Switched Guitars

Just two weeks ago, I got myself a guitar — an Ashton CG44 Classical Guitar pack to be exact. From the day I got it, I practiced almost everyday and followed the guitar method book I owned diligently. Even as my left finger tips pulsed in pain, I soldiered on. Two weeks in, I was fairly certain that I wanted to continue playing the guitar.

Before buying the guitar, I was only able to play a few chords I learned back in my youth. And even then, I was only doing slow downward strumming. So when the idea that I wanted to try the guitar came to me, I decided to buy the cheapest quality guitar out there. With a guitar being cheap, it wasn’t such a big financial loss if in the end I discover that playing a guitar just wasn’t for me.

Now that I’m decided to go on playing, I figured I should buy myself a better (that is, more expensive) guitar. I’m not saying that the first guitar I had was bad. It was because of it that I decided I want to continue playing, after all. It’s just that I want to switch to an acoustic steel-string folk guitar (which seems to be popular in acoustic contemporary music) from a classical/spanish guitar (which is popular back in the Philippines, from my recollection).

After some research done on the Internet, I was set on buying a Yamaha F310 Acoustic Guitar. First of all, I trust the Yamaha branded musical instruments. They seem to offer the highest quality instruments at the cheapest price. My Dad’s classical guitar (which I liked a lot) was a Yamaha, as well as my soprano and alto recorders.

Second, the Yamaha F310 was recommended as the second best beginner acoustic guitar available out of top 5 recommendations made by Dan Cross of About Guitar. I didn’t go for the first choice, a Seagull S6, because it cost a lot more than the F310 and it’s way out of my budget.

Third reason was that it comes with some extras, too! It has a gig bag, extra strings, extra picks, a capo and tuning pipes. I didn’t expect the guitar to have any bonus stuff so I was pleasantly surprised when I found this out.

From research, the F310 costs as much as $349. But after asking and looking around the music shops around the city, it seems that I could get it for as low as $209 at Billy Hyde. I was planning on getting it from them until I called Allans Music last Thursday.

I already went to their Melbourne shop so I knew that their F310 sold for $249 but I called them anyway, just for kicks. Basically, I asked him questions to which I already knew the answers to. I asked the salesguy if there is an F310 available in the shop. He said there were two left. I asked if there were extras. He mentioned the extras.

Lastly, I asked him how much it was. To my surprise, he replied that it was only $199. I don’t know why it was that cheap. Maybe the salesguy made a slip or maybe it was on special. Whatever it was, it was great news. I also had to act fast before stock ran out.

The original plan was that I was going to sell the old guitar first before I buy a new one to replace it. I intended to put it on auction on eBay until I remembered that maybe some of my friends are interested in the old guitar. So, I emailed the group asking who’re interested. If nobody replied by Saturday, I’ll be listing it on eBay anyway.

But since I was afraid of missing out on a bargain with the F310, I didn’t wait for a reply from the group. I hurried off to Allans and snagged myself one. In the shop, it’s still listed as $249. I guess the $199 price tag was indeed a slip by the salesguy. He basically did the price negotiating for me. No complaints here.

After buying the F310, I received a text message from my friend Milkshake, “I’ll take your guitar for $90.” Great! Sold! I just love it when everything worked out in the end.

I actually expected him to ask for it, having heard him mention that he wanted to start playing the guitar again. I was only surprised that there were two more friends who are interested in playing a guitar. Hey, who knows? Maybe we can meet on weekends for jamming sessions or start our own band in the future.

Published in: on March 6, 2006 at 8:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Brunswick Music Festival 2006

I learned about the 18th Brunswick Music Festival from an old MX newspaper issue dated February 21. Here is a short description of the event from the festival’s official website:

The Brunswick Music Festival has been held annually in March since 1989 and is one of Victoria’s premier music festivals and a major multi cultural event for Australia. The festival is an integral part of a statewide circuit of visual, sporting, culinary and performing art celebrations held in the early months of the year – during Australia’s summer and autumn seasons.

There will be a free concert at the Coburg Town Hall tomorrow at 2 pm featuring The Brunswick Women’s Choir and The Moreland City Band to start off the festival. And then on Sunday, there will be the Sydney Road Street Party in Brunswick (Melway 29, G10).

The actual festival will officially start on March 30 and will end on April 9. It will feature musical performers from the UK, Canada and the US. For a list of other free events during the festival, visit the free events page at Brunswick Music Festival website.

Published in: on March 3, 2006 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Got Me a Guitar Now

The new Ashton CG44 Classical Guitar pack I won from eBay last week finally came in the office yesterday. I usually give my office address for online orders nowadays since nobody is ever at the house to receive an item when it’s delivered.

