figure this out – that something  imperfect can have a deeper perfection ….when we see (or hear) it in terms of the big picture.

Rock on!


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Guitar Right Hand Technique – Nails vs Flesh?

For centuries, guitarists have discussed whether to use fingernails or flesh on the right hand to pluck the strings.

I get asked about this often, so I figured a blog post was in order!

(Even though this is intended for guitarists – this may interest you even if you are a non musician.)

In this post, I’ll talk about sound basics, amplification, tone, volume,  the history of nails, and practical considerations like nail care.

There are pros and cons to each way of solving the right hand technique “problem”, and ultimately either approach can work, perfectly well.

But first…

What’s Important in Music?

Before we dive in we must ask “what’s important in music?”

The further you go in to making music, you’ll find that what really matters is your “musical flow”, your  groove, and your tone.

Nails or no nails, good groove, melody and sound are the final goal of making music.

Is Music Made of “Particles” or “Waves?”

In quantum physics we see that light and sound can behave as “particles” or “waves”.

The “particles” of technique (single notes) become a “wave” of sound when heard in succession (melody and groove).

Mature, seasoned musicians listen to music as “waves”,  whether it’s their own playing or someone else’s.  Regular non-musician listeners hear music as waves too!  They hear “the song” and groove.

It’s only us musicians who listen for particles, details, and licks – for the most part!

My teacher used to tell me “you can fool the musicians, but you can’t fool the people!”  This is why!

If we think of and hear music as a “wave”, music on guitar is totally possible with or without right hand fingernails;  the single notes are just “particles”.

It does not matter which “tool” sets the strings into motion (flesh or nail) once you hear music in “waves”.

Your musical flow and personal “sound” will ring through no matter what technique you use.

The Basics of Sound Travel

When we pluck a string there is a distance between the vibrating string and the listener’s ear.  The question is – how much distance?  A few feet?  10 Feet?  25 feet? 100 Feet? More?

  • High frequencies and low frequencies travel differently through air.
  • Treble or “highs” do not travel very far, they die out at a few feet’s distance.
  • Bass or “low”  frequencies travel very far!  (I can hear hip hop bass from cars blocks away in my NYC apartment no problem).

In the traditional concert hall setting (a classical guitar with no amplification) the highs will usually start to die out and “round off” when they start reaching the audience.

That’s one of the reasons fingernails work well for classical guitar (not to mention nails work better on nylon strings as well.)

As we get closer to the guitar the sound of nails may seem harsher because we’d be hearing more highs.

Get it? The highs die out with distance.

What About Amplification?

Once amplification comes into the picture, everything changes.

There is less “distance” between the plucked string and the listeners ear, because the guitar “pickup”  captures the guitar sound ON the guitar.

This “close up” sound is then made louder.  It is “as if” the listeners ear is closer to the guitar.

How does this affect the “tone”?

There’s usually a “brighter” sound to deal with once we use amplification, (the highs get no chance to die off in the air) so we’ll need a new way to “round off” this sound so it is not harsh and too “trebly”.

We have 2 options for fixing the sound.

  1. Do we adjust the sound at the origin (finger & string contact)?
  2. Do we adjust the sound at the delivery point (electronic tone / eq adjustment )?

My experience over years and years has shown me over and over – if you start with a good “originating sound”  just with your fingers and strings, you’ll be in good shape tone wise no matter what.

Garbage in, Garbage Out!

My experience has also shown me that correcting a fundamentally bad sound with electronics is pretty much, IMPOSSIBLE!  Trust me on this!

Many guitarists  (particularly in jazz)  produce the small, brittle sound at the origin, and try to improve it by “rolling off treble” on the electronics.  This sounds like someone screaming into a pillow.   “Woofy” tone is not good tone.

So – producing a good solid tone is critical – then you don’t have to “hide the highs”.  I find using the flesh to be my solution for producing a good solid tone at the “front of the sound chain” or “origin” – a nice attack, and I can let the highs stay there for nuance.

It works well for amplified guitars to do it this way.

(Even if you use nails, just make sure you are making a nice sound at “front of the sound chain”, meaning your fingers and the guitar.)

How To Produce a Good Tone – In General

Of course words are merely a pointer – but I suggest this – with the flesh of your thumb, pop the string in towards your belly button and get the string to vibrate in & out 90 degrees to the top of the guitar (not up & down between the floor & ceiling!)

Go for “maximum”  comfort volume.

Now listen for the fullest sound you can get, and experiment purely with sound.  Try to set the string into motion this way, by pressing the string in towards your belly when you play.

