my ukulele progress

ripock

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I was watching some videos today and I have to admit that I am doubting the truthfulness of the sound. First, let me say I am not disparaging any of the players. I would have to obviously practice for another ten years to be even close to that level. I'm just saying it seems like they are getting some post-production assistance. The player I was watching was playing outside, however there are no ambient sounds and no wind-interference with the mic. I just have to wonder how much of this is "lip-synching." I realize that even if they are faking it in the video, they played it once and played it nicely. That's something. But it lacks the cache of a live performance that it purports to be. Maybe I am just naif, and it is a open secret that no one really plays live when they appear to be.

Be that as it may, I'll let them be them and I'll be me. And what I was doing was trying to apply some clawhammer to my heavily Aiolean playing style.

I was a bit rusty with the technique, but it started to come back to life rather quickly. I also forgot that this style doesn't sound too good in linear tuning.

That being said, the G string takes a bit of finesse so that it doesn't just quack out like an ugly duckling. Certain chords sounded better than others. I was using add9, minor add9, 13, and m6 chords. The m6 chords sounded the best.

At this point I am not going to draw any conclusions. I will await some experimenting with my re-entrant Kamaka before I say anything definite. I expect the different inversions of the re-entrant will fix some of the sound.

But I do think that this technique has to be used with circumspection and moderation. Its relentlessly galloping sound does not blend well with my laid-back style. I think there may be some use for the clawhammer if I slow it down, break it up with interstices of silence, and use it for a limited purpose.
 

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The lack of success I had the a linear-tuned claw hammer experiment, wasn't a total waste of time. It really bought home to me the importance of the thumb and a bass-drone. If I abandon the claw hammer cadence, but keep the thumb, I'll be on my way to a musical goal of mine. This may turn out to be a great mistake.
 

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I was thinking of obsolescent things and the item that topped my list was the bath robe. When I was growing up all my elders had bath robes, but I have never worn a bath robe, neither has my wife, nor has any one I know. When I get out of bed I either put on clothes or walk around dishabille. I suppose I am thinking of this because someone posted a video of two pre-eminent ukulele luminaries and I could only watch it for about twenty seconds. It was just so boring and outdated. It was a technical tour de force, but so is someone completing a sudoku puzzle very quickly. And I do not want to watch either one even though I readily appreciate the skill involved. That video just used the same group of pitches and the same quick 16th notes, but it had no soul. When other instrumentalists play, there are low notes, high notes, fast rhythms, slow rhythms. Some kind of variety and some kind of internal logic for switching between the variants. Ukuleles are doomed to become obsolete unless the spokespeople of the instrument learn some musicianship.

Meanwhile, I am doing what I can in my little corner of the world. I have been following up on trying to be my own bass player. I've been playing my G string on the first beat of the measure and throwing down some melody in between the bass notes. It is kind of stressful because all of a sudden everything became music all of a sudden instead of just bopping around. Those bass notes constitute a deadline and you have to put supportive things in the space you're allotted. And there is a lot of strategy involved. Sometimes you have to stand pat for a few measures and just let the music build and then jump up the fretboard and then jump back and re-affirm the melody.
 

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As I mentioned above, now that I have introduced rhythm into my playing, I have created a dimension of peer pressure to the process because now there is a band member keeping time for me and I have the obligation to do something with the opportunity that's been afforded to me. I need to fill in the space while staying in the pocket. I need a plan.

I think I'll fall back on Rhythm Changes for my structure. Here's how I construe the bars of Rhythm Changes:

bars 1-6=A section
bars 7-8=bars 1 and 2
bars 9-14=A section
bars 15-24=B section
bars 25-30=A section
bars 31-32=end

Now I have to fill those bars. I am not going to worry about chords right now. I have enough to do with the rhythm and picking. I'm not going to actually compose a melody; I want to retain as much as possible the spontaneity and serandipity of my style.

I am going to wing it using the D#dim7 arpeggio and one of the modes of the harmonic minor which occurs low on the fretboard. For the B section I am going to move up the fretboard and let the higher pitch serve as a device to denote an emotional culmination. That's nothing new. It is a common practice to start low and end on the high note. No need to re-invent the wheel.

Then, after the B section, I'll just return to the A section and for the last two bars just do something (like an E Aiolian #7) which resolves into the E.