Needless to say, I was pretty excited to try it out. But, since I was in the office and I don’t play the guitar very well, I had to curb my enthusiasm until I got home. While in the office, I was still able to inspect the contents of the box at the very least.

First, here is the official specification for the Ashton CG44 Classical Guitar pack as written on Ashton’s website:

Fantastic value for anyone starting to explore the world of classical guitar. Based around Ashton’s rich-toned and resonant nylon stringed CG44 guitar, this pack also includes a sturdy gig bag for carrying your instruments to practice or performances, plus extra strings and picks. You’ll also get Ashton’s easy-to-follow Starter Pack Software, with lessons you can follow on your computer screen.

– CG44 Acoustic Guitar – Ashton Starter Pack Software includes Lessons, Tuner and Metronome – Gig Bag – Strap – Extra Strings and Picks

When I opened the box, I saw the guitar there in tip-top shape inside the cool gig bag (which would’ve cost an additional $20 if I bought it separately). Inside the gig bag pocket was the extra strings and picks as well as the manual. Also in the box was the strap and the Ashton Starter Pack Software in a CD.

What I was surprised to find missing was the guitar tuner and the metronome. For a moment, I thought I was swindled by the eBay seller. However, after another round of checking of the contents, I realised that the tuner and the metronome were indeed included. Except, instead of actual physical devices, they were software programs included in the CD.

The specs were a bit misleading but I can’t complain that the metronome and tuner weren’t there. And I thought I got myself a bigger bargain because it came with what I thought were physical metronome and tuner devices.

Another downer is the included Ashton Starter Pack software which was supposed to be a guitar lessons software that I could use to learn how to play the guitar. Don’t get me wrong, it works great. What I disliked about it is that it included only three lessons. You’d have to pay the makers of the software to unlock the rest of the lessons.

However, for the price I paid for it, even if the software was a disappointment and there wasn’t really a metronome and tuner included, I reckon it’s still good value for my money. Given another chance with the same budget, I’d still go for this pack again.

When I got home, I placed the guitar on my lap and quickly started to play some chords I’ve learned from when I was younger. It sounded very awful. I was hoping it came in tuned. I had no choice but to tune it first. Fortunately, I already kind of know how to tune a guitar.

I soon tuned the guitar and was able to play it like I did back in my younger days. That is, poorly. Now that I have a guitar, I can start learning how to play it. And by learning to play, I don’t mean just learning to play a few chords. In time, I hope to be able to serenade Raquel with it.

So, in summary, I’m very pleased with the guitar pack. Even though I found the software wanting, I’m quite happy with the guitar and the gig bag. Having extra strings and picks was a good bonus, too. If you are in search of a relatively cheap beginner’s guitar, I can recommend the Ashton CG44 Classical Guitar pack, for sure. Just keep in mind that you may want to buy a real metronome and guitar tuner afterwards as well as a full guitar method book or software.

Published in: on February 21, 2006 at 11:14 am  Comments (4)  

Won a Guitar Bid

Apart from wanting to learn the recorder, I also want to go back and continue my guitar studies. The problem is, the guitar I used to play was my Dad’s Yamaha classical guitar (not sure of the exact model) and so, it’s with him in the Philippines. To pick up the guitar again, that meant getting one for myself.

The cheapest Yamaha guitar that could be bought from the music shops around Melbourne was the Yamaha C40 Classical Guitar which retailed for $169. As it looked and felt just like my Dad’s guitar when I tried it in the shop, I decided that’s what I wanted to buy.

However, it’s a bit expensive considering I’m not even sure how much I wanted to play the guitar. I considered getting one of the many cheap guitars with unknown brands on sale from $30 on eBay. I did some research about buying a new guitar and the general advice of guitar players is that I shouldn’t buy the cheapest guitar out there.

Without going into too much detail, they said that “el-cheapo” guitars are likely to be difficult to play as well as sound bad. Now, to a super dedicated student, this shouldn’t be a problem, but to your casual guitar student, one or both of these two factors might discourage him or her from further study.

I had that problem with the recorder, too. I bought the cheapest recorder I could lay my hands on and studied that. It didn’t take too long for me to give up on it the first time. When I decided to try at learning the instrument a second time, I did some research and bought the cheapest recommended recorder I could buy. I was surprised at how much easier it was to play and how much nicer it sounded. Certainly, it encouraged me to learn further.

I had only wished I bought my current recorder the first time around. If I did, I may be further along my recorder studies than I am now because I didn’t stop playing when I did.

