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Author Archives: AdminOhAndBen

Armwrestling the Tyrannosaur

What, did you not think I’d have a new song this week? O ye of little faith. Just got this one mixed this morning 🙂 My voice is a little raw from the “singing” and my fingers are definitely cooked from playing upright bass.

So check out “How To Armwrestle A Tyrannosaur” – I hope it proves instructive.

If you have purchased a Patron Pack or All The MP3s, the song should be available for download in your account already!

Hmm. Since we had that T-rex here, I can’t seem to find Heather anywhere…

Ye Olde Solo Project

So it’s taken me a while (oh, probably not more than 15 years) but I’m finally ready to announce that my new solo project is ready to launch! So please go to Ben’s Cabinet Of Weekly Musical Curiosities and have a listen. I’m going to be posting a new song every week!

There are individual songs available for download, and if you’re interested in being a Patron Of The Arts, there are Patron Packs in the Shop as well. Hope you enjoy the strangeness that is available 🙂

A Walk In The Park

Today we went for a splendid walk, with our lovely new camera lens (a Canon EFS 55-250, iirc) – I managed to take some good shots of The Girl’s latest crochet work, against a background of High Park. Then on the way home I stopped to get a few extra books from the library. And now maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a very well-deserved nap 🙂

OK, let me preface this by saying that I have never been a female secret agent (unless I was so secret I didn’t know about it?). But why is it that female secret agents on TV (I’m looking at you, Dollhouse and Covert Affairs) always wear 4″ spike heels, even when they know that their jobs will require them to run frequently? I mean, I’ve never tried to run in 4″ heels (and despite Canada’s excellent medical care, I’m not inclined to try), but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be as easy as they make it look.
Anybody here do any running in spike heels, and care to comment?

Five Miles (ten as the dog trots)

Went out for a walk this morning before breakfast. This is not my usual MO – I generally prefer breakfast and coffee before anything else. But I figured the day would get warm enough that I didn’t want to muck about in the heat.

As I was heading out into the morning haze, the neighbour’s dog decided to join me. I couldn’t remember his name, and he’s a bit pudgy, so I named him Pot Roast. We walked for about 5 miles, which was quite pleasant. At one point I thought we were in trouble – in rural Arkansas, when someone comes out their door shouting “Excuse me!” it generally means they’re going to be carrying a gun… this time it turned out it was someone who wanted to know if I was a dog trainer, because I was able to walk the dog without a leash. Apparently she was having trouble with her new rescue Alsatian. Wish I could have helped, but I just like dogs (and speak dog reasonably well), I don’t really have any experience in training or that sort of thing. But I wished her well, because adopting rescue dogs is one of those Good Things.

And now to get things organized for the day. Overdubs, maybe a little mixing, and possibly a trip to the thrift shop! How exciting 🙂 Oh and listening to crickets, I still like that bit.

Back in the Sawwwwwwth

Have spent the last few days in Dallas staying with friends & playing at FenCon – which was awesome – and meeting new folks – which was awesome, even if too many people make me want to hide under a rock.  And it’s been so damn hot (by my standards) that it’s only after dark that I can go outside. But hey.

Now I’m in Arkansas with Sooj and Ryan, which is so awesome. The crickets are loud enough to drown out conversations. The spiders are big enough to eat people. And apparently there are water moccasins and cottonmouths! The only downside is that Our Drummer John isn’t here with us, so our ordinary Designated Victim isn’t here… guess I’ll have to keep an eye out myself.

Wish I’d brought my good camera. There was an orb weaver the size of my thumb earlier!

Tomorrow I’m hoping to get Sooj’s bass and vocal parts for the solo project done. And walking. And playing with dogs. And napping…

We have a week off from tour! A week at home! This is almost unprecedented. And the beautiful part is, we flew home via Porter Airlines, and left our equipment in Chicago (we’re resuming the tour from there next week) – so we didn’t have to muck about with Pearson Airport (who builds an airport with no subway or train service?) or bringing instruments home on the plane. So now I’m sitting on my porch, contemplating a wander down to the lakeshore, and wondering whether a third cup of coffee is in order. These are the good days 🙂

Picking Technique

I’m exploring different picking techniques today.

I’ve put in a lot of time over the years on my picking (a lot – think 8-hour days when I was young enough to have that kind of time, and did not as yet have a girlfriend!) and I can do the standard things – the Yngwie/DiMeola/McLaughlin bag, I can do that stuff. But it costs, physically, and I don’t think that tension, stress & pain should be a part of music. So I’ve been analyzing my picking technique – which is pretty standard 70s/80s fusion/shred style – to see what could be improved.

As you probably know, I’m also a violinist and mandolinist (among many other instruments of course… musical ADD!). I think this is a big asset (as well as a big pain in the assets). It was because of reading Flesch’s book on violin technique that I started to think about how the wrist actually moves. Flesch maintained that a side-to-side motion of the wrist is unnatural and inefficient. Now given that I’ve put in a good 25+ years of hard work to get that side-to-side motion going, that’s not necessarily what I wanted to hear! But it made me think, and really analyze how my wrist works. I don’t think he’s wrong. 

Standard right hand position, on which I’ve devoted so much time over the years! Note the nice straight wrist. But does that motion make sense?

When I bow the fiddle, and I want a fast détaché, I use a combination of an up-down motion of my wrist and a push-pull motion of my fingers. This is very good in terms of flexibility, and consequently speed, as it’s the way the wrist and hand was evolved to move. In fact I remember wondering, about a year after I’d started to play violin, why my bowing was as fast as my picking ever was on guitar, despite not having played for very long. Turns out it’s because it’s just easier and better aligned with the way the hand works.

Approximation of oud plectrum hold – note arched wrist. Also note that I’m not using an eagle quill for a plectrum…

Watch an oud player, or a vina player. Their right-hand technique uses a rotating motion of the wrist and forearm, and the results speak for themselves – blinding speed, and astonishing precision. Some mandolinists use a similar technique (although most mandolinists use an incredibly stiff-armed technique that seems destined to cause problems later in life).

So I’m trying out a variety of things. Trying a new pick direction, with the pick at more like 45º to my thumb rather than 90º; a curved wrist to go with the oud/vina approach; and even thinking about ways to make the violin hold work for me (although I’m not even sure how I’ll hold my pick then!). This is my standard hand position when I’m picking tunes, whether jazz or Celtic:

My hybrid comping/soloing hand position, which I use when I’m not strumming aggressively – allows me to pick with my middle, ring and pinky fingers as well as the plectrum. Looks much more tense than it really is. I have big hands.

What are your thoughts? What crazy pick holds do you use? Do you pick with your thumb? (I’m learning that one). Classical style? Do you use a cordless drill with picks stuck to it like Paul Gilbert? Let me know!