Of course it is going to sound like crap as I experiment with the picking. One good thing about the strictures of the rhythm is that I don't have a lot of rope with which to hang myself.

Once I get into a groove with the picing, I can alternate to chords for some of the bars to break up the picking.

Speaking of chords, I have found a chord quality I am very fond of right now. It is the dom13#9. I think I read somewhere that dom13's match up very well with Lydian Dominants (otherwise known as the Overtone Scale, as I learnt it). However I am not sure how that #9 will alter the situation.
 

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I've always had trouble fusing different genres of music together. Blues, for example, has its own idiom and so does jazz. Once you commit to one genre and its idiom, I have always found it difficult to jump to another idiom without it sounding very awkward. However, I was listening to someone (it was either Buddy Guy or Freddie King, can't remember which) and he employed a very crafty transition. He was moving around in dominant chords, naturally, but then he went to a half-diminished fifth. It was a sound--kind of like the dominant chords were melting into a jumble. After the half-diminished chord, then he continued in a rather jazzy progression of I-VI-II-V (all in the dominant chord quality). It was as if the half-diminished created some confusion and cleansed the palate for the next genre.
 

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I haven't updated in a while, because I haven't had much to say. What I've been working on is very mechanical and I wouldn't suppose that it lends itself to discussion. I've been working on that 4th string drone. I play with the metronome which I have set to tick-tick-tick-chime. On every chime I hit that open G string. I'm still struggling with it. By struggling I mean putting things between the chimes. Obviously I had to take a step back from the plan I had of using a 32-bar structure; I just wasn't comfortable and proficient in switching from the bass line to the lead.

I had to regress a little bit. I think I will start much more conservatively. Probably my skill level is more in line with a 12 bar progression. I'll just play a blues progression in g or e and practice maintaining that bass on the chime. And I recently got a list of five turnarounds in G which I can turn into E once I analyze the intervals to see what's going on.

I am hopeful for tonight for some good practice. I also am hopeful for dinner. I read in an old Nero Wolfe novel a recipe for trout. So I picked up two pounds of trout at my corner market and I'll be trying to re-create it. Here's the basic procedure: on the trout put brown sugar and onions and cover with ham. The original recipe was using whole trout and I am using fillets. and the recipe calls for wrapping the fish in tin foil, which I don't usually do because of heavy metal poisioning. However here's what I'm going to do.

I am going to put a little balsamic vinegar on the fish just to make it moist, add some brown sugar, add some powder I have (salt, shallots, and chives), add some red chili powder, cover with ham slices which I bought especially for this occasion. I am going to wrap one half of the fish and leave the other half uncovered. I'll see how those two things work out. Of course, I am going to add some green chili sauce after it is done. I am very conflicted about this chili sauce. It is great sauce from local chilis, but I bear it a grudge because I meant to grab a tomatillo sauce.
 

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I received my quarterly bonus and decided to take my cigar box in for repairs. The main issue is that I screwed up the neck...literally. To secure it more securely to the body I screwed some drywall screws into the neck and that made the neck cant at about a 20-30 degree angle in relation to the body. My luthier gauged the action at 46mm. He said that he was going to do something exciting to it...whatever that means. I basically gave him carte blanche.

I need to start saving for my final purchase: an elite baritone. I have an elite re-entrant uke, an elite linear uke, a very serviceable tenor guitar, a (hopefully) restored cigar box...so I need a baritone that I can be proud of. I am thinking along the lines of Beau Hannam or Jay Lichty, and that means somewhere around $4000. At this point, I am not committed to either of those builders, but I want something at that level. Here's my idea: I want a baritone with a florentine cutaway (a ukulele without a cutaway is a waste of time). I want a stauffer headstock with some inlay (I don't care what--maybe a tendril or something). I want 19 frets, no fret markers and side markers on the pentatonic frets. I want a neck with a flattened back and I don't care a flip for the string spacing.

That's it for my requirements. What I will leave to the luthier's discretion is wood-choice. Right now, I am thinking all North American woods, but I want something so unique that people will take a double or triple-take. My take on tone wood is that it is a steep hill of B.S. It provides a nuance so negligible that I won't deign a moment's thought to it. My motivation for wood choice is entirely for bling value and beauty. I don't care if a sensitive ear can classify my wood choices as warm or bright; it makes no difference to me or how I am going to play.
 