Anyway, no cheap non-branded guitars for me. I went back to the Internet to look around for something that’s cheaper than a Yamaha but still has a reputable brand. That search led me to Ashton which turned out to be an Australian instrument manufacturer/designer. Couldn’t be that bad, I thought.

Luckily, they have the CG44 Classical Guitar Starter Pack that retails for $119. The pack included the CG44 acoustic guitar, guitar lessons software, a guitar tuner, a metronome (I’ve always wanted one of these for when I’m playing my recorder), a gig bag, a strap, extra strings and picks. Seemed like exactly what I needed.

Still, I was hoping for something less than a hundred dollars. I found a shop selling it for $109 and could probably be haggled down to something like $99. Then I came across this eBay bidding for exactly the same thing which is supposedly new (not used).

So I made the lowest possible bid on it While waiting for the auction to end, I had some extra time to have a think about the guitar pack. Maybe I should just buy it from a local shop instead of having it delivered from New South Wales in the event I win the auction, I thought. It would be easier to return the guitar to a local shop under warranty than sending it back to another state.

With ten minutes left in the auction, I was scrounging around the eBay site for a way to retract my bid. I discovered that it is only allowed on certain circumstances — which, sadly, didn’t apply to me. So, I was there, secretly hoping somebody outbid me.

It was a weird thing. Instead of hoping to win, I was hoping to lose. In the end, I won. Ah well. It was still such a good deal anyway. Now, I have to wait for it to be delivered. I just pray that it is in tip-top condition on its arrival.

Fingers crossed.

Published in: on February 18, 2006 at 12:07 am  Comments (2)  

Who’ll Come a Waltzing Matilda with Me?

Today is Australia Day here in the lucky land down under. It’s a public holiday so we didn’t have to go to work. Instead of being able to participate in any of the events planned out for the occasion, we were driving around Melbourne picking up stuff we’ve won from eBay.

To mark this occassion though, I’ve made a little recording of Australia’s favourite folk song Waltzing Matilda. No, I didn’t sing it. Instead, I made a little arrangement of the song that I could play easily enough on my Yamaha 302B plastic alto recorder (a flute-like musical instrument if you didn’t know by now). Now, let me warn you that I’m still an amateur recorder player so please don’t expect too much out of the performance.

But at least, if you are not familiar with the song, you’ll at last hear how it plays. By the way, I’ve first heard of this tune as an ad jingle when I was back in the Philippines on a TV commercial by Sunraysia which was a fruit drink brand imported from Australia.

When I migrated to Australia and I heard this tune sung by Aussies, I thought they were singing the Sunraysia jingle. Of course I know better now.

So, to hear the tune, download the music here:
Waltzing Matilda (the popular version) [0:34 minutes, 128kbps, 531kb]

You can see the lyrics to the song and explanation to some of the slang used in Enigman’s Waltzing Matilda page.

For more info on the origins and history of Australia’s unofficial national anthem, here’s the National Library of Australia’s page on Waltzing Matilda.

Well, trying to come up with a decent performance of this song out of my recorder was my way of celebrating Australia day. And so now, you can come a waltzing Matilda with me.

Published in: on January 26, 2006 at 11:35 pm  Comments (6)  

New Alto Recorder

I’ve been craving for an alto recorder ever since I’ve tried tooting a few notes on an alto recorder displayed at Allans Music in the city. I found its notes much more mellow and relatively quieter than the soprano recorder. I should say it has a sweeter voice.

With all the tasks we had to do that involved the move to the new house, I had to set aside my recorder playing. That meant that my soprano recorder learning was placed on hold last week. And since I didn’t even had time to pursue my soprano studies, I knew I couldn’t possibly devote time to learn the alto which uses a different type of fingering technique than the smaller soprano.

Now that we’ve settled in our new home, I started doing research on the alto recorder again. Which brand is better? Do I really want an alto or do I want a tenor recorder instead? What are the available music sheets and method books for the alto at the nearby music shops? I at least found out from other recorder players that the Yamaha 300 series alto recorder is a strongly recommended plastic recorder. There were other brands and models but they weren’t available in the shops I go to anyway. So, I guess it is fortunate that the most recommended brand and model is available at Allans Music.

Then yesterday, Raquel surprised me when she pulled out of her bag a Yamaha YRA-302BII alto recorder. I was all giddy. For the past few days, I’ve been thinking of various ways to convince her to allow me to buy one and here she bought it for me. It was my Christmas present, actually. She would’ve rather given it to me near Christmas day itself but she was afraid that I would buy an alto recorder without telling her.

