Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Short, Successful Practice Session

Due to some non-guitar activities, I got tied up last night and didn't even start playing until close to 11:30. My intent was to noodle around for about half an hour and get to bed, but it didn't go quite that way. It was a relatively short and quick practice session, but I still managed to drag it out for over an hour. Worth it, though. And, I'd have to say it was one of the most pleasant practice sessions I've had in a couple of weeks - at least.

[Note: I realize now that I need to start tracking which guitar I'm using from night to night or song to song, and also when I change strings. Last night's practice was all done on the EG112, which I just had set-up and restrung this past Saturday, March 17th. Probably should note what sort of strings, too, but I didn't even ask that when I picked up the EG. I was just relieved that I didn't have to pay for a new neck!]

In Bloom
First, as per the new practice regimen, I pulled up In Bloom (combo arrangement) to get that song mastered if possible before the play count reaches 40. The last time I played this song, according to my rehearsal notes, was January 15th, so my first play through last night resulted in a predictable drop in score. 82550 was the only score I had recorded from prior plays. My first attempt after several weeks away from it was 78665 (79/64). Then things steadily improved:

2d play: 89041 (88/81)
3d play: 93094 (91/76)
4th play: 98724 (93/71)

After the 2d play through, I went to the Riff Repeater to see what phrases needed work to max. As usual, the solo was the only phrase left that I needed to work on. I tried several runs through the Leveler with no success. I felt like I was getting close, but Leveler didn't seem to think I was close enough. Rather than argue about it for 30 full iterations, I quit and jumped to Free Speed. But, I also bumped up the mastery level to 100% per a tip from an anonymous commenter on my blog entry from 3/16. (BTW, thanks for that tip, anonymous commenter!) This way I can see what all is coming. I actually moved the speed up a notch somewhere in there, but I clearly wasn't going to max the solo last night and still get any sleep before work this morning. So, I let it go for the night having at least familiarized myself with the solo a bit. After that I went back to the song and played through it two more times with the results above. Clearly the work I did on the solo helped my score even though I still haven't mastered it. That's progress.

Carol of the Bells - Single Notes
Since this was supposed to be a short practice, I figured I'd just rip through a couple of plays on this arrangment to keep things moving along and to close the gap between my single note and combo scores. First score dropped, even though I had just played this the night before. But, the next two scores were improvements over the previous night's best.

Tuesday night's best: 39194 (88/87)
Last night's 1st play: 33287 (77/41) - pretty bad drop!
Last night's 2d play: 42682 (86/83) - more like it
Last night's 3d play: 44573 (81/52) - again, improved score with worse accuracy and shorter streak

I levelled up somewhere along the line and got a bunch of new notes thrown at me! But, apart from that and the weird disconnect between overall score and accuracy/streaks, it was pretty straight-forward progress.

Of course, after that little bit of semi-serious work, I wanted to cut loose and just rock out with something that I can actually half-way play. Choices are limited. Despite the rather sour taste left in my mouth by last week's substellar performance in the forum Weekly Challenge, I went for my old stand-by - Surf Hell. With a twist. I noticed that I had played the single note arrangement just once before, so I played that arrangement just to mix things up a bit (and to continue my house-keeping progress).

Surf Hell (Single Notes) - Master Mode Unlocked
Like Angela, the difference between combo and single note arrangements of Surf Hell are minimal. In fact, there are just two: The troublesome barre chords are replaced with just the E- string bottom note of the respective chords, and the other three-note chords played during the chorus are replaced with 1/8th note Gs played on the 6th string (with a couple of B-flats thrown in at the end of every other measure). That's it. Funnily enough, I started out playing the barre chords out of habit and discovered that you don't get extra credit for that. In fact, it appears that you get penalized for it.

My one previous score on this arrangement was 41941 (88/85) on February 8th.
Last night's 1st play: 58229 (92/146)
Last night's 2d play: 88355 (98/149)
Last night's 3d play: 110,307 (98/294) !!

Time out! Master Mode not unlocked with a 110,307!? Holy WTF, Guitar-Man! To the Riff Repeater! Apparently playing the barre chords (C, B-flat, D) instead of the single notes (C, B-flat and D) that come up on the note highway on this arrangement actually causes you to level down that phrase. Easily fixed. About three runs through Leveler took care of that little problem and I got the phrase maxed. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Last night's 4th play: 115,983 and Master Mode unlocked.

The similarity between the two arrangements makes the fact that I mastered this specific arrangement in 5 plays pretty meaningless. In reality, I have played this song more like 120 times. I had the core of the song memorized weeks ago and I was pretty sure I had the simplified replacement notes for the barre chords well in-hand. So, no way I was going to pack it in for the night without having at least one go at a Master Mode Performance.

Last night's 5th play in Master Mode: 230,414. And, that was with some mistakes that I knew I made.

Now, I'm pretty stoked about that score except for one thing. As I said, this arrangement is practically the same as the combo arrangement other than the barre chords, which I believe I was playing just fine on the combo. So, why the tremendous difference in scores? Granted, a 230k still wouldn't have bought me the privilege of choosing the Week 6 forum challenge song, but it certainly would have put me solidly among the top 5. And, while that appeals to my competitive bone, that's not even the point. What the hell was I doing wrong on the other version that kept my score down to 205k? I can play barre chords, dammit! I don't NEED to replace barre chords with simple notes to get a a good score!

Maybe it was the guitar. Many of my scores have improved rather significantly since I switched from my Special II (with very worn strings) to the EG112. And, I think I was still playing the SII when I turned in my final Weekly Challenge score last Sunday night (though I can't really remember and - like an idiot - I didn't write down which guitar I was playing). So, tonight I'm going to play through Surf Hell combo on the EG112. My lag setting is at 0 already, which is the setting that seems to work best for everybody (makes me wonder why they put the adjustment tool in the game - under what circumstances would you use anything other than 0?).

Progress Trends and Rehearsal Strategies
I love the fact that Rocksmith puts a number on each play through a song. Even though I'm not entirely confident that the numbers are completely accurate indicators of overall mastery, at least I can get a reasonably objective picture of where I am.

Generally speaking, it looks like my practices tend to follow a fairly constant pattern. The first time through a song for the night is like my "Oh, yeah, that's how this song goes" refresher. Then, once I've refreshed my memory of the song, I make some improvements. (Obviously for brand new songs that I've never played, the first time through is often more of a "Oh. That's interesting." But, from there my progress seems to follow the same trend.)

Where I find myself getting consistently worse or making minimal progress, Riff Repeater seems to be my best move. Figure out what phrases are weak and work on those at least a little - not necessarily maxing everything but at least working through specific sections of the song before playing through again. Sometimes OCD will kick in and I'll beat myself up trying to max something until I'm just pissed off. That doesn't seem very effective for me even though I may be naturally inclined to do that. Then, after maybe 30 runs through the Leveler and possibly some work in Free Speed mode, go back and play through the song again just to put that section into perspective.

I think if I roll with this concept, I'll avoid the situations where I've played a song 48 times and still can't make any headway. And, I'll avoid the sometimes very strong desire to throw a pretty decent guitar through a very expensive TV screen.

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