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Earlier today I made a statement and perhaps it sounds arrogant. I said that I find playing a song boring...and I do. But I didn't mean to say that learning a song is so easy and so beneath me. Learning a song isn't easy, but it is inevitable. You have--what?--32 measures in a song. You learn the first measure and then go on to the second one... et cetera and kata to loipon...'til you hit the 32nd measure. It isn't easy, but there's no thought involved; you just follow directions. That doesn't do it for me. I want more involvement in the creation of the music. That's just the way I'm wired. When I watch a video of some 14 year old girl playing flawlessly some Dream Theatre riffs, my response is "great. You've been able to mimic someone else's creativity, but what have you done made?" And I hold myself to that standard as well. I want to make something cool.

And I did have a moment today when some clarity came through. Maybe it is obvious but here it is regardless. Often I hear people debating about why or why not that scales matter. I play scales because people smarter than me have espoused scales. So I play them because I trust in the inherent wisdom of my elders. But I found another functional reason to practice scales: you understand intervals across the strings. Any idiot can figure out a melody on a single string, but you cannot really play that way--sliding up and down a string. How do you convert that to more efficient playing? With scales you learn how to move between strings and play with efficacy. Playing the modes of the harmonic minor as I do, I know how to move between strings anywhere on the fret board--from the open strings to the 19th fret. I can start a melody from anywhere on the fret board and I can follow the intervals of my scale to figure out the melody. Perhaps the intervals of the song do not match the intervals of the scale, and I will have to occasionally augment or diminish an interval. Nevertheless I have the backbone for making melodies.

I have the need for a shift. I have been practicing using a drone bass note. It is coming along. It is not perfect or second nature, but I have made some in-roads. At this point I am just waiting for that quantum leap when everything just comes together. But I need a break. So I'm going back to practicing some mode transitions. I went to Random.org and randomized and received the number 4. So it is to be the 4th interval that I focus upon. So I am going to pay special attention to where the A falls in my various modes and jump to other modes at the A...thereby effacing the walls between the modes. An added bonus to A is that A is part of my D# dim7 arpeggio that I have been practicing. So I'm going to have a bunch of options as I recuperate from my drone-training.
 

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I don't think I can explain where I've been the last two hours. It was a sort of musical trance.

I started out with a combination of the A Dorian #11 and the D# dim7 arpeggio. I did reach up to the B Phrygian dominant a little bit and once or twice to the E Aiolian #7--but not much with the latter because it is such a strong sound that it pulls everything to it and then the modular vibe gets ruined.

At some point I started driving off the bass note of the A Dorian #11 and going into a little progression: Am add9, E7, mystery chord, D major (the mystery chord was always rooted in G but I just couldn't commit to a chord quality. Sometimes it was G7+, or Gm6, or G+, or G7 sus2).

From the chord progression, I would return to the A note and try to develop a melody on the E string with the A note at its kernel.

I looked up and two hours had passed away. It seemed to transpire in a blink of the eye.
 

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I saw a mirthful thread recently centered around people compiling a list of the "best" concerts for $250. I would say they should buy any $250 concert, they're all going to be the same...if not made in the same Chinese factory. But that's their journey and not mine.

I pulled my Kamaka out yesterday, not so much to play it, but to refill the humidifier. I did pull it out because the case was open. I strummed it a bit, but there's not much else you can do with a re-entrant uke being hamstring as it is by that G string.

My current interest is in A, the fourth interval of my scale. Here is the basic blue-print of what I was doing. Of course I made it more musical by repetition, phrasing, etc.

1. played around with the linear A Dorian #11.
2. From the A on the second fret, I moved across the fretboard using the A dim7 arpeggio. I wound up at the D# on the 6th fret.
3. I made a small retrograde movement to the A on the 5th fret. From that A I arpeggiated vertically using the E and A strings. I moved up to the A on the 17th fret.
4. At the 17th fret, I played around in two different shapes: the re-entant D# Super Lokrian bb7 and the Linear A Dorian #11
5. Regardless of my particular route, I ended up at the A on the 14th fret. Using the B on the 14th fret, I played around with a B7 chord and then I moved down the fretboard playing B7's at the 11th, 7th, 4th and 2nd frets.
6. Since I'm back at the second fret, I just start over
 

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There is actually quite a lot to do with the A dim7 arpeggio. I just spent about ninety minutes exploring the arpeggio.

It has been a fairly virtuous evening.

I started off with exercise (I recently put on a stone of fat and it is 100% from beer)

Ate some rutabagas, asperagus, millet, and a bit of beef instead of my usual beans.

Then I practiced moving from the 5th to the 17th frets using the arpeggio.

Yeah, you can just ascend through the arpeggios, but it doesn't sound right. That is more of a staple of neoclassical metal but I am a Roots musician. I need an idiom that is more natural to my genre.

I think a much more powerful aspect of the arpeggio is its melodic possibilities. You can easily turn out some nice melodies by skipping notes, playing notes together as a double stop, by repeating notes, by reversing the direction of the arpeggio.

Something that I was really digging this evening was to start off in the subdominant shape of the E minor pentatonic. That shape ends in D. From the D I would move to the D#. That is a very special sound. With the D you are in a very normal world, but when the D# you realize that you've just moved onward to something special. That is the sound of the Harmonic Minor taking over.

From that D#, I would move to the A on the 5th fret and then by various means I would get down to the A on 17th fret. From there I would normally descend the fretboard via the B Phrygian Minor, F# Lokrian 13, and A Dorian #11.

It was just a really good time.
 

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Any casual reader of these notes knows that i don't play other people's music. That's what my stereo is for: to play CD's of other people's music. My rendition would be an etiolated version of my CD. My goal is to make something new. And I have a few ideas percolating in my head right now.

1. The first is a memory. I was on vacation with my wife. I had brought a Cordoba tenor with me (which was more of a concert...anyway). My wife was going out with her old school friend and her gorgeous young daughter to a French restaurant of some repute. I took a different route. I let the ladies go their own way. I went to a local market and bought some egg rolls and a six pack of stout from an Alaskan brewery and I was set for the evening. This was a few years ago before I had plans and a vision, so I was undoubtably practicing modes of the major and pentatonic shapes, as i drank that Alaskan stout. This memory has no purpose, as far as I can see. It is just there...existing and I don't know why.

2. My other two thoughts are a little more germane to song-writing. Since i make my own music, one could wonder how do I do it? I find that the five pentatonic shapes are very amenable to the human voice. So What I do is create a little poem and then listen to myself as I recite it. And then re-create the sound of my voice in pentatonics. It usually translates into a doleful melody and it retains a tinge of the chagrin that was in the poem. My first poem was rather superficial. It was me grousing about local driving habits. A week after moving to my current residence, I could see that all the traffic lights were timed. So my premise is why are people so stupid? They speed. They drive aggressively and zig-zag. But to what purpose? Their reward is only to wait at the stop light longer. I suppose I could stretch the point and globalize this to be a poem about the human condition: we are mortal but we do all this pointless crap and waste the few moments we have.

3. My other thought seemed more noble to me. It was about heroes and side-kicks. My heroes aren't heroic. It takes no courage to be a hero. When you're a hero, you have super abilities. All you have to do is activate the ability and overcome the adversity. It may be difficult but it is inevitable. However, it is the side-kick that actually possesses courage. The side-kick knows he is mortal and weak and unskilled, and that there is a 99% chance that he is going to die. Nevertheless, the side-kick steps into the breach, knowing that he is going to die. It takes courage to perceive the danger and then to step up to the danger, and be overwhelmed by the danger.

So those two ideas have been knocking about my head. I will make a little poem about them. and then I'll re-create the lilt of my reciting voice with a scale and capture a lion's share of the emotion that the poem possessed. That's my insight to writing melodies without singing for today.
 

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There seems to be a lot of "majoring in the minors" going on around here. People fussing about nut widths, and string spacing, and strings. If they spent as much time playing, they'd improve their ukulele life much more profoundly. But that's their journey and their responsibility.

I'm still working with A, the fourth interval of my scale.

The first thing I did was use the A as a basis for some pedal point improv. I feel there is a lot there potentially. I of course slowed it down so that it didn't resemble and gave it some phrasing. I need to explore the sound of the intervals.