My two Yamaha series 300 plastic recorders: the YRA-302BII Alto/Treble and the YRS-302BII Soprano/Descant.

I quickly pulled it out of its case, assembled it and promptly played a few tunes using the fingering technique I learned from using the soprano recorder. The low soft mellow tones were indeed lovely. Of course, to properly play it, I will have to learn the F-fingering technique as the alto recorder is an F type instrument.

Today, I bought a method book (instruction book) specifically for the alto/treble recorder. I realised that it will take me a while to get used to the different fingering technique. I also have to get used to stretching my fingers more as the holes are now farther apart as compared to the soprano’s.

Anyway, as you can see, I’m quite excited with the new instrument. I can’t wait to learn it. Once I’ve learned most of the fingerings on the alto, I’m going to record (no pun intended) the two recorders playing the same tune and post the mp3 files on the site to give you an idea of what each one sounds like if you didn’t know.

Published in: on December 15, 2005 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Recorder Obsession

A while back, I have posted about being preoccupied with my recorder, which is a flute-like musical instrument for those of you who didn’t know. And just to make sure you know exactly what I’m talking about, you can click on the thumbnail at the left to see my Yamaha YRS-302BII Soprano/Descant Recorder.

Now, that’s all cleared up, I can continue with my actual post. My recorder playing has turned from being a mere preoccupation to a sort of obsession. I’ve been all over the Internet finding any form of music that used recorders. Most free music to be had were early Medieval or Renaissance music. I’m not complaining, really, as I actually love everything Medieval or Renaissance: languages, culture, history, art, architecture and, of course, music.

There were also classical music that used recorders mainly from the composers Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi. Fortunately for me, the local libraries have Audio CDs of classical music which used recorders so I borrowed all of them that I could get my hands on.

The recorder music I’ve acquired further inspired me to become a better recorder player. And so, I’ve been practicing for an average of one hour almost everyday to advance my level of competence with the instrument. I’m so itching to become very good with the recorder that I couldn’t wait.

Unfortunately, my desire to fast track my skill advancement sometimes leads to frustration. Last week, I realised that even with a better quality instrument, not all the notes could easily be produced on the recorder. My main weakness is producing the low C note in which I have to press on all the holes. Sounds easy but when I blow on the recorder, I got a squeakish sound instead of a full C note. This annoyed me a lot.

No matter how much I tried to cover all the holes, I must have been doing something wrong because I keep getting squeaks instead of the C note. I then conceded that I may need additional assistance from a teacher. Or maybe I just needed a better method book (a book of instruction on how to play an instrument).

It’s fortunate that one of the biggest music instrument shops in Melbourne, Allans Music, had its “Biggest Ever Sale” last weekend. I usually go to their Melbourne store but last Saturday, I decided to try their store over at Kew (east of Melbourne).

It was great! They seem to have a larger collection of music sheets and method books for recorders there (or at least they were better organised). They also had lots more brands and models of plastic recorders there than the Melbourne branch. I was tempted to buy another recorder, maybe an Alto. But I decided that I must master the Soprano recorder first before undertaking another version of the instrument.

Since they were on sale, lots of their wares were about 20% off. I’ve had always wanted to buy a music stand (that thing where I can put my music sheets to read while playing) and that day, I was able to get one that was less than $20. What a steal. I also bought two music books plus an instruction book by Walter Van Hauwe: The Modern Recorder Player Volume 1.

When I got home, I quickly read Van Hauwe’s book and found out how to properly hold a recorder. After that, I was able to play the dreaded low C note properly! Well, not 100% of the time, but often enough that it motivated me to continue playing.

As of this writing, I’m almost done with Stephen Goodyear’s The New Recorder Tutor Book One. I know I’m still far from being a maestro recorder player but I will certainly strive to be one.

Before I end this post, I’d like to point out some reasons as to why I want to play the recorder (as opposed to another instrument):

  1. It’s portable. The soprano recorder (and even the alto) is small enough to carry everywhere I go. The soprano recorder is like a foot long and could usually be separated into two or three smaller parts. When I feel like playing, I can just pull it out and quickly play some tunes.
  2. It doesn’t need much maintenance (the plastic recorders, at least, don’t). I can play it for as long and as often as I like and all I have to do to clean it is to wash it in water.
  3. It was easy to learn the first basic notes. When I learned the basic notes, I could already play some popular tunes. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment and motivated me to go on learning the rest of the notes.
  4. It is a monophonic instrument. When I was learning the piano, I had to learn to read multiple notes and play them all at the same time. With the recorder, I only have to read an play one note at a time.