Now make your fingers – with or without nails, sound like that! 🙂

What About Speed & Nails?

There are different kinds of speed.

  1. velocity – lots of fast notes
  2. tempo

Don’t confuse “velocity” with “tempo”.

Velocity:

It’s certainly easier to do fast arpeggios and tremolos with nails since they can get “in and out” of a note faster. Flesh requires you to “pop” the note with a deeper sound – tougher to play fast.

Nails win here.

Tempos:

Fast “tempos” come from within the musician, so that’s a rhythmic issue, and quite different from razzle dazzle techniques like tremolo.  A little razzle dazzle is good, but it’s not “fundamental” to making good music.

Tempo is flow and groove – and has nothing to do with nails or flesh.

A Brief History of Flesh vs Nails

Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani played with flesh.

Tarrega played with nails and toward the end of his life played with flesh.

Segovia – due to his greatness and popularity – became the “standard” for many players, and used nails and called anyone who didn’t do it his way “an idiot”.

In the fingerstyle world  Doyle Dykes, Pete Huttlinger, Clive Carroll – use nails.    They are all awesome!

Tommy Emmanuel, Joe Robinson, Michael Fix use flesh and they are awesome!

Interesting point – Virtuoso Pepe Romero advised classical guitarists to play with flesh for at least one year to understand the basics of producing a sound, even if they choose nails later.

Nail Care and Breakage, and Practical Considerations…

Nail care is a whole “way of life” and I remember when I was a classical player as a teen – all the nail care using super “Krazy” glue, cutting ping pong balls as fake nails and gluing them on, sandpaper – was for me, a total hassle.

I think caring for nails is a pain in the neck.  I play with flesh only, and sometimes a thumbpick.

I tour A LOT.  I’m in and out of airports, trains – with guitars & baggage – and it would be easy to break a nail.  I’d simply rather not stress and be gluing nails minutes before a gig!

I’ve heard of classical players having to cancel gigs due to nail breakage.  Of course they probably say they have the flu though. 🙂

Case closed, for me.  No nails.  It’s a hassle, and I intentionally built my solo technique style around the practical considerations of not wanting to deal with the nail care problem.

Final Words of Advice

No matter what you choose, just make sure that…

  • You are producing a FAT sound that originates from a deeper place than just the surface of the string.
  • The front of your note should be like a “plump grapefruit” – not a cat claw!
  • You “pop” the string into motion and love the sound you make playing a single note on your high E string.  (treble strings tell the truth about your tone.)
  • If you don’t like your sound, seek to fix it at the finger and string origin point – not the amplifier or eq knob.
  • Don’t worry about speed.  That’s a lower priority than tone.
  • Listen to all great musicians on other instruments and go for a strength and center in your tone like theirs.
  • Commit to your choice whatever it is and practice.  It can take years to develop technique, so be patient.
  • Listen attentively to the sound you are making, all the time.

P.S.  My all time favorite guitarist is Wes Montgomery, and he played jazz guitar with his thumb only, no pick!

In Conclusion

There’s more than one way to do it.

Pick one way and stick to it!

Play groovy and with a good sound originating on the instrument, and you’ll be in good shape – with or without nails!


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How To Create a Great “Set List” For Musical Performance

I’m often asked the question “do you use a set list when you play concerts?” This brings up the question of how to put a set together for a good show. I use a loose set idea with a game plan which I will describe.

But first…has the following every happened to you.?

The Dilemma

  • You go to see a band, their first tune sounds great, but as the set goes on it all the songs start sounding the same.
  • You go to see a singer-songwriter who has written all originals.  She’s cute, her guitar skills are not quite up to par, and other than a smile, the music has nothing you can sing when you get home.
  • You hear a rapper and the beat is loud, energy is good.  But, after 3 songs it all blurs together.
  • You hear a jazz band, and they solo endlessly.
  • You hear a solo guitarist, and after 10 minutes it all sounds the same.  (whether it’s percussive, new age, classical or whatever)

Get the idea?

It’s not the style that’s problematic – it’s that musicians can very easily fall into the trap of all material sounding the same – without realizing it.

The problem is twofold…

  1. You need good material.
  2. You need to use variety in, tone, tempo, dynamics and groove in your set.

The Solution – Melody and  Contrast

You’ll first need to choose the “what” (good songs), then you’ll need to present it all in the proper proportions, and sequence (making the set list).

Melody

First off, you need good melodies that are memorable whether they are your original songs or covers. The basic theme of whatever you play should be singable, like:

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, “Billie Jean”, “Yesterday”, “Isn’t She Lovely”, Your Own Song(s) Here.

Cool percussive stuff is not melody.  The endless stream of consciousness lyrics from rappers and songwriters is not melody (no matter how heart wrenchingly profound it may seem).  Different guitar tunings and/or fret locations may be fun for the performer – but do not necessarily make melody for the listener.

Whatever you play should have “a theme” that your mother could sing back after hearing it once.

Contrast

I plan my sets knowing that I want contrasting “musical colors” to break things up and provide satisfaction for the listener.

These are personal to me…yours can and should be different.

I use the following – (take note of the variety):

  • funk grooves
  • jazz swing grooves
  • Brazilian grooves
  • a blistering boiling fast song – to raise excitement
  • something bluesy with bending strings
  • a few ballads for a dose of “pretty”
  • a percussive / beatbox song – i.e. getting different sounds from the guitar & visual contrast
  • some midrange easygoing material for middle of set

That covers the “what” I’ll play.

Now – set planning.  Don’t try to do it from first to last song…plan in order of “important moments” in the set, and let the order take shape from both ends to the middle!

  1. First I plan the last song. I always end the set with a BANG !  (Which of your songs could do this for you?)
  2. Next, I plan the first song. I start the set groovy get the peoples heads bobbing, it helps them (and me) relax.
  3. For the first 3 or 4 songs, I entertain!
  4. Set middle is the “journey” – ups & downs are OK.  Mid-intensity material OK.
  5. Have at least one pretty ballad midway – to let the set breathe.

Any one “type”  of song for a whole set is way too much – whether it’s a ballad, funk, uptempo.  Too much is too much!

Maybe you are starting to think about your own set…thoughts like… “I need more ballads”  or “I need an uptempo” or “wow, all my stuff is similar”  – and that’s good, for you to start this process.

Now your practice sessions can be used to choose and “round out” your repertoire so you can provide more variety for a set.

Rock on, practice hard, and let me know how your journey goes!


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“I Remember Michael” Voted by Jazziz Magazine as a Top 10 CD of 2011 (Critics Choice Award)

Great news!

JAZZIZ magazine has voted “I REMEMBER MICHAEL – A Michael Jackson Solo Guitar Tribute”  as a Critic’s Choice Top 10 CD of 2011.  Wow!!!

I am truly honored.  I worked very hard on this project by practicing guitar for hours and hours, funneling 15 MJ songs onto a little wooden box with strings, and using 10 just fingers and lots of imagination.

Thank you to JAZZIZ magazine – and extra special thank you to all of YOU who have watched my videos & commented (and egged me on for more).

Without your “audience participation” –  this CD project would never have happened.

JAZZIZ Magazine Top 10 CD's of 2011 Critics Choice  - "I REMEMBER MICHAEL - A Michael Jackson Solo Guitar Tribute" by Adam Rafferty

Here you go…take a listen to “Human Nature”  from the CD….enjoy!


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Gear Outside, Tone Inside

I get a lot of questions about my guitar “tone” in my videos.

Ok, yes it has improved since I first started posting videos.  But, this brings to mind a very valuable music lesson I once had from my mentor which I’d like share with you.

Nerd speak for one sentence:  For this video I use a Maton guitar, a fresh set of uncoated phosphor bronze strings, 2 RODE mics and a DI, into Garage band.  (For more detailed CD type recording my setup varies slightly.)

I recorded this song about 25 times in my home studio the day prior as practice.

I searched, listened, and allowed magic to pop up, I discarded ideas that did not work, and I voiced the same chords “umpteen” ways until I found just the “right” way.

This was not an analytical process….it was intuitive, creative and gut level.  Right and left brain had to work together to realize the overall sound I wanted.

During the practice session I had a myriad of tones, dynamics, grooves, tempos…

Each practice recording sounded totally different from the next in color and timbre.  Of course there were technical things that I worked on, but it was all in the service of the sound.

When one practices a performance or crafts an arrangement it requires searching for “just the right sound.”  The small changes made over time are like the low flame that turns a pot of chopped vegetables and water into a “savory soup”.

This “savory soup” does not come only from a Maton guitar, a fresh set of uncoated phosphor bronze strings, 2 RODE mics and a DI, into Garage band.  It comes from listening and undergoing the process I have described.

Looking back, I can remember 20 years ago asking my mentor about the sound of my guitar.  At the time I was trying to decide  whether “flat wound” or “round wound”  guitar strings had a better tone.

He told me “the tone you seek is inside.”   20 years later I see what he meant!

Until next time….Enjoy!