The second thing I did was go back to the drone. The trick is to simplify. When you're pulsing a drone note, there isn't a lot you can do between the drones. You just have to commit to a lick and its variations, and intersperse some chords every so often. An unforeseen pitfall is the tonic. I obviously was playing in A Dorian #11 but there is an almost inexorable need to gravitate to the E. Once that happens, it is all over for the mode.
 

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I received my cigar box back from my luthier. It is kind of funny but he just threw some strings on it for me. I don't know what gauge they are, what brand, or even which strings. After all a guitar set has six strings and my cigar box has four. They might not even be from the same set because the first two strings are silvery and and last two are more coppery. It was funny because I know some persnickety people on the forum who wouldn't abide this; they have to have their set-up or they just cannot play. I was just <shrug>. I started to tighten the fourth string until it stopped buzzing. To my surprise I was able to tune it to a G. Immediately I tuned the other strings to CEA. This is the first time in years that I've had an instrument in standard tuning. I usually keep my ukes in EAC#F#. Now I have an electric GCEA that I can pick. Previously I had used the top four strings of a guitar set and I used a DGBE tuning or a DFAD open D minor tuning. And I couldn't pick because I had screwed up the neck and where the neck met the body the strings were at 38mm, I believe my luthier said. I used it with a slide. Now I can pick the strings and I imagine I can still use the slide, but I'll have to clean up my technique since the frets will be closer to the strings.
 

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Just for people's information, I did ask what strings my luthier put on my cigar box which allowed me to tune to GCEA. He said Curt Mangan 12-54. The gauges being 32, 24, 16, and 12.
 

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secondary Dominant

I read the oddest thread today where the secondary dominant created a bit of animus.

The secondary dominant is no big deal--a google search will tell all you need to know. Just for fun, I added a secondary dominant (which I always call V or the V) to my current little progression: E add9, Am add9, F#9 Bm.

What you need to know, in my opinion, about the secondary dominant is that it exploits the special relationship between a tonic chord and a dominant chord. Without getting into the whys and wherefores of the matter, the dominant sets the stage for a resolution of the tonic.

Take the most rudimentary blues progression of I IV V. That V wants to go back to the I for closure or completeness.

If you look at the entry level uke progression, you have C F G. The G, being the dominant, anticipates the return to the C. Here's how you work a secondary dominant into it.

You play C, the F...now your ear is ready for the G. However, for a moment assume that the G isn't the V chord, but a I chord. If G is the I, what is the V? That is the D. Now play it:

You play the I chord, C, then the IV chord, F, now the D which anticipates the G, now the G which anticipates the C.

So all you're doing is inserting an extra I-V relationship in there to heighten the tension and need for resolution
 

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played around some more with secondary dominant since it was a topic of discussion lately.

I took the standard harmonic minor progression: i iv V and added a V of V to it. For my key that's E A F# B.

I played it as E add9, Am add9, F#9, B7. Sometimes I would use a tritone substitution and play a C9 instead of F#9.

I ended by wanting to try something that tried walking down the fretboard, but with chords instead of single notes. My idea to start on the 9th fret and play three chords, then move down a bit either to the 8th or 5th fret, and end on the 4th fret. I was still working on it when I had to go to bed. The trick was to find the right chord shapes that movable. I'll work on it
 

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As someone can see from the sixty pages of this journal, the mainspring of my inspiration is improvising to make my own music. A kindred spirit also motivates my food shopping. I never go to supermarkets; that would be too easy. That have everything. I go to small neighborhood markets. I do it for political reasons, for agoraphobic reasons, and for the challenge. There is a S&M vibe when you shop small. You go there and "Here's what I want" and the market slaps you and says "you don't get what you want, but here's what you need." And then you make do and improvise. And there is a resulting sense of accomplishment knowing that you can make do and you can survive without having your every whim as a consumer indulged.

Since I have to improvise with this market, I noticed that there were two items in their scanty produce aisle that I hadn't made use of. Those things were leeks and daikon. I've never used them before and probably I never would have used them if I shopped at a supermarket. But in my circumstance, I need to exploit all my resources. In my system of eating, I always try to eat roots, beans, greens, and grains. This daikon looks like a root and I will roast it like I do my parsnips, potatoes, turnips, etc. Those leeks look like a big scallion. I am either going to cut it very chunky and roast it with the roots or I am going to chop it finely and use it for flavoring as you would an onion.

As for mustic, I've been focusing on the A note and building bridges to and away from the various A's on the fret board. This is a very illuminating practice because you create a very personal relationship with that voicing and get to know what's around it.

I've been starting on the A on the 2nd fret, and things tend to just move up the fretboard and the improv develops. I've been needing a turnaround to get back up to that A on the 2nd fret. A typical blues turnaround is : triplet, descend, triplet, descend, triplet, root.

I was thinking, what if I used chords, instead of notes or double-stops, to descend toward the root? Obviously, I need something easy if I'm going to be playing three chords for a triplet. I decided on maj7, 7b9, and m7 because they use a barre for the bottom of the shape and the top of the shape move closer and closer to the bottom. For maj7 the top is two frets away, for the 7b9, the top is one fret away, and for the m7 the top and bottom are on the same fret. So that gives me a descending sound as I am descending through these triplets toward the A on the second fret.

I haven't decided if I should stay in key or not stay in key. If I stay in key, I have to shift frets after the maj7. Both options have repercussions as far as sound is concerned. The there is always the fact that those turnarounds in the blues always sound a bit grating but since they end in resolution, all is forgiven. In case you're curious, I'll map out the recent turnaround.

1. by hook or crook, I get to the 9th fret (for example, by using the E Aiolian #7 or the A Dorian #11).
2. barre the 9th fret and play Emaj7, A7b9, F#m7
3. barre 5th fret and play Cmaj7
4. move barre to 6th fret and play F#7b9 and D#m7
5. barre 4th fret and play Bmaj7 and E7b9
6. barre 3rd fret and play Cm7
7. go to 2nd fret and play the A. I play A+ or Am add9 because I just can't play Am
 

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I'm saving up for the last ukulele I will need. I have a good uke for my re-entrant tuning and I have a good one for linear tunings. I need a good baritone. But I am anticipating and playing some mental chess. I gave up beer, which is the only bad thing I do. All that sugar water had increased my weight. I'm re-starting the daily exercise I used to follow. My plan is to demonstrate by my virtuous living that I deserve to take my bonuses from work and divert them into my baritone fund. I think this will persuade my wife that I deserve a reward. After a few bonuses, I should be well on my way to paying the $4000 I will need.

Speaking of virtuous living, my experiments with new vegetables is going well. A leek is just a really big green onion. The Daikon is okay as well. I cut one up and roasted it with potatoes. I cut the daikon a bit thickly, but thinner chunks witll roast well. I also shredded a daikon root and used the shreds in a stir fry. I don't anticipate any problems using the bok choy I bought. It can be used like any cabbage.

Musically, I was exploring some alternate arpeggio paths. I was playing around with my A dim7 arpeggio. I found a way to double it. Usually start at the A on the 2nd fret and end on the A on the fifth fret. But that A is from the 4th octave. The same A is also on the 14th fret of the G string (at least, it is in linear tuning. So instead of playing the A on the 5th fret, if I jump to the A on the 14th fret, then I can complete the pattern again as I go across the strings again. This obviously gives me a great avenue to move between the highest and lowest frets.

I also started working on a new dominant arpeggio. I have been playing the m9. I have tried it with E and A, which are minor chords in a typical minor harmonic progression. It also works well in moving chromatically from one note to another in the key, like going from D# to C.
 

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I saw a thread about percussive playing and I think the participants had it all backwards. They were starting with the percussion whereas i think that should be at the end of the process. The fundamental principles are rhythm and consistency. Once you are consistently rhythmic, then you can drop the flick in. But without rhythm, the percussion is pointless. But that's their pigeon; they'll figure it out.

I've been eating a lot of daikon, bok choy, and leeks. I've been making some good meals. Musically, I have been using double arpeggios to transition from pentatonics to harmonic minor modes. It is actually a rather simple trick. Playing over some pentatonics, I will play a minor ninth arpeggio. That arpeggio shares its notes with the pentatonic scales until you get to the ninth interval. That note, F# in my case, isn't pentatonic. However it is part of the diminished arpeggio. So if I proceed from the F#, I am in harmonic minor territory and I can then play harmonic minor chords under the arpeggio.