These are just a few of my reasons I’m into recorders right now. If you decide you want to take up the recorder, just pop by your nearest music instrument shop and buy a Yamaha YRS-302BII plastic recorder (like I did). It’s considered the best quality plastic recorder around (even better than some of the wooden recorders which is traditionally considered better than plastic). It’s only AU$38 so it’s not a big investment if you decide later that you don’t like it.

To end, here are some resources on the Web for the recorder:
The Recorder Home Page by Nicholas Lander
Free Recorder Lessons Online by Gene Casti
Courtly Music Unlimited – Advice for Beginning Recorder Players
Courtly Music Unlimited – Answers to Questions from Recorder Players
Antique Sound Workshop – FAQ and Guides for Recorders
Recorder Friends Yahoo Group
Recorder Yahoo Group

Published in: on November 28, 2005 at 10:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Me and the Recorder

I haven’t posted anything new in a while now. The reason being that I’m very preoccupied with something at the moment when I get home from work. That is, I’m self-teaching myself to play the recorder properly. By recorder, I meant that flute-like musical instrument that is almost usually mistaken by the uninitiated as a flute.

I actually picked up the recorder when I was still in Canberra and I needed something to do to help pass the time. I hadn’t touched my old cheap plastic recorder for quite some time but recently, something — I cannot remember what — triggered my desire to pick it up again. Only, this time, I’m going to learn it more properly. Well, as properly as I could without the benefit of a music teacher.

Although I was taught to play the piano when I was younger, I never really took to it. I was just overwhelmed by it. Later on, I self-taught myself to play the basic chords on a classical guitar. That was at least something I felt I could get into but I found carrying a guitar around to be rather cumbersome. So, one day in a music shop in Canberra, when I was thinking of picking up another musical instrument to study, I decided I wanted an instrument that is portable, low maintenance and monophonic (I don’t have time to master an instrument that could play multiple notes at the same time).

Then I saw a bunch of cheap unnamed-brand plastic recorders on the cashier’s counter. Hmm. It was selling for something like less than five dollars. I thought that if I didn’t like it, I could always go for another instrument. Another thing that influenced me to pick up the recorder was me remembering that my brother had a Yamaha recorder back in the Philippines. I thought, it must not be that difficult to learn if he played it.

I’m fairly sure my brother intended to play pop tunes on his recorder. I, on the other hand, intended to be fairly competent on the recorder enough to be able to play solo renaissance folk music or classical music with it (which I like, by the way). Sure, I also play pop tunes on my recorder now which I learned by ear but I think such an instrument is better suited for those old tunes of yore.

I discovered that some of the notes were difficult to play on my recorder. And some of the notes I could play didn’t sound as nice as I’d hope. Anyway, I didn’t devote much time to studying it when I was in Canberra and I completely forgot about it when I moved to Melbourne last year.

But this month, my interest in the recorder was renewed unexpectedly. Maybe I was inspired by the city musician buskers. Maybe it was a movie I watched recently. Maybe it was because I saw these recorder lesson books at the library by coincidence. Whatever the reason, I decided to continue teaching myself the recorder. I started from the beginning again and this time, I’m making sure I learn to read the notes and execute them properly.

So now, I try to devote an hour a day (at least) to practicing the musical instrument. And when I’m not doing that, I’m doing online research about the recorder: its history, free score sheets for it, mailing list for it, etc. From my research, I discovered that the recorder was used as an introduction to music in schools. Well, not in the Philippines, as far as I know. If that’s true, then I’m learning a musical instrument that is considered by many here or in the Western world as a kid’s toy. And that’s probably why the flute I bought in Canberra was selling for cheap.

After doing further research, I also discovered that although plastic recorders were considered by most serious recorder players to be inferior to wood-made recorders, there were branded plastic recorders that played quite well and is sometimes even better than the cheapest wooden recorder. The Yamaha brand was recommended by some so one day, I took a trip to Allans Music Store in the city to look for a Yamaha plastic recorder.

I was able to buy one for $38 which was slightly more expensive than my older recorder but still quite inexpensive. When I got home, I played the same tunes I played on the old recorder and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the notes sounded a lot better on the new recorder. Also, I found that some of the notes I had difficulty with on the old recorder to be easily playable on the new recorder.

Now, armed with a new plastic recorder, I intend to master it to a certain degree. I have no illusions of becoming a professional/master recorder player but I hope to be competent enough on the instrument that I could comfortably play it wherever I go and not get thrown at with eggs and tomatoes. When I’m skilled enough with the recorder, maybe I could perform in one of those renaissance fairs or even along one busy sidewalk in the city.

Published in: on November 16, 2005 at 10:17 pm  Leave